We all have a list such as this. Here’s mine.
If One is Good, 12 is Better
When you acquire a good tool, such as a block plane, and it really, really works, the tendency is to buy all its friends. After I bought my first No. 5 (about 1996-97), I fell in love with handplanes. To be precise, I loved all the handplanes. Every single handplane ever made or collected or drawn up in some patent document.
Most weekends I’d hit the antique markets with whatever dollars I could scrounge to buy handplanes. What kind of handplanes? All of them. At one time I owned at least 10 smoothing planes, five block planes, six shoulder planes and Justus-Traut-knows-how-many rabbet planes.
This was the start of a dangerous pattern you’ll see throughout this list, which is when I would try to buy my way into a new skill. I thought: If I bought a plow plane, I would be able to make frame-and-panel joints. But that’s not how the craft works.
If I could go back in time, I’d tell myself to buy one No. 5, one No. 3 and one block plane. Then buy additional planes only when I needed them – and after a lot of research.
Reading a Little About Finishing & Sharpening
When I started woodworking, I knew nothing about finishing or sharpening. And so I finished the pieces I made and sharpened the tools I owned in peace and satisfaction. But then one day I started to read about finishing and sharpening, and I realized I had been doing everything wrong.
So I did what the experts said to do, and I became miserable. I refused to put this finish over that finish (the book said it wouldn’t work). I bought some Japanese waterstones. And I entered a long and tortured phase where my finishes and my tools’ edges sucked. I was experimenting too much with this finishing/sharpening system or some other system. I was trying to obey a lot of gurus simultaneously.
To get out of this misery, I had to read a lot more about finishing and sharpening. And I came to the conclusion that I teach today: Learn one system. Stick with it for a long time. Refuse to change until you have mastered that system.
And always refuse to read articles that say “never” and “always.”
Five Planers; Six Table Saws
When it comes to machines and critical hand tools (dovetail saws, block planes, smoothing planes, layout tools), I spent entirely far too much money upgrading my equipment incrementally.
I started out with crap equipment – a plastic table saw and sheet-metal thickness planer, for example. And then I sold the used equipment (it wasn’t worth much) to upgrade to a slightly better table saw and planer. And so on until I ended up where I am today.
It was a dumb and expensive journey for someone who was planning on making furniture for a living all along. I should have just plunked down the $1,200 for a cabinet saw and $800 for a 15” planer in 1996. Instead, I’ve spent at least $7,000 on table saws and $8,000 on planers since then. And I’ve had the agony of buying, selling and setting up all this equipment.
Yes, there’s a chance that you’ll buy a nice $3,000 table saw and then be swayed by the Bare Bosom Goddess of Golf. But that $3,000 table saw can be sold for almost that same amount. Cheap tools, on the other hand, depreciate quickly and to nothing.
Using a Cutting List
Don’t trust someone else’s cutting list. Not from me, Norm Abram or even Jesus the carpenter. Even if the cutting list is accurate (and it’s probably not), you shouldn’t cut all the pieces out to the specified sizes and start building. Things change as you build a project. And the sizes of your parts will change slightly, too.
Make your own cutting list based on a construction drawing. And only cut pieces to final width and length when you absolutely have to.
Cutting lists are dirty liars.
Buying Lumber Sight Unseen
Every time I have bought lumber before laying eyes on it, I have been swindled. The first time this happened was when I ordered 100 board feet of cherry from a reputable supplier to make a bookcase that needed about 40 board feet.
I picked the wood up, and it was so sappy and twisted that I barely squeezed the bookcase out of the 100 board feet. Yes, I complained to the supplier. They laughed in my face and said that sap and twisting was not a defect, and that the lumber met grade. I didn’t buy from them for five years after that – not until they hired a new customer rep.
