“My Mama Told me…….You Better Shop Around”

Whilst pondering on my recent post “Shop Shopping”, I was mentally listing those tools which would be needed to round out the “basics”.

Every wood worker I know of has at some level, a serious addiction to tools. I am no exception. If I were an independently wealthy man, I would equip my obscenely large, yet tastefully appointed shop with the very latest and greatest in tooling. I would spare no expense to make my shop the very essence of what a fine wood working shop should be.

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It just so happens though, that I am a man of meager means. Every tool purchase must be justified by it’s ability to contribute to the over all efficiency of the shop as a place of both creation, and production. This is in addition to the fact that the size of the shop space available to me is also a limiting factor. 12 feet by 24 feet, is not a lot of real estate, and every inch must be able to be called upon to play several roles.

I mentioned in that recent post that I had been fortunate enough to secure three of the most basic machines required for an efficient wood working shop. A well built and sturdy contractor’s model table saw, and a combination jointer and planer. These purchases represent a significant amount of time in their research. Mostly from years ago, but also in the more recent past I studied these machines to determine their viability in the shop I had in my mind’s eye.

The table saw, while needing to have it’s bearings replaced, is adequately powered for the initial work that I plan to do, and is in reasonably good shape. With some elbow grease, and some replacement parts, I expect it to perform well enough for my needs until such time as my circumstances allow for a larger, more powerful, more capable machine.

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The combination jointer/planer is also a very fine machine. Though here, I am clearly rolling the dice. First off, it is a generation “1” machine. Most often, “gen 1” machines are not to be trusted until later iterations have the bugs worked out. In this case, the case of the Inca 510, Inca got it right from the beginning. Inca devotee’s seek this machine out for its reputation as being the more long lived and robust of the Inca jointer/planer family. The problem is, Inca no longer exports these machines into the U.S. Replacement parts can be very difficult and very expensive to get a hold of. Also, as fine and as accurate as you would expect a Swiss made machine to be, it is also a machine that has it’s idiosyncratic requirements regarding it’s day to day use. Tow the line following these rules, and the machine can be expected to perform and to last for a very long time indeed. Step out of line however, and you may find yourself with a highly pedigreed boat anchor.

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In that vein, I began recently, considering what my further needs are as far as economically outfitting my shop. Near the top of that list is a secondary planer. I know this may seem like over kill, but here is my thought. The Inca jointer shares the same cutter head as it’s planer. This means that the blades in that cutter head are expected to do double duty. I am fine with this, because I am well aware of what is required to ensure a long and productive life. One of the things that will greatly extend the longevity of this wonderful machine, is a second, inexpensive planer to help with the heavy lifting of thicknessing lumber. This would leave the Inca planer to do the lighter, more refined thicknessing and leaving an equally refined finish on the stock run through it.

There are a handful of machines I am considering for this.

Below, are pictures of what are referred to as “Lunch box planers”.

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The idea behind a lunch box planer, is to have the ability to thickness stock as accurately as you could with a floor standing model, but also, to have the ability to both cart the machine to a job site, or to be able to store it out of the way in a SMALL SHOP.

Each of the four pictured machines, with the possible exception of the squat looking DeWalt DW-735, has proven itself to do these things very, very well over their respective histories. The exception being the DW-735 due to its much larger size and weight. These are mostly geared for more heavy lifting than it’s lighter weight brothers, yet at a price point that makes it within reach  of SMALL SHOPS.

Each of these can normally be found on Craigslist if you are patient enough. Usually for a song. So there is the next major purchase.

Next, clamps. There is an old wood working truism, you can NEVER have enough clamps. Clamps are perhaps THE most overlooked “Must Have” in a woodworking shop. Overlooked until the first project that requires them. Let’s be honest here, ALL wood working projects require clamps of some sort. That is unless all you are doing is cutting firewood.
Clamps are also one of the per piece, most expensive to buy. Bar clamps, Parallel clamps etc. can all run as much as $35-$40 each. in my shop, a STARTER SET of clamps should include at least 16 clamps.
My clamp of choice is the “Pony 3/4″ Pipe” clamp. These have, over time, proven to be the absolute best bang for the buck…….by a long way. Here is why.

