Product Review: Granberg Alaskan Mark IV Portable Chain Saw Mill

Granberg Sawmill
Granberg Saw Mill

How cool would it be to mill your own wood directly from the source?  Very cool, indeed.  I had the opportunity to do just that the other day when fellow woodworker, Jacob Hummitzsch, and I tried out the Granberg Mark IV Alaskan Portable Chain Saw Mill to cut some slabs out of a downed white oak nearby.  If you are considering sourcing your own wood, I highly recommend it.  Here is some of the intel on the Granberg:

 

Advantages

White Oak from Sawmill
White Oak from Sawmill

End Result.  As you can see from the picture at the left, there is minimal waviness in the boards we cut.  If you use a large bandsaw, which is typical for this kind of work, there can be some pretty significant waves in the wood to deal with.  The slabs we cut with the Granberg should be very easy to plane.  The boards we cut were as large as 16 inches across and my planer can only handle 12 inches, so if I want to keep the entire width would need to take the boards to a hardwood dealer or sawyer for planing, OR I could build a rig using a router to plane the wood.  I’ll likely go the router route at some point in the future when I get more into making table tops.

Granberg in Action
Granberg in Action

Ease of Use.  Once we got the hang of it, cutting slabs was a breeze.  You just lean forward and rock the saw a bit from side to side, so the entire saw blade is not engaged with the log and it’s easier on the chainsaw to make the cut.  The Granberg can easily be maneuvered by one person, but it’s a good idea to have a Wingman tapping in wedges behind you to keep the void behind the saw open as you cut.  It’s also good to have a Wingman to alternate cutting slabs with you because it does get tiring.

Cost.  In only 2 hours we cut six boards which were 1.5 inches thick, 16 inches wide, and 64 inches long.  That works out to about 65 board feet.  The last time I bought white oak (which I selected and costs more), it was $9.90 per board foot.  Jacob’s and my little expedition netted over $600 in retail white oak with a couple caveats.  One caveat is that our wood is not kiln dried and will require some time and space to dry out.  Another caveat is that the white oak I purchased was S2S grade (read our post here about wood grades), and the slabs we cut will need some additional milling, particularly planing.  However, for the cost of the Granberg and the chain saw we saved hundreds of dollars.  Over several years, this could add up to thousands saved.  If you read our post on pricing your work, you can see that sharply reducing your expenses over the long haul can really add up.  Could Mrs Woodworker be right when she says she saves money when she goes shopping?  Nah.

Controlling entire supply chain.  There is a lot to be said for sourcing your own wood, since you are controlling the level of quality from start to finish.  In addition, you can select trees with unique characteristics, and dry them in a method you know and trust.  You can also be more selective in which boards are used for which purpose which is an important aspect of craftsmanship.  In building our current commission, the black walnut gun cabinet, it was important to have half a dozen raw 8 foot boards to choose from so I could match grain and color for different parts of the cabinet. If you are sourcing your own wood, you will have a much larger selection of grain and color to choose from.

Cons

Stability at Beginning and End of Cut.  One of the disadvantages we saw was that when you first start cutting and when are at the end of the cut, the saw can flop around a bit because there is not as much of the frame to rest on the log.  Once the saw gets going, the entire frame is resting on the log.  There may be extensions available to mitigate this, but we didn’t have any and had to eyeball it a bit to make sure the saw was horizontal.

Sawmill with Chainsaw
Sawmill with Chainsaw

Saw Sharpening.  This is not really the Granberg’s fault, but we had to sharpen the saw after every two boards, or so.  We sharpened it by hand, and can probably speed this up with an electric sharpener.  There are four bolts to loosen, so freeing then tightening the saw did not take too long.  It’s important to take the time to sharpen the saw, or you’ll be wasting your time over the long haul (see our post about efficiency and sharpening the saw here).  Here is a link to some sharpeners available on Amazon.

Storage.  As you can imagine, storing many boards that are around a foot wide and eight feet long will take up a lot of space.  Given that my current shop is in half of the garage, I don’t have much room for storage.  If you have some land, this may not be an issue and you could store your wood in a shed, or outside if it is covered with a tarp.

If you’re looking to mill a lot of wood, for example to build a house, a larger portable saw mill like a Wood Mizer might be more appropriate.  Jesse and Alyssa at Pure Living For Life have a great video on their experience with using one of these larger mills (in this case, the Wood Mizer LT15).  Click here for the video.  We referenced their journey in our post on the RSS hack and they seem to be making a lot of progress in their journey to living off-grid and debt free.

