Great Expectations - an alternative to Charles Dickens' Novel #2: Todays Theme - MachineTools

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Blog entry by stefang posted 03-12-2010 06:33 PM 5897 reads 0 times favorited 20 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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When I started woodworking 14 years ago after retiring from my day job, my experience with tools was pretty limited as you can see from the following list.

My starting tool kit
-Sjøberg woodworking bench (almost never used), 1 speed hand drill, 1 speed saber saw, Stanley jack plane ( I didn’t know how to sharpen it or use it and I can’t remember why I bought it, a hand saw, a claw hammer and a tape measure. That’s it!

The lathe, my first tool mistake


Being retired I needed something more than the honey do’s to keep myself occupied. I remembered my older brother’s woodturning project when he was in high school. I thought it might be fun to try it out, but I didn’t want to risk a lot of money in case I didn’t like it.

There was a really cheap lathe from China on sale at a local dealer. I went in and bought it. Soon it was assembled and sitting up on a counter in my new basement workshop. I looked at it a few days, turned it on a couple of times and then somehow I determined that I would never be able to do good work with it. This might have been because shortly before that I had burned up my hand drill using a little lathe attachment thingy from Wolfcraft.

So I returned the cheap lathe and bought a Record lathe which although not the best available it was a reasonably good piece of equipment which I still use regularly to this day and it has never required any repairs or replacements whatsoever, not even a new belt. If I kept the cheapy lathe I’m sure I would have been so disappointed I probably wouldn’t have continued with woodworking.

The bandsaw


I found that it was pretty difficult to prepare turning blanks and all the books showed bandsaws being used for that purpose. So I bought a bandsaw, a Delta 12” model. Actually a very reliable and accurate tool despite being a bit underpowered and with limited cutting height and width. I would like a larger bandsaw, but I’m sticking with this one for the time being.

After using this saw for awhile and slowly becoming aware of it’s capabilities, I began to explore woodworking in general. I am very glad this was my first major sawing tool purchase. With it I could make my own lumber out of small logs, cut my own veneers, make easy rip cuts, saw out curved cuts, perfect circles, miter cuts and compound angle cuts to name just a few things. Of course it took me quite sometime to actually do most of the aforementioned cuts.

The router, my biggest tool downfall


My wife bought me a nice little router for my birthday. It was a cheaper line made by ELU under another name. I knew even less about routers than doing brain surgery and I am not a surgeon or even a doctor.

I took it down to the shop to try out the different profile bits. I was a little disappointed with the results after trying to cut about 3/8” deep into the wood resulted in a lot of burning, some very wavy lines and, well you know.

My total ignorance continued for quite a few years while China got rich selling me a full range of different sized routers which while very reasonable in price failed in one way or another pretty quickly. I do still have the one my wife bought me though and it still works perfectly. She is obviously a lot smarter than me, and not just about routers! I ignored all the good advice about quality in my router books and magazines. Sailing your own sea is a good idea only if your boat doesn’t have holes in it!

I finally bought a Trend prof router just recently. I have used it enough to know what a fantastic tool it is and though I don’t have the experience to compare it to other good quality routers, I love it, and I can’t believe how really dumb I have been about routers all these years! I have been punished severely for my router crimes. It’s good to be free at last.

The Combination woodworking machine, a good decision


Now after a year or so into turning and general woodworking I began to feel the frustration not being able to prepare rough lumber for my projects. Where I live it is almost impossible to buy even roughly planed hardwood boards in small quantities. Your minimum purchase price is close to $1000 for 1 cubic meter (near to 1 cubic yard).

The answer to my problem was the purchase of a relatively inexpensive combination machine made in Belgium which was on sale at the time. The machine had 5 functions; tablesaw with sliding table, shaper, 8” jointer, 8” planer and a very nice mortising attachment. It has 3 motors. one powers the tablesaw, one for the shaper and the third one for the Jointer, planer and mortiser.

On the upside I found the machine to be very accurate, reliable and easy to use. Switching from one function to another takes only seconds. Another BIG advantage is that it only takes a little over 9 sq.ft. of shop floor space. VERY ideal for my small shop and it also simplifies dust removal and electrical outlets with it one main plug.

On the downside, each of the 3 motors is only about 1 horsepower. This disadvantage is mainly experienced with the tablesaw. I have been thinking of replacing that motor with a more powerful one. Also I almost never use the shaper. It works great, but the cost of cutters is prohibitive compared to the much more flexible router. But the point here is that a combi machine can be a great asset in a small shop and I’m really surprised more people don’t buy them.