Reading Tool Catalogs on Friday Night
After I finish work on Friday, I like to drink a beer and relax for a bit before making supper. Sometimes I have two beers. And sometimes I read tool catalogs with that beer in hand. And sometimes I order stupid tools that I don’t need but look pretty cool and now I read nonfiction on Friday evenings.
Don’t drink and shop for tools. That is the only explanation I have for owning an Incra Rule.
Believing the Jig Lie
This is a corollary to the above rule. Tool catalogs are great at explaining how jigs can solve your joinery problems. Can’t cut perfect miters/dovetails/spline joints? This jig does it with ease. You will be a master in no time. Promise.
Here’s what I learned: Cutting miters is a skill. Learning to set up, use and then remember again how to use a jig to cut miters is also a skill. Both skills take about the same amount of time to learn.
Yes, there are some jigs that can speed you along if you need to do something 134 times in a week (such as making a dovetailed drawer). But those jigs are rare and are usually needed only by production or industrial shops.
Most woodworking skills are mastered after a few tries, and then you will forget about owning the jig.
Buying Sets of Tools
Sets of chisels, router bits, carving tools, templates and so on are usually a waste of money. Buying a set seems like a good idea – and you sometimes save a little money compared to buying all the tools separately. But it’s usually a lie.
I use three chisels for 99 percent of my work. Six router bits. Three moulding planes. One sawblade. So buy one good chisel/gouge/router bit/moulding plane – one that you really need. Then, when you absolutely positively can’t work without an additional bit or blade, buy another. Reluctantly. And buy the best you can afford.
Buying the Hardware at the End
I can’t tell you how many times I made this mistake. I built a project and afterward bought the hardware for it. Then had to remake the drawers or doors to suit the hardware.
The hardware typically makes fundamental changes to your cutting lists and drawings. Buy the hardware before you cut the wood.
When I was learning woodworking, I had four teachers, plus the books and magazines I was reading. So I got pulled in a lot of directions. All of the teachers produced good work, but they all had strong ideas about how to go about it.
And so most days I felt like I was a Muslim-Buddhist-Pentcostal-Atheist. There was no consistent instruction in my life. And so it took me a lot of error and error to sort things out. In time, I gained the confidence to go my own way. But it took a lot longer because I had so many masters whispering (or yelling) in my ear.
Pick one person to teach you joinery. Or sharpening. Or finishing. Stick with that person until you have mastered the basics and can start exploring joinery, sharpening and finishing on your own.
Oh, and if you own that little Powermatic 12-1/2” lunchbox planer I sold off in 1998, I’m sorry. I hope you now use it for something it is powerful enough to handle – such as slicing deli meats.
— Christopher Schwarz
64 thoughts on “The 10 Worst Mistakes I Made as a Beginner”
I am so glad that I found this blog and the anarchist books fairly early in my exploration of how to turn perfectly good trees into not perfect furniture as I definitely would have been Alice in tool land. I agree nearly fully with you except for the Gurus. Being latched onto a guy doling out poor advice can be expensive until you are experienced enough to know better.
Sage advice, although I will disagree with you, or rather would like to put a different spin on the tool acquisition thingy: if a tool is available today, and I know (or at least think it highly likely) that I shall want to do the type of work for which that tool is intended further down the road (next year, in five years time, or ten or fifteen), if I have the money, I will buy it now.
So many of the really good (hand) tools these days are from small, independent makers, that may no longer be making that tool, or even be in business, a year or three from now. Or they have back order lists longer than a try plane parade.
That said, I entirely concur with your view that considered tool acquisition is best performed ante-libation…
Hi Mattias. Now that I am financially stable I agree and do buy some offbeat stuff. But when I was a beginner I was scratching to buy … well everything. I didn’t care about who made the tool — just that it would do its job so I could build furniture. That period of my life is burned on my brain and so I tend to think that is how many beginners are (though I know that’s not the case).
