I hate hearing someone say: “I would get in to woodworking but I can’t afford the equipment.”
Woodworking does not have to be an expensive hobby. It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. A simple workbench can be built in a day with hand tools for about $100. Many tools can be picked up at garage sales and at tool meets. Online auctions or classified sections of woodworking lists such as WoodNet are another great source, as are Craigslist and e-bay.
Do you really need stationary equipment for your hobby? Machines can be expensive – moving them, getting your shop wired, dust collection and etc. will add up quick. Many times it is quicker to do something by hand than to set up a machine or design jigs for machines to do the job.
I find that machines pay off when making multiples. It is the skills that are hard to come by. Lack of skill is what really costs us time and money. The $5 handsaw is rusty and dull, so you need to know how to clean and sharpen it. Find someone to show you how or take a class; learn to do it properly and well. You may have $100 invested in that first saw when you are done, but you also will have a new skill. While your next rusty saw will be $5 plus your time to clean it up, you will also know if it is any good before you buy it.
Learn how to saw. Many of the tools we buy are created to replace a skill, to make a task so easy a child could do it. They very seldom live up to their hype. How many of you have purchased a tool to improve your dovetails or to enable you to saw better?
The chisel needs to be used and understood before you move on to the saw and plane. You probably don’t need a new chisel; you need to learn how to efficiently sharpen the one you have.
You need to know the properties of wood before you can work it properly, including how to read grain direction and plan for wood movement. Knowledge is the thrifty woodworker’s friend. Knowledge will ensure your materials are stored properly, tools and equipment are maintained, the shop is clean and organized and layouts are done efficiently for both time and materials.
Knowledge of power tools, if you choose to use them, can save you time, money and pain; know how to safely use them. Using a power jointer and planer can save a lot of preparation time if you don’t get your hand in there. Power tools are also efficient at spoiling material if you don’t really know what you are doing. “Knowing” that you need a tool to be more efficient at your work is better than “hoping” that a new shiny gee-gaw will make you a better woodworker. Don’t buy a tool that you can’t maintain unless you plan to pay to have someone else do the maintenance. You cannot buy your way in.
Say you buy a shop full of tools and equipment and a pile of wood, now what? Buy some plans? Hire somebody to come in and do the work?
—Mike Siemsen, Mike Siemsen School of Woodworking
Editor’s note: We are in the final stages of Mike’s new DVD “The Naked Woodworker.” It will be a two-DVD set. More details in the coming week.