After we refinished our floors to a beautiful dark half inch bamboo (see pic), the hand rails going to the basement just weren’t cutting it. The old blonde colored oak finish no longer matched the floor. In the post (link here) regarding upgrading our bannisters, I wrote about how we refinished the bannisters going upstairs from the first floor. Since we’re in the market for a new house as I wrote about in the Reflections on 2018 post, it was time to get in high gear on the remaining projects in this house. Let me give you the low-down on a very simple refinish to the railings that you can knock out in a long weekend.
First, remove the rails. This will save you endless heartache since you won’t have to cover the stairs with a drop cloth, worry about getting finish on the walls, getting sanding dust throughout the house, and bringing the varnish fumes into the house. In addition, you can put the rails on a bench or work table at waist height (the Festool MFT/3 works wonders for something like this), which will make the refinishing much easier. If you do it while they are attached to the wall, you’ll be doing all kinds of contortions to access the side against the wall and the underside.
Second, sand, sand, sand. Use a coarse grit sandpaper like 60 or 80 grit and I highly recommend using a power sander. I used my Festool RO150 random orbit sander which worked surprisingly well given how big it is. The sanding disc is pretty large relative to the piece, but was able to hit just about every surface except for the small bead that runs near the bottom. I hand sanded that part. Sand until there is no more shininess to the finish. You don’t have to take it to bare wood: just rough it up enough so that the new finish will adhere.
Third, prepare. Do this in a well ventilated area and wear gloves. Also wear eye protection in case any of the finish splatters upwards. It’s not likely, but don’t take any chances.
Fourth, apply the gel stain. I used General Finishes Java Gel Stain. I did a test run underneath the shortest hand rail to see how dark the stain looked and how evenly it spread. Then give it 24 hours so you can evaluate the test area. If you like it, then press on and stain both rails.
Fifth, apply the topcoat of oil and urethane varnish. General Finishes Arm-R-Seal works really well for this and I recommend the satin finish.
Sixth, reinstall the rails and enjoy!
I hope that helps! Catch up on the latest Traughber Design project videos on Instagram here.
Other than the moving truck ramming the house 2 weeks ago (more on that later), our move went pretty well. We declared Initial Operating Capability on the wood shop and are in the process of wiping varnish on the gun cabinet commission we posted about here and here. We have drying parts scattered all over the garage, so I’m a little reluctant to finish setting up the wood shop for fear of kicking up dust which could mar the finish. There is nothing like wiping finish on a raw piece of black walnut because it magically transforms the wood from a dusty light grey color to a lustrous, rich dark brown/grey. Once all the finish is dry, I’ll get to work putting the shop into its final configuration then we can declare Full Operational Capability.
I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk more about the design of a wood shop from scratch. I wrote about this earlier (click here), and my thinking has evolved some. We’ve had to move the shop three times now since we started Traughber Design in 2015 so we’re getting more experience in moving than I’d like! The diagram at the top lays out the overall scheme, and we’re going with a counterclockwise flow around the shop. The raw lumber will go immediately onto the lumber racks at the right of the garage when I return from runs to the hardwood dealer. The next tools that typically touch the wood would be the planer, track saw, and sliding compound miter saw, so I’ll have those next to the raw wood. Routing is usually near the end of the process so we’ll have the router table near the end of the loop. In the middle, against the house, will be the assembly table. At the very end, we’ll have some shelves to display finished pieces for visitors to the shop. One of the primary things I’ve learned over the years is to take advantage of the sun, fresh air, and view outside of the garage, so I’ll have the Festool MFT/3 (Multi Function Table) work table near the outer door since that’s where I do most of the work. In addition, I invested in an anti-fatigue mat, which has helped greatly with standing on concrete, and that will go in front of the MFT/3.
The picture at left shows the almost empty garage when we moved in. As you can see, the first thing we moved was the commission in progress (the cabinet) and the Festool MFT/3 work table so we could keep working on the project during the move. The tenants took good care of the garage before their move to Germany, so we don’t have to make many modifications.