I though it would be fun to do some fancy sawing so not knowing anything about it I bought a cheap made in Taiwan generic machine that so many sell under different names. I didn’t have high expectations for this machine. It was noisy, vibrated a lot and only used pin blades. Each blade change was a laborious process and took the fun out of anything but the simplest project.

My next scrollsaw was a Delta model with variable speed and a quick blade change arrangement. This has been a great little saw. My grandkids and I have had many pleasurable hours working with it. However, the blade tensioning device is not optimal, the table tilts only to one side, and the saw arm bouncing up and down is a little distracting.

Since beginning with scroll sawing I have learned that this machine is not just for piddling around. It is a real woodworking tool that can accomplish quite a few tasks easier than most other tools and quite few tasks that no others except hand tools can do. Some of these include dovetail joints, box joints, routing and other templates, Inlay work, Marquetry and three dimensional work with compound cuts for chess pieces, and much much more. Having learned the potential that scroll sawing represents started me thinking about the advantages of getting a really good one.

Just before Christmas my wife said she wanted to buy me a new Excaliber scrollsaw after hearing me go on and on about what a great tool it was. In this way she could accomplish two things at once. She would make me very happy and shut me up at the same time. Smart woman. This tool is as good as it’s reputation. I love it. There’s a lot of info on the net about them for those who are interested.

The drillpress


Not a very interesting machine at first glance, but very useful for for accurate drilling. It can also be used with drum sanders and some even use it for overhead pin routing by making a wooden mount that attaches to the main column.
I’m sure there are many more uses that I haven’t seen or thought of yet, so this is another tool that has not yet revealed its it’s full potential to me yet. I do use it as an outfeed table for my bandsaw and I have attached my Delta scroll saw so I could tilt the drillpress table to cancel out the scrollsaw table tilt. this keeps the scrollsaw table horizontal while still sawing at an angle. I don’t have that problem with the excaliber because only the blade tilts on that one.

the miter saw, I got lucky here


I have two miter saws, a Metabo and a Bosch sliding miter saw. I like both of these saws. I use the Metabo to do jobs away from home or outdoors. Neither of these saws were top models, but they do meet my expectations. My experience tells me that if a miter saw is of a reasonably good quality the most important thing is to surround it with adequate tables, auxilliary fences and dust control, with dust control being the most difficult problem to address. I built a dust hood for mine and it really works well. I also use the dust hood as a small spray booth for smaller projects. This also works real well, but I do have to make sure it is dust free when using it for finishing.

Sanding machines



I have a delta belt/disk sanding machine. It’s gotten a lot of use and I really like it. I’ve had it several years now and I’m still learning new and better ways to use it.

After beginning with segmented turnings I felt the need for a larger sanding disk so I bought a Woodfast 12” disk. With it’s 1-1/2 hp it can handle a lot. I use it for a lot of things not just segment glue joints. I’m still exploring ways to get more out of it. Fellow LJ SRAS showed me how to use it to thickness smaller pieces with a single point fence arrangement. I also have a 12” disk sander that mounts on my lathe for sanding segment rings flat and of course other things as well. I can use the whole disk on that one, not just half the disk as on the Woodfast.

Other than that the only other fixed machine I have is the ubiquitous grinder which I use constantly on my turning tools and to remove chipped carving chisels, bench chisels or plane blades, although this is a rare occurrence. Other sharpening/honing is done by hand.

What I think I’ve learned
So this about sums up my experience with machine tools. I know a lot of you out there are much smarter about tools and many are better equipped. It is only in recent years that I have come to realize how much pleasure quality tools can bring to woodworking. My experience tells me that the high quality tools are indeed the least expensive. I also know that I’m not going to be buying many more major machine tools because I simply don’t produce enough to justify the expense, and for me it is an expense because I don’t sell anything. I do get a return in smiling faces though.

I don’t know if my experiences with machine tools are typical or unique. I would enjoy your comments on any observations or opinions that I’ve expressed here. So please join in and maybe some interesting things will pop up.
Thanks for reading.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

20 comments so far

View David Craig's profile

David Craig

2135 posts in 1852 days

#1 posted 03-12-2010 08:01 PM

Like you Mike, I started with the “ignorance is not bliss” tool acquisition program. At the time I started, I was not the one controlling the cost limitations of purchases :) So I was trying to do the best I can.

