Friday, January 2, 2009

It’s not the arrow, it’s the Indian

Power tools.

God, I love power tools.

But you don’t really need a lot to build a wagon. A good sabre saw, a decent sander, and a drill will get you by. A table saw and a router really can be time savers, especially when we dado the bottom of the bolsters for the axlerods, but there are workarounds. A stationary disc sander really makes the wheels painless. A drill press with a really deep center can be a joy. And I'd marry my laser guided compound sliding miter saw if I wasn't already hitched.

But let's be honest here, woodworkers got by for centuries without all these nifty toys and made items of incredible beauty and sophistication. What a power tool gives you is speed and in many cases accuracy, especially for the beginner. Getting nice rip cuts from a table saw has a lot shorter learning curve than using a bow saw or rip saw. If you're a beginner and you think you'd like to get into the traditional hand tools, read Tage Frid Teaches Wookworking (three volumes). The man is an inspiration, but I'm sticking to power tools.

If you’re going out to buy your tools for this project, or just getting into woodworking, my recommendation is the Bosch 1590EVSK sabre saw.
For years I bought the cheapest saber saws out there, brutalized them to death, discarded the smoking corpse, and got another cheapie. Then My Lady Wife bought me a Bosch for Xmas. From the first cut it was rapture. You cannot believe the difference. You can get a reconditioned one for about $110, and trust me on this one, it’s worth every dime. And get really good blades, not the cheap bargain bin crap.

For your hand drill, if you’re only getting one, get the Black & Decker 18v Firestorm rechargeable. It’s got the muscle to drill, good battery life, and nice heft. It has a drill chuck that comes off with a squeeze leaving a hex socket for a screwdriver bit so you don’t have to keep alternating them if you're drilling a lot of pilot holes. I bought my first one as part of a set with a trim saw, a (useless) flashlight, and something else (a sander?) but I've kept my eyes out for sales, and sometimes you can find the other tools (sabre saw, dustbuster, a "Navigator" saw which is actually pretty nifty, recip saw, etc.) for less than the cost of the battery (which run about $30). Now, I've got plenty of spare batteries, and can set up, for example) 3 different sanders so I'm not forever changing paper when I need different grits.

For sanders I still buy 'em cheap and kill 'em quick. I prefer orbital sanders that let me clip on the paper, rather than hook and loop. Forget hand held belt sanders unless you're an experienced woodworker. The only thing that will let you screw up a piece of wood faster than a hand-held belt sander is a hand held power plane. My sister-in-law bought me a nice dewalt for my b'day one year, and it's nice, but I really can't say it's worth the extra cost (unlike the Bosch sabre saw, which is).

Get the most out of your tools. Use sharp, good quality bits and blades. Measure carefully. Use jigs. What takes time in woodworking is not the cutting or drilling, it's setting up the tools and the workpiece. Don't rush.

Of course, I figure you'll have the usual compliment of hammers, screwdrivers, pliers, etc.

So if you haven't got The New Yankee Workshop in your garage, don't despair, a decent wagon is not beyond you.


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