As I read the posts here over the months and years, one thing keeps jumping out at me in regard to buying equipment. Some of us are too cheap to spend good money on good tools. We expect import junk to work as good as quality equipment. In the long run, we spend a dollar to save a dime, then grumble about the job we didn't get because the potential client didn't want to spend that much money on "high end" furniture, trim or cabinets. Instead we bought "some cheap junk form Home Depot." Interesting.
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor B:
I agree. The investment in my shop is an investment in myself. It sells me as a serious cabinetmaker. That's why I moved out of the basement into my commercial space and put down the cash to do it right. I can't see using a piece of peg-board to do my system holes or rigging up a sled to cross-cut my sheets on the Delta contractor table saw. If the customer wants price over quality, they can keep looking.
A mentor once took me aside and explained that my livelihood came from the edge that was cutting the wood, and the quality of my livelihood was directly related to the quality of that edge. Maintain that edge and you'll do as good as can be expected.
"Maintain that edge" became a metaphor for the better equipment, joinery, materials, methods, and even business practices with vendors, employees, competitors and customers. It has served me very well - beyond expectations.
While one cannot start out with a shop full of Martin type equipment, it needs to be a goal - to ever work towards better. Just as the status quo may work now, don't relax or accept it as good enough - move forward. After all, most of us that are business owners did not accept the status quo, and struck out to improve things.
We all know that we will starve if we try to compete with the mass producers, since we are faithful readers of these forums, so we have found niches to exploit. Quality and service are the basis of what we can excel at. So we are back to the quality of that edge.
Keep your chisels sharp.
For the small shop to survive, overhead must be low. Borrowing or leasing to have the latest and greatest isn't always prudent. The secondhand auction market is proof of that.
In our shop, we have many different brands - Dewalt, Delta, Cresent, Rockwell, Portercable, Bosch, Makita, Grizzly, Oliver, Powermatic, Walker Turner, Reliant, Bridgwood, Jet, etc., plus a lot of off brand hand tools.
Many of these tools are made in the same foundry and labeled for specific brands. Rockwell, for example, is made for them to their standards. Fit and finish sometimes is the only difference in these machines. So if you can buy the same machine in a different color, green instead of white, and save a few hundred bucks, why wouldn't we?
We must also take responsibility. To believe a 12 amp saw can honestly deliver 3 hp on single phase current for only $***** shows just how uninformed some folks are. Marketers know this and exploit it. It's sad that one of the things that made this country what it is, making a quality product, is being eroded by American industry's need to pay Mr. Dow and Mr. Jones more money than they deserve.
The issue seems to be one of repetitive quality... If you are constantly doing the same repetitive operations, you really should have a top end tool. But if the use is occasional, then the cheapo stuff will generally work.
For example, for retrofitting seismic safety bolts in concrete, I bought a Harbor Freight 1" concrete impact hammer/drill for about $50 when the competitive models go from $300 to $500. Sure, it's not high quality, but then I only use the tool 2 times a year, and it has worked great on those occasions.
At 1/5 or 1/10th the price of the highest quality tools, this poor man can indeed afford to buy the tool twice if needed... but for a much smaller 30% to 50% difference, I think I'll get the best.
Our shop keeps very good equipment in top shape. I would sooner buy an old, truly industrial machine than a shiny new import with weak bearings and a million parts only available at Hung Chow's Machine and Asian Food.
From someone who has made bad choices and has learned the hard way: Buy quality, even if it is older than you! A responsible business will not spend more than can be earned by any machine. This, of course, varies from shop to shop. That is why there are so many different machine companies and price levels. But to buy a cheap machine that can't produce quality product makes less sense than not buying anything, in my humble opinion.
When it comes to building square boxes, you really donít need top shelf tools as a one man shop. Great tools are nice to have. But so is a brand new BMW, and I canít afford one of them, either.
You need money to make the house payment, so you have to sell your work, so to have something to sell, you have to build something. To build something, you need tools. If you buy the less expensive tool and it helps you build something you can sell and that helps make the house payments, then go for it. If you have an unlimited budget and you have a secured flow of work coming into the shop nonstop, then you can afford to simply set up with only the best of everything. If, on the other hand, you start off small and plan to grow from your earnings, then you need to keep your overhead low, so during the 7 skinny years you donít lose your house. Thatís why we sometimes buy used tools or less expensive tools. We are growing. Nobody that can afford to buy the best buys the worst simply to make their own lives more interesting.