In 1968, I purchased my first forged steel tri-square at Sears and Roebuck, and subsequently went through all the “cringe worthy” experiences you write about. Having recognized all these experiences, can we now claim “wisdom”? Thanks for the smile, and keeping us humble.
I do, however, cobble together jigs from offcuts to gain accuracy and consistency on projects. They then become kindling. But then again, I’m retired and working for fun.
My block planes have multiplied like rabbits! I had one when I first started and now I have 6 of them.
Mostly it was about seeing what a low angle plane would do or how much better a high end plane would be with a really thick iron.
I only really use a couple of them. The biggest waste of money was the fad power tools, I finally threw away my biscuit joiner after no one wanted it. I no longer even use my power routers or random orbit sanders.
I guess it’s time to clean house.
One thing to consider is that the world used to be much smaller / narrower when we were becoming interested in woodworking (I was born in 1964). I love Norm and his different router for every bit, but seeing that isn’t the greatest example when you are starting out (although his emphasis on safety was). At that time, it was hard to find a variety of opinions or information beyond the advertisement-driven magazines that showed incredibly well-equipped shops. I wanted to be a woodworker, so I followed their example and bought the stuff.
My closet is full of flannel shirts (thanks to Nahm)…
A couple of years ago my teenage sons were “borrowing” my shirts.
I’m now a fashion guru😂
Thanks to Old Yankee Workshop
I’m guilty of most of this at some point. In my amateur pursuit of woodworking, I’ve found that if I don’t drunk purchase that tool I’ve been coveting, I already have the tools to accomplish it differently. I won’t be suckered again int getting a tool I likely won’t use. (I’m looking at you, Router-lift)
With so many newly arrived to the craft (see LAP’s posts on increased demand as one indicator), this useful post of free advice ought to be dispatched across the internet for all to read. Thank you.
Newbies should read this, print this and put it on the wall! (Then read it before any project)
Why do I own 25 handscrews and 4 gimlets? I think it would be best to own just two gimlets, especially if one is a cocktail.
I have yet to love a gimlet. I have tried.
“A real gimlet is half gin and half Rose’s Lime Juice and nothing else. It beats martinis hollow.” (Raymond Chandler, The Long Good-Bye)
I love all of these tips. All of them can help me prevent the same mistakes, and a few I wished I read 2-3 years ago.
Incidentally, last night, as my eyes were too tired to read anymore, I do what I usually do for the last hour or so before bedtime: watch woodworking YouTube videos. Your last piece of advice concerning “Poly-Guru-ous” struck a chord with me. Last night, I was looking at my YouTube subscriptions, and saw how out of hand it had gotten, and decided to go all Marie Kondo on my subscription profile. I went on an unsubscribing spree. I’m not going to name names, but if their YouTube thumbnails had those exaggerated creepy facial expressions while looking at an object, which seems to be all the rage with “influencers” these days, they were automatically deep sixed. In some ways, a shame, because I still respect their knowledge and a lot of them have some good stuff, but at the end of the day, I need to simplify. I’ve pretty much settled on Schwarz and a certain British woodworking veteran as my current mentors from the online and book world. That should suffice for now.
I am 72 now, and I own at least 50 hand planes, very few collectible. How many do I actually use? 3 or 4, probably.
I have a friend that owns 300-400 and uses 3 or 4. Collector vs. user.
If 200 of them are re-habed beaters, he’s a hoarder, not a collector.
Thanks Chris. I was lucky that I caught you and Paul Sellers early on. I had learned from another hobby I had started as a kid before there was the internet and had done for 20 years to discover the variety of opinion on things. At that point, I was well into my hobby and decent at it so I realized much of what was written was opinion. As such, Paul Sellers became my primary instructor (he had lots of videos and had been doing it for 50 years – there is something to be said for having done something a long time). I read your stuff thoroughly but really ignored the internet. About three or four years into woodworking, I watched a YouTube video on someone French polishing. At that point I had been using shellac a lot (Paul Sellers liked it and so did I). I got excited to see someone teaching how to French polish. At the end of the 20 or 30 min, the individual mentioned it was his first time doing it. I was pissed and felt like I had wasted 20 to 30 minutes. Back to only looking at Paul Sellers for instruction. Now six years into the hobby, I am just starting to look at alternatives. I figure that Don Williams likely has learned a thing or two about French polishing (can’t wait for his upcoming LAP book). I am still very weary of YouTube videos and more inclined to trust a book that has gone through an editing process.
