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Thread: Your tool buying philosophy $ vs $$$$?

  1. #1
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    Question Your tool buying philosophy $ vs $$$$?

    As a new woodworker who is just a hobbyist,with a limited budget, I am constanly torn between buying the best tool or a lower priced beginners level tool...say Bosch vs Craftsman or even, heaven forbid, Harbor Freight . (I've purchased all three) Obviously the more Bosch the fewer tools.For example I had an old Craftsman router & bought a new Bosch & to tell the truth I am equally happy using either one (although it would be nice if the Bosch had a light, the Craftsman does)

    How do you make this decision?
    Thanks
    Dennis

  2. #2
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    Hey Dennis,
    There are some tools that you can get by with even at mediocre quality. If you are using a router mainly for edge treatments, just about any router will do. If you are building raised panels or cutting lots of dadoes, quality helps. I think you definitely need quality in some tools: tablesaw, bandsaw, most hand tools, brushes, squares, etc. Drills, routers, hammers, etc all pretty much do the job unless you are going to use them all day at work...

    Some reasons to buy good tools:

    1. Poorly made tools don't hold their settings and require more frequent adjustments - so called 'beginners tools' are actually harder to use.

    2. Poorly made tools have little resale value, while hand tools from say Lie Nielsen or Lee Valley bring almost 100% of retail on the used market.

    3. Poorly made tools require a lot of 'tuning' before they are really useful, especially hand tools.

    4. Most folks who buy cheap tools wind up buying better ones later, hence the old saying "buy quality and cry once, buy junk and cry again and again".

    You can find some top rate used tools on craigslist.org that will serve you much better than a new cheapo for the same money.....

    My two cents. On the other hand, I know lots of folks who enjoy bragging rights over a good deal... Let us know how you fill that toolchest!
    Don't believe everything you think!

  3. #3
    Join Date
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    I read ads, compare features against price, factor in what is said on forums like this, ask friends, stick wet finger in air, then make a decision. For me, most times the dart sticks on Grizzly. Their Springfield, MO store isn't far from where my son lives and only about 2 1/2 hours from my home so I, essentially, do not have shipping, or even gasoline, costs as I am that way pretty often anyway. I have been happy with their products, delighted with service and just enjoy the way I'm treated at the store. Selection is great with something for everyone's budget. Bottom line I look for is value. That's a combination of features and price.
    "Folks is funny critters."

    Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so, too. ~Voltaire

  4. #4
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    This is always an interesting question, and the responses should be interesting.
    When I relied on my tools for a living, I bought the best I could. When I started woodworking as a hobby, I bought the best I could afford.
    I have gotten great deals at pawn shops and on the used market.
    I try to avoid impulse buying, and like to see how the latest and greatest hold up over time. When shopping I rely on magazine articles and from reviews on boards like this.
    I used to be very brand loyal, but it seems the brands have not been loyal to customers, so my shop is not as color coordinated as some.

  5. #5
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    Dennis,

    The conventional wisdom says buy the best you can afford, and there's something to that. But...

    Most people who ask this question are just starting out. There's not much point paying $1500 for a bandsaw when you don't even know if you're going to like woodworking, or even be doing it two years from now. Not only that, but there's no way people can be educated buyers before they're experienced. One just doesn't know what's important, and it's easy to fall prey to the hype-masters.

    Here's a test... are you spending more for materials or for tools? I'm probably an intermediate woodworker, and I've got about an equal balance... most of it in building materials. I've probably got under 10,000 in my shop (which was made so I can fix up this ragged old house), vs. about that much in wood and building materials. Except for my incra fence, I've never bought a truly highend tool. If I did have the money to buy one (which I don't), I'd know what to look for now.

    The best advice I can give: be pragmatic. What will let you do the job, without sucking down too much of your time in fiddling and in ruined workpieces? No indian can shoot an out of balance arrow! A good example of pragmatism: Marty's shop. He's got that gorgeous slider... but keeps an old saw around for certain kinds of cuts.

    Another example. A few months ago, I bought an HF hammer drill for like 20 bucks. I'd never used one, didn't know if it'd be useful, etc. Did a few projects with it. Yep, for some things, its *very* useful. It died last week, so I spent 100 on a real one. Now, did I waste 20 bucks? Or do I save, in the long run, by educating myself? Your call...

    Thanks,

    Bill

  6. #6
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    If the tool requires accuracy (measuring devices of any kind, CMS, router, large power tools) I have re-bought my share despite warnings. Learn from my pain ($$$); don't do it.