My first woodworking power tools included a very old Black and Decker jigsaw, a Ryobi 12 inch miter saw and a Dewalt drill. I had purchased these well before the woodworking bug kicked in, I was thinking more of DIYing at the time. My oldest loves trains and wanted a knick knack train he could display in his room for Christmas. I wanted to make this for him and began one of the most painful projects I ever undertook. Small parts are ill advised to shape with such a large saw and when a piece flew past my head at 500 mph I could only shake my head and say “Wow, that was stupid!” To this day I still thank the Lord that I have all my digits. It sure wasn’t luck and it definitely was not skill that saved me. I attempted to make a straight hold through the side of a 2×4 and quickly realized that doing such through 3 1/2 inches of wood was impossible with a hand drill. Even if it did have a neat little level thingy in the handle. This led me to my Harbor Freight benchtop press that I found on sale for 30 bucks. I have been told many times by people that they would not put that piece of junk in their shop. Good thing I was putting it in mine, huh? I also did some routing for the first time with a dremel and I became aware that one can really do some interesting things with wood. I was hooked and had my first woodworking project complete -

Sam's Train

Then there was the purchases of a cheap tablesaw, scrollsaw, and routers. I received a Harbor Freight lathe that I did turnings on and a Ryobi benchtop bandsaw. I have learned from these tools and have experienced frustrations and joys. I have replaced the tablesaw and router with Ridgid models that I am much more happier with. The scrollsaw was recently replaced with a Dewalt. I did alot of scrolling on the older model but compound scrolling got to be too frustrating with the vibration. And the shaking would loosen the tension of the blade and it just got to be too much. But I will say this in defense of my cheap tools, they taught me what I wanted from a more expensive model and I, more times than not, know what I am looking for in future purchases. My next three “Big Tool Purchases” will be the Grizzly 14” ultimate bandsaw, the Delta Midi Lathe, and a good floor model drill press. I lie to myself sometimes and tell me that will be “All I need.”

Who am I kidding?

Thanks for sharing your tool history Mike. Nice to know the experiences that preceded your wisdom.


-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

View degoose's profile


7051 posts in 2098 days

#2 posted 03-13-2010 12:24 AM

Well, some of you will have seen my workshop on video or in pictures… a lot drool over the size of the shop and the amount of tools held within… but to be honest it was not always so…
I owned a hammer, a screw driver, a set of sockets and a stilson wrench left to me by my father…

When WE wanted a new entertainment unit, WE searched all over… too expensive…. not big enough… too big… too poorly made… you get the picture…
What I wanted I could not afford… what I could afford I did not want…
After looking at all the designs and how they were made I very confidently told SWMBO….
“If I had a ROUTER, I could build that entertainment unit WE want”
“Go ahead”... so I did… I saved all my shekels and paid over $275 for a Skil 1/4 inch router and $95 for the box of 20 or so bits.. Mistake #1 and I have not even got into the shed by this stage..

Second power tool I used was a borrowed second hand circular saw…lucky for my friend to lend it to me…He was broken into and had all his tools stolen… except the one I had..

So it was with much confidence and two …. soon to be 3 …. power tools that I set out on my grand adventure into the world of woodworking… I bought a B & D sander.

Then came the cheap …once again… 8 inch Mitre saw… but give it it’s due … I dragged it up onto the roof and cut all the hardwood batons when the roof needed replacing…

From these early beginnings, I went through the upgrades to bigger and not necessarily better… It was what I could afford at the time…
And now I realize that I should have got the best and not the cheapest… so as I can afford better I will upgrade.
It is interesting to see so many people agree that the more expensive and better made tools make life so much easier for the woodworker…
SO to all those naysayers… who tell us that various brands are too expensive… I say re-buying cheaper tools is the most expensive option …in the long run …
I now buy the best and buy it once and really enjoy using it…
Just remember price is soon forgotten but quality lasts lifetimes…

-- Drink twice... and don't bother to cut... @ For lovers of all things timber...

View Jim Bertelson's profile

Jim Bertelson

3684 posts in 1908 days

#3 posted 03-13-2010 04:49 AM

There seems to be a similar thread here….and I guess David Craig summed it up…..’ignorance is not bliss’.

I think I look at things slightly different, mostly because my shop life has been mostly DIY, with no real interest in doing first class woodwork, from about 1968 until last year, when my focus changed. And though I am now looking at making finer things, I am buying small versions of things, just so I can use them to get the shop in shape to accept bigger and better tools.

Right now better versions of things just wouldn’t fit, but they will in a year or so. In the meantime, I am using cheaper small machine tools, and they are tasked mostly to build shop stuff, and I am not into putting fine wood into shop cabinets, jigs, etc. When I want to buy better tools, I suspect some of the old machines will not get replaced, just because my work style won’t demand anything better. And those I replace, will probably end up with one of my kids.

