Friday, May 14, 2010

Shop Talk, Part 2 - Tool Time, Episode 1

Ahhh, it's a few minutes til Friday, and my plan is to finish setting up my shop tomorrow and Saturday; and maybe get some small projects done by Monday.

Now, as I said, I've got a decent, but not huge, space to use; my two+ car garage (it's not quite big enough for a three car, but it's bigger than a standard 2 car).  I've got 672 square feet on the ground floor; about 512 of it free space, clear of walls, stairs, and builtins.

Not bad.. and certainly a lot better than things have been. In Arizona my "shop" was my front "porch" (actually a converted single car car port) and a 12x12 E-Z-UP style pavilion.

In Arizona.

In summer...

Yeah... I didnt get much done between May and October.

Now I've got a decent space, that I could theoretically heat and cool (though neither are in place as of yet); with both a regular entry door and a nice big garage door; and an upstairs loft for wood storage etc...

So... What am I going to fill that space in with?

Oh yay, we get to have some tool porn.

So, I've been accumulating tools for a while; but I never wanted to make a big investment in the fixed "anchor" tools, until I had a real shop... in fact, since this house is just a rental (albeit one we plan to spend at least two years in), I still don't.

BUT... I also want to do a bunch of precision work. I'm going to be using this shop to build a BUNCH of furniture for our house, plus patio furniture, to build a playset for the kids, to help convert my 28 foot race trailer into a toy hauler (yay, custom cabinetry and benchwork), to restore an old wooden boat or two, and maybe to build a new one or two as well.

So I really need some decent quality tools. I really can't get by with what I was working with.... Or at least I wouldn't be able to put up with the frustrating difficulty of getting it done using that stuff. It's time for REAL tools to work with (if not necessarily the ones I'll have as my primary tools when I have a permanent shop that I build from scratch)

The Anchor Tools

In every wood shop, there are some fundamental or perhaps foundational tools. I tend to think of them as anchor tools... Basically, they are the big, important tools, you really don't want to do without.

The most important tool in a wood shop, is the table saw. Without a table saw, it isn't a wood shop. Really, everything else is convenient, and nice to have, but optional.

Theoretically, you can do MOST of what a table saw will do, with a circular saw, a router, and some hand tools... but you really don't want to do without a good table saw.

In a close tie for second place, are a miter saw, and a band saw. You CAN do the jobs they do with other tools (hand saws, jig saws, circular saw); but your life is going to be a lot harder without them.

Next up is a drill press. Again, you can do most of what a drill press will do using hand and handheld power drills; but it will be slower, less precise, and a hell of a lot harder... And trust me, you dont want to hand drill a few dozen regularly spaced holes in hardwood.

Those are the tools I consider absolutely essential (not including the hand power tools like drills and sanders etc...). There are another couple of tools that are optional, but HIGHLY desirable.

First among these, are the jointer and planer. If you're going to do any furniture making, or other finish carpentry, you really must have either a large number of hand planes, and table saw and router jigs; or a jointer and planer.

The jointer and planer (and you really need both; though with a large jointer, and a good sander and router with the right jigs; you can do without the planer for smaller stock 6" wide and under) allow you to mill your lumber down close to finish dimensions, and make it strait, fair, and true... critical for any fine work.

Also optional but very useful, is a combo disc and belt sander. This lets you move the stock, rather than the sander; for working on large flat surfaces, stock removal, and the edges of pieces.

A "nice to have", that has only recently become affordable for the home woodworker, is the wide belt or wide drum thickness sander. This is a lot like a planer, but instead of cutting knives, it has a wide sanding belt or drum; that will rough sand the surface of the wood you are milling. They ARE rather expensive however. Most woodworkers don't have them yet; but I'm willing to bet that in 10 years, there will be more people with drum sanders, than with planers. People are already starting to give up their planers in favor of buying an equivalent capacity and quality sander (they cost about the same).

The final big "really nice to have" is a dedicated dust collection system. You can always run your shop vac over to each tool as you use it; but they aren't actually all that good at pulling dust, and doing that is a real pain in the ass. You're much better off with a dedicated dust collection system. They start off relatively cheap (in the $250 range), but can easily run into several thousand dollars.

Then there's a third category of  "man, that'd be handy, but I can do it some other way".

In that category, I'd put a router table (for dadoes, rabbets, and edge shaping, but can be done with a router and jig), drum and spindle sanders (for edge sanding, but can be done with a drill press and jig), and a dedicated mortising machine (which you can also do with a jig and drill press).

A bit of a special case is the wood lathe. If you're going to do turning, it's not optional; if you're not going to turn you don't need one... I think every shop should have one, but it's something you can put off until you specifically want to do some turning.

Molders and shapers are similar, in that if you aren't going to do a lot of beading or molding, you can get away without them (using your router, router table, a molding/shaping head in your planer etc..), but if you are, you need'em.

In Arizona, I got by with a 10" benchtop saw with a floor stand (not really a contractors saw), a 10" benchtop bandsaw (WAY too small), a 10" direct drive miter saw, a 10" benchtop drill press, a benchtop belt and disc sander, a 4" benchtop jointer, and a 12" benchtop planer.

The sad part is, that's still $1300 worth of tools (oh and it wasn't intentional buying all craftsman, I got them all at different times... it just sort of happened that way)... and all of them will get the job don... just not as well, and much less conveniently than better tools. Trying to work with these tools made things a lot more difficult than they had to be. They just didn't have the power, the capacity, or the quality, to get the results I wanted.

Of course, $1300 doesn't quite get you a decent 10" cabinet saw (though you can snag a decent hybrid for a couple hundred less) from a major manufacturer... So there are certainly tradeoffs.

What that means though, is that I knew I'd be buying a lot of new tools to rebuild my shop here in Idaho; and since I knew I was replacing them, I didn't want to carry the smaller/lower quality stuff with us.

So, I sold, gifted, just gave away, or otherwise got rid of the tools I was planning to replace (I kept all my really good tools),or otherwise didn't want, or need, to keep.

Of course, that left me with big gaps to fill.

Time to rebuild...

(to be continued in "Tool Time episode 2", tomorrow).