Today I wanted to give a big hat’s off to our modern tool makers. They come in all shapes and sizes and whilst they’re products are highly respected and admired there’s a lot more good they do besides which can easily be over looked.
We’re all used to living in a commercial world. Everyone has a product to push and in most industries there’s so much product to go around that we’re spoilt for choice – we’re not choosing between say the white bread or the brown but whether we want the brown bread in red packaging or blue. (Does it work to use that many colours in one sentence?). The trouble with too much branding and hard sales is it can lead us to become sceptical of all businesses and salesmen.
These scepticisms we’ve created can be a real party pooper in the wrong place and make it easy to understand why we might now and again hear remarks that tools today are over priced and frustrated comments along the lines that makers are fooling unwary customers in to emptying their pockets on products they don’t need. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are companies out there who favour the hard sell but this post is all about appreciating the tool makers and all they have to give. You don’t have to look far to find useful tips and techniques from a tool maker’s mouth. It may be a magazine article they’ve written, a blog post or an educational video. Of course there’s an incentive to sell but isn’t that par for the course? I’m talking about hand tools here and the makers may be an individual craftsman or one of the larger names we know well. The thing which most have in common is the passion which got them started; it isn’t easy to see something from conception to finished product and I can feel sure that when a craftsman decides to make tool making their business they are driven by a love of their work over a desire to inflate the bank account.
Let’s not stop at tool makers either, small publishers, teachers, authors all have something to sell and this need only encourages them to make a contribution of their own. As a result information and interest in the subject of woodworking has flourished. We have tools available to suit such a variety of needs and a lot of inspirational ideas put out for their use. Much of the education and awareness for woodworking is coming from businesses and this makes for a very healthy cycle.
Perhaps it would be nice if the most well made items were also the cheapest but since that rarely makes sense I think we can appreciate that the tools available do offer value for money. There is something for all budgets and whilst tools at the higher price brackets might not all be essential they will most often offer the best by way of performance, desirability and/ or quality. For many I’m sure that owning a tool which is beautifully made can do as much to spark an interest in using it as anything could. When products offer value for money the important factor changes from learning which is best to becoming aware which best meets our individual needs. If you are making an educated purchase then you really can’t go wrong. Without the choice and desirability of tools there is unlikely to be any where near as much information available covering such versatile interests for free. In fact without great sources of new tools we’d struggle to get started in the first place – there’s only so many antiques to go around. I know there’s alway a flip side to the coin but this is just a quick hurrah to the tool maker and a celebration of the effect that they have overall for our interest in woodwork.
Paul Chapman says
I do not subscribe to the view that modern hand tools are over-priced. Those made by firms like Clifton, Lie Nielsen and Veritas are not only a joy to use, but with a little care will last for generations, which makes them exceptional value for money.
When you compare hand tool prices to power tool prices, adding in all the doo-dads and geegaws you buy to go along with those power tools, hand tools are only a fraction of the cost of their powered cousins. Using a couple hollow/round plane pairs and a rabbet plane, you can reproduce just about any profile a router with a dozen bits can. And quality? I am using several planes that were made in the early 1800’s. They are just as accurate, and take an edge just as well, as they did when new.
Graham Haydon says
We are indeed blessed with so much to choose from and to suit all budgets. The tool market is in the best shape it has been for some time.
Your right, Richard. I can’t think of one hobby that has as much free educational information available about it as woodworking. This is due to hard working entrepreneurs like yourself who have realized that the more educated hacks (myself included) are about the hobby, the more likely we are to part with our hard-earned cash for newer and better tools, and where better to spend it than with those who taught us.
Case in point is my own attempts to buy from you. While what I was looking for wasn’t within your repertoire, and I had it feeling it might not have been before approaching you about it, I was still compelled to try simply because while you were teaching me some bits and bobs about working around the workbench you were also teaching me that you were a skilled and knowledgable craftsman, just the ticket for my strange, little project.
Shannon Rogers says
Well said indeed.
Over the past year and a half I have been converting from all power tools to an emphasis on hand tools. In the process of acquiring the necessary hand tools I have purchased both new and antique. I absolutely agree that most of the modern makers produce tools that are not inexpensive, but are absolutely worth the price charged. The performance of these tools has made the learning a thing of joy because the tools operate as advertised.
Another thing that cannot be overstated is the access to information on how to use hand tools, and much of this information is free. The passion demonstrated by you, Chris Schwarz and others is infectious. It keeps one going when the learning curve becomes difficult. Thanks.