This picture is of the workbench I built against the house. That was one of the first tasks after moving in because the workbench is an “enabler” which allows so many other tasks to be done. My pal, Tim Ferriss, talks about how it’s important to identify the “first domino” in any endeavor which knocks down all the others. The work bench is one of those first dominos, since it speeds up getting other tasks done. Luckily I had kept all the pieces from the workbench and marked them before dismantling it years ago at a tenant’s request since they wanted to move a boat into the garage. Putting it back together was a snap.
Once we get all the finish applied to the gun cabinet (five coats with sanding in between), we’ll put everything in its final configuration.
Back to the moving truck saga…I can’t get into the particulars too much since we are working the claim with the mover’s insurance company, but suffice it to say a lack of situational awareness caused the moving truck to be backed into our new house. All is well. The mover’s company said the claim was legit and we should be able to kick off the repair work soon.
What lessons learned have YOU had from setting up your wood shop?
One day, Mrs Woodworker decided that she needed one of those gargantuan stainless steel refrigerators to spruce up the kitchen. I reckon’ I don’t have a problem with that, since the other appliances were already stainless steel or were about to be upgraded to stainless steel to jazz up the kitchen. Being the awesome husband that I am, I told her to buy whatever she wanted. She’s pretty frugal so I figured this was a low risk offer. So she did some serious refrigerator reconnaissance, ordered one she liked, and the company delivered it. Lo and behold, it didn’t fit in the alcove in the kitchen! Now if I was buying a refrigerator, I’d measure the opening and buy an appliance that fits the hole. But that’s not how the mind of Mrs Woodworker works. She thinks “Aha, I’ve got a husband that makes things and has really awesome Festool tools. I’ll buy whatever I like and he’ll figure it out.” Which is what we did. Thank goodness we had invested in good tools. Here are 3 reasons you should invest in the best tools you can afford:
Reason #1: Speed
All sarcasm aside, it was fun to whip out this project over an hour or two last weekend. We had to knock out some of the drywall to the left of the fridge when we installed it, and there was an ugly jagged edge there where the drywall was missing. Given how close the refrigerator was to the wall, we couldn’t just slide the refrigerator out and replace the drywall. Using the planer, track saw, mitre saw, and router, we were able to cut moulding as shown in the pictures to 1/4″ thickness, 1″ width, and then routed the edges with a 3/8″ round over to make it blend into the wall a little. In addition, I mitered the upper corners to make it look nicer. After a coat of paint to make it match the walls, we were done. That sounds like an incredible amount of work, but it only took and hour or two.
There are a couple ways that buying into a system of tools increases your speed. One is that if you have the entire core of tools, you don’t have to jury rig something to make the desired cut, which I’ve had to do in the past. You already have the right tool for the job and can get right down to the work. In addition, if I had had a myriad of tools that weren’t part of a system, switching the dust vacuum back and forth between tools could be an issue which would reduce our speed. For example, with the Festool system you can very quickly switch the vacuum from tool to tool. Speaking of the dust vacuum…
Reason #2: Your Health
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of buying quality power tools along with a dust collection system. For this project, I was able to shift the dust collector from the sliding compound mitre saw, to the track saw, to the router in no time flat. Unfortunately, the planer generates a ton of shavings and dust so I just did that outside. When cutting small pieces like this moulding there is usually plenty of ventilation outside, but for planing large boards, use a mask. But most of the work you do will be inside, and that’s where a HEPA dust collection is so important. Those tiny particles you are generating with all those tools will lodge in your lungs over the long haul and you will be incapacitated. I have read multiple articles over the years about woodworkers who didn’t think carefully through this and developed lung issues. No one wants that. Get the dust collection system.
Reason #3: Simplify Decision-Making
I was giving a shop tour to a young fella the other day who was trying to get some ideas for setting up his own shop and was deciding whether to invest in Festool. If he does go that route, he’ll have the advantage of owning great tools much earlier in life. I didn’t start buying my high end tools until 2014. Now when I buy tools, I don’t have to agonize over it. I’ve bought into a system of tools that interconnect and have proven themselves in the shop. If I need a new tool, I just buy Festool if they have that tool.
