Only the best?

I’ve never known anyone to take up woodworking in any form simply as an excuse to buy expensive tools. But I have known many for whom woodworking was greatly enhanced by using the best tools.

Professionals, regardless of what trade they work in, will rarely use anything but the best they can get. For them, the best tools are not a luxury; they are a necessity and represent part of the cost of doing business. I spent much of my life as a professional woodworker and I never gave a second thought to buying top quality equipment.

I began with whatever tools I could gather together and most were modestly priced. (I have never felt that cheap tools were worth even the ridiculously low price most of them can be had for.) But years of working with top quality tools has spoiled me and now, whenever I need a tool, I always start looking at the top.

Sometimes this is not smart, especially when I’ll only need a tool for a one-time project that I cannot image ever having to do again. A much less expensive tool would probably do just as well. But like I said, I’m spoiled.

What’s been your experience?



  • Chuck says:

    I read the reviews and do the best I can to buy the right tool for me which is alsmost always top of the line. Except for my biscuit cutter – it is a modest one. I could never get myself to buy that very expensive top of the line model – I’m sure you know which one I am referring to.

    Am I missing something by not owning it?

  • Duncan says:

    I also own a modest biscuit joiner, the shop I manage has a couple of the “lower end” models from the top of the line company. The most significant difference in use is that I have to be a bit more careful when adjusting mine to ensure that the fence clamps into position parallel with the cutter. So you are probably not missing much by not owning “top of the line” in this case

    The “top of the line” tool is not always the best, sometimes it comes down to value for money, sometimes there is a better tool available from a lesser brand, sometimes it comes down to what you need the tool to do or be under the circumstances

    Some manufacturers make certain tools very well, and other tools…not so well. Bosch makes splendid jigsaws, but I quit buying their reciprocating saws years ago after breaking 3 in less than 6 months. The Milwaukee Sawsall that replaced them is still going strong. Over time a tradesperson develops preferences that are based on personal and shared experience about what tools last and will get the job done. But when the good tool is in the repair shop and you just need to get through the job, the cheap tool from the home center is mighty tempting…and sometimes that cheap tool will break instantly, or surprise you with quality and longevity.

    It is also important to remember that maintenance is part of having the best tools. There’s no point having the best if it is not going to be taken care of. The best tools will also not make a better worker out of someone who does not know how to use them or care for them, keep them sharp, aligned, etc.

    You can buy very nice, high quality, ready to use hand planes from a few sources now, none are inexpensive. You can buy a good quality well used plane at a tool sale or flea market, tune it up, get an aftermarket blade and also have a very nice hand plane. In both cases you would end up with a “top of the line” tool. In the first case all you need is money, in the second you need to invest less money but also some sweat equity and time doing research so you know what to look for when you buy. But neither will be a good tool for long if it is not taken care of and kept sharp. The experience of restoring the used plane will do a lot to develop the skills necessary to maintain it.

    Which is best? It depends…

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