I think I lucked out and bought a few things fairly early on, that have done well. Pure serendipity lead me to buy a radial arm saw, which still works till this day, and wouldn’t dream of getting rid of it. I don’t know why I bought it. Can’t remember why a RAS. 40 years ago.

Actually the first power tools I bought, I had no shop, were purchased in Taiwan at the PX in 1968. It was a combination sander, drill, and saber saw made by GE.

It used one power head for three tools. Didn’t have any money, so it was a god send. Remember, I was in the military or in training for about 5 more years. I beat that thing to pieces over the next 12 years. This was an all metal brute. Finally I broke the saber saw part, then just used it as a sander, and finally it fell into disuse, and was left behind when I moved in 1984 to Anchorage.

Through those years, the RAS served as a do all, subbing as a drill press, drum sander, miter saw during remodels, rip saw (that was exciting), router, etc.

The closest thing would be a Shopsmith or Mike’s combination machine tool. Now the radial arm saw is a crosscut specialist. And it works perfectly.

Other tools that are still with me… circular saw, after my old all metal Skil, just didn’t cut it any more (pun intended), I bought this better Skil in about 1980, 30 years ago. I can’t even dream of why I would replace it. I think it will be with me when I am 6 feet under. Same with my jig saw from Skil. The old Skill router has been replaced with the Bosch, and will sit on a shelf forever. It has only a minor problem, but irksome, and it is not very powerfull, so it has retired after 30 years of use. The old Skil tools I bought have been quite exceptional.

Then the Delta Contractor’s saw. It seems, with some updates, to perform wonderfully. Can’t find a reason to replace it after about 20 years. The motor on that machine is great at 1.5 HP. Running on 220V, new machined pulleys and a new link belt, with a thin kerf WWII blade, zooooooooom.

And I must have bought a good model year, since it has remained in alignment for those 20 years, and remains in its initial alignment to this day. Wow. Shear luck. Just like the RAS, which does have to be aligned every 5 years or so, ignorance in this case was bliss.

And my little toy Delta bench top bandsaw, drill press, and belt/disc sander, all about 15 to 20 years old, used this week to put together my temporary router table mod…...hmmmmmmmmmm….I wonder how long that temp will be used…......probably a lot longer than I originally envisioned. Those bench top Delta tools are just humming along, not expensive, just right for a DIYer, but I suspect they will be replaced.

So I have been using power tools for a long time, about 42 years. I have bought some bummers… old Black and Decker consumer drill press…....replaced by the Delta…..but funny, the B&D has been dismantled, and the motor and mount installed on my central pillar, and a flexible extension kinda permanently in place with a small 1/4” chuck that takes very small bits, that I use to this day, to predrill holes for nails and glue construction for shop and other utility items. It was used for all my totes…..and a myriad of other small projects. So not a waste.

My life as a DIY woodworker, makes my story a little different, and since I don’t have grandiose aspirations in woodworking, I supect I have some old cheaper tools that will run the course. I bet I can make some pretty fine stuff with those old machines…........don’t know when…..we’ll all have to wait and see….....(-:

-- Jim, Anchorage Alaska

View sras's profile


3928 posts in 1873 days

#4 posted 03-13-2010 05:05 AM

Nice story Mike! I feel honored to be referenced in such a fine article!

-- Steve - Impatience is Expensive

View stefang's profile


13623 posts in 2078 days

#5 posted 03-13-2010 12:02 PM

This is getting interesting. It’s good to hear the different experiences and the commonalities. My hope is that some of the folks who have only recently started into woodworking will be able to perhaps benefit from our experiences.

I didn’t mean to start a debate on quality tools vs the other kind, but it certainly is a relevant topic. I do believe that the best protection against poor quality is choosing a well regarded brand name that is marketed at or near the price you can afford. You will get less features, less power and less flexibility, but it will work well and last a long time.

David and Larry have had similar experience to my own, while Jim has actually been buying mostly quality tools the whole time, they were just less expensive brand name models and many were purchased when the general quality of machine tools was better.

I don’t believe we should associate the term “Quality” with “Best”. Quality can as I said before be had in the lower price ranges, but you can’t expect to get them with all the bells and whistles. Even tools produced in China can be good quality if a brand name stands behind them and have a reputation to protect.

