Thursday, January 17, 2013

What is the Thousand-Dollar Shop?

This question came up recently when a friend of mine discovered my blog. It’s a natural question, and the answer has to do with why I started blogging here. I’ve been putting this entry off, because it’s a lot of words with no good pictures, and every time I’ve tried to write it, it's felt too long and too negative. But we need to do this, so let’s go.

It starts with another friend of mine, Kevin, and his experience when he got serious about woodworking.
Kevin comes from a rural background and grew up among people who make all sorts of things for themselves not as recreation, but because they need to. So he had excellent training in basic skills and a good eye for what would work and what wouldn’t, but when he discovered a real passion for woodworking, Kevin knew he needed some “next level” information. He enrolled in a one-week class at a prestigious woodworking school, expecting to find himself among kindred souls with a hunger to learn.

Instead, by sheer bad luck, he ended up in a class full of what he described as “rich, old, white men” who spent the class time bragging to each other about their Lie-Nielsen this and their Holtey that and their Felder such-and-such back home. As he observed the thousands of dollars worth of tools on the benches around his, Kevin felt that for many of his fellow students, this class was about showing off their status rather than learning about woodworking. After the class, he sometimes noticed the same attitude at woodworking guild meetings, specialist tool shops, and in the woodworking magazines. It wasn't everywhere, but it showed up enough to bother him once he was awake to it. An outside observer might take this to mean woodworking is a rich man's hobby. He knew such an impression was not exactly right, and it bothered him that it would keep some people away from a pastime that can also be about frugality and self-reliance. 

The next time he and I met, I casually mentioned that I was doing some writing about woodworking, and he became quite animated. Kevin is usually a calm, quiet person who measures his words carefully, but there was fire in his eyes as he told me “We need some information out there for people like you and me who don’t have a ton of money but want to get started. Write people a book about how they can put together a few tools and start building things they want and need. Let’s say a thousand dollars. A lot of guys could justify spending a thousand dollars if they could use what they spent to make a decent cabinet good enough to put in their house.”

Kevin said all this with such fire that I felt I had been personally challenged. As he spoke, I realized how very right he was, and how much more value I could provide by writing about skill, experience with basic equipment, and getting the best gear for the least money, instead of writing tool porn like so many others do.

When I had a chance to sit down and put together some notes, it immediately became clear that if I had a thousand dollars to spend on getting started in woodworking, there would be several directions I could go. I could put most of the money into a tablesaw with a decent blade. Or, I could buy a good circular saw and excellent router, and make some jigs for the circular saw to temporarily bypass the need for a tablesaw or chopsaw. Or, I could put together a hand-tool only shop. It mostly would depend on what I wanted to make. And should some, or all, of the equipment be used? I have learned a lot about buying used gear that some people might find useful.

Could I write a book about this? Maybe. Maybe someday I will, too. But I think a blog is the ideal place to discuss this concept, because with each short entry I can try to describe either an essential tool, or some technique or project that can be done with a very basic set of equipment.

In the months to come, you can expect more of what I’ve already been doing: entries about things that happen as I build cabinetry for my shop and home. You can also expect more tips that apply to buying used gear and maintenance. And I also need to write about at least 3 versions of a thousand-dollar shop: a shop centered on the circular saw and router, a shop centered on the tablesaw, and a shop based on hand tools. What sorts of projects can you do with each one?

I look forward to sharing all this with you.

ps) about the negativity: Neither Kevin nor I have anything against really, really good tools. We both just want to focus on doing the work rather than on who has the nicest tools, which mostly boils down to who is able and willing to spend the most money.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, just after putting up this post I found this video:
    Matthias Wandel gives a perfect example of how to build a nice, sturdy workbench with a circular saw and a drill as your only power tools. I might change the design by adding some lower stretchers to make it more rigid, and making a more suitable top for woodworking, but this is an excellent example of the kind of stuff I think someone just starting out with minimal gear can do.