Of all of the words in the English language, there are few that are as open to interpretation as the word “economy.” Countless institutes of higher learning offer undergraduate programs focused on “Economics.” They mold young minds to consider every issue in terms of cost/benefit relationships and collective value. After four years, if the student’s mind has become sufficiently moldy, they are invited to pursue a graduate degree in the field.
Now, you might ask what Economics has to do with woodworking. I propose that outside of the world of International Banking and High Finance, there is no other group more financially polarized than woodworkers. We have our own little micro-economic universe where we vacillate somewhere between two economic extremes. A less sensitive observer might call these boundaries “The Cheap” and “The Exorbitant.” However, in the interest of unity, we’ll call them the “Tool for a Day” and the “Tool for a Lifetime” philosophies.
Advocates of the “Tool for a Day” approach will argue that the quality of the tool is secondary to the skill of the craftsman. After all, an artisan of sufficient talent should have no problem building a Chippendale Highboy using nothing more than popsicle sticks and a steak knife. The “Tool for a Lifetime” crowd takes a different view of hardware purchases, living and dying by the mantra, “You get what you pay for!” Any tool that has the honor of entering their shop must not only be of the very highest quality, but also have an unquestionable pedigree, the proper paint scheme and a degree from Stanford.
As I said before, most of us drift between these two extremes — our buying habits depending on the reason for the purchase. When buying a tool for a job we love, we’ll slide toward the exorbitant end of the scale, perhaps buying the “ultimate jigsaw,” knowing it will spend years as a faithful servant. On the other hand, when it comes to scraping the peeling paint from the front door, we’re more likely to use the license plate off the family station wagon before coughing up the 75 cents necessary to buy a scraper. It is the nature of man.