The Tools You Have

Today, I wanted to address a topic that is near and dear to my heart. I LOVE tools. Especially good ones. If you like working by hand, you probably do, too.  I get as excited as a teenage boy with a new Victoria’s Secret catalog whenever I peruse the Lie-Nielsen, Veritas, Tools For Working Wood, and other websites. Ebay has had me drooling like a teething baby in the past. I firmly believe good tools allow you to do good work.


Sometimes the quest for tools becomes a hindrance.  It’s T.A.F., or Tools As Fetish. People get the idea that they can’t create truly good woodworking without the “right” tools.  Their favorite saying is, “if only I had tool ‘X’ I could make some great furniture.”

I’ve heard people gripe about the former PBS series The New Yankee Workshop; saying “if I had $45,000 worth of power equipment I could make all that furniture, too”. My response usually is, “Ok, what have you made with the tools you’ve got?” Ultimately, Norm Abrams could have made every project during the complete run of the series with five saws, a set of bench chisels, a few hand planes, a hammer, and a few screw drivers. Norm is that good. Admittedly, it would have taken him a very long time, but Norm has the know-how to do it. My point is that tools don’t make furniture, people do. ( I know this line is taken from the gun lobby stylebook, but, hey, it’s a good line.) The finest Karl Holtey infill plane or the latest table saw from Delta are very expensive doorstops and paperweights unless a person uses them.

Would I like a brand new Lie-Nielsen #8 jointer plane with the corrugated base or an Eccentric Toolworks dovetail saw? Yes. Do I have them? No. My jointer is an old Stanley #7 made around World War I and my dovetail saw is a Veritas that cost me $65. They both work fine. They have helped me make some nice projects, and some not so nice and that’s my fault, not my tools’.

Usually the tool you have is good enough. Learn to use it correctly and the quality of the tool matters less. That’s not to say that there is no difference between the typical schlock that floods our hardware stores and home centers and the many fine tool makers at work today. My old ’50s era Disston carcase saw is a good tool. My Lie-Nielsen tenon saw is a better tool but the Disston gets the job done. I can cut to a line equally well with both.

So, don’t let TAF stop you from woodworking. Get the best tools you can. Be open to refurbishing old tools, save money for new tools, and practice with what you have because your experiences with lesser tools will only make you appreciate the good ones that much more.

The Bumbling Apprentice

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