Bottom line for me, is that for critical items, I buy the best that I can afford, which is never the best item in its class. For non-critical items, I buy the cheapest I can get away with.
P.S. My friend is such a fanatic about having the best tools and keeping them perfect; that he just chrome-plated the inside of his edgebander. It's quite a beauty, and it also edgebands! There is lots of room for different approaches when it comes to buying tools, which is why there are so many options out there.
Improvement over time was not stressed in my earlier post. Yes, it does take time. Forever worrying about that guy in his garage with the sawhorses will trap you into that rut, and you'll be just around the corner, sweating in your leased garage, for life. Define your business and your goals, and focus on that. The larger picture is the better picture. Looking over your shoulder to see where you are in a horse race is less desirable than focusing on the horizon, with a clear view of what is ahead and how to get there.
1. Task requirementÖ from that, I determine the acceptable and workable quality I require from the machine. You do not need or want perfection. You want and need fit for purpose, which can mean a big difference both in purchase cost and profit/time ratio.
2. Can the machine or tool provide the fit for purpose tolerances I need to work with?
3. What will this machine be helping produce dollar-wise for us? Or is it what I call a dead spend, i.e. simply enabling a job to get done but adding nil additional profit capability in time or markup?
This helps determine the workable budget/cost factor range for me. If it's a profitable purchase, I will set a budget based on a profit/loss analysis for that item, and the purchased item needs one way or another to come into the dollar purchase range I felt was acceptable.
If it's a dead spend, I will not go over any budget I have set and my budget will be the minimal amount aiming for the maximum life period.
Only after the above do I start the buying process. Out of the last six items we have purchased, two have been new, and four have been top end products purchased from auction dirt-cheap. Purchased from poor buggers now insolvent, who thought they needed the best and ended up paying the most, when in fact "fit for purpose" would have given them the best and cost less!
The guy across the street from me had 6 guys working for him and one Powermatic, no edge bander, no shaper, no nothing to share with 6 guys. That kind of thinking never made much sense to me, but also I did not have 6 hungry guys to feed. I buy tools based on how much I use them. The saw I use a lot, so I bought the best.
A woodworking machinery store near me was only a stop for screws or sandpaper pads. I thought I would never purchase a slider or any of the other BigGuns equipment they sold. I could never get it into my basement, first of all. My favorite store carried all the Delta, PortaCable, etc. gear I would ever need.
But I always thought that someday that'd be the way to go. Maybe a real commercial space. Buy ply by the skid. Fork-lift it right off the flatbed truck. High ceilings. A booth to spray the stuff. Raw lumber in one door, tight, clean well-made, precise cabinets going out the other.
I drilled system holes one at a time. Then, I made up a jug to lay out the spacing better. Then I bought a Delta pneumatic line bore. 13 holes at a time! This was progress! Now, I run 50 holes at a stroke. I used to edgeband with a hot air gun. Now I band with a SCMI. The sliding table saw makes my work 200% better than I could have imagined!
It's all in steps. I know I may be further along than some of you. And I know I'm still way behind a lot of you. But as long as I keep dreaming and looking ahead, who can say what's in store for me. And I think that's the really exciting aspect of all of this. Always evolving. Doing better. And always learning.
You guys with basement shops don't have to be defensive. We were all there. Keep dreaming of what could be. And before you know it, it will be. And I gotta say, it's a blast!
That says a lot for me. It's very important to me that I enjoy my day. It makes my work better. To that end, in four months, I'll have my first sliding tablesaw - can't wait.
Tools come and go. I've had a dozen sets, both good and bad, so I can tell you, the finest detail, deriving the highest quality, is still accomplished with a single edge of steel. But I had to fail as a box builder, and find myself reduced to a single hand-me-down chisel, to find the woodworker in myself.
But in the end we are professionals and we have to create at a rate that produces a dirty word known as "profit." Whether it is a second hand chisel or a Weinig molder, the quality of the steel to hold that sharp edge or to maintain a vibration free cut is all important. Without quality tools, we can create, but not necessarily at a profit. Buy quality, even if it is old, because when you simplify the issue to the core, you still need the best steel to hold a sharp edge.