Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Woodworking and the Joy of Acquisition

The scene:  A small room, with a circle of people in uncomfortable chairs.  A group moderator stands up.

"Well, we have someone new with us today.  Why don't you introduce yourself?"

"Hi.  I'm Andy, and I have a problem.  I'm a tool collector."

The crowd replies, and then the moderator speaks again:
"Hi, Andy."
"Welcome.  And as you know, the first step is admitting that you have a problem."

Ok, I'll stop now.  But I'm starting to feel like I have a problem.  Here's the thing:  I can't see a new hand tool without wanting it.  Fancy molding planes.  Sets of hollows and rounds.  Saws both fancy and plain.  Smoothers, jointers, toothing planes, even antique screwdrivers!

But you know what?  I have enough tools.  Here's the list of what I need to make it possible to do everything I want to do:

1) A plow plane.  Yeah, I can do the work with a saw and chisel, but not and quickly or accurately.

2) Some more bits for my brace.  Many of the ones I have are in rough shape, and I'm missing some sizes I actually have a use for, like a #12. (3/4")

3) A dovetail saw.  I don't actually have a good backsaw of any variety, but everything I want to do could be handled by a ~14TPI dovetail saw, hand-filed rip.

That's it.  That's all I NEED.  Oh, don't get me wrong... there are other things that would make my life easier.  It'd be nice to have more than one marking gauge, and using a Stanley utility knife for marking is getting kind of old.  But here's what I have regularly and use:

1) Three hand planes.  It will be four, but I haven't got the last one cleaned up.  I have a #4 smoother, a #5 jack with a straight edged iron, and an old transitional try plane most likely made by Siegley.  The fourth is another #5, in much rougher shape, that will have a curved iron and be a dedicated stock removal plane.

2) Two hand saws.  One is a Disston rip saw, roughly 5TPI.  It rips 3/4" stock beautifully, and anything thicker is also fine.  The second is a cheap Shark Ryoba, which I use for cross-cutting, ripping small thin pieces, and cutting dovetails.  I also have a little gents saw that I use if the ryoba is too large, but it doesn't see much use.

4) A set of Wood River bench chisels.  They pare, the cut mortises, they do everything I want a chisel to do.

5) A set of card scrapers.  Every once in a while they're really useful.

6) A good brace, and a couple of usable bits.  The brace drills holes, drives screws, and generally makes things turn when they're supposed to.  Also, an old egg-beater style drill and a lot of bits.

7) A few things for making straight lines.  Two old wood and steel try squares, and a pair of modern mid-quality combination squares.

8) Some basics:  a mallet, a hammer, a tape measure for rough measurements, a couple of pencils, a utility knife for marking things, a marking gauge, little stuff like that.

That's it.  That's what I need.  I probably spent $150 on the tools I actually need.  A good plow plane may run me another $150.  If I can find a decent dovetail saw for under $50, I'll probably buy it and be grateful.  Call it $400-450, max cost for NEEDED tools.

And yet... I have a pile of other saws, and some of them may see some use some day.  I'm looking forward to restoring the panel saws, since they'll fit better in a portable tool box.  I have a Stanley #3 plane that I may get around to restoring sooner or later.  It doesn't need much.  I've got knives, drills, hammers, and mallets that I never touch.  I have three more braces, and I've never used any of them.

And I'm not the only one.  I'm not alone.  Woodworkers, especially hand tool workers, seem to have a driving urge to acquire MORE TOOLS.  We can't pass a flea market without looking for something to buy.

So why is it?

I have some theories.

1) We live in a consumer culture.  Our entire lives we're told that we need to buy, buy, buy.  If you're not accumulating new things, you're LOSING.  "He who dies with the most toys wins," right?  Well, maybe.

2) We subscribe to woodworking magazines.  Don't get me wrong, I love my magazines.  But... have you ever noticed that each review of a new tool talks about all the things you can do with it that you can't do without it?  So we're convinced that the tools we have won't do the job, and that we need new ones.  That's mostly not true, but it doesn't stop the advertisers from saying it is.

3) New tools are fun.  I think this is a lot of it.  It's like getting a new toy;  it's amazing the first day, but pretty soon you're used to it, and you want a new thrill.

All that said, I'm learning to appreciate what I have.  Learning to use the tools I have better, rather than going looking for new ones.  And I think I'm going to get rid of some of the ones I'll never use;  I don't NEED four braces.  I'll get rid of two, and leave myself the best two.  Some of those saws will, after I sharpen them, go back on the market.  Before I give in and buy a new tool, I'll try to think about whether it really will benefit me to buy it.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Andy.

    I know it is an old post, but I'll throw in a couple of thoughts as well.

    Like you conclude we (woodworkers) are prone to buy extra tools that we technically don't desperately need.
    If a tool is in an OK condition and at a fair prize, I will sometimes buy it just to save it.
    I have benefited hugely from a father who is still active in purchasing tools. And he has been more than willing to give me some if I needed any.
    I would like to be able to do the same thing for my children one day. I have two boys and a girl, so if each of them would like a complete set of tools, well then I need to get my hands on some once in a while.

    I am not very good at selling the tools that I have too many of, but maybe I should try to do that one day. If I sell tools I will have a hard time charging more than I paid for the tool. To me it is more important, that the tool will go to someone who will really appreciate it, that it is for me to make a small profit.

    That said - I am trying to restrain myself a little, but so far I haven't been very successful in that aspect.