I was just looking at Popular Woodworking’s site a few minutes ago, and noticed they have an article this month on power jointers. The synopsis refers to the power jointer as “essential”. However, have we really lost sight of what the word essential means?
es·sen·tial /əˈsɛnʃəl/ Pronunciation Key – Show Spelled Pronunciation[uh-sen-shuhl] Pronunciation Key – Show IPA Pronunciation
1. absolutely necessary; indispensable: Discipline is essential in an army.
2. pertaining to or constituting the essence of a thing.
3. noting or containing an essence of a plant, drug, etc.
4. being such by its very nature or in the highest sense; natural; spontaneous: essential happiness.
a. (of a singularity of a function of a complex variable) noting that the Laurent series at the point has an infinite number of terms with negative powers.
b. (of a discontinuity) noting that the function is discontinuous and has no limit at the point. Compare removable (def. 2).
6. a basic, indispensable, or necessary element; chief point: Concentrate on essentials rather than details.
The first and the sixth definition are the key ones. They both indication that, if a power jointer is essential, that woodworking can not be done without one. But I think we can all agree that the implication is simply incorrect. It’s not essential. Essential for a production shop to be competitive? Sure, I can agree with that. But for the hobbiest? I just don’t think it’s essential.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I would love to have a nice, beefy jointer and planer to match. But I just don’t have the room. If I did, I’d probably have all the “essential” equipment like a table saw, the jointer and planer, the router table, the mortiser, etc. But I don’t. I have a hole that is smaller than some folks on LJ’s wood storage! Maybe in time I can get to where I can set up a bigger shop, but that time is far, far away.
In the mean time, articles that talk about “essential” shop equipment can be discouraging for someone just starting out. All of these “essential” tools cost significant money for a decent quality machine. The thing is, furniture has been made for a couple of millenniums and these “essential” machines have only been a round a faction of a percentage of that time.
And please don’t get me wrong, I’m not bashing machines. Like I said, I only wish I had the shop to have them myself. The issue for me is just the term “essential”. It’s like I tell my wife Jennifer, breathing is essential. Food and water are essential. That new purse? Not essential…it’s just damn nice to have. That’s right before I hand over my wallet and she gets the purse anyways…but it was never essential! ;)
-- "Give me your poor tools, your tired steel, your huddled masses of rust." Yep, I ripped off the Statue of Liberty. That's how I roll!