Sorry, it’s getting long but one more point. I did a Ph.D. at a school that from a metrics perspective was in the 10 ten for chemistry in the United States. Despite the reputation, the faculty encouraged the undergraduates to go elsewhere for their Ph.D.. At one point I asked one of the faculty members I knew well why. He explained that after 4 years, the undergrads had really gotten the thoughts and opinions of the faculty and it was time for a fresh different perspective. The secondary reason was that even though the undergrads had graduated but if they stayed, it was easy for the faculty to still sort of see them as under grads rather than grad students much like parents can struggle to see their kids as grownups when they have indeed grown up.
Same with my undergrad theatre degree. They pretty much said they wouldn’t accept “locals” into the master’s program for the reasons you mention. Annoying then, wise now.
When new woodworkers ask me questions about which tools to buy, or skills to aquire, I ask them what their end game is — and tell them to skip to the end, whenever they can. Do you want to hand-cut dovetails? Then don’t even look at those router jigs. You’ll waste money, and a lot of time. I sure did. Yes, learning to hand cut joints has a learning curve. But if that’s your end game, start learning now.
The same goes for tools. If you want to make your own veneer some day, buy a bandsaw that will be good at that. Don’t buy a crappy clone, and spend a fortune trying to make it do something it will never be good at. More wasted time and money. I know, first-hand.
I admire the work Megan does, partly (of course) because it’s good work. But partly because she got there far, far faster than I did. I spent a long time playing with stupid tools and techniques for cutting simple joints. I spent a long time going through crap tools, and too many of them. I could go on. But she skipped most if those dead ends and went right to the end game, and has kept growing. That’s what I tell beginners to do.
Our lives and woodworking evolve. There’s a bedroom suite, 2 dressers and a headboard still in use after 49 years built of douglas fir plywood with solid wood drawer fronts and edge strips. Still solid and drawers slide fine. It was needed and justified the Sears 9 inch, direct drive table saw for 90 bucks at the clearance center. And then there was carpentry, fences, and kitchen cabinets. Now there’s the luxury of good tools and the skills gained along the way in a beautiful, well equiped shop. But I miss the need that created the drive – in some ways the woodwork is a little too easy now – life too. Moving on with the fun of learning I bought CNC and am enjoying it’s challenges.
For (serious) hobby woodworkers, extending the “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” principle to the workshop makes sense to me. A tiny shop is “The Anarchist’s Workshop”: “Everything extraneous is taken away.”
Power tools and accessories appear to be more of a money pit than hand tools — even if you don’t restrict the hand tools to a single chest. Fortunately, I have owned a (higher quality) plastic table saw and lunch box planer for about 20 years. I continue to use them in my tiny shop because they are small and highly mobile. The worst fault of the table saw is that my belly is the main dust collection.
A tiny shop saves you lots of money: first when you build it, then when you maintain it, and possibly even more when you fill it with tools. Even after three beers I know that I don’t have space for a “real” table saw, a “real” planer, or any jointer. But I keep measuring …
There is a simple test for separating woodworkers from tool collectors: “Have you spent more money on wood you have used or on tools?” (If you get real wood or real tools for free, you are a lucky bum instead.)
How about a survey comparing age to number of hand planes (in the shop, not boxed up in the basement for a decade). Age divided by hand planes. Eeeeeek! Thirty three planes. 58 / 33 = 1.75. Just a tiny bit better than Spike at 1.44.
