During the last several months I’ve gotten several e-mails, phone calls and comments from people who aren’t readers. Instead these communiquÃ?Â©s are from the wives of our readers, who are about 95 percent male.
These are not friendly conversations.
They go something like this: “My husband buys every tool you recommend. Whenever your magazine comes out or you post something on your blog, my husband buys it. For the sake of our bank account, please die.”
Well, that last sentence is hyperbolic (I’m from the South, what do you expect?). But the rest of the sentiment is accurate. One woman said that my writing had cost her $12,000 last year and $9,000 so far this year. And here I thought my writing cost people $19.96 a year for a seven-issue subscription.
Now I actually feel pretty bad about this recent development. As a writer (who is married to a writer), I’ve always lived modestly. I drive a six-year-old bare-bones Honda. Many of my clothes are hand-me-downs from my father, a man with excellent taste. Heck, I started building furniture because we couldn’t afford the antiques we wanted.
But I’ve never developed a taste for cheap tools. My first table saw was a 1970s-era Craftsman (price: free). I spent as much time adjusting the lame fence as I did ripping with it. My first chisels and planes were the Popular Mechanics brand (yes, I see the irony), and the edges folded like tin foil whenever they were asked to cut anything other than pine. I could go on and on with this list.
Poor-quality tools stink. So I began acquiring high-quality vintage tools and machines (an Atlas drill press, Swan chisels, Stanley Type 11 handplanes). These were (and still are) great tools. But they took a lot of work to bring back to life. Metalwork. Filings. Grease. Pressing bearing. I found that I don’t like metalworking nearly as much as woodworking.
So I bought a Delta Unisaw. I bought nice Japanese chisels and saws from Lee Valley Tools. I bought a Lie-Nielsen plane. Each purchase hurt the bank account; but on the plus side, I’ve never had to replace any of these tools. And I suspect I never will. Every time I turn on my table saw, it works as advertised. Every time I cut a dovetail, the only errors are caused by my own ineptness. And every time I go to plane a board, the results are completely predictable.
But these arguments don’t work well with the spouses. I’ve tried. So I apologize to them. I try to untangle myself from the conversation. And I furiously hope that each of you will build something spectacular with these tools. Nothing defuses the expense of the means like the beauty of the results.