Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Woodworking on $1.50 per day - Part 1

I recently saw another "I want to start wood working, but I really can't afford to spend much money" post, and it got me thinking.  There used to be good options for buying things gradually, but at this point it's pretty much high-interest credit cards or nothing.  There used to be books titled things like "Europe on $5 a day!", so I thought I'd do something similar.

Even as a college student, I probably could have put away a dollar or two a day, so I'm going to think of the available money as $45/month.  It's a nice round number to work with.  Before I go any further, though, I'm going to try to address the cost vs. quality problem.  With woodworking tools, you generally get what you pay for.  On $45 per month, you're not going to be buying heirloom tools.  You're going to be buying tools that you'll probably start wanting to replace after a couple of years.

So what's the value here?  Aren't you just throwing money away?  Well, yes.  You are.  But not everyone can afford to buy top line tools from the beginning, and if you're going to insist on Lie-Nielson tools on even $5 per day, it's going to be years before you can get much work done.  This is a "Get in the shop as fast as possible" list.  You can keep the tools in a cardboard box until you build yourself a better tool box.  And now I'll get back on track.

What do we need to do?

To start with, what are the critical tools or operations?  In no particular order, here's my list.
  • A saw that can make rip cuts.
  • A saw that can make cross cuts. 
  • A saw that can make fine joinery cuts.
  • Chisels for shaping, cutting joints, etc.
  • Some sort of smoothing tool.  Card scrapers, hand plane, sandpaper, or whatever.
  • Marking tools... the usual choices being a marking gauge, marking knife, and so on.
  • Ways to drill large and small holes.
  • A hammer (for driving nails and just generally smacking things) and screwdrivers.
  • A way to make long board edges straight after being rip-cut.
  • A way to cut rabbets

The actual tools.

OK.  So that's a rough tool set.  Let's talk about actual tools, then.  As a guideline here, I'm going to go as cheap as I think is practical:  this is not a kit of heirloom tools.  This is a set that will let you get going as cheaply as possible, and which you'll replace over time as you come up with more cash.  I'm also going to try to think about order of operations here, so I'll split things up by month.  

Note 1:  I get nothing if you follow these links.  I get nothing if you don't follow these links.  I'm pretty much writing this for fun, and the only profit I get is the excitement of checking to see whether anyone has read this.
Note 2:  Prices are as of the day I wrote this.  I'm not going to keep updating, but the basics should stay pretty similar.

What am I including?

Before I start the actual list, a quick note.  I'm only including durable tools here;  no wood, even though it's a major cost.  Why not?  Because you can do quite a lot with cheap or free lumber.  Dimensional lumber from the home store, scavenged pallet wood, and things like that.  

Month 1:

This month, you're going to Sears.  No matter what you do, you're eventually going to need to drive nails and screws, so we'll deal with that and see what we have left.  First, pick up a 16oz Curved Claw Hammer.  The curved claws are good for removing nails, and I happen to like wood handles.  Also, it's about $5, which seems right for this project.  Next up, pick up a cheap 6-in-1 screwdriver.  I have this one, and it works fine.  It's about $9 right now:  if you see one that's cheaper, grab that instead.  You'll want #1 and #2 Phillips head, and 3/16" and 1/4" slotted heads, which most of that style have.  We're up to $14 here, so let's add a saw and call it a day.  I have a Shark brand Ryoba (there's a review back near the beginning of the blog), which I quite like.  At the moment Sears is listing them at about $29, so it will bring us up to $43 before tax.  I'll call that good!  If you're willing to splurge a little on month one, I'd add a few sheets of 180 grit sandpaper and a variety pack of nails.  That will bring you up to around $50-55, but allow you to start woodworking immediately.  You could also put off the screwdriver until next month... it's not really critical if you only have nails.

What can you do with this set?  A surprising amount, actually.

I'd start with a Japanese-style toolbox such as this:

Build it to the length of your saw, and ideally out of something like 1x10.  It will hold and protect your tools, but it doesn't need to be perfect.  All the joints are butt joints held together with nails, so there's no complex joinery.  It also doesn't have to be perfectly smooth, so sanding the ends of the boards with 180 grit sandpaper will be fine.  Just wrap it around a piece of scrap and get going.

This toolset will also allow you build a standard five-board bench, like this:

And that should be enough to keep you busy until it's time to think about your second month's purchasing...


  1. I've just discovered this series, and I'm loving reading through it!

    1. Thanks! I've been really busy with house-projects the last few weeks, but with just a little bit of luck I'll be back to writing these next week.