Chris Schwarz's Blog

10 Tool Features that Frustrate Me

Some days I forget that not all woodworking tools are designed by woodworkers (see: many of the honing guides on the market).

And I forget that some tools are just designed to trick your family members into buying them for you at Christmas (see also: the battery-operated tape measure and C-clamp).

This weekend as I was cleaning up the shop a bit, I started thinking about many of the odd, unnecessary or downright counterproductive features on tools and machinery. Here’s my short list. Feel free to add your favorites in the comments below. Remember, this is about features, not about particular brands.

1. Slick Miter Saw Tables. Every miter saw that has come into our shop has had a polished and slick table (usually aluminum). I hate this feature, and it is one of the reasons these saws aren’t as accurate as they could be. The slick table makes your work slide around unless it is secured by a stop or a clamp. The result is that your cut is not at the desired angle. Add some sticky-back sandpaper to the fence of your saw and you’ll be impressed by how much more accurate you are.

2. Jointer Fences that Bevel. Every jointer fence pivots. And every jointer fence (except one , ours. We set ours at a permanent 90Ã?° with lock-nuts) tends to loosen up in time and go out of square. In all my years of woodworking, I’ve never wanted to pivot my jointer fence. I’ve always had a better way to put a bevel on a board. But I am constantly frustrated by having to re-square my jointer fence to the table. For the five people who make bevels on their jointers, manufacturers can offer an accessory fence that bevels.

Oh, and the same goes for the rabbeting ledge on the jointer. The only reason I’ve used it is to see how it works.

3. Wacky Ruler Markings. I have two beefs here. The first one is about rulers that are marked in tenths of an inch and are sold to furniture makers. The only thing I need tenths of an inch for is measuring rainfall. These rulers have caused so many errors that I’ve banished them from my shop. Beef two: When the graduations on the ruler are all the same length (or nearly the same length). The marks for 1/4″, 1/2″ and 3/4″ should be the longest. Then the eighths should be shorter. And the sixteenths even shorter than that. I have a 24″ rule that makes me crazy because of this.

4. All-metal Hammers.
Have you ever used one of these for more than a couple nails? Has your arm recovered yet?

5. Chisels With Bucky Sides. If you make a bevel-edge chisel, make it so the bevels actually do something. The bevels are supposed to allow you to get into acute angles, especially in dovetails. If they don’t do that, then they are as useless as mammaries on a tomcat.

6. Collet Locks on Routers.
I know I’m going to take heat for this one because every manufacturer tells me that the consumers love collet locks. I find them awkward and fragile (I’ve busted at least four). Please let me tighten my collets with two well-fitted wrenches in peace.

7. Plastic Tool Cases.
Space is at a premium in my shop at home. These hard plastic cases take up way too much space, and it’s always difficult to get the tool and the accessories into it. When I get one, I give it to the kids to mess with. I actually do like the soft tool bags that some manufacturers use. Those get filled with all sorts of things when I need to install a cabinet or my kids have a sleepover.

8. A Junky Stock Blade.
Not everyone does this, but some makers of table saws, miter saws, jigsaws and circular saws ship the tool with a blade that is, at best, suited for cutting goat cheese. I hate throwing away a blade and having to buy a decent one. Either put a good blade on the tool (and charge me more) or ship the tool without a blade (and charge me less).

9. Router Table Fences that Offset for Jointing. Do you know how hard it is to joint an edge on a router table on a board that is 6′ long? Setting it up to do that operation is silly if you have a jointer or a jointer plane.

10. Unnecessary Lasers. On a jigsaw? Really?

– Christopher Schwarz

Tool Resources that Will Help You Make Good Decisions

– “Bill Hylton’s Ultimate Guide to the Router Table” by Bill Hylton.

– “Handplane Essentials” by Christopher Schwarz.

“Cutting-Edge Router Tips & Tricks” by Jim Stack , note what routers he uses….

– “Working With Power Tools” by Paul Anthony.

46 thoughts on “10 Tool Features that Frustrate Me

  1. Dennis Hayslip

    AMEN BROTHER! THANK YOU!! I feel the frustration in your words. Especially the one about ruler markings. Here’s a couple of my own frustrations: 1) Aluminum table saw tables, 2) trying to get the tracking to be true on my bandsaw, 3) the clamp guide I bought to use with my circular saw, 4) safety glasses with built-in magnifyer, 5) SNIPE – ’nuff said, 6) "bargain" tools – you get what you pay for!