    I have a C-man ROS that does a good job for rough work. A B&D 'Dragster' belt sander that is one that they seem to have gotten right. The lesson learned is that in addition to spending more than I would have to replace the 'less expensive' tool is compounded by the cost of spoiled material and do-overs (wood ain't cheap).

    If I spend $X more, the first time I don't have to run back to the lumberyard to replace that botched piece of cherry (and you never find a replacement piece with that figure you were so careful to pick out) I'm ahead and will be from now on.

    So there's my take on it as someone who got back into this just over 3 years ago. The money I wasted on 'less expensive' tools and the mistakes they caused would buy the better tool more than once. You don't need a euro-slider to work wood, my tweaked C-man is still doing duty at my dad's. But, my Bosch jigsaw v.s. my Skil, my Milwaukee routers v.s. my C-man and Ryobis, New DP v.s. the old, etc. etc. No contest.

    Tom makes a good point about relying on proven performers. Watch the posts of some of our professional members. Their tools are their trade and they have long ago figured out what works for them over the long haul. The PC 690 router (almost standard fare in any pro shop) for example is rumored to be heading toward end-of-life and can be had pretty cheap for what it is. I'm sure there are other examples, yard sales, craigslist, etc. where you can get more bang for your buck without a warranty. Reconditioned tools have never given me any trouble and you can usually save about 15% or more. Get on Lee Valley, Rockler, Woodcraft, Woodpeckers, etc. email lists where they send you special deals. This has brought a few items into my shop that I wouldn't spend the money for until the price was too good to pass up.
    Last edited by glenn bradley; 09-09-2007 at 06:00 PM.
    Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
    - Arthur C. Clarke

  7. #7
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    okay i`ll bite........what are your intentions for these tools? is woodworking a hobby? if it is, how old are you and where do you want to be with your work in the future? where do you need to be now? are you trying to build and furnish a house while raising kids and paying the bills, or are you building birdhouses for the neighbor ladies as relaxation?
    it`s very hard to offer any kind of advice that will be suitable unless i know more about your situation......
    beautifull stuff has been built for centuries, long before the craftsman and bosch lables where ever heard of so thinking along the lines of power tools isn`t the only road to sucess building "stuff".....
    all of the advice offered is true, how much of it pertains to you i can`t venture a guess.....
    tod
    [SIZE="1"] associated with several importers and manufacturers.[/SIZE]

  8. #8
    I like Bill's point of view. If you spend so much on tools that you are using bad material you will get frustrated. Buying some nice timber and making simple things with it using simple tools can be great fun.

    The balance at starting out is getting good enough tools. Really cheap tools can frustrate and get in the way. Really expensive ones may never "pay off" for an occasional user. So the short answer is that the philosophy ought to be "buy the best that you can afford given how much value you are likely to get from that tool" And don't forget to look for ways to use the tools you have to achieve the result that you want.

  9. #9
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    Dennis,

    The best way to describe my decision-making is the price/value equation. Sometimes, I go with my gut on a buying decision but will, in most cases, consult with other woodworkers in person or via a forum such as this one.

    There will always be that faction that will encourage you to buy what are considered to be top-shelf products, which is great if you have deep pockets. For instance, when shopping for a bandsaw three years ago, a high percentage of respondents on a forum basically said I was foolish for considering anything less than a price tag of $2400 and up. I ended up spending about $900 on an excellent machine that had great reviews from people who actually use it. And, I had $1500 left over to spend on something else!

    To be honest with you, some folks (with lots of $$$) come across like they are buying to impress the next person to walk into their shop. That's fine if they have the where-with-all to spend, spend, spend. My attitude is simple: if you aren't comfortable standing in my shop around equipment made by Jet, Grizzly and HF, the door works both ways. It's the craftsperson that creates quality, not the machine.

    Good luck in your decisions!

    Bill Arnold
    Citizen of Texas residing in Georgia.
    NRA Life Member
    Member of Mensa
    Live every day like it's your last, but don't forget to stop and smell the roses.

  10. #10
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    Great topic, that you will get a lot of great answer for.

    In the end, you have to do the balancing act, as only you know your situation well enough to make the decision.

    For me, I like buying good used tools, but I have bought a couple of expensive new tools, my example of that would be my Festool circular saw and guide rails. For my limited shop space this has made breaking down sheet goods VERY easy, compared to putting them through the TS (remember limited space!) and the accuracy plus great dust extraction were also key. Yeah the Festool was expensive, but I do not regret it at all, but I have bought my fair share of "Cheap" tools the ended up being very expensive, because they preformed poorly, and did not last very long.

    You can always build your own tools too
    The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.
    William Arthur Ward

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