Build Your Own Tools

James HamiltonWoodworkers have a reputation for taking matters into their own hands. When something doesn’t work the way you want it to, what do you do? You go to the shop and build something that will. That’s  probably why the website StumpyNubs.com is so popular. Stumpy (whose real name is James Hamilton) makes his mission to solve problems and streamline workflow in the shop by building machines from scratch. You can find plans for Hamilton’s ingenious machines on his website and also in his book “The Homemade Workshop.” In this excerpt from the book, he offers a bit of his philosophy on building your own tools.

Why build your own tools? Here a few reasons I think homemade machines for your shop are the way to go.

More Features
Many of the most common machines haven’t changed much for generations. Let’s use the band saw as an example. Today’s new models look very much like the old belt-driven machines in museums. Meanwhile a guy named Bell invented a box with a microphone that evolved from the candlestick telephone to party lines, touch-tone dials, cordless phones, cell phones and now Internet video connections – and we’re still using the same band saw design!

Where’s the built-in sliding crosscut table, the integrated dust collection that actually collects dust, or the space-saving design that gives you more than 14″ of throat depth without requiring a 10′ machine with giant wheels?

When you build it yourself, you get to decide what features are important to you. With a little thought you can make machines that are light years ahead of those available in stores.

Less Cost
Building your own woodworking machines is a great way to save money, if you’re into that sort of thing. (Which I am.)

Let’s consider the example of the band saw again. I am the proud owner of a 1hp, 14″ band saw that is considered a fairly “premium” model. It cost me $1,000. You can buy less expensive saws, but not with the features that come in this price range. I also own a homemade saw of my own design. It has all of the features that my $1,000 saw has, plus a lot more. It cost me about $100 to build, including a used motor. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. My homemade saw has 24″ of capacity. A 24″ band saw on the commercial market will cost you several thousand dollars more.

I also have a homemade horizontal router, a drum sander, a router joinery machine, a dovetail machine and all sorts of other machinery that’s rarely ever found in a small shop, because the commercial versions are far beyond the financial means of the average woodworker. My shop is vastly better equipped than many professional shops for one simple reason: I made my own tools.

Greater Access
Thousands of woodworkers have built the machines we design at StumpyNubs.com, which is something I take a great deal of pride in. But the best part of my job is reading email from woodworkers who live in areas where woodworking machinery is either difficult to find or prohibitively expensive to import. Many in Europe, Africa and Asia have found that building their own machines is the only way they could ever hope to own some of the tools that others find easy to acquire.

That band saw that cost $1,000 in the United States is two or three times that cost in some countries. Others simply can’t find a commercial version for sale at all. While availability isn’t an issue for everyone, for some it is a big reason to build their own tools.

Bragging Rights
My neighbor once came to my shop to show me a cutting board he’d made. He was very proud of his work, as everybody is when they create something with their own hands. I complimented him and chatted about it until he mentioned that he still had to finish the sanding. Being a good neighbor, I offered to do it for him, flipping on my homemade drum sander. His jaw dropped as I fed it through, making a point to adjust every knob and crank as if it were H.G. Wells’ time machine.

The first thing every woodworker should learn is this: Nothing impresses your friends like homemade machines. Give your buddies a quick tour of your shop and you’ll be master of the woodworking universe forever! But homemade machines aren’t just about impressing your friends. Imagine the satisfaction you get when you finish a project. Now imagine making that project with tools you also made yourself! That feeling will return every time you use your homemade machine.

Homemade WorkshopYou can find plans for Hamilton’s machines at stumpynubs.com/homemade-tools.html. His book “The Homemade Workshop” is available now at ShopWoodworking.com.