I’ve probably used half of them in the past year.
Nothing on router wrecking? I’d also like to see a list of 10 things you got right, either by experience or dumb luck.
As chance would have it, also 33 hand planes at current count; 57/33≈1.73. Three more should (fingers crossed) arrive later this week, though, which’ll take my AHPI (age/hand plane index) to 57/36≈1.58.
While some see rather more use than others, so far there’s only one that to date has only ever collected but never made dust: a Butt Mortise Plane that I bought in my initial fit of hand plane enthusiasm. Its time’ll come, though, I’m sure: every plane has it’s day!
Correction: two more in a drawer I forgot to open, so AHPI ≈ 1.63 for now but soon to be exactly 1.5.
Oh, and to be totally fair, while I’ve used all planes but one, as mentioned in previous post, the hollows and rounds have so far not seen battle proper, only basic training …
Im actually down to AHPI = 1.15, but that it mainly down to my age of only 23. Another reason is that I make a lot of planes myself, only around five are actually bought….
Made them all.
Me too and I get anxious when the urge creeps back in.
For what it’s worth your books and this blog has taught me everything I know about this craft so far. I get confused if I listen to too many people telling me there way of doing things. I probably use the search engine on this blog more than anyone but it has helped me more times than I can count. Thanks
One of the worst things is reading a 10-15 page magazine article with photos that covers all the wood selection, cut list, design, joinery in detail, assembly, etc, then possibly ends with something like a one or two sentence, “Apply finish of your choice.” Thankfully, Bob Flexner’s book (and later articles) came along and helped me along the finishing path.
I, too, went thru 3 different power saws until I bought the bullet and got the Unisaw that I’ve been using for 35+ years. Buy once; cry once.
I always have said, “Woodworking is cheaper than golf.” When you consider recurring greens fees, cart rental, club membership, trips south in the spring, replacement balls, buying new clubs (the golfer’s fallacy: “If I only had that better putter, I could knock 3 strokes off my game.” at some point the limiting factor is on the rubber end of the club (and the wood end of the chisel)), drinks after the game, and so on. With woodworking, you get satisfaction, can be done in any weather, plus a useful object at the end.
Oh, and “Generalizations are always false.”
Chris, thanks for the list. I am also new to hand woodworking and have already made many of the mistakes on your list and then some. I got interested about 9 months ago when I couldn’t find someone to make a set of odd sized cabinet doors. I got on the highly authoritave internet to find a video on how to make doors that looked like the shaker doors in the rest of the house. I felt like I was standing in front of a fire hose. My wood working tools consisted of a 20 year old table saw, a 40 year old router (used once, hated it) a circular saw, a rusty tool box length sears Stinson plastic handled saw and a black and decker sander and drill. After three tries I managed to make a set of doors reasonably square (+- 1/16th.) While browsing the net, I saw Make a Chair from a Tree, bought it and in a short time had all three Anarchist books.
I spend a great deal of my career developing industrial training programs based on the methods developed by the military in WWII to train pilots in 90 days. I thought surely, some one has put woodworking through the process of developing a pathway to mastery (imagine flying a fighter airplane with 90 days of training) but I have yet to find it.
I am a patient person (I fly fish with one fly that I tie and manage to catch fish most ever trip to the river) but at 70 I don’t have 20 years to spend learning how to make a decent comfortable small chair. Maybe I need to focus on Johncashman73’s suggestion and focus on the end game. I like your Welsh chairs but I have a very small house (less than 1,000 sq ft) and want to make six chairs that will fit a 30 X 60 planked table I made from salvage lumber when we demolished the insides of this old house. Any suggestions?
Pick the chair you want. Get a piece of 2×12 construction lumber, and make the proper size seat blank. Keep it ugly. By big dowels for the legs. Small dowels for the spindles. Make a chair.
You’ll want to burn it after a while, but it will be a chair, and you won’t worry about making it an heirloom — just a chair.
