The cost of quality

With any woodworker starting out (any hobbyist of any hobby, really), there comes the choice about how deep and how fast one will jump in. Let’s be perfectly honest here: there’s quite a bit of a barrier to any hobby, but some are steeper than others. Want to learn to play guitar? It can be done as cheap as you can find a used guitar and some YouTube lessons on the internet. Want to go racing? The LeMons series is a great entry point – beater, some safety equipment and fees. Go to town.

In some respects, woodworking is similar. Carpentry-type tools are an easy entry point, and can always be used in home repair and simple projects. For the most part a hammer is a hammer. A socket set is a socket set. While there are some quality differences, they will all usually get the job done.

When you start moving to stationary tools that it becomes a whole new world. Instead of buying that $100 saw, you’re told you should invest five to ten times that. Or more. A router? Bigger is better. Bandsaw? Should buy one capable of resawing if you’re going to spend the money. I mention all of these things because I’ve seen them recommended…to someone just getting started. Look, we shouldn’t be recommending vintage 1957 Les Pauls to someone learning how to play guitar. We can mention that as the quality goes up in any tool, so does the enjoyment. In a lot of cases, the capability as well. I can’t say that your first tool should be your last tool, though. Let’s be reasonable. It creates a barrier to entry that sometimes can’t be overcome.

I bring this back up because I think I may have had my first real brush with greatness – my new planer. Look, I’m not going to sit here and try to pretend the Dewalt 735 is the best planer on the planet. If it was, every shop would be using it. There are bigger models, there are better models. But it’s regularly considered the best portable planer you can buy – and I wouldn’t disagree with that unless something new comes along. The difference in finish between my old planer and this is like night and day. It’s not to say the old planer didn’t work, because it did – I made many a project with it. It just was never quite this good. Some of this can be attributed to having three knives vs two. And clean, sharp blades.

This isn’t to say this is the first time I’ve bought quality. My Narex chisels would be insulted. It also isn’t to say my other purchases are crap – they aren’t by any means. This though is the first time where I can truly tell a difference and see where the money has gone. I will probably be able to say the same over time with the chisels, but a good sharp chisel on crap steel will perform the same as one on good steel. I’ll just have that edge for longer. And the handles on the Narex are simply better.

I don’t regret what I’ve said in the past. Everyone should find their own way and not necessarily rely on recommendations for expensive tools the first time around. You do get what you pay for in a lot of respects, but those cheaper tools can work just fine for a long time. For someone who dabbles, it might be all they need. I do think there’s inherent value of seeing both what the more quality tools can do compared to the cheaper alternatives. In a perfect world, one would be able to test drive both and see the results for themselves. If I were a company like Festool, I’d set up a showroom or travelling booth where people could try the tools for themselves. I know they do demos at various shops, but being able to see a technique or a tool side-by-side with what they currently do would answer a lot of questions.

All this rambling point is that people shouldn’t be influenced or persuaded to spend more than they are willing to. Your first tool shouldn’t necessarily be your last tool. Go at your own pace with your spending, and be comfortable with upgrading or reselling.

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