  2. Daniel W

    I actually like the plastic cases. Sometimes I need to use a tool outside my shop, and the case is handy for carrying. Most of my Porter-Cable tools have plastic cases and they work just fine. They’re also handy for storing rarely-used portable tools, like my biscuit joiner.

  3. Cliff

    With mechanical background I think in thousandths, so
    good for me, especially with router bit adjustments,
    and digital calipers. In fact I find fractions
    frustrating.

    Sandpaper on mitre gauges, and some jigs to prevent
    slipping – makes a difference.

    collet lock on 1619 bosch handy in router table, but
    on 1617 bosch I prefer two wrenches – drop forged
    wrenches. Not familiar with 2 levels of quality,
    mine have blue handles and are great.

    Likewise I bought a 27mm open end wrench to use
    on my Ridgid table saw. (still need thin one on
    one side)

    mitre saw – clamps or stop blocks. Use some quick
    checks to ensure reset to 90 if I change angle.

    Some cheap power sanders, but not critical so ok.

    No guarantee, but heavy machines, usually more stable.

    Cliff

  4. Larry Dickson

    Mine is the wrenches that come with routers that are just stamped sheetmetal. I can hardly get mine to satay on the collet nuts without slipping into the space between the nuts.

    My second one is table saw height wheels that are so high on the cabinet that I constantly hit my hand on the underside of the table.

  5. Monte Glover

    My father was a machinist and I use the 10th" & 50th" on the scales easer to divide by.
    I love my Estwing hammer.
    I have broken some collet locks but they were good while they lasted.
    Most plastic cases are not worth nothing!!!!! what happened to the good metal cases … oh value engineering?!?!

    Most of the large tools in my shop were previously tested (used) some are cheap tools but they were all I could afford at the time some worth there weight in scrap iron but most have been very serviceable and some an extremely good buy. Some of the Chiwanease tools were purchased th see if I liked to turn and they have worked out very well.

    As for a jointer mine broke several years ago and do not miss it. I just use a very good blade in my table saw and if needed an extended fence and or sled. Call me nutz … but.

  6. Mitch Wilson

    Jerry
    Check out the router tables by JessEm. I think you’ll find what you are looking for. (O Canada…but kudos to the Blackhawks!!)

  7. Lea

    How about digital calipers where the fractions measure down to 128ths? I’m a woodturner – quick, is 97/128ths oversized or undersized for a 3/4" tenon? Leave these to the machinists! I’ll keep using my old plastic dial vernier calipers.

    As for number 8, amen! The stock blade that came with my new $750 bandsaw could be used to manufacture washboards – and that is AFTER all adjustments were made.

  8. openid.aol.com/rikhoward

    #3 is especiqally true, but I would like to see a square with inches (in eighths, sixteenths, etc) on one side and metric on the other. Why? I’ve got some very intriguing plans from Europe that are always in centimeters.

  9. Bill Whitney

    Christopher;

    How about these petty but annoying complaints:

    Cheap wing nut locks on the bevel adjustment for circular saws that are always loosening up.

    Drill bits that are the expensive coated type that just don’t seem to be sharp enough to cut, even when new.

    Dust collection attachments on hand tools that seem to have been added just for looks and aren’t worth a pinch of coon shit.

    Wire strippers with stops that catch the skin on your thumb or fingers as you squeeze them together.

    Circular saws that direct the sawdust right into the line of sight you use when watching the cut line.

    Carpenters pencils with leads that seem to be broken every 1/2 inch or so. To sell more pencils ?

    Finding where to buy broken parts for imported tools.

    BTW I have owned a 10" Bosch cut off saw for years and it is one of the best tools I ever purchased. I can’t understand why other models like Dewalt are sometimes rated above the Bosch.

  10. Tim

    I agree woth having lasers on saws. Yeah right I have one my drill press, tryed it 1 time never again wasn’t on center..

  11. Don Butler

    Sorry Chris,
    I just don’t agree with you on number 6. I love collet locks, have never broken one and they are on my Good List.
    Just to make nice, I heartily agree on items 7,8 and 10.

