Woodworkers and Their Tools

If you asked me what I find most appealing about woodworking, I would have to answer “it’s all about the tools”. I don’t care what they are or what they do as long as they’re sharp and as long as they work. My father was a skilled tradesman, so my introduction came at an early age. As a kid I would hang around his shop waiting for an opportunity to saw a board or drive a nail. Neither one followed a straight line, but that’s what learning is all about. I didn’t ask for many of his tools when he retired, save a red, 1940s vintage half inch Black & Decker drill. Some of you may recall that B&D was not a DIY tool in those days. This one had an 8” long piece of ¾” pipe attached as a handle and would kick like a mule if it ever caught a burr in a piece of metal. It weighed about 10 pounds and nearly broke my jaw once. Given the abundance of cordless tools these days, it’s been retired to the bottom drawer of my tool chest, but I take it out sometimes for the memories.

Like many people I know, my need for tools increased when I became a homeowner. In those days a place like Sears & Roebuck was about the only game in town for a DIYer. Their tools were okay, but I loved their warranty – “satisfaction guaranteed or your money back”. I wonder if they still have that warranty. I have a 45 year old Craftsman belt sander with a belt that doesn’t track. It never did and probably never will. I’ve thought about testing their return policy, but I’m afraid the sander may have exceeded its statute of limitations. I had better luck with a radial arm saw and drill press. They’re still in use and have served me well.

Today’s choices in tools are limited only by the amount you want to spend. You can buy a replica of your father’s hand plane (you’ll probably pay about 10x more than he did) or an expensive cabinet saw that discriminates between wood and fingers. It’s only money. And with technology has come CNC machines and digital equipment. I especially like all the digital measuring tools. They’re a real boon for tired eyes like mine.

We all have a myriad of tools in our shops – routers, saws, planers, jointers, sanders and the list goes on. What I wonder is if they make us better woodworkers. I’ve known people who could create a masterpiece with only the simplest of tools and others who couldn’t rip a board straight with a $3000 saw. For me, the test is whether or not I can use my tools and my skills, limited as they are, to do something I haven’t done before. Can I control my tools rather than the other way around? And can I use them to create something worthwhile? If I can do all that, then the answer to my question is yes, they make me better. It’s a constant challenge, but one I enjoy. That’s what I find appealing about woodworking.

David Sumberg