And for you Steve,as an engineer I doubt you have been sucked into the poor quality vortex. I am sure there are many others like you too. Not necessarily engineers, but who are tool wise. However, it would be interesting to hear your take on machine woodworking tools too.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View sras's profile


3928 posts in 1873 days

#6 posted 03-14-2010 02:34 AM

Hmm, I really have not given this much thought (from the point of sharing my views). I would guess that I focus on value – Make sure the quality is good enough for my needs and then try not to spend more than I have to. I do buy new, so I am not getting the lowest price for a good tool. I guess I would rather spend my time wood working than buying used.

Like Jim, I think I got lucky early on. I bought a ShopSmith with my second paycheck (had to store it at a co-workers house). While not everyone may prefer this tool, it has held up very well for more than 25 years.

Every now and then I will gamble a what looks to be on great deal and end up with junk. Most recently, I have gotten burned on router bits (no pun intended). The cheap ones make powder and are noisy while the good ones make fluffy shavings. I think think the cost difference was $6 vs $15.

Usually I will not buy a power tool until I have had to borrow or rent one. By forcing myself to buy less often, I allow myself a little bigger budget. I have also found that brand names are not a guarantee. I have a Delta planer (about 10 years old). I had to have the drive train rebuilt under warrantee and it is making a terrible racket once again. It has not had 100 hours use. On the other hand I bought a brad air nailer at Harbor Freight (a discount tool store – very low prices and uncertain quality). It was $10 and I figured I would take a risk. I have been very happy with it. Maybe it was because my expectations were so low!

I know that I have relied heavily on the experiences and opinions of my friends. I tend to research for a few weeks before making a major purchase. I am getting ready to to that again. I bought a low cost corded 3/8 inch drill a few years ago (from Home Depot). SPent less than $30. I have gotten tired of cordless tools and dealing with batteries. The drill chuck locked up and ruined the tool. I will spend a few weeks researching and will let my budget be 2 to 3 times higher than the last purchase.

I am sure this is not too concise of a summary, but that is what I came up with!

Just came up with another thought. I think I have wasted the most money on power sanders. With the exception of the disc sander on my ShopSmith, I rarely use any of them. My preferred sanding method is by hand. I use a block of wood or a piece of a mouse pad and burn calories. Less dust and better control (for me). I have a random orbital sander that gets used occasionally, but the rest of them never get touched.

-- Steve - Impatience is Expensive

View sras's profile


3928 posts in 1873 days

#7 posted 03-14-2010 02:47 AM

I just remembered a story that goes with buying my router. I was in the store and a salesman was showing me this 1.5 HP Porter Cable router. I was a little hesitant as the price was $30 or $40 out of my price range.

Right then this fellow walks up. He looked like someone who earned his living with is hands. He jabbed a finger at the router in my hand and said (quite forcefully) “That is the best damn router you can buy! I have had one for five years and it is indestructible!” And he walked off. He looked like someone that did NOT baby his tools.

The salesman said “Well, I guess I am done” and HE walked off with me holding the router. I bought it. That fellow was right. Nothing like an unsolicited endorsement!

-- Steve - Impatience is Expensive

View stefang's profile


13623 posts in 2078 days

#8 posted 03-14-2010 01:12 PM

Thanks very much for your input Steve. Very relevant experience. It is a bit contradictory to my brand name advice. I guess luck (or maybe bad luck) has something to do with how good a tool turns out. Humans are mostly optimistic and I suppose a low price will always be quite tempting for most of us.

Like you I almost exclusively sand by hand nowadays. I have found that with proper technique it goes just as fast without all the noise and dust. I learned how to do it from an FWW article a few years ago.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View sras's profile


3928 posts in 1873 days

#9 posted 03-15-2010 01:00 AM

I did some searching in my FWW archive DVD. I found a few references to hand sanding. Do you happen to know which issue?

-- Steve - Impatience is Expensive

View stefang's profile


13623 posts in 2078 days

#10 posted 03-15-2010 02:22 AM

I just took a quick look through my old FWW issues too and I didn’t find it. I still believe it was FWW, but it is possible that it’s Woodworkers Journal which I subscribed to a few years. It’s the wee hours here right and bed time, pretty soon, but I’ll have a look tomorrow. I know it exists. The best thing I learned in that article was to sand pretty much the way you would work with a hand plane. Working first diagonally across the grain from both sides so the strokes cross each other and then going with the grain until the diagonal sanding marks are gone. It’s the same routine with every grit. It really works. This technique guarantees a flat surface.