    Don "Dances with Wood" Butler

  12. Duncan S. Robertson

    Shop vac’s, I have owned a number of these things over my more than 3 decades of woodworking. 2 separate gripes here. 5hp with a 110 plug, come on people!!!! do you get your advertising technique from the old stereo ads? "develops 5,000,000 watts!!(just prior to exploding). When will they catch on to the fact that lying about horsepower does not engender them to too many people. The 2nd gripe is based on a very real, very stupid "feature" that almost all shop vacs have, big wheels (that really work) on the back and small wheels ( that can’t climb over sawdust created with 2000 grit paper) on the front. Who came up with this? If they have the concept that the big wheels work better, then why the #$%^ would they put small wheels on the front?
    Thanks Chris, my spleen feels much better now.
    Duncan

  13. dherzig

    I noticed that your pet-peeves mostly have to do with power tools and adjusting them. I gave up power tools to become a Neanderthal when I found it faster to make the cut by hand followed by a plane to reach the line than all the time I spent adjusting the power tool and running test pieces and still not getting it exactly on the money.

  14. Jerry Rogoff

    Why can’t router table manufacturers build graduated scales into the sides of their tables that would allow precise small adjustments to the fence and the ability to easily and accurately return the fence to a previous setting? I have such scales on my shop-built table, with grooves and stick-on measuring tapes. Useful.

  15. Phil Gilstrap

    I have two such pet peeves: 1)Rulers whose graduations begin at the very edge of the tool. Most of these are graduated in 1/8 or 1/16 increments. The very first increment, however is ALWAYS off; either too long or too short.
    2)Tools that come with instructions loosely translated from other languages. I can tolerate (albeit just barely) wading through versions in German, French, Italian or Japanese to get to English. But when the English version is so loosely translated that they make no sense I get vapor locked! "Turn adtut. screw to happy plate.." apparently means ‘Adjust screw until the indicator is snug against the base plate.’Makes me crazy.

  16. Kerry Overall

    Thanks, Chris for the Top 10 List.
    Why can’t all electrical tool mfrs add the "thingy" on the plug that allows you to neatly clip the plug to the cord? Wopuld it really cost that much more?? I hate fighting the cord everytome I use a power tool.
    Thanks,
    Kerry

  17. George Wood

    I have framed 2 additions ( 16 x 34 and 12 x 24) and my 24 x 30 x 10 shop with an estwing framing hammer with no problems at all. I wear good quality leather gloves but don’t know if that has anything to do with it.

  18. John

    The missing feature that annoys me the most is the absence of electric brakes on most spinning or rotating tools. When I release the power button on my router, I want it to STOP.

    The same goes for my circular saw, sanders, drills, jointer, etc….

    Next to that, the entire mechanism for moving the fence on a jointer is ridiculous; it prevents the machine from going tightly against a wall, adds unnecessary weight, and is prone to losing squareness.

  19. Fred Freitag

    I hate to disagree with you, but I really like the ability to able to offset join on the router table. It’s actually very easy to do – even for a board that’s 6′ long! Just use featherboards. Too, I don’t have a jointer, jointer planer, nor a planer.

  20. Kip

    We got a beautiful new 18" green and white bandsaw at work and I was excited until I noticed that the slot for changing blades goes to the front of the table. You have to completely remove the fence and rail to change blades. It’s maddening. Eventually I just started leaving the fence off.

    Even more maddening, we got a yellow laminate trimmer and the top was round. Why would anyone ever design a router that you can’t stand on end? How are you supposed to use the cheap stamped out wrench to fight the spindle lock if you can’t stand the router up? When the bits started sticking in the collet almost every time I gave up and took the thing back for a refund.

  21. Paul

    Chris,

    #1. Sand paper helps but I had scratches on stock afterward, I used portable sand blaster to clean off sticky paper, and just sandblasted the table, looked much better twerks(I am retired tool maker, machinist, be careful blasting any flat surface, you can cause it to warp!).

    #4. I use an ultravibe hammer, with my severe arthritis, no more 10 days driving 10 P., all day and the U/V allows me to do more than my old favorite Vaughn.

    This will make you cringe, but I use a block plane with camber to remove paint from metal boxes & containers prior to priming, twerks!

  22. Richard Dawson

    I have no experience with one, but have seen pop-up advertisements for iRobot Dirt Dog Shop Sweeping Robot that "Helps Dad clean up shop." For more information on what is likely a useless POS check http://store.irobot.com/home/index.jsp. Just in time for Father’s Day! It will at least keep someone from giving you one of those laser stud finders that never work.

