Created: May 1997
Updated: September 8, 2015
Tool Evaluation Guidelines
Unlike most over the years I've been a rough carpenter, a finish carpenter, a cabinet maker, a furniture maker, a sheet metal worker, and an engineer. Each of these activities requires a different set of tools. Moreover, tools continue to rapidly evolve so those tools that served my carpenter fine woodworking father will still work for me, but I can save huge amounts of time by upgrading to many more current tools. At one time on this page I shared a list of what I felt were the minimums for each of the different things that I used to do. My email box rapidly filled with people telling me I was a dated idiot. Not only was I recommending ancient technology, nobody now does things the same way I learned. I pulled those recommendations and instead share the following lists.
Carpentry My large tool box contains my matching driver drills, sawsall, jigsaw, circular saw, and flashlight that all use the same multiple quick charge batteries with charger. To this are my Paslode large nailer and Porter Cable pinner with PC pancake compressor. Also carry a full set of screwdrivers, pliers, vise-grips, socket set, set of driver bits of all kinds, and spare screwdriver points. My portable workbench holds my chop saw. Included are my 3M respirator and a big fan to keep the air clear.
Cabinetry & Furniture My home shop contains three generations of hand tools all kept well with edges and saw blades razor sharp. I am spoiled with very heavy duty commercial three-phase large table saw shaper combination machine with long sliding table plus heavy 16" jointer/planer and mortising machine. Also have a full ShopSmith combination machine. Nice 14" band saw. Large 5 hp Pentz cyclone dust collection system. Sliding compound miter saw, scroll saw, radial arm saw, wide sander, belt Sander, 12" disc sander, large air compressor, and heavy duty workbench with lots of built in drawers and storage. Also have the hand tools, blades, bits, cutters and supplies to make these all work well.
Metal With little metal work I keep a small Atlas lathe with tooling and 30" combination sheet metal tool that has rollers, bender, and cutter with a Pexto like beading machine and all the rollers for sheet metal work. Have an inexpensive spot welder with long reach tongs to allow welding larger items like cyclones. Also have a good workbench break for folding metal along with portable powered nippers, powered shear, and powered tin snips. Also have all the hand tools, files, etc. for working sheet metal. Way back when they called me an analyst and later one of my duties was to teach university engineering analysis and decision making.
Most of what I learned over the years helped considerably in making better decisions and in teaching others how to make decisions. I always start with the basic questions when it comes to tool purchases. For little stuff at this stage in my life my biggest problem is no longer afford ability, but instead what I have to get rid of to find a place to store anything new. It was not always this way. My first few shops were built on shoestring budgets where each tool had to serve multiple uses and every penny counted. That mode slowly built up a pretty functional but ugly looking shop filled full of basket case machinery that I refurbished and got running, but never made clean or pretty. Eventually, I learned that if all was clean, neat, good looking, and ready to go, I got a lot more and better quality work done. So the bottom line is you should start with the basics to figure out what it is that you really need and can afford. Once you have figured out what you need, then you can go the next step and start selecting each individual tool.
One of the tools we used to help with difficult decisions was known a KT analysis. A KT analysis helps you provide an objective way to make a complex and complicated decision. The way you do one of these analyses is to start by making a list of all the features the tool you are considering must have. Follow these must haves with a list of all the features you want that tool to have. Once you have this list, use a spreadsheet and rate these wants on a scale from 1 to 10 on how valuable each want feature is to you personally. Finally, you then have to do your homework. Find all the tools you want to consider, rate each want and need category. From that list you immediately reject any tool that does not meet all of your must requirements. If a tool fails a must and you still want to keep it on the list, then any must it fails must become a want and get a 1 to 10 rating. Personally, I find it always takes a couple of iterations to build a workable list of must and want requirements. Now for each tool decide on how well it meets each want requirement. Those that are worthless get a zero and whichever is the best of the bunch gets a 10. Now go through and multiply the tool ratings times the value of each want requirement then total the scores for each tool. The tools with the top ratings are your best choices if you have been fair with your ratings of your wants and the tools. If you have a tie or the top two values are within less than 5% of each other, then pick the one that best matches the colors already in your shop.
Here is a list of some of the must and want requirement questions that people shared and that I came up with. Give this technique a try, I think you will be most pleased as this technique can help you make all kinds of difficult decisions. I use it to help with major purchases such as car, homes, etc.
Do I know the tool?
Have I taken the trouble to read the recent magazine reviews and gone back into the major on-line Internet woodworking forums to read over the discussion?
Do I know anyone I trust who has used this tool long enough to give a valid opinion, and if so what do they say?
Have I read a good book on the subject?
Who is or are the industry leader(s) for making this tool? Why?
My needs and expectations
What will I build with it?
How often will I use it?
How many hours a day or per usage?
How soon does it need repaired if something breaks?
Where do I get it repaired?
What is my budget?
Are there any safety issues with this tool or anything else I need before purchase?
Where does this tool fit within my long range woodworking priorities?
What minimum quality will I accept?
How hard to setup and use?
How reliable is it?
How long will it last?
What motor rating is required?
What maintenance is required?
Does it use consumable supplies?
If so, how available and expensive are those supplies?
Any special power or environment required?
What length of warranty is required?
Specific Tool Questions?
Where can I get the tool?
How much does the tool cost?
Is there an alternate tool that could be used?
Does it require a mobile base or other parts to be usable?
How much space will this tool require?
How much does it weigh?
What color is it? (LOL)