What I said about only hand sanding was a little misleading. I often use my Delta band sander first or in some cases my belt sander first to remove tool marks after hand planing, then go to hand sanding. Or sometimes I use a cabinet scraper before hand sanding. When I use my jointer/planer I can go right to hand sanding.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


15060 posts in 2420 days

#11 posted 03-15-2010 08:14 AM

Steve I do that once in a while especially in the electrical or tool department ;-)

I guess lucky to have been raised with tools in my hands. I never go the cheapie route, especially for hand tools, they will just get you hurt when they break. Most of my woodworking power tools are Craftsman. They have always served me well for what I have been doing. Now that I’m interested in moving up the ladder, I may find they aren’t as good as I had thought. Time will tell. The only problem I have had so far is the fence on the table saw is the pits and I replaced the miter gauge with an Incra ;-))

-- "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View dbhost's profile


5387 posts in 1976 days

#12 posted 03-15-2010 08:22 PM


I would like to address your post in a like for like fashion. To a certain extent I agree with your assertions. A tool buyer should always buy the best tools he or she can afford, however having the most expensive brands does NOT mean that they are guaranteed to be without flaw, or even better than the cheaper brand. It simply means it has a better marketed name on a plate, sticker, or embossed into the tool somewhere.

I started woodworking in my own workshop very casually 20 years ago, but only got serious about it a little over 2 years ago. By the time I got serious about it I had extensive experience with automotive repair and refinishing tools. I have been through good, and bad tools, and paid a bitter price for both. Below I will discuss only woodworking tools unless otherwise mentioned… But to say the least I have been let down by some of the biggest names in the business. Snap On, Mac, Matco among others, and been thrilled with Craftsman, Central Forge, and other lower $$ tools…

My starting tool kit
-2×4 and plywood workbench with Simpson Strong Tie joinery, 1 speed hand drill, 1 speed skil jig saw, Skil circular saw and cutting guide, Ryobi fixed base router on Wolfcraft table, Stanley jack plane, I didn’t know how to sharpen it or use it, a hand saw, a rusty back saw and miter box that was in my attic when I bought the house, a hack saw, a claw hammer and a tape measure. That’s it!

The lathe, no mistake here.

-In high school wood shop oh so many years ago now, I remember wood turning on an old Rockwell lathe and just recall the simple joy of making round stuff… Being educated in art, and with a taste for wood turning, it seemed natural that a lathe should be in my shop. And after looking at my budget which wasn’t exactly deep, and the model lathes that were available, I was in the market for a Jet JWL1236, used, and cheap. That’s a pretty tall order, but I knew I needed money left over for turning tools, chucks, finishing supplies and the like. I started digging into the online reviews, and talking to those that own and use the lathes, and kept finding positive reviews of the Central Machinery #34706 from Harbor Freight. For the most part I noticed that even those that later upgraded to the mustard monsters that we drool over, still kept their Central Machinery lathes for smaller turnings. I grabbed one and have not yet regretted it. I do expect to have to replace things like belts and such, but otherwise this machine has a reputation for reliability.

The bandsaw

-I was interested in a bandsaw for resawing found wood into usable lumber, especially with me living in hurricane alley, not to mention the curve cuts and such that a bandsaw will do oh so easily. Again, Central Machinery came to the top of the list due to cost, reliability, and function. The other band saws in my price range were the Ridgid which gets a LOT of bad press for vibration problems, and the low end Delta 14”, which honestly cost too much for what it offers. Had a Grizzly GO555X been in the budget it would be in my shop, but it wasn’t. And I have no regrets for the machine I bought. It works spelndidly every time I hit the switch.

The router, my biggest tool downfall

-My first router was fine, I have only had one truly bad router, but to that in a minute…

My first router was a Ryobi R161 fixed base 1/4” collet router mounted to a Wolfcraft router table, and it provided me 10+ years of reliable service. I had a very disappointing set of Craftsman bits with it, but upgraded to a 30PC Skil set which was okay. When I went to 1/2” bits I went with MLCS and have been very pleased with them.

To spin those 1/2” shank bits, I needed a bigger router than the little Ryobi, and I should have done more research before pulling the trigger. I initially bought a Black & Decker Firestorm FS1200RP plunge router. This thing is absolute junk. The Yugo of woodworking routers. Parts simply fly off while in use. It is DANGEROUS. I personally have been so badly soured by this router to B&D I will not buy any more B&D tools, period.

After the fiasco with the B&D router, I did a LOT of research, reading online reviews, talking with owners, and reading the magazine reviews and kept finding the Hitachi KM12VC coming up to the top. While lacking a dust port and above table raising mechanisms, I have not found either of those issues to be a problem, and at a cost of $99.00 with free shipping from Amazon (I got lucky on a lightning deal) it falls into the category of a cheap tool… I have 2 of them and am VERY pleased with them.