    I always thought a good broom and dust pan was as high tech as we need to go for sweeping a floor.

    However, I do look forward to a David Charlesworth style built-in spirit level on my No. 5 1/2 L-N. (You need to view his video in order to appreciate what little humor there is in this the previous statement.)

  23. openid.aol.com/timraleigh

    > Jozef:

    I have several Bosch tools (jig saw, hammer drill, orbital sander, vacuum, compressor ) and love them but they can have some nagging user problems.
    My most recent purchase, an orbital sander is a great tool if I use the dust collection that was shipped with it, but the engineering of their accessories for adding a vacuum dust collection hose (for example) is terrible and has broken after one use. The bolt that holds the handle on the compressor falls off, the handle mechanism is poorly designed for portability. Getting parts for the compressor which was recently introduced (to date) seem impossible.
    While the core machines are good they cannot compete (and actually make a good machine worse) with Festool on dust collection, and ergonomics.
    Festool isn’t perfect either and there are some irritating idiosyncrasy’s that make you wonder.

    Good luck.
    Tim

  24. Trevor Walsh

    #6 is why I loved the router in out prototype shop, it’s an ancient porter cable with wrenches. hands down my favorite.

    The other feature I hate, (feature of our shop, not exactly the tools) was how people could use some tool or machine completely ass-backwards and when it didn’t work blame the tool. A guy called out bandsaw a POS because the 1" wide 12 TPI blade used for cutting foam wouldn’t do curves in 3" maple fast, or without smoking. The nerve. 🙂

    Trevor Walsh

  25. Jozef Babjak

    Hello Ross,

    thank you for your answer. It’s a good news that in the case of Bosch, it is really a difference between hobby and professional product line. Please, can anybody else confirm this?

    Please, don’t understand me wrong: I’m not against Makita or Festool, but they are not so common here, whilst Bosch is wide spread here, service is easily available, etc. If you know about any other quality brand available in central Europe, please share.

    Jozef

  26. Ross Manning

    Hey Jozef –

    The common wisdom, even way back when, is to buy the best quality tools. As you are finding out, buying cheap tools initially will cost more in the long run as you will eventually have to replace them – and probably sooner than eventually! Better to have a few really good tools than a whole shop full of junk. With power tools, you may not need to buy Festool (but those of us who do love them – watch out they are addictive!), but you will be well served with professional quality tools from the better manufacturers. Read the magazine reviews & visit the forums to get advice from real users about the best models.

    Also bear in mind that quality tools designed for carpenters framing houses may be well built and durable, but serve a different need & may not have the same accuracy as those used for furniture makers or cabinetry. Surviving a drop from the top of a ladder, a dirty work site or drilling holes into hardwood all day without burnout is sometimes more important than the fine tolerances we look for in our hobby.

    Unfortunately the power tools manufacturers are under the gun from the cheap, junky house brands at the big box stores. When they compete on price quality suffers and forget about service. Some like Bosch have a two tier strategy to try & deal with this. Some others have just let quality slide. At the top end, Festool have carved out a market where product quality and service dictate price, not the other way around.

    The same comments apply to hand tool brands as well – you will get more enjoyment and value from acquiring and using premium tools.

    An often overlooked benefit of quality tools is re-sale value. With low end or mid tier tools, you will be lucky to even sell these – they often end up as land fill. Look at the prices for second-hand high end tools. People get close to original cost for these on eBay. So, if you ever do have to sell for any reason, your cost of ownership will be quite low. In some cases I have even seen premium second hand tools sell for more than original cost!

  27. Bob Rozaieski

    "Plastic" finish dipped wooden tool handles. Why go through the trouble of making a nice wooden tool handle only to dip it in a thick plastic coating. These uncomfortable plastic finishes make my hands sweat, then they get slippery, and in tools like axes or hammers, they cause blisters and can slip right out of your hands, making them down right dangerous to use. Sure, a hand applied finish is more expensive, but much better on the hands. I say if they want to save a few bucks, skip the dip and don’t finish them at all. I’ll do it myself. It will save me the trouble of stripping the crappy finish off and applying a more appropriate one.

  28. Chris C

    1. Can nobody figure out how to make a portable planer where
    debris does not collect on the rollers causing the piece
    to get stuck midway through?

