Buying Your Last Tool First
I acquired my first shop space around 2 years ago. Once I moved into my shop, I began my quest to fill the shop with awesome power tools. This post will discuss the overarching rule I follow when buying my power tools, and some examples of tools I have purchased.
My thought process about buying powertools is this: Buy your last tool first!!! What I mean by that is make your first tablesaw, bandsaw, router, jointer, etc the one that you want to be using when you are retired and making things for your grandkids. Now, I know many of you won’t agree with me and may think that is a waste of money or a waste of a great tool because you, a mere novice or even intermediate, aren’t worthy of that awesome tool. Wrong. First off, let’s talk about money. Many of you will say “But Dave, I don’t have enough money to buy the ever coveted Last Tool”. OK, well do you have enough money to do this…
2014 – Buy a junky craigslist saw for $100
2015 – Cheapo saw off craigslist breaks, go buy a new portable tablesaw from Home Depot for $400
2016 – Home depot saw works alright
2017 – Realize that you kind of want a bigger saw now. Sell the Home Depot saw for $200. Buy a new contractor/hybrid saw for $900
2018 thru 2020 – Hybrid saw works well
2021 – Again realize that you want a bigger saw. Sell the hybrid for $400. Buy your last tool off of craigslist for $1000.
From what I have concluded, this is the course that many of us woodworkers take. During the time period set forth above, you will have spent $1800 total and gotten probably 2-3 years of marginal saw, and 4-5 years of great saw (assuming the hybrid works well). At the end you have your last tool. Now let’s try this…
2014 – Buy your last tool off of craigslist for $1000
Now you spent $1000 and you have an awesome saw to start off with. Win
Now let’s address a few critics out there who will argue with the following points:
1. I just don’t have the money right now!
As a disclaimer, I absolutely do not encourage anyone to go into debt or take out a loan to buy a huge tool. If you only have $100, then you might have to build up to buying a bigger and better tool. That is fine and is probably the responsible thing in your situation. But, for those of you who have maybe $500 to $800 to spend, I beg you to consider going a little higher if you need to in order to get your last tool. I had a $800ish budget for my bandsaw and tablesaw. I spent the extra $200 on both and got incredible tools. I have been blessed with a good job and income, and I understand that not everyone has. But if you can do it, spend a little more on your first tool.
2. Well, I don’t think I need a great tool because I am just a beginner!
Pardon my bluntness, but this argument is lame. I had about 15 minutes of experience on a tablesaw when I bought my unisaw. If you buy a crappy cheap tool, you are only going to run into frustration, which is the last thing you need starting off. Having well running tools is essential to happiness in the shop, and if all you experience in the shop is frustration, you may just up and quit.
3. I don’t know what to look for!
That is what the rest of us are here for. I only have 3 years of woodworking experience, so every time I am out to get a tool, I post on LJ’s asking what to look for in a used powertool. Here at LJ’s we have a plethora of information and people will gladly let you know how to choose a tool and what to look for in that tool. From past experience, I can say that those are some of the most responded to forum topics I have ever posted.
I have a few last thoughts and exceptions that I want to bring up.
1. If you have a chance to get a free tool or a really cheap tool, take it.
The tools in my shop that are not “last tools” were free (or super deals). I have a cheapy drill press that was free, a 6” jet jointer that was free, and a steal of a planer (DC-33) that I couldn’t turn down and had to buy on very short notice to replace another planer that died in the middle of a time-sensitive project. When I get tired of these tools, I will replace them with “last tools”. But you can’t beat free. And for the record, the planer is heavy duty made in America cast iron, so while it isn’t my last planer ever, it is still a well made machine that will last as long as me.
2. Don’t buy your last tool and rarely use it just never use it at all.
If you are just dabbling, don’t buy a $1000 tool. If you are fully committed to this hobby and have really enjoyed it for a year or two, then go for it.
3. A last tool looks different depending on whom you are.
If you build furniture, cutting boards, boxes, high end stuff in general, then you are probably in the boat I am in, and a “last tool” used is typically in the $1000 range. But if you are just a DIYer, you likely don’t need as expensive or precise a tool as many of us do, and a “last tool” for you might not be as expensive as a “last tool” for others. If you use a cordless drill once a year, don’t go buy the 8-tool combo Makita pack from Home Depot for $800. If you use 4 of those 8 tools every month and need the rest a few times a year, then it is probably worth it.
Hopefully you all have enjoyed this post and I am glad to get it off my chest. I have wanted to write about this for a long time. In all, I have had great experiences with my “last tools”. I wouldn’t trade them for anything and they have made my woodworking experience much more enjoyable and efficient. Just as a little bit of eye candy, I have attached some photos of my “last tools”. Hope you enjoyed reading and I welcome any feedback, questions, and disgruntled hybrid saw owners.
-- The Wood Is Your Oyster