Compact Tools

I was reading an online review of a compact router last night. An otherwise well-regarded model was getting trounced. To paraphrase: ” I was routing two-inch green, live oak. After forty feet, the AceyDoucy 400 seized up on me. Don’t buy this router. Oh, and AcyDoucy customer service was terrible too. My next router will be the Totem 124XlR; it has excellent reviews!”

You see this sort of thing with compact tools often enough to make you think twice before buying.

There are some compelling reasons to get a compact tool: 

Space – they are compact and tend to take up less space than full size.

Cost – they cost less than their full-size siblings.

Capability– Since first introduced, there have been many improvements in their capacity. If you are respectful of the machine’s capabilities, you can expect excellent service.

In my basement shop, I have a full-sized bandsaw and router table and all the other doodads which belong in that shop. Ninety percent of the time, I am working in my greenhouse carving shop and don’t want to run into the house and downstairs to do some tiny job. For those small jobs, I have compact versions that add utility to the carving shop and save a lot of time. I am not going to process 200 feet of teak on my small router table, nor am I about to resaw lots of cherry on the 10-inch bandsaw. But if all I’m doing is running two feet or so of frame molding or trimming some boards, my compact tools do the job.

If you have a small workspace, do think about compact tools. They fit in small spaces, have a lower cost, and will do the job.

For my greenhouse shop, I chose a Rikon 305 10 inch bandsaw (the 306 was not on the market yet), and a Lee Valley compact router table. I equipped the router table with a smaller DeWalt router. But there are several good machines from which to choose. Just for clarity: I am not associated with Rikon, Lee Valley, or Dewalt. As with any purchase, the available tools will include the good, bad, and ugly. Take your time comparison shopping. One last tip: be wary of those review articles which rate “The ten best rejointers of 2020.” They don’t always get it right.

Lots of us have small shops either through design or necessity. In my case, I deliberately downsized as I shifted from doing larger maritime work like quarterboards and transoms and started focusing on ship and boat portraits. Whatever reason you have for smaller quarters, I encourage you to rethink the conventional wisdom that large is always best.