My wife often says, “If Rod doesn’t have a tool he needs, he just goes out and buys it.”
I grew up during the era of power tools, so my shop lacks the glamour of a Lee Valley Tools Catalogue, but I still like what I can do with them. Take the band saw, for example. I bought a new 14″ Rockwell in 1976. It has served faithfully, doing the coarsest and the finest cutting in the shop. It has ripped ¼” planks for dinghies and made the little, fussy cuts to fit tenons and dovetails. It’s a noisy, rough-running brute, but it continues in service while a much smoother King 14″ sits broken and ignored in my garage.
A good jointer is also indispensable if you want to do any useful woodwork. I still have a 6″ Rockwell I bought new, though two Generals, a 6″ and an 8″, have come along since then. Both are superior to the Rockwell, but I still use the old gray one more than the others because it’s set up handy to my bench.
I was going into third year of university when I bought my first radial arm saw. My friend and I needed shelves and furniture for an apartment and there was always a pile of lumber at the farm, so I dropped $200 of an income tax refund on the Sears special. It’s been a great saw for everything except accurate cuts, and I still use it.
The Delta 12″ compound mitre saw’s precision marked a transition of sorts for me. For the first time in my life I could make a board stand on end after I had cut it. From that point on the radial arm saws were used for ripping only.
The fourth indispensable tool, I guess, is the six inch random orbital sander. My current 3.7 amp Porter Cable gets the final say in just about anything I build, and without it the work wouldn’t look half as good. Maybe I’ll toss in here another abrader, a Delta 12″ disk sander. With a jig, I actually sharpen my planer and jointer knives on this thing, but its normal use is for fitting curves and angles in boat-building and pattern work. For one fun-filled week, though, I pulled it around behind me on a mat so that I could touch up my floor scrapers after every fourth stroke. The finish on the old, grained floors was so gooey it clogged the sanding belts, but scrapers work well as long as they are sharp.
Next most important would have to be my King 2hp compressor. At 68 pounds I can lug it around, yet it delivers enough air to spray paint, do a little sandblasting, and most importantly, drive the various pneumatic nailers around the shop. You see, I can’t hit anything with a hammer. This disability was so severe in high school that my woodworking teacher called my parents in to look at a piece of trim I had mangled while trying to install a window in the shop. Later at Rothwell and Perrin I once missed a nail and broke a finger — of the guy working next to me. Then pneumatic nailers came along and removed the athletic element from woodwork.
My first planer was driven by flat belts attached to a farm tractor. Then in 1995 I bought a new General International 15″. It has been such a good machine that I don’t think about it much, just run it and haul the shavings away by the trailer-load. That little plate at the front to restrict the thickness of the input can be easily removed with a stubby screwdriver, and with damp wood or on sticky days it works better if you smear a little oil on the infeed table. At 435 pounds the planer’s too light to handle long, heavy planks without help. It will tip if unsupported. On the other hand, it’s on casters and can move around the shop easily. After many years of use and storage in a variety of unheated outbuildings, I have had no problems with it.
A few years ago a fishing buddy from Pennsylvania gave me an ancient ½” shaper when he bought a larger model. How much does a free shaper cost? That winter I ordered about $500 worth of cutters online. But then I decided to make flooring and windows, and needed a stronger, more accurate machine. A plea on the Canadian Woodworking Magazine Forum found a guy in Lanark, Ontario who was willing to part with an old Poitras ¾” shaper. It’s a wonderful tool. I fitted it with a Busy Bee ¼ hp power feeder and have used it for thousands of feet of flooring, interior and exterior paneling, bevelled panels, doors, windows, banisters – you name it. The shaper has become my favourite shop tool. Again, the cost of a shaper is in the cutters. The ½” set won’t work on this ¾” machine, so I was back to ordering online again. I’ve even run a few hundred feet of 3 ½” crown moulding on it, though, so the machine is strong and tireless.
My most interesting tools, no doubt, are the mortiser and tenon cutter I bought from the Cawley Brothers in Westport when they closed their sash and door business in 1977. James Cawley had found the tenon cutter in a factory in Montreal, and then built a mortiser to match it. It produced a lot of interest when I posted a picture on the Old Woodworking Machines website.
The only trouble with the tools is that we now want to live in the space they have occupied for the last thirty years. Bet has adapted pretty well to putting doilies on the band saw and drill press, but the 500 lb. tenon cutter just won’t fit the décor of the living room, so it will have to go.