The other day I went to ask Glen Huey a question. He was out in the shop, working on his project for the first issue of 360 WoodWorking, and he kept going as we talked. I couldn’t help but notice that he had three different types of mallets on his bench, and he was using all of them at different times. There was one with a rubber face for gently persuading things, a traditional wooden mallet, and one of the ones that Glen makes that no self-respecting woodworker should be without. I mentioned that I found it interesting that there were so many specialized tools for as mundane a task as smacking things. Like Glen, I have a variety of devices for persuading, tapping, driving, pounding and smashing in a range of sizes, shapes and materials. An alternate definition of woodworker could well be “easy mark for a tool seller.”
Woodworkers tend to think of tools as possessing magical qualities, “if I only had “X” I’d be able to do “Y” as well as anybody.” That is most often not the case as there is a distinction between tools that are perfectly suited for a specific task and tools that will actually enable you to do something you couldn’t before. Most of the cool tools have evolved to meet the needs of somebody who does the same thing all the time and is trying to make a living. The danger is seeing a photo like the one at left and thinking you won’t be able to do anything unless you have this many measuring and marking tools. There is a lot of difference between “essential”, “nice to have” and “that might come in handy if I ever do . . .” The essential list is surprisingly small and getting good with the essential tools makes it easier to decide what to get next, and it also makes that next tool easier to learn. We have to watch out for our own weaknesses and be careful that tool sellers (and authors) don’t take advantage of us.
Over in my little corner of the shop I’m still settling in and unpacking things. In doing so I realized that I may have a “problem” with marking, measuring and layout tools. It’s not the only area I have a problem with, I might also have a chisel “problem” and I could be on the verge of a knife “problem”. I suspect that Glen may have a Unisaw “problem”. I’m defining “problem” here as being at the point where it becomes an effort to get at the tools you really need because all of the “nice to have” and “might come in handy” tools are in the way. Fortunately, as you work the essentials will rise to the top of the heap.
They say that confession is good for the soul and that admitting a problem exists is the first step to getting past it. I feel better, and I’m probably safe until the next time I visit the Lee Valley website and click on “What’s New”. So how about you? Is there a particular type of tool that you always spring for, or are you a general tool addict? Any tools you bought that have barely been used? What are your “essentials? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.