Truth in advertising here, I’m not a Festool affiliate and receive no compensation from them. I’m just a Festool Fan (see our post here about why I love Festool and our post here about tools and minimalism).
As we said in the title, buy the best tools you can afford. They will increase your speed, save your health, and simplify your decision-making. You won’t regret it.
Well, Dear Readers, this time comes in just about every woodworker’s life: the time to move the wood shop. In our case, we are moving in about 6 months which means the shop has to be moved lock, stock, and barrel to the new house. Not only that, we are going from a cushy basement shop, back to a garage shop since we are on a path to downsizing and minimalism which we’ve written about earlier. Kudos to Mrs Woodworker for letting me monopolize the basement as long as I did. Unfortunately, in the garage during certain weather we’re just going to have to suck it up. If I figured right, this will be the fourth time moving the shop and there are definitely some tricks to doing it wisely. When it comes to woodworking, we can’t let obstacles stand in the way as we wrote about in our Ode to Ralph the Woodworking Cat.
Sequence Your Projects
I read a great book early in my Air Force career called Lean Thinking, Banish Waste and create Wealth in Your Corporation by Womack and Jones. One of the concepts in the book was to start from the end of the process and work backwards to pull resources through the production process. Lean thinking helps us in this case of moving the shop as well. One way to make the move as efficient as possible is to only move the tools, raw material, and project pieces that are required to the new house then only bring others as required. This keeps the production line going smoothly. However, this only works if you have some overlap while you are in both houses AND the houses are relatively close together.
In addition, the work should be planned so that large projects are completed and delivered to clients before the move, then other large projects started after the move is complete. For example, this week we received a commission for another large gun cabinet (we’ll be writing a post about that soon). I don’t want to move a cabinet with that much glass twice (from one shop to the other, then to the client), so I’ll press to deliver it before we move. Smaller projects like our cornhole sets can easily be moved while they are in progress to the new shop.
Adjust to the Environment
The new shop will be in a garage which does have its advantages. One advantage is that we can bring in lumber much easier through the large garage door or stage large or unwieldy pieces near the outside of the garage as they are being assembled so they can be easily loaded into the pickup for delivery. I recommend having some lumber racks immediately inside the large garage door to minimize the movement of lumber around the shop. As soon as you bring a load from the hardwood dealer, you can stack the lumber right on the rack.
A second advantage is that when the weather is nice, you can open that large shop door to let in the fresh air and see some grass and trees. On nice days I also like to move the Festool MFT/3 table (where I do much of my work) out onto the driveway to catch some of that great sunshine. If you are doing a finishing project this also helps greatly with ventilation.
A third advantage is when the shop door is open the neighbors can see you are working on something and stop by. I’ve had many conversations over the years that were started because I had the garage door open and a neighbor would yell “what are you working on?” It’s a great conversation starter and this is all about that great community we wrote about in an earlier post.
A fourth advantage is the symbiosis of having the shop in the same room as our favorite mountain bike. As we’ve written about earlier, that bike can be a real problem solver when it comes to woodworking. Having it at the ready will make it even more likely to be used.
One disadvantage of a garage shop is the temperature variability which adds some Clausewitzian friction. This is not such a big deal during the summer, but if you are doing finishing work in certain climates, cool weather may put the kibosh on adding varnish or paint to a project until the temperature warms up. I bought an inexpensive digital clock with thermometer so I can make sure the piece I am finishing is in the right temperature zone before I start applying finish. Be sure to read the required temperature ranges on the can so you know if it is warm enough to wipe on that oil and urethane mix.
Related to that are the human factors working in temperature extremes. Northern Virginia is pretty mild in the winters, but I still need to wear a light jacket and gloves in the winter while I’m working in the garage or my fingers will get numb. Try to find some gear to wear that you can sacrifice to the woodworking gods because it’s going to get a lot of finish, wood chips, and paint on it. Likewise, in the summer it can get to 100 degrees around here which is not conducive to long hours in a garage shop. On those days, I try to work early and late, but not in the middle of the day.