Then you’ll be ready for some nice wood on your second chair. Just do it.
Thanks I did that all for southern yellow pine, and it’s perfect from the seat down, spindles and crest are all over the place. I have already rived the next crest had lots of trouble with the steam bend but have a few more ideas for one of Chis videos at the other publishers
I help teach woodworking at a local arts resource center, and for those folks new to the hobby, definitely make plans to attend a course or two at a woodworking school, community college, maker space, or other communal center. All the tools are there, instructors help you learn safe practices (“Don’t put your face in the bandsaw, kids!”), and the hands-on stuff is invaluable.
Also, one of my favorite writerly maxims is, “Never use absolutes. They’ll always get you into trouble.”
I take classes now and then. They can be great to learn some new things, or just to spend some time with people who love the same things.
I still have all of my 56 Hand Planes, bought new, inherited, and found at antique stores and yard sales. And I’ll probably continue to search for the elusive classic. Other than that, I was fortunate enough to to learn early on to buy only what I really needed and of high quality (and they weren’t from the big box stores). I attribute this blessing to the 56 Hand Planes which seemed to satisfy my desire to have all the tools in the world.
Surprisingly, I have a great appreciation and use a lot an early 1900’s compass plane which works wonderfully for sculpting out chair seats.
Oh for the Love of Tools!
I totally agree except for clamps. Never bought a bad clamp.
I’ve bought a lot of bad clamps. Mostly flimsy things.
Buying the Hardware at the End
This reminds me of a design mantra passed on to me by Rupert Williamson some time back in the early 1980s when he came in as a guest lecturer at the college where I was studying furniture design and making.
The maxim goes, simply “Design from the handles back”. The logic being that the handles, pulls, etc are at the front, therefore highly visible, need to integral to the design, and never be perceived as an afterthought.
The same rule really needs to apply to all the hardware (drawer slides, locks, bed fittings, etc, all hidden) because if your plans include using a specific piece of hardware that’s no longer available it may be that an equivalent alternative doesn’t exist.
This Blog could be titled ” Words from a Wise Friend ” . The two that resonate for me are 1 ) keep the number of tools limited ( and high quality ) 2 ) keep the number of gurus limited ( and high quality ) . The one point I would suggest could be reconsidered is ordering hardwood and veneer online . I do not live anywhere near a lumber store that sells hardwood . I have found two online sources that offer great selection , options for milling , and reasonable delivery times . There is a trust factor required but so far has worked well for me .
Yes, buying inexpensive tools is probably the most expensive thing you can do. (Please don’t ask how I learned this.)
All too true, we have all been down that rabbit hole…
I’ll be setting up a companion-site to this article where everyone can repent of their tool-greed by by donating their unnecessarily purchased tools to me…
Great list Chris. When I first attempted to cut dovetails by hand and failed miserably, I bought a jig and a router. When the pluge mechanism on the router failed and flung the still-running router into the air I learned the “believing the jig lie.” I will say though that some of my best tool purchases have been done in the throes of whisky drinking. Oh, and I appreciate the zen koan-like “Always refuse to read articles that say never and always.”
I can certainly afford to buy a Lie-Nielsen bronze #4 smoother, but I wanted the challenge of fettling a $35 Grizzly to whatever peak it could reach. When that Grizz becomes the limiting factor in the quality of my work, I’ll leap to the LN. I got to be a pretty decent player before I bought my first Telecaster, and didn’t get my PRS McCarty until I was almost 40.
It all comes down to whether you believe the high-grade stuff enables your success, or rewards you for achieving it.
Hi Dave. If you enjoy metalworking then this is a fine challenge. The only disadvantage to this approach is it rewards manufacturers that make crap tools.
“If One is Good, 12 is Better” Ask me about Yankee Screwdrivers, go ahead, I dare you….