At a minimum, buying bar clamps or parallel clamps  would cost roughly, $560. that’s $560.00. Dollars. Mucho Dinero.  For that, you get a well made clamp, sure to last a long, long time. that’s just great.

But i prefer these Pony Pipe clamps.

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I prefer them because, while still not cheap at anywhere between $12-$14 apiece plus the black cast iron pipe to fit them on,  they are significantly more versatile. look at it like this, with a bar clamp, you are limited to whatever size you buy. There is no modularity to them. if you buy a six foot clamp, you are stuck with a six foot clamp.
I can go and buy 16 pipe clamp fixtures for, let’s say $12 per. There is nearly $200 right there. Add to that the purchase of 5-10foot lengths of black gas pipe at your local Big Orange Retail Giant, or BORG for short, at $20 per. Now we are at $300….stay with me, here is where it gets good…..out of those 5 lengths of pipe, I can now fashion myself 8 -48″ clamps, 4-30″ clamps, and 4-24″ inch clamps. There are 16 clamps, three different sizes, and the ability in the future to purchase  additional black pipe for special needs projects that do not fit into the 48-30-24″ range. Neat huh? To me, these are a no-brainer.

Next on the list is a tool that I cringe at, but know that in order to be versatile as a wood working shop, I am going to need. That tool is a “track saw”.

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I cringe because, this means I am open to working with “Sheet goods” like particle board, and MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) rather than solid wood exclusively. It pains me to say it, but in order to survive, at least initially, I DO have to be open to using this material. In order to use this material, I need to be able to dimension it.
I can hear you asking….”Why not just use the table saw to do that Madcap”?
Well my lower back and I are both here to tell you…..I need a track saw to manage sheet goods. At a minimum, to size them down from their normal 4’x8′ size, into parts that are much more manageable. At around $400-$500 for a good track saw and two different sized tracks, It is money well worth it. I could just buy a circular saw, and use a straight edge to approximate the same thing, but in my experience, there is no comparison in accuracy and ease of use absent a full fledged sliding table saw.

Next up on my happy hit parade, cavalcade of toys…ahem…I mean serious woodworking tools, I am going to need a couple of routers. Again, I cringe at these machines somewhat. They are loud, violent, easy to catastrophically ruin work pieces, and if they get a hold of any flesh, they do not cut per se, they mangle. That said, aside from a full fledged Shaper, (which I currently have zero space for) these machines prove over and over to be some of the most versatile and useful production machinery available for a modern woodshop. Bar none.

The problem for someone like me, highly addicted to tooling in general, and profoundly addicted to tooling that comes in “sets” in particular, is that in order for a router(s) to be useful, they require “bits”. Lot’s of carbide tipped wonderfulness. In sets.

Routers, in my view, also need to come in sets. Three at a minimum.

Multiple routers are the small wood working shop’s secret weapon. Immediately, a small shop proprietor should procure the most powerful router  he or she can, to be mounted upside-down in either a dedicated, purpose built table, or better yet, into a heavy, cast iron table extension for his or her table saw. The added heft of the table saw wing extension ensures much smoother operation and also a modicum more accuracy with a good guide fence.

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In effect, using this set up, the shop owner now has a good shaper, using the exact footprint as his or her table saw. This is a must have for operations like making raised panel doors for cabinets for instance.

Next in the line up should be a router kit that includes several bases that the router motor can be installed in, depending on the job at hand.

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Each of the three bases pictured above, lend themselves to different operations. This extends the router’s capabilities, and basically makes three different machines out of a single purchase. Again, a no brainer.

Last, but not least is a small trim router.

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Well appointed trim routers like the one shown above, are seriously a Godsend for operations like working with veneers, laminates, and for doing intricate in-lay work in solid wood. No shop should be without this machine.

Again, none of these routers, by themselves are worth a plugged nickel, without Lots of bits….LOT’s of bits. Too many to go into here. Suffice to say, I could spend WAY, WAY too much money on collecting router bits, but would be able to justify every one of them depending on the job requiring them.

I think I will stop there for now. I feel like I have just disgorged myself, and am feeling much better now.

I am off to class tonight, I have been looking forward to class since last Wednesday when I last had class. I am tinkering with what to write about next as far as school goes, so stay tuned for that installment.

Like me on Facebook @ Madcapwoodwright
Follow me on Twitter @ mdcpwoodwright

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