Work Smart

If you buy too many woodworking magazines, you may develop shop and tool envy. Acting on this envy is a danger to people with “disposable income.” Professionals accrete tools over the years. The fiscal realities of running a business constrain them. Hobbyists with cash are under few restraints unless a partner points out the household does indeed have a budget. 

If this sounds harsh, I can illustrate my point with the example of one hobby carver who owned every single Pfeil ( Swiss Made) tool the company manufactured. At that time in my professional practice, I had maybe twenty of their very excellent tools. Each gouge, chisel, veiner, and v- tool, in mint condition, was racked under workbenches costing thousands of dollars. He asked me to show him the most useful tools for the work he was doing. I pulled out a dozen that would fit ninety-five percent of his needs.

Friends, I am no stranger to tool lust and tool porn. But limits are needed.

So what do you need to start? I advise you to take a look at the material I’ve provided for beginners. It has information on tools and good books to get you started. Here are some things to think about:

1.) Spend time planning your lighting. Lots of attention gets paid to bench construction and purchasing tools. But lighting is a need that gets ignored much of the time. I prefer daylight LED lighting bulbs and bars; they are inexpensive to buy and run.

2.) Don’t buy more workbench than you need. Benches can cost thousands of dollars. In my opinion, most of the commercially available workbenches were designed for cabinet and furniture makers, not woodcarvers. One of my early mentors in Baltimore was a sculptor who did all his work from a simple carving stand in his kitchen’s corner. Also, if you are doing small carvings, a large bench may be overkill for you. My current workbench is from Harbor Freight. I bought it for $125.00 and modified it to fit my needs.

3.)Cloth tool rolls are cheap, they’ll protect your tools between uses. Very little is worse than finding an assortment of valuable tools ruined because they were jumbled together in a box. Most of my tools are in racks, but if you only have a simple tool kit, the cloth roll works best.

4.) Be wary of specialty tools. They have exotic names like back bent, Macaroni, scorp, or hook knife. Until you need them, and that may never happen, keep it simple.

5.) The internet is now full of beautiful appearing tools from “artisan” tool makers. Not all that shines, and is artisanal is a good tool. In the beginning, buy from established sellers and manufacturers.

Most of my woodcarving gets done in an eight-by-ten greenhouse/workshop that I share with our overwintering figs, rosemary plants, and a shop supervising cat. What you’re making might be the best guide to what you need. I don’t require too much space on the bench, but I do need lots of light. The greenhouse is the best environment for me. If you are making and carving large chests, what’s ideal for me won’t work for you. I also have lots of tools ( including the aforementioned special tools). Like most professionals, I bought them over a long period, 1969 to now. The one with the most tools does not win anything except a large debt.

Working smart is one of the “secrets of the masters.”

7 Replies to “Work Smart”

    1. Irene, I don’t know about where you are, but in my area, the catalogs start arriving in December. I save them till January to read, and carefully do not order right away because I know I’ll go nuts buying!

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