Use This Opportunity to Start With a Clean Slate
Moving a shop also creates a golden opportunity to rethink how to design the tool layout to optimize flow and increase efficiency. For example, think how the wood moves through the shop. It’s going to come in through the big door, so why not just stack it by the big door as mentioned earlier. What is the most likely next operation? For me, that would be the TrackSaw (Festool TS55) or Kapex (sliding compound mitre saw) so I should probably have those lined up next. I love the router, but that doesn’t usually get used until later in the process after the boards have been squared. That means the router can be shoehorned into a corner. Oh, and I forgot about the planer. That’s probably the first tool that’s going to touch the wood. So given the sequence the wood is going to go through, you can lay out the tools so the wood can flow from tool to tool to tool.
If you don’t get it right the first time, don’t worry about it. Remember when we wrote about failing fast and failing cheap? Try one iteration with the tool layout and if that’s not working for you, try another one. If you don’t have enough space, just tell your spouse their car is banished from the garage, too. After all, why would you have cars in your garage when it could be a wood shop???
I was messing around in the wood shop over the holidays and created the military challenge coin display shown in the picture with a piece of scrap black walnut. During the process, I was thinking how many people are necessary to pursue a creative endeavor like this (woodworking) and what a terrific community we have. Some people may have the mistaken impression that woodworking consists of toiling away solo in a wood shop, but nothing could be farther from the truth. There is a large network of people who are generous in sharing their wisdom and help make that woodworker or entrepreneur successful. One way to frame it is by considering three groups: artisans, enablers, and clients.
The Traughber Tribe recently went to Canaan Valley WV for our annual cross country ski vacation. This year we went over Christmas and planned to open some of our gifts there. As a gift, my daughter gave me an allowance to spend in the resort gift shop. Since we enjoy candlelight dinners, I thought I’d buy a locally made candle. But then I got to thinking…for the price I’d pay for the candle in the gift shop, I could get two or three times as much candle at a discount store back home. I tossed the idea out to our daughter and she said “Dad, is that even a question?” Her meaning was, how could I NOT buy the candle from the local artisan, which is what we did.
I receive so much inspiration from my fellow makers. On a recent business trip, after hours a colleague and I went on a photo shoot since he’s big into photography. We were in San Francisco and he knew a particular location where he wanted to take the perfect photo of the Golden Gate Bridge. We spent hours taking photos in different locations, with different lighting, with different camera settings. I know nothing about photography, but it was inspirational to see another craftsman spending so much time to create something beautiful. We’ll have a post soon covering an interview with the photographer and you’ll see the results from the photo shoot.
Fellow artisans are also terrific mentors. They don’t necessarily even need to be skilled in your particular craft. For example, the author (Lawrence Colby author of The Devil Dragon Pilot) we interviewed recently and I chat often about blog ideas, writing and our craft. In almost every conversation he gives me some pearl of wisdom that helps me in Traughber Design. Fellow craftsmen are great for helping keep things in alignment with the business’ vision and goals as we wrote about in our post on glue technique.
Lastly, craftsmen provide fellowship. Recently we spent Christmas with my pal Steve’s family; Steve is also a Festool fanatic (see our post about Festool here). He gets it. He fully understands why someone would spend an exorbitant amount on a power tool and think of it as value. Hanging out with like-minded people is part of the great fun of being an entrepreneur and craftsman.
Woodworkers could not do what they do without hardwood dealers, specialty suppliers, and tool experts. I was up at Colonial Hardwoods recently to buy some wood for our windowsill commission, and the dealer pointed out some wonderful white oak they had recently received. We took a look and I ended up buying some and using it in a recent commission. Where else would a salesperson consider what you are making and make suggestions beyond what you said you came to buy? And where else would they let you wander around the warehouse and pick the pieces you like? Our community is so giving.
Another key enabler is the specialty supplier. In my case, one of these consists of glass suppliers. Del Ray Glass was a company I used for the black walnut gun cabinet (pictured). I don’t know much about glass (in addition to photography), but they walked me through thicknesses, types of glass, frostings available, etc. and delivered on time and at a fair price. They are on my short list the next time I need some glass.