Overall, I’d give a “buy” recommendation for the Granberg.  It was a lot of fun to use and can save a serious woodworker hundreds, and maybe thousands, of dollars in the long run.

Update on Wood Shop Transformation: We Survived the Move!

wood shop work flow
Wood Shop Work Flow

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.

site of new Traughber Design wood shop
Site of New Traughber Design Wood Shop

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.

New Work Bench
New Work Bench

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?

3 Reasons You MUST Invest in the Best Tools You Can Afford! Festool Saves the Day: the Refrigerator Saga

Have I told you the story about the refrigerator?

fast moulding project
Fast Moulding Project

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

unfinished fast moulding project
Unfinished Fast Moulding Project

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

trim piece
Trim Piece

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.

 

Our First Commission of 2017! Black Walnut Gun Cabinet

black walnut gun cabinet
Black Walnut Gun Cabinet

We were very excited to receive the deposit for our first commission of 2017 only 9 days into the new year and we’re jazzed about sharing philosophical musings regarding our maker journey as we build the piece.  This commission is for another black walnut gun cabinet which we’ve made before (see picture), but we’ll be making subtle design changes in this version.  Also, the last one took approximately 100 hours to make, so we’ll be very interested to see how far up the learning curve we’ve gone.  For example, we’ll be putting that fairing stick to work that we wrote about in September to streamline making the curve at the top of the door.  Several additional techniques we’ve learned since then should speed up the work.  Then again, the design changes will add some time to the project so it may be a wash to the overall hours count.  As we mentioned in our post on moving the shop, we’re a bit under the gun since we’d like to complete this piece before the wood shop move this summer.  A little pressure is good : )

We picked up the raw lumber from Dunlap Woodcrafts yesterday (for tips on buying lumber, read our post here). One of the most fun parts of the process was chatting with some of the other woodworkers and the owner.  There was a young guy there looking at a board and I asked him what he was making.  He was making a coffee table for his wife.  Another guy walked in and said I should buy all the boards I was gazing at (which I did) and said he was making a guitar for his son.  We just have a great woodworking community here in Northern VA.

The walnut we purchased is S2S cut and we’ll square it up in the shop with the planer, tracksaw, and mitre saw.  Carefully cutting all the pieces with precision will take a long time.  We tracked all of our hours on the last cabinet and have a pretty good feel for how long each operation will take.  That’s why it’s so important to always document your hours.  Then you can more actually predict how long future projects will take.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though.  The first step is to to stand the wood up, take a look at it for awhile, and listen to what the wood tells us it wants to be.  For example, we need to think about what the most visible parts of this piece are and where it is going to sit in the client’s house.  In this case, I’ve talked with the client and have a good idea where it is going to be and how people are going to see it.  In this case, the door, face frame, and crown moulding at the top will be the most visible parts so I’ll look at the raw wood to see which boards are knot free, have matching color, and pleasing wood grain.  I need to ensure the opposing sides of the glass door and opposing sides of the face frame have not only matching color, but matching grain.  That means I’ll cut those pieces immediately next to each other from the same board.  Likewise, I need a long enough board that will allow the entire crown moulding pieces to be cut from it, so the grain flows all the way from the top left to the front to the top right of the piece in one seamless flow.

We’ll keep you updated how it goes.  As I stand in the shop looking at the boards, I’m thinking I have 100 hours of joyful creating in front of me.  As I wrote about in blog post #1, this is a part-time business for now so I’ll continue to follow the time management framework I laid out in the post on making versus managing.  Working 6 days per week with Sundays off, we’ll make good progress.  As I mentioned in the last post, we’re also getting ready to move:  talk about a self-inflicted time management challenge!  Ay caramba!

Stay tuned.  We have several more interviews with entrepreneurs queued up, some random thought pieces, and a couple other potential commissions we may be writing about soon!

What Do You Mean I Have to Move the Wood Shop???!!!??? Entrepreneurs Need to Be Flexible

400 square feet of basement wood shop bliss
400 Square Feet of Basement Wood Shop Bliss

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

Advantages

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.

Negatives

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???

Woodworking and Minimalism: If I Buy All These Tools Am I a Minimalist?

minimalism tools
A Minimalist’s Set of Tools?

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?

Choosing Woodworking Tools, or Why I Love Festool

Festool tools
Joy of Festool

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?