The Table Saw. Okay, then good.

-I started out with my first table saw being a Ryobi BTS21, which is an odd bird of a saw, with no miter slots, only a sliding miter table, direct drive, folding stand etc… it took a bit to get used to the saw. I bought it after researching the BT3100 and being foolish enough to think it was the upgrade / replacement for the BT3100. While the results I got from it were acceptable, it was NOT the saw I wanted…

I did however find a deal on a used BT3100-1 with a ton of accessories, which is what I still use. I can shove pretty much any wood I want at as fast a feed rate as I am comfortable with through this saw with no problems. My cuts are accurate, and clean. what else do I need? The wide table is fitted with a shop built extension wing that houses my router plate, and a shop built router fence keeps things on the straight and narrow…

The planer, a Valentines Day gifrt from the worlds best wife…

-LOML encouraged my woodworking habit by picking up a Ryobi AP1301 planer for a Valentines Day gift. I love this planer. Like most planers it snipes a little bit, but the snipe is controllable with technique. Sure a DeWalt DW735 is a great planer, but far out of the price range of many…

The Jointer, space constraints, not just budget drove this choice…

-Now mind you… The Jet combination planer / jointer machines are fairly new to the market, which is why I did not go that way… But I needed a jointer, and it couldn’t take up much floor space. I opted for a benchtop unit. Again I did a lot of reading, and research on the units, and grabbed a Sunhill SM-150B, they were clearancing them out for $99.00 at the time. Same tool as the Geetech that Woodworkers Supply sells, and an excellent machine for a Benchtop unit.

No shaper here, see router and router tale table saw wing comments above…

Mortising is done with the drill press and a chisel. So far so good…

I have yet to get into scroll saw work…

The drillpress

-My drill press is a Craigslist special. Bought used, and in desperate need of cleanup and a few fasteners for $75.00 but otherwise working. I have been happy with the machine since I refurbished it. A Northern Industrial model, same thing as the 16 speed heavy duty floor drill press from Harbor Freight. A good DP for cheap…

the miter saw, I got lucky here

As much as I despise the Firestorm router, I actually like the miter saw, but I don’t fully trust it because of the experience with the router… But so far, so good…

Sanding machines

I have the Ridgid EB4424 oscillating belt / spindle sander. Love it. Got it on sale.

Dust Collector.

I have the Central Machinery 2HP dust collector upgraded with Wynn filter. A Delta 50-760 would be nice, but this works fine, and was cheap…

Other than that the only other fixed machine I have is the ubiquitous bench grinder which I use constantly on my turning tools and to remove chipped carving chisels, bench chisels or plane blades, although this is a rare occurrence. Other sharpening/honing is done by hand. My grinder was another matter of research. I may not be right in this, but I kept seeing conflicts over the speeds etc… So I went with the recommendation from Oneway with my Wolverine jig, and got an 8” regular speed grinder from Ryobi, the BGH827, and it works great. HOWEVER the Norton white stones put it BADLY off balance, I need to dress those stones.

Lessons I have learned from automotive tools.

-My first career was as an auto mechanic. I paid the rent and put food on the table with my tools, so sub standard tools in any way, shape or form were simply unacceptable, and I was more than willing to pay a premium to get the best, most effective, and most reliable tools avaialble. I have tools from Stanley Proto, Snap On, Matco, Mac, Craftsman, Ingersoll Rand and others. I have 2 sets of Impact sockets. One SAE, the other Metric, both got about the same usage. My Metric are Craftsman, my SAE are Snap on. The Craftsman sockets work just as well as the Snap On, cost 1/4 the selling price for an equivalent set, and more importantly, have not failed me in any way, shape, or form. My Snap On 9/16, and 3/4” sockets BOTH have split, and had to be replaced under normal usage.

In the same Vein, I had 2 cooling system pressure testers. 1 was Snap On, the other was Stant branded and bought at HiLo Auto Supply (Now Oreilly Auto). The Snap On croaked years ago, the Stant bought at the same time, was used with no issues on my Saturn a month ago… The Snap On was refurbished, using a Stant seal kit. Yes the Snap On pressure tester was nothing more than a Stant with a different label, nicer blow molded case, and a MUCH higher price tag…

Now contrary to those instances, I have ratchets from Stanley Proto, Snap On, and Craftsman. The Proto keeps falling apart, the Craftsman and Snap On are workhorses that earn their keep.