Last there are the tool guys. It would have been very difficult to learn Festool so quickly without Brian Graham’s tutelage at the Festool Ubershop on Baltimore. He set up the equipment before I arrived, gave a demo, I played around with it, then we boxed it up to take home. It’s so much easier to learn a tool hands-on like that.
One of the great things I love about our clients is they reveal the art of the possible. When a client asks “can you build that?” I almost always say yes. I’ve usually got a general idea to begin with, but sometimes get to experiment in the shop with alternate ways of making something. For example, with the military challenge coin holder I could have cut the slots from the bottom with the router table. I also could have cut them from the top using a rail guide and the router. I could have also used a jig. That’s part of the fun in creating is experimenting and mulling over what works best.
Our client network continues to grow. A client may have a piece in their home, then other people see it and word gets around. Most of our business so far has been from referrals. For example, a kitchen cabinet panel commission came about from a Facebook conversation (see our post: How to Make a Kitchen Cabinet Door: Flat Panel Construction). I love the serendipity of where our projects come from.
Speaking of clients, I’m currently reading a book for my day job called The Industries of the Future by Alec Ross. Ross is analyzing which industries will be replaced by robots. One of the beauties of the artisanal movement is our works are not likely to be outsourced. Sure, you can buy mass-produced furniture from overseas, but that’s not the market we’re in. We do custom woodworking which doesn’t lend itself to outsourcing. Our local clients are buying from us, not some company overseas.
We’re very fortunate to have such a great woodworking and entrepreneurial community and look forward to spending time with that community in the new year.
An effective woodworker always wants to have at least two projects going on simultaneously in the wood shop. Why? In order to maximize efficiency. If you are woodworking as a part-time gig, as I am, there is all the more reason to make every minute count as we discussed in the blog on making and managing. There is not a minute to spare when you are working a full time job during the day and working in the wood shop on nights and weekends. Let’s get into the mechanics.
How does it work?
Woodworking by its nature entails a lot of waiting during certain portions of the build such as glueing or waiting for finish to dry. It’s important to take advantage of these pauses to flip to another project(s). For example, once a glue up has been done on one project, why wait for the glue to dry when you can just pick up where you left off with the other piece? Another example is once you’ve applied finish to the first project, flip over to the second project. However, it’s important to consider that if you are doing finish work on the first project, make sure the second project is not going to generate dust that will settle onto your finish on the first project. A way to mitigate that risk is to rig a dust shroud around the first project while the finish is drying or to take the second project outside. If you are looking for more information on finishing, check out our post on the cherry coat rack project or Marc Spagnuolo’s DVD on finishing at The Wood Whisperer.
What if I don’t have a commission right now?
If you are between commissions, I’m sure Mrs. Woodworker or your significant other is looking for something that needs to be made around the house. These projects are great for continuing to build your skill set. In addition, this valuable shop time may spark an idea for another project.
Another approach is to build something that doesn’t take a lot of time that you know sells well. For example, it only takes me about 3 1/2 hours to build a corn hole set and I always like to have one set available in case a client wants one. If I have some dead time and don’t currently have a set ready, I know that time is well spent to get another one built. In general, I don’t like to build on spec as I’ve written about earlier, but if I know that something has sold in the past and is likely to sell again, then it’s pretty low risk to build another one.
Another reason to have multiple balls in the air applies to entrepreneurship in general. If you get stuck in one area you can always shift focus to another area. For example, if I don’t have a lot of work in the shop I can always spend more time working on the blog, or vice versa. We were working four commissions at once not too long ago, so I spent a little less time on the blog until we caught up in the wood shop. You can extend that concept to entrepreneurship in general. No matter what your business is, it likely involves sales. If sales are slow, you can shift focus to other value-added tasks in the business that don’t involve sales. If you are swamped with sales, you can shift to fulfilling orders until you catch up or hire more staff.
