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Tool Basics – If I had the tools…

Welcome to Tool Basics, the series about what your tools can do – and what you can do with your tools. If you watch some of the more prominent makers doing their thing on YouTube (or elsewhere for that matter), you are bound to find comments along the lines of “I could do that if I had their fancy tools” or “I could do that if I had tools worth my weight in Atium” (which, if you are not familiar with the Mistborn novels, is a lot of money).

Of course, the usual and true answer to that question would be that it is not the tools that make them good but their skills, creativity, and ingenuity. If you cannot hit a nail if your life depended on it, a gold-plated hammer will not do you much good. Then again, a laser-guided CNC-hammer, on the other hand… But I digress.

Now the question is, could there be more to it? Could it be simple lack of experience that prompts such comments? Maybe people assume a “high horse” situation when they see things done with tools when they are not familiar with what these tools can actually accomplish in the hands of a skilled operator and thus think it is a matter of cost and quality.


Enter Tool Basics

Thus was born the idea for the Tool Basics guide (or series). While this article covers the very basics when it comes to how to think about tools and their price, the upcoming ones will show you in detail what the various tools are capable of – both out of the box and with homemade jigs and fixtures. Whenever possible, I will link to videos or articles that go into more detail or show you how to do something the right way.

A word of caution, though – take everything you find here with a grain of salt. You and what you feel comfortable with should always be the first line of defense against doing something stupid with any tool. And with tools that have sharp edges traveling at high speed, it is your responsibility to stay safe.



A Note on Tool Cost

Before we begin, let us acknowledge that quality does have a role to play here. There are cheap tools and expensive ones, and there are low-quality tools and those of superb craftsmanship. While the two often go hand in hand – cheap tool equals low quality – the following point cannot be stressed enough. A huge price tag does not make a good tool. While you generally get the quality you pay for, that does not mean that a cheap tool cannot do what you need it to do.

So Tool Basics starts with this. You get what you pay for, so pay only for what you need. How often you are going to need that tool heavily factors into it, as well as the budget you have to begin with. If you are making a living with these tools you will probably want better quality tools than the hobbyist looking to do small repairs around the house. Especially since tools geared towards professionals also tend to come with benefits that are not actually a physical part of the product, such as extended warranties and better customer support. For the sake of Tool Basics, we will leave these out entirely.

Look at it this way. If you need to drill one hole a week, buying a drill for a thousand bucks will come down to a per-hole cost of roughly 20 bucks after one year. Buy a cheap drill for 50 bucks, and after one year you will have paid 1 buck per hole. I know things tend to be more complicated, but this is a good way to start. Of course, the point could be made that a cheap tool will not last you as long. But if you could drill a hundred thousand holes with the expensive drill, and only a thousand with the cheap one, you would notice the difference after about 20 years in the given example.

Also, you can find expensive tools used in various places on the internet. If you can afford to wait, you will eventually find the bargain you were looking for. Old tools, too, can be a treat if they are still working or you can put them back into working condition. Because we all know they don’t make ’em like they used to.


A Note on Consumables/Blades

In most cases, tools are but one part of the equation. They use consumables in one form or another, and most of the time, their quality has more influence on the final result than the actual tool itself. We are talking about saw blades, drill bits, sandpaper or carbide inserts. These are the parts that actually do the work on the material.

As a rule of thumb, the consumables that come with a tool are of lower quality than the tool itself. So you can get a boost out of it by investing in something better. That being said, there are high-end consumables that cost more than low- to medium-range tools themselves.

So what is better, a low-prize saw with a high-quality blade or a high-quality saw with a low-quality blade? In this particular case, I would go for the better blade, mainly because that is what comes in contact with the wood and makes the cut.

But this comparison does not consider one thing – what you actually want to do with it. A great blade is wasted if you only cut a 2×4 every other month, while daily use would wear down a cheap blade in no time. In the end, you are paying for quality in consumables more than you are with the tool itself.

And another point to consider. Would you buy a high-end car and run it on the cheapest fuel? Or would you expect your hand-me-down junker to go that much faster if you feed the engine with that expensive premium stuff? The answer is probably no in both cases.


A Note on Tool Safety

Safety is important because we all want to keep doing what we are doing tomorrow and in a week, a month or a year. Nobody cares for losing a finger, taking a splinter in the eye, or breathing issues caused by fine dust. But we are responsible for our own safety. Hence, safety features or instructions will not be a part of Tool Basics. I will mention it if and when I deem it appropriate regarding the operation of a specific technique, but the rest is up to you!

Adhering to a manufacturer’s safety guidelines, and making sure that all the safety gear is in place and being used, is your responsibility. And if you think that one of the jigs I am showcasing is unsafe – do not use it. That you can do this awesome and dangerous thing on that tool does not mean that you should, and if you do, the consequences are yours to deal with.

And as an aside to this aside, consider that safety is in part a function of quality and the features a tool comes with. These features might not have a direct part in your productivity, but they are meant to keep you productive for a while longer.


Moving forward with Tool Basics

Thanks for checking out this first part of the Tool Basics series. In upcoming articles, I will look at specific tools and give you the most complete rundown of what they can do possible. That being said, I could use your help in making this guide even more comprehensive and helpful for everyone. If I missed anything regarding any of the tools I have already covered, please let me know. And if you come across something that is just plain awesome, I would love for you to share it with me as well.

So make sure to subscribe to my newsletter so you do not miss the next installment of Tool Basics! And remember to be Inspired!

Safety – Adventures in the Workshop, Episode 01

This is the first episode of a new series that I am doing, called “Adventures in the Workshop”, in which I try to teach my daughter Nina about the workshop and the tools I use frequently. But before we can dive into it propery, we needed to discuss safety. After all, I want my daughter to remain in one piece, and I imagine that you will feel the same about any kids you might want to introduce to the marvelous world of making. Enjoy, let us know what you think, and remember to be Inspired!