Woodwork Tools Blog

Sep

8

Woodwork Tools – Quality Vs Price

Wander into any shop that sells woodwork tools, and you will be struck by the wide variety of prices that are on display, for items which appear to be almost identical. Take the compound miter saw as an example. When looking at compound miter saws, you can pretty much pay as much or as little as you like – from a model something along these lines (Klutch Compound Sliding Miter Saw with Laser Guide – 10in) right up to this Festool (Festool Kapex KS 120 Sliding Compound Miter Saw) which sits somewhere near the top of the range. Clearly, comparing these 2 products is about as extreme an example as you can get, but it does serve to highlight the enormous range in prices for woodwork tools that is seen in todays marketplace – all claiming to perform more or less the same function.

So when it comes to woodwork tools, is the cheap version going to cut it (pardon the pun)? Is it worth paying 10 times the price, or are you really just paying for the brand name and better marketing?

With few exceptions, when it comes to woodwork tools, experience has shown me that you generally get what you pay for. Tools are one area in which I have found the old adage “buy cheap, buy twice” to be particularly apt. Too many times I have been sucked into what appears to be a bargain price, only to find myself realising relatively quickly why it was so bargain priced. There are a couple of examples from my personal experiences that immediately spring to mind

The first is something that seems so simple, that is hard to imagine how there can be a substantial difference between the cheapest model and the top of the line – the claw hammer. I can tell you from personal experience that even with this simplest of woodwork tools, it is worth avoiding the cheapest versions if you can afford to. I have a mid-priced claw hammer, but it was only when I was given a cheap claw hammer that I realised how much better my original tool was. The first thing that I noticed about the cheap hammer was that it just wasn’t as well balanced as my original hammer, and I found using it more tiring than my original hammer. The second thing that became apparent after a bit of use was that the metal quality was far inferior. After only a short period of use removing nails, I found that the claw was deformed – clearly the metal of the nails was harder than the metal of the hammer!! So in short, you can still drive a nail in using the hammer, but it is now effectively useless for removing them, and is far less comfortable to use. Metal quality is also a common issue in other types of woodwork tools such as chisels, woodworking planes, screwdrivers etc.

The second example that has stuck in my mind is a cheap cut off saw (also known as a “drop saw” or a “miter saw”) that I purchased. I have an old Dewalt radial arm saw, which I have used for some years now, but recently, while replacing some decking timber it decided to die on me. Since I didn’t want to hold up getting the job done, I decided my best course of action would be to pick up a cheap cut off saw, which I managed to find for about $50. At the time, my logic in buying the cheapest I could find was something along the lines of “how hard can it be to cut a board – surely even the cheapest saw can do that…”, and I also couldn’t afford the time to properly research my options. As I soon found out, even the cheapest of saws can cut a board, but not all of them can do it well.

The decking timber I was laying was hardwood, and almost as soon as I started using the new saw, I discovered that the boards were not butting together as well as they had been. The first thing I adjusted was the fence, and discovered that the 90 degree positive stop wasn’t actually at 90 degrees. Not an uncommon issue, and a relatively simple fix, but the boards still weren’t fitting as well as they had been. It took me a while to realise what was actually going on – as the blade travelled through the hard timber, it was actually deflecting sideways, resulting in a somewhat angled cut. Now fortunately, this was not too much of a problem in this situation, but the result is that I now have a cheap saw that I no longer trust whenever I need accurate cuts, and I definitely wish I had spent a few more dollars and got a saw of reasonable quality.

So how much do you need to spend? In general, my approach is to buy the best tool that I can afford (although there have been exceptions, as demonstrated above). I generally have a good look around on the internet for reviews of any tools that I am looking to purchase, and if I realise that I can’t afford a tool that has decent reviews, I will put off buying it until I can afford it. Taking this approach also makes me think about whether I really need a tool, as often purchasing a new tool will make the job easier, but you can generally get by without it as well – it may just take a little more creativity to achieve the same result with your old fashioned woodwork tools!

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