Ponderings #14: The Most Important Tool

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Blog entry by Tomcat1066 posted 02-13-2008 02:49 AM 1222 reads 0 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 13: Who am I? Why am I here? Part 14 of Ponderings series Part 15: The Slippery Slope »

There’s always talk of what tool is the most important in any workshop. Is it the table saw, or the router, or the bandsaw? Well, as a hand tool guy, I’m screwed if it’s any of those. Nope…I think the most important tool is one that never shows up on the lists of important tools.

It’s easily upgradeable to some extent. No matter what you need it to do, with a little research and perseverance, it will rise to the occasion. This tool will never let you down unless you let it.

It’s even electrical. I know, and that’s hard to say since I’m a hand tool kind of guy. But the facts are facts, and this thing uses electricity, though much less than a PM2000.

The thing is, you can’t loan it to another woodworker. Not only would you never get it back, but you physically can’t loan it to them, though they can make use of it from time to time.

It’s the ulitmate set-up tool. Without it, setting up any task would be impossible.

This tool, this wonder of engineering, can’t be bought at Grizzly or Amazon. It’s not on sale at Lee Valley or anywhere else for that matter. You can’t buy it, but that’s OK. You don’t need to. It’s in it’s protective case, with you right now.

Your brain. It does all these things, and much more. Your brain is what helps you recall how someone told you to cut dados with hand tools, or how to make a raised panel for your cabinet doors. It’s also the tool that helps you figure out how to do something for the first time when you’re drawing a complete blank. It might not be revolutionary, this technique you devise, but it’s yours. You worked that out…you and your most important tool!

The funny thing is, since we all have this tool, we tend to forget it. On many forums, people default to a power tool solution when the question is specifically about hand tools. Other times, they default to buying a shiny new tool since you don’t have a tool that does it automatically already. For generations, craftsmen have build quality furniture with hand tools. Then, they started incorporating power tools into their shops. So, when someone wants to know how to make mortises without a router because they can’t afford a decent one, we (collective “we”) shouldn’t be telling them to save up and buy a router. Why not tell them to use a forstner bit and their drill, or an auger bit, or just use their chisels?

If we did, then this person would get a chance to upgrade their most important tool, so that next time their answer won’t be to spend hard earned money on a tool, it’ll be to figure out how to make do with what they have.

But maybe I’m the only one who’d rather see this world. I think I’ve already established that I’m a “outside the box” kind of thinker ;)

-- "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!

6 comments so far

View Eric's profile


875 posts in 3783 days

#1 posted 02-13-2008 03:33 AM

Here here! I’m all for giving the ol’ brain a shot before resorting to something that allows the brain to just sit there bored.

-- Eric at

View ICTINSTRUCTOR's profile


29 posts in 3757 days

#2 posted 02-13-2008 03:58 AM

Very good point, but I pray for all of our sakes wives never get a chance to read that!!!! It could very well be the end of woodworking as we know it. LOL “you don’t need that just use your brain” Still a good point but scary if it ever got out…

-- "It's easier to get forgiveness than permission"

View Tomcat1066's profile


942 posts in 3795 days

#3 posted 02-13-2008 04:02 AM

Well, in all fairness to us, we need plenty of “secondary” tools to make the most important one more useful :D

-- "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!

View jcees's profile


1058 posts in 3798 days

#4 posted 02-13-2008 05:16 AM

You’ve come to a realization through your want and that want is is to do good work, make something, to create. The pumpkin is the one that is at fault when you hear of a machine that “bit” someone. It’s easy to get into a groove with power tools and that’s where mishaps due to complacency, poor work habits and flat out faulty reasoning flourish. Twain said that accidents are merely the confluence of poor decisions and bad timing. When you rely on hand tools, you eliminate the magnification that power tools bring to any given process. They are no substitute for skill.

Good thoughts there, mon ami.


-- When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world. -- John Muir

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 3821 days

#5 posted 02-13-2008 05:28 AM

Good post Tomcat. Somehow I knew where you were going with this one when I read the “its even electrical line”. You are right on target with this post. Too often we get in a mind set whereby we focus on the status quo and forget that there may be alternative paths to solve a problem. For instance if I couldn’t run my table, band or miter saws I probably would not cut any wood. This is despite the plethora of hand saws I have in my shop that largely sit idle most of the time.

Thanks for the “enlightenment”

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View Tomcat1066's profile


942 posts in 3795 days

#6 posted 02-13-2008 12:14 PM


You’re right. I want to do good work, and I have no desire to lose body parts in the process ;).


I don’t know about providing “enlightenment”, mostly just me rambling about whatever pops in my mind :). However, if it helps you look at stuff in a new way, then I’m as happy as I can be! “Thinking outside the box” is always thrown around like some buzz word at a business conference, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. You know? ;)

-- "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!

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