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Tools
Harbor Freight brand Chicago Electric sander, and my No. 102 Lie-Nielsen Iron block plane, which is unfortunately discontinued. These days Lie-Nielsen is offering only the bronze version.

I prefer working with hand tools as much as I can. I find them much quieter, safer and more fulfilling than machines. I believe that only when using a hand tool can one become intimate with the essence of woodworking — sensing wood’s density, manipulating its grain, listening to its whispering sound when layers of shavings are carefully peeled off under the sharp edge of a handplane.

Don’t get me wrong, I could not succeed in my line of woodworking without the assistance of machines, yet planes, chisels and handsaws are more dear to my heart, hand and yes…my pocket. When I build my cutting boards, I rely on stationery tools to mill, cut to size, groove and drill my design. But I also find that there are cases when a handplane is indispensable for surfacing boards with capricious grain or for chamfering corners. With a small block plane I can chamfer the corner of the boards fast and efficiently, and because I like to use my planes, there is no reason to set up the router table with a 45° router bit to do the same job with more noise. Furthermore, a sharp top-notch block plane will allow you to cut with the grain in almost every grain configuration, whereas a router table setup might not.

While I feel reverence for most of my hand tools, and I acknowledge the indispensable contribution of the big electrical helpers for rapid manipulation of wood, I feel quite indifferent when approaching the dusty realm of sanding. I have no passion for sanding and no fetish toward the tools that I use.

My approach is boring and utilitarian: I wish to pay the least for the tool that will last the longest time without falling apart. I learned from experience that even tools that carry the hallmark of fancy brands may only last just a few months of intensive sanding work, so it just doesn’t make any sense to buy them when you have a cheap alternative at half the cost.

This is why I bought my Harbor Freight orbital sander. The tool is so cheap that even if it falls apart in half the time that say a DeWalt sander will, it will still be cost-effective. The only thing that bothered me was that once this tool met its maker (unfortunately most of our cheap electric tools these days are impossible or impractical to maintain) I would be responsible for yet another blob of plastics and metal parts that ends up in the landfill (yes I am that kind of a guy who cares for my environmental footprint). However, my initial trepidation had gradually subsided the longer I used this sander. After two years of routine use, though not “industrial” use, I can say that the sander has paid for itself a few times. It is still going strong and except for its inadequate dust-collecting bag (which is why if the weather is good I prefer sanding outside), it does its job probably as well as any top-notch brands out there.

While I don’t anticipate any major change in my attitude toward sanding, there is always the possibility that sometime down the road things will change, perhaps I might even meet “the right tool” that will scratch my heart. Do I hear a Festool whispering in my ear?

Tools

I use the No .102 (and other handplanes) for chamfering my boards’ corners. The inexpensive Harbor Freight random-orbit sander is very handy for surface sanding. The only problem with its design is the dust-collection system.

— Yoav Liberman


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Showing 9 comments
  • moxonjim

    I also do like to spend high dollar for tools that do the same job as expensive name brand tools. The harbor freight sander round dust bag port adapts easily to a shop vac and with the use of an i-socket Tool and Vacuum Switch, available from Rockler, does a very good job of dust collection. I also have several name brand sanders and the performance is not perceptively different when attached to dust collection. For the cost vs usage, I couldn’t justify the festool.

  • grbmds

    Inadequate dust collection? That’s exactly the reason to spend more on a Festool sander. I was tempted to buy a Harbor Freight belt/disk sander because it was so cheap, but then I read the reviews and dust collection was poor. Sanding produces too much dust, especially fine dust, to not take advantage of tools with superior dust collection.

  • REFFI

    Almost all my work is outdoors, but I have four power sanders, a belt sander for the ugly stuff (Harbor Freight), a random orbit sander (Porter Cable) for most of my work, a Black & Decker random orbital that happens to have an attachment for corner work, and an ancient Craftsman (I really can’t remember when I bought it) half sheet “flat iron” sander that doubles as a random orbit(?) and a finishing sander. The best thing that’s happened to me was the receipt of a gift of Rockler’s small dust collection hose. It fits both the belt sander and the Porter Cable. With my shop vacuum attached, I can sand without wearing at mask for the generated swarf. The Craftsman is what I use, with the grain, for the final grit on a project (with a mask) so the swarf generated is minimal. Small areas, edges, etc. are handled by multiple sanding blocks with a hard side and a “soft” cork side. The blocks are all labeled with the grit of the abrasive being used. I’ve found that it’s easier to do that than to wrap and unwrap a single block with successive grits (I learned this in woodworking class from a Master Craftsman).

  • BLZeebub

    I HATE sanding. I’ve owned 5 RO sanders, so far, and the Milwaukee is the least vibratory and most comfortable of the lot. I still use a 6″ DeWalt for large surfaces and I peruse a different method for dust collection. I do it outside with a box fan blowing the offending dust cloud away from me. If I do alot of sanding, I have to get out the leaf blower and blow off the driveway and the greenery or else suffer the slings and arrows of my missus’ discontent. I also use a decent particle mask too.

    Maybe when I win the Power Ball, I’ll throw down for the Mirka but I’ll still do it outside.

  • Jim Dee

    I like your logic, overall, and have applied it myself in some instances. However, I won’t be going this route with a sander for two reasons which have to do with my personal health: dust collection and vibration. My cheap sanders (and even my pretty darn good Makita) left my hands tingling after a couple hours of sanding. Gel-filled gloves cut the problem in half but didn’t solve it. Spending 2.5x the cost of the Makita for the small Festool random orbit (not the over-the-top Rotex) did solve it. Add to that the freakishly effective dust collection (I hook it up to my old shop vac, didn’t spring for the Festool sucker) and I am now a much happier sander. The new sander is far easier to grip, and in fact the vac is so effective that it holds the sander down on a flat workpiece and makes it feel lighter.

    If nothing else, at least rig up a short length of radiator hose and some hose clamps to connect your sander to a HEPA-filtered shop vac. Your sinuses will thank you.

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