Chris, your books, articles and vids are tops in the business. That’s because you work at it. Yet there are no fewer than three ways to cut a joint or build anything in woodworking, so exposure to variety can be both helpful and confusing. It’s true that amalgamating four techniques for building a sliding dovetail can be confusing but it ends up being my technique. Mine.
And about those antique hand planes. They are mechanical works of art. Sure, I have too darn many, but it’s my honor to hold in my hand and put to work a tool like my grandfather sold in his hardware store in the 1920s.
Keep up your good work. It’s a true gift to all who come along.
I am so new that I haven’t got a blister yet, but I love to feel and shape the wood. Unfortunately, the shape is usually off somewhere as I’ve made almost every first mistake possible. This article gives me hope after the confusion stemming from hundreds of YouTube videos and internet articles. Thanks for letting us know that gutting it out with common sense seems the best way forward
I had the advantage, or disadvantage of growing up in the retail side of tools, as my father managed an old-school hardware store that catered to pros and schools back when shop classes were still considered essential. Under my dad’s guidance, the store was a full-line Delta dealer, when Delta was the premier machine manufacturer. That meant we (I say “we” because I also worked there) had at least one of every machine Delta made in stock, all the time. We weren’t strong on hand tools, however, since the schools didn’t teach hand-tool use.
I started helping with the annual inventory process when I was about 8, so when I started working there in high school, I was quite familiar with most tools, how they were used, and what made some better than others, depending on their intended use and user..It was fun being a sought-after sales person, even though I was only a teen.
Thus, when I started woodworking in the ’70s, I leaned toward buying the better machines to start with, but made mistakes with hand tools, trying to be economical. But, I quickly learned the advantage of buying better hand tools, as well. The only “sets” I’ve bought over the years were chisels, so I’d have all of the common sizes needed. I have a set of Japanese bench chisels I bought in the ’70s that I like very much. I can get them so sharp that waste material seems to run off in fright on its own. I also have a set of Lie Nielsen bench chisels, and a set of mortising chisels – again for the same reason.
There are times that I wish I had bought a nice Delta Unisaw cabinet saw, but I’ve gotten by with an easier-to-move around the shop contractor’s saw for all these years, after upgrading the rails and fence.I’d still love to splurge on the new Unisaw, however, since I think it’s the best-designed cabinet saw currently available.Delta’s future, however, is sketchy due to the string of corporate buy outs.
While I like hand-cut dovetails, I’m not a fanatic about them. I’m “OK” with router-cut dovetails, now that I understand the design limitations imposed by the use of the standard Porter Cable dovetail jig. The Porter Cable OmniJig is the one tool I regret not purchasing when it was available, though. My excuse has been that I didn’t have room for a dedicated dovetailing station in my garage shop, which the size and weight of the OmniJig almost demanded.
All that said, which I think supports the points you made, Chris, I need to turn off the Internet for a few days, and go sharpen some chisels and hand-plane irons. Well, maybe once the shop gets above 40°.
I came to the hobby later in life and already full of general cynicism. I also inherited a fair amount of my grandfather’s shop (the stuff my uncles didn’t want and in some cases the equipment they replaced with my grandfather’s). I have a dovetail jig. I’ve never used it because it has always seemed like more work to learn to set it up than to learn to hand cut dovetails for a single project. I also have a 4″ craftsman jointer I’ve never even plugged in because I got it after I learned how to use a hand plane.
I did get quite lucky in my beginnings though. I listened to a lot of Shop Talk Live (on the road for work) and mostly took from it to figure out what you want to do and how you want to do it, then build your shop based on those considerations. Easier for me because I inherited a basic shop. The early 80’s Craftsman contractor table saw is still my table saw because I mostly use a table saw for cross cutting and case miters on small boxes. The early 80’s Craftsman bandsaw with the plastic case has been replaced by a Laguna 14-12 because I like resawing and with a LN 62, i can rip and dress boards happily.