Better opportunity for flow
When you have multiple projects there is also less starting and stopping in the shop and this can be less jarring to your system. You are always seamlessly transitioning from one project to the other and it’s just part of your normal routine. In addition, there is also a greater chance for serendipity. You may learn something on one project that benefits the other. For example, on one project I was contrasting light and dark woods, which gave me an idea to try the same thing on a prayer kneeler I was building (see picture to left). That wasn’t in the original design, but I went with the flow and I think it turned out pretty well as you can see in the picture.
Increase production. If woodworking is your business, you need to be continuously producing and delivering in order to bring in revenue (you especially need to be producing if it’s on your honey-do list). Advertising completed projects on social media generates new bids, which generates more production, which generates more advertising and bids. It’s a virtuous cycle. In addition, increased production means you can build things quicker at the same level of quality and either pass on your costs savings to your clients (see our blog post about pricing for more information on what is reasonable to charge clients) which will make you more competitive, or you may decide to increase your profits, or both.
Mrs. Woodworker and I have been on a minimalism kick for a long time, way before it became “a thing.” Our military moves (called Permanent Changes of Station, or PCS’) were terrific opportunities to get rid of things we hadn’t been using. For example, we’d unpack boxes at our new duty station and say “I didn’t use this at the last house, why do I even have it?” then get rid of it. We also have had a regular run to the local donation center for quite a while and are long-time users of eBay, Craigslist and Freecycle to get rid of things.
Can you be a minimalist and also a woodworker? Some might say no, because of all the materials woodworkers use and the myriad of tools in our shops, but I’ll argue you can be a woodworking minimalist for a few of reasons.
First, I think the question needs to be asked why are you being a minimalist? Josh and Ryan at www.theminimalists.com write about their focus on finding meaningful lives and the things that add value. We’ve been following their podcast for some time now and just watched their new documentary. Minimalists get rid of things and extraneous tasks so they can cultivate their passions. They are aligned with their goals and passions. If you are passionate about woodworking, then a minimalist would strip away everything that’s unnecessary in their lives so that they can pursue their woodworking craft. It’s not about minimizing woodworking, it’s about minimizing in order to work wood.
Second, woodworkers can pursue their craft in a minimalist way. One of those ways is to use sustainable materials and purchase lumber harvested from fallen timber. Another way is to create our pieces using the minimum amount of wood possible. That’s one of the reasons a cut list is so important: to plan every piece out of the larger piece in order to minimize waste. Along those lines, sometimes you can make something with scrap wood versus buying new wood. A good example of this is the fairing stick project we wrote about in another post. That project was made with leftover pieces from other projects. A third way to pursue your craft in a minimalist way is to buy the minimum set of quality tools required to cultivate our passion. Do you really need multiple power drills, for example, or can you buy one quality drill that does that job? I purchased a core set of Festool that does about 90% of what I need to do. Do I drool every time the hardware circular comes in the mail? Sure. But do I really NEED what they are selling? Most of the time the answer is “no.” A fourth way is to run a clean shop. How many times have bought a part or piece of wood and didn’t realize you already had what you needed? An organized shop will prevent a lot of those redundant buys. Think about the best way to store your tools, hardware, and lumber so you can easily see what you already have. Speaking of seeing what you have, it’s probably a good idea to survey all the tools in the shop on a regular basis and see which ones have not been used for a while. It may be time to pare down and sell some of those tools on Craigslist. Keeping a tool “just in case” is probably not a good reason to keep it.
Third, woodworkers are generally making custom pieces that are more solidly built than cheap furniture from the big box stores which minimizes the amount of furniture that needs to be produced. Since the pieces last a long time, they can be passed down from generation to generation and enjoyed over a longer period of time, not needing to be replaced as often. This is a more sustainable model since it requires fewer trees and the large logistical tail to bring additional pieces of furniture to market. Not only that, purchasing custom-made pieces supports the local economy which is more minimalist than having items shipped halfway around the world. For example, for most pieces I make I’m buying wood, supplies, tools, etc. locally which help pay the wages of people in the local area and support local businesses.
My ultimate minimalist vision, though, is to harvest fallen wood on our own land and mill it for use in the pieces that we make. We’re on that road now and are planning to downsize to a smaller house (and wood shop) next year then plan to eventually buy some land with a tiny house and wood shop. We’ve learned a lot about small personal saw mills from sites like Pure Living for Life. Check it out if you get a chance. I’ll share more on our journey and the wood shop move in later blog posts.