What I think I’ve learned
I agree that quality tools are indeed a joy, but quality doesn’t always come with a huge premium. And to a certain extent, a LOT of folks building their shops buy way more tool than they will ever use, or even notice any difference from. Likewise some incredibly poor quality tools have come from some of the biggest brand names in the industry. Boiled down to soup & nuts, you simply can NOT trust that marketing hype means good tools, or good anything. In the large part, what many people are paying for when they buy the bigger brand name, is just that, the brand name. Sometimes it is more than that. Is the more worth the additional premium? That is something that is up to the buyer to investigate…

-- My workshop blog can be found at

View stefang's profile


13623 posts in 2078 days

#13 posted 03-15-2010 09:04 PM

Thanks for your input DBHost. It seems that while there are commonalities there are also different experiences out there. One reason that I am advocating name brands is that at least there is something to go on besides just hope.

B&D is not on my brand name list because in general they sell tools to the DIY market. However, I hear what you are saying. Steve (SRAS) pointed out much of the same. But I’m not saying to buy in a headless way. We should still do our homework and find reviews on stuff we are considering. Some brand names are better than others such as, Bosch, DeWalt, several Japanese brands and many more I’m not familiar with. Reviews seem like a good way to judge, but even reviews are suspect. Many people reviewing just got it out of the box a week ago, so it depends on who is doing the reviewing.

We who have had our tool disappointments ought to have learned how we can at least buy tools in a little smarter way. I feel that every time I buy a tool for a price so low that I think I have nothing to lose, I lose. I guess we need better ways to make our buy decisions. Any suggestions anybody?

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Jim Bertelson's profile

Jim Bertelson

3684 posts in 1908 days

#14 posted 03-15-2010 10:55 PM


I am too new at this to offer any real conclusions, but here are a few observations:

1) Some people tend to have good results with no matter what they buy.
Any thing from usage cycles, maintenance, appropriateness of the tool, etc, probably cause this effect. What I mean is, if you use a machine sparingly, don’t demand much, and maintain and understand it, it may perform adequately for you even if it is not a very good machine in the first place.

2) Buying enough machine to do the job you expect to do with it.
Meaning underpowered or underbuilt tools for the expected job will give bad performance. I have some small power tools that sufficed for DIY. They were not used heavily, I maintained them, and they still work well. But I am planning some bigger, tougher things. They will probably reach their limits there, such as my bandsaw. It just does not have the power and size to make certain things.

3) Luck
Sometimes we luck out, buy a machine with no research or choice involved. My radial arm saw and Delta contractor’s saw come to mind. They were purchased before the internet, hard to research tools then. They were made at a time when there was better quality concerns, and less marketing hype. That’s kinda why I keep them. They are capable of more advanced work, have improved in performance with the vastly better blades available, and in the case of the Delta Contractor’s saw, I have modified and upgraded it to meet the new tasks. These machines can’t disappoint me, I already got my money’s worth out of them. I know how to use them, and know their limits. Buying something new and a whole lot better, especially meaining the TS. would be chancey, and perhaps very disappointing. I will use those tools as long as they can do the job.

4) Read the Reviews
With the internet we have all kinds of information at our fingertips. Even when I had to make an emergency buy of a router, I spent a couple of hours combing through the reviews, looking for a general purpose router, knowing I will still buy another router for table use only sometime in the next year. All the reviews were the same. The router I bought was top rated across the line for this kind of need. And I found the exact model at Lowe’s. And I was delighted, it was even better than the reviews.

Even when I spotted the Delta benchtop planer and jointer on clearance, I didn’t buy immediately. I went home, read the reviews, and that includes LJ’s, and decided they would work for me as an interim purchase to to use in upgrading the shop. Then if I needed something more later, I wouldn’t be out much money.

5) Brand loyalty is not a good decision method
Some brands make only some things well, but not others. Others change over time. Although I had good luck with my Skil small power tools over the years, I did not buy another Skil router. The brand has changed, and others seem to be trying harder. I think dbHost underscores this well.

I guess I could go on, but those points I have experience with. So right now, I don’t have any bummers, and I haven’t spent much money. To some extent all the above points apply to me. Especially important for me was….......LUCK…....(-:.......and numbers one and two. I have not had great demands or heavy duty cycles, and I have not abused the machines. But that does not mean they are up to fine woodworking, that may send me on a new power tool buying binge. We’ll see.

-- Jim, Anchorage Alaska

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


15060 posts in 2420 days

#15 posted 03-16-2010 02:24 AM

I guess I would say avoid trying to save a few pennies and buy quality.

-- "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

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