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.
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.
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.
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, American in Norway The four steps towards competency: 1. unconscious incompetence, 2. conscious incompetence, 3. conscious competence, 4. unconscious competence