I hope I’ve convinced you that we can be woodworkers and minimalists. Chime in below. What do you think?
I am so thankful I crossed paths with my pal, Steve Patoir, in Afghanistan. He was a stark raving mad lunatic about some tools called Festool (check out their website at festoolusa.com) which I had never heard of. I figured when I got back to the States, I’d give them a try and boy, am I glad I did. I’ve been using Festool almost exclusively now for 2 years and they are worth every penny (that’s a lot of pennies, more on that in a minute).
If you are just starting out in woodworking, let me give you a few thoughts to ponder. As Steve says: “a cheap tool, is an expensive tool.” Why is that? Because if you buy a low-budget tool you don’t really want in the first place, you’re going to end up replacing it anyway. In addition, it’s probably not going to last very long or do the job that you need it to do. You need to think in terms of decades when you are buying tools. Is this tool something you will enjoy using for the next 10, or 20 years? If it frustrates you because of the way it’s designed, you’ve got the wrong tool.
So why are we such Festool fans? Let me give you a few reasons:
Precision. Once you’ve worked with the Festool mortise and tenon machine (Domino), sliding compound miter saw with laser (Kapex), and table saw equivalent (Track Saw), you can easily work within the millimeter precision window. Festool has designed their gear to be incredibly easy to use and incredibly precise. I’m still amazed and overjoyed to see that the cuts come out perfectly every single time. When you are making something like the cornhole set we profiled in another post, precision is not quite so important, but when you are making something like a picture frame, it is very important.
Interoperability. It wasn’t until I had built up a core group of Festool that I saw how interoperability equalled speed, which is crucial in a woodworking business. You can quickly switch the dust collection hose and power cord from the dust collector to each power tool in seconds. For example, on the gun cabinet project I found myself quickly transitioning from cutting pieces with the Track Saw and Kapex to cutting mortises with the Domino in no time at all.
Dust collection. I go overboard when it comes to shop safety. Why poke your eye out if you don’t have to? Always wear hearing protection and eye protection. In addition, all the dust floating around your shop can kill you (in the long run). A dust collection system will keep all that floating crap out of your lungs and keep them healthy. Festool has a great system that screens out fine particles and is easy to use. Also, having the vacuum automatically turn on when you trigger the power tool is pretty slick.
And most importantly: Joy. Those German designers have thought about just about every situation a woodworker will encounter in using their tools. Steve and I are still swapping stories about some ergonomic tool feature we had overlooked. I absolutely love using these tools (also see our post about the gulag and craftsmanship joy) in the shop.
So you may be saying “Jerry, that’s great but Festool is really expensive!”. You know what? You’re right. I saved up my deployment bonuses to buy my tools and my super sister bought me one of the more expensive Festool as a welcome home present. You may not be so lucky, so consider buying one per year (or every other year if necessary) to spread out the pain. I would NOT advise using a credit card to finance tool purchases. Try to grow your hobby or business organically (more on that in one of the business-related posts which will be rolling out soon). If you are going to go the Festool route, start with the smaller Domino. You will use it a LOT and using mortise and tenon joinery to eliminate metal fasteners will set your work apart. Then I’d get the TS55 Track Saw (the 55 means it can cut to a depth of 55mm) when you can afford it.
Do I only have Festool? No. I’m a big fan of Harbor Freight tools (harborfreight.com) because they are inexpensive and durable. If you have an edge that’s not going to be visible to the client and will not sacrifice the quality of your joinery, then a HF tool may do the job. For example, I have a HF bench top bandsaw. You are never going to use a band saw to produce a finished edge on a piece since you will always be filing and sanding that band sawn edge. Along those lines, I’ve got a HF bench top drill press which does the trick just fine.
The bottom line is it’s important to think about exactly what you are going to be doing in the shop then the appropriate tool that will allow you to do that task quickly and with precision.
For the experienced woodworkers out there. What are your favorite tools and why?