If all you have is a hammer, well, you might need another hammer.
One of my favorite quotes is Baruch’s Observation: If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. It seems like an accurate observation of the way people adapt to their surroundings. When it comes time to move out of your apartment your Honda Civic suddenly looks like a Ford F150. Just drive by a good-sized college or university at the end of the spring semester and you’ll see this in action.
But sometimes the reverse is true. Maybe all you have is a hammer, but it isn’t the right hammer. Sure you can drive an 8d nail with a 9-pound sledgehammer, but you wouldn’t use it to drive a finishing nail into the moulding of a jewelry box. It would mar the finish, slightly.
Both extremes are easy traps to fall into while woodworking. At what point do you have the “right” tools to finish a project? Tool catalogs arrive in your mailbox with their glossy photos and tantalizing descriptions of the latest gadgets to make all your projects look like they were made by a test-tube baby fertilized with Duncan Phyfe, Sam Maloof and Frank Klausz’s DNA.
How could a hopeless wannabe woodworker like you hope to make a dovetailed box without the “Tail Master 5000?” The photos of the sample cuts made with the TM5000 make you yearn for it like a miser yearns for gold. It gets to the point that you just know the only thing stopping you from becoming a brilliant furniture maker is not owning the TM5000. You can’t eat. You can’t sleep. Your trusty and quite serviceable dovetail saw gathers dust as you wonder if selling one of your kidneys on the black market would be enough to purchase the TM5000 and its “Houndstooth Dovetail Adapter Kit.”
If you survive the siren song of the tool catalogs, the “whatchyaneed” guys are there to further hobble your self-esteem. A “whatchyaneed” guy is that friend, neighbor or relative who believes they know what you need better than you do.
After a quick glance at your shop they quickly say to you, “Whatchyaneed is a JointMaster 9000. That JointMaster 4500 won’t do as good a job.” Having seen his JM9000 turn a 22″ tree trunk into an 18″ x 18″ beam in four passes, you realize the inadequacies of the JM4500. The largest board you’ve ever needed jointed so far during your woodworking career was a 4 x 4, but you never know when you will need to add a timber-frame addition to the garage. Better safe than sorry, you tell yourself, and wonder what other body parts you could sell.
The truth of the matter is, we often have enough tools to handle a project if we get a little creative. That tenon a little thick and you don’t have a shoulder plane? Try a bench chisel. Don’t have a dedicated mortiser or a drill press? You might be surprised how well a cordless drill and a chisel can make a mortise. Have a new plow plane on back order and need a groove cut into a drawer? Start it with a chisel and make multiple passes with a router plane.
Don’t let your lack of gizmos keep you from trying a project. Use the tools you have. So much of woodworking is about solving problems. Let your creativity flow into how you make things as well as what you make, and you’ll become a better woodworker.
By the way: Anybody interested in a used, but well-maintained uvula? See, my buddy brought a tool catalog to my garage yesterday …. –Doug Fulkerson
Here are some supplies and tools we find essential in our everyday work around the shop. We may receive a commission from sales referred by our links; however, we have carefully selected these products for their usefulness and quality.