    2. Parallel clamps that are difficult to initially engage
    tension…especially right in the middle of a glue up!

    3. All battery powered measuring tools. Sorry, but these always
    seem to have a dead battery when I need it.

  29. Chris F

    How about:

    1) Miter saws where the rotating platform isn’t coplanar to the fixed side supports?

    2) Circular saws where the bevel angle hinge has lateral play, or where the shoe flexes. (Most of them.)

    3) Dust collection in general.

    4) Odd-sized hose fittings for dust collection on power tools. (Duct tape to the rescue!)

    5) Biscuit joiners that cut slots far thicker than the biscuits themselves. (Totally defeats the point of using biscuits for alignment.)

    As for all-steel hammers…I’ve used an Estwing that worked perfectly fine. Am I missing something, or was I just lucky?

  30. Larry Gray

    A big +1 on item #6. I too am a two-wrench fan.

    I own an all-steel hammer. It’s the one I loan out when someone asks me if I have a hammer he can borrow. Makes ’em think I’m a clueless homeowner with 10 thumbs who couldn’t possibly have any other tools that are worth borrowing — so they don’t ask. Snicker.

  31. Joel Jacobson

    "4. All-metal Hammers. Have you ever used one of these for more than a couple nails? Has your arm recovered yet?" …

    I started working as an assistant carpenter in 1953. I’d bought most of my tools from pawn shops, so the guys on the job, when they saw my well-used tools, assumed that I was experienced.

    One new tool was my steel-shanked hammer. When we laid down decks in those days, it was not plywood, but 1" x 8" s placed diagonally over the joists and nailed with 10d commons.

    The morning after I did my first deck, I woke up with my hand swollen to twice its size. Mercifully, that hammer was soon stolen, and I followed the advice of the old timers on the job – "Bluegrass hammers and Disston saws". That burned itself into my young brain – almost. Today my favorite hammer is my 16 oz., red handled Plumb.

  32. Jozef Babjak

    As a starting hobby woodworker in Central Europe, I invested considerable amount of money into Bosch tools. Because I’m not professional woodworker, the "professional" – i.e. "blue" – tools are out of my budget, so I usually bought the best available tools in "hobby" – i.e. "green" – product line: jigsaw, circular saw, plunge router. But going to advanced project where more accuracy is required, I hate those tools: squares are far from 90 degrees, scales are less then informative, and yes, packaged blades are good enough for Swiss cheese. Actually, I’m solving the problem, how to fix endgrain edges for my current project, because simplest flat joints do not fit. For instance a circular saw can be adjusted to square (I already have an own mark for 45 degree cuts, which actually is somewhere around 41 or 42 degrees on built-in scale), but for instance my jigsaw cannot be tuned, only by twisting the table by brute force.

    What do you think, does it make sense to put money into best available Festool pieces, or even into "blue" Bosch powertools, which are easier available in Europe? May I expect better quality with them, or all tools are so crappy?

  33. David Ward

    #3 is my particular bugbear and I offer:- Dust collection ports on almost all powered tools and machines – the makers just don’t care.
    David W.

  34. Eric R

    Examples #1 and 3 and 8 are my favorites.
    And, those cases are a pain in the butt.

    I think I’m joining T.D. above & donate them to the recycle center.

    That sandpaper trick on the miter saw fence works good.

    Thanks Chris.

  35. Guy Forthofer

    Have you seen the new Spear and Jackson laser guided hand saw? You Tube has a demo. Perhaps a dust collection port is next?

    – Guy

  36. T. D.

    Amen to all 10!

    As for those plastic cases, I always thought I was a pack rat for saving them. Last weekend I was doing some much overdue shop organization when I finally decided that (a) those cases took up way too much space, and (b) never once had I used one. Part of my reluctance to toss them was the dread of contributing them to a landfill. However, upon inspection I noticed that every single one of them had a recycle number. I am proud to say that I’ve reclaimed roughly 15 cubic feet of space in my shop by recycling most of those plastic cases.

  37. Mark Rine

    Which miter saw has the least amount of polish? Makita or Milwaulkee? I’m trying to decide which saw to buy, but I’ve heard pros and cons about both. I’m through with the Yellow pieces of crap. They’ve cheapened themselves beyond my tolerances.

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