Great post, I agree with all the other guys. For me, if I want it I buy it, I look after it, and enjoy it, then the price is alway right. 😉
mark williams says
The thing to remember is this, ‘first cost is the cheapest’. A quality item (this doesn’t just apply to tools) that lasts a lifetime (or more) costs less than an item half the price that has to be replaced every few years.
Price is somewhat subjective anyway. I have been reading ‘The Joined and Cabinetmaker’ recently. In which Thomas is saving for a set of chiseles. These will cost him about 6 or 7 shillings, without handles. As this book was first published about 1835, I had a look what inflation would have done to Thomas’s 6 shillings. Today it would equate to about £280! At the time Thomas is earning 2 shillings a week, of which 1 and 6 went to pay his keep.
Now ask yourself, are those LN chiseles (cw hornbeam handles) really that expensive?
Me? Oh I’m a tight ####! I like to buy the tools Thomas was using. Don’t get me wrong, a lotto win and I’m straight on the phone to order some Philly Planes 🙂
Ps. Richard/Helen, any chance of a progress report on the refurbishment?
Thanks Mark, that puts a fascinating turn on things – today’s tools are sounding even more reasonable!
We’re taking plenty of footage of our progress with the buildings and I’ll compile it all together shortly – at the moment though I could sum it up as mud, rubble and workbenches.
I say it only helps the whole of the hobby by offering such great tools at reasonable prices. The more people that buy tools the more demand there is for information, and suppliers and consumers are both rewarded.
Bernard Naish says
While I agree that most hand tools available from the main manufacturers today work extremely well, are extremely well made and are priced to reflect the care taken in their manufacture I have a concern!
There is a group of small manufacturers who are making tools such as marking knives, awls and mallets and charging exotic prices for them.
I do not need a mallet with a resin impregnated head; a marking knife with a rosewood handle; a square that is accurate to a higher specification than a mechanical engineering toolroom needs; a brass headed mallet with a strange handle or a dovetail marker that I can easily make myself in 15 minutes.
Let us be aware that we discourage recruitment to handtool working by offering these tools as though they are required when their are perfectly functional examples available for a few pounds.
Lukasz Budzynski says
I think this is a little wider topic and is not only applicable to woodworking. However sticking to our beloved craft… Everything depends on what for and why one is buying a tool. If you’re a professional craftsmen, who is using the tools for a living it is essential to get a quality tool, which will take the tool error out of the way and do the job most effectively. Then the price is excused and payed off by the quality and efficiency. With the mentioned marking knifes, mallets etc. market, in my opinion, the thing you pay for is not the performance and efficiency, but aesthetics, workmanship and used materials. These are properties not that important for the pro, but for the amateur/hobbyist/collector, who likes to spend her/his money on things that work, but at the same time are very nice for the eye is more important. They also cost. But again…those are the little things. How about planes, where You can get a Chinese production plane, which performs great for 120EU, but raises some moral doubts, a British/American/Canadian regular top quality plane for 250-300EU, which does the same, but has a better quality of finish and keeps the money “at home” and a top-top-top of the shelf bling-bling plane for thousands of EU, which does the same, but is exceptionally beautiful and well made (personally I’m in love with the Brese Winter Smoother :)). Everything depends on who and why is spending their money.
I’m glad, that the market is so wide and one can get what he wants, for what money he can afford, wherever he lives. And the additional marketing materials produced by the manufacturers are great, because despite being advertisements, also function as video instructions, education and woodworking promotion materials.
Thanks Bernard, I would agree that choice can also have some negative effects and I imagine one of worst would be for a desirable product to be mistaken be an essential one. If this means that someone is put off getting in to woodwork because they consider it to be more costly that it needs to then it would be a shame.
I think the variety is still good but it’s certainly important that people can make well informed purchases. We’ve always felt some responsibility towards this with our workbenches and it felt satisifying last year to make our video on the ‘Holdfast and the Batten’ – like saying ‘yes, our vices are good, but look what you can do with a stick!’.
It’s all too easy to romanticise. In their respective days both Chippendale and Sheraton were fastidious users of the most up to date technology and in the formers case was roundly turned upon by contemporaries for ‘not playing by the rules’ in producing his now famous Director, the Littlewoods catalogue for 18th C. fine furniture. The best craftsmen were sought, finest timbers imported and most cutting edge (sorry) tools wealded. I believe that if parachuted into this time they would be after whatever their wallets could afford.
A little less rose tinting and a bit more accurate historical observation might be of use.
p.s. I LOVE my Matthison chisels, not because of their age but because they were made with fantastic materials. I’m sure the finest chisels on the market would do just as good a job, only for 4 times the price.