I managed to learn that I like hand tools because of the pace and ability to work to a line rather than machine setup. It influenced all my purchases. I use my table saw, band saw and routers all the time. I have three bench planes from Veritas and LN plus a handful of specialty planes which I add to when it makes sense. I bought Japanese saws because they were cheaper and didn’t require learning to sharpen a saw, and am happy with them.
And I got really lucky that I was able to learn from Chris (and a few others) on sharpening and not get mired in the weird woodworker subculture of sharpening. One two-sided diamond plate, three blocks of MDF with diamond paste, no jigs. Could I get sharper? Absolutely. Enough sharper to make investments in time and money worth it? Probably not.
As a relatively new woodworker in the anarchist tradition, I have two hopes for this post:
1. I hope I can learn these lessons before I make the same mistakes
2. I hope post causes a reverse-Schwarz effect in which “experienced” woodworkers are convinced to sell off their extra tools at bargain prices.
It’s not just too many tools – it’s too many ideas,. Pinterest, You Tube, demos, Instagram, articles – I want to make too many things all at once!
I just don’t understand why wisdom takes 30 or 40 years to acquire.
I was fortunate to begin my woodworking journey pre-internet. I had the editors of Fine Woodworking to vet my gurus. The biggest mistake I see is too little personal experimentation and possibly risk taking. Skills come with practice and stretching beyond your current level. Wood is not prohibitively expensive. Make a mistake or two. Throw the fouled board away and grab another, or you just might figure out how to recover from the mistake.
Cutting some dovetails tomorrow. I better check with the internet gurus to see if I should cut the tails first or the pins first. This constant argument is the main reason I stopped subscribing to Fine Woodworking. I learned a lot from Taig Frid Ian Kirby, Frank Klausz, Dr R. Bruce Hoadley, James Krenov,… and in the TV world, the venerable Roy Underhill. I’m still not certain if he’s more woodworker or historian and preserver of the craft. It just doesn’t matter.
The only reason I own a slew of chisels is because when one is dull, I grab another one.
I don’t understand (agree?) with what you said about sets of tools. fine, you can make due with 3 chisels. but I would like to see you make a dovetailed dresser and a workbench with only one saw. It might be doable. Paul sellers claims the only plane you need is a no. 4. He can joint a table with that thing. I say the only thing you need for that is to be Paul Sellers. until I got my No. 8, my work was crap.
Chris, do you ever consider updating a future printing of the ATC to include some of your more recent preferences, such as newer auger bits (now that Wood Owl is available), newer planes vs. older planes (jack plane aside), possibly including a #3, etc.? Just curious what the tipping point would be for you to consider a revision, or if that just invites more trouble and tail chasing.
Yes, I have thought about it. I don’t want to milk readers with a revised edition. Eventually I will make it free for everyone. And then I’ll revise it. But my recommendations stand. WoodOwls are auger bits. And regular augers are great – they are re-sharpenable.
Makes sense, thanks. At this point I think we’re milking you, but your point is generous and well taken.
I hate to see an old (good) tool suffer. Sometimes I’ll pick them up just to love on them and give them the respect they deserve as I restore them. I have 14 handsaws at last count. Wish I knew how to sharpen them better.
Jesus and Norm in the same sentence: PERFECT!
Mine I suspect were the common newbie mistakes:
Expecting more progress, without putting the hours in
Being too self-critical of early attempts
Being too unaware of early progress
Trying to chew off a big project too early – when I should have stuck to making shop tools for a while
Not recognizing that a messed up early big project could be “recycled” aka – garage shelves in the next house
My goal – to progressively suck less and less.
Chris I have (and occasionally still do) made at least 6 of the same mistakes. Making a cut list is not one of them! i have found changes in design etc change constantly – sometimes for the good and sometimes not! The one thing I can’t seem to stop is finding a tool and thinking ‘boy, I could probably use that some day’
Comments are closed.