WT223 – Take a Class or Buy Tools

On today’s WoodTalk “Weekend Edition”, we’re talking about whether to take a class or spend the same money on buying tools.


Joe is wondering whether to spend his $1000 graduation money (congrats Dr. Joe) on 8″ jointer, a spiral head lunchbox planer, or take a week long Class at the Connecticut valley school of woodworking on Fundamentals of Furniture-Making with Bob Van Dyke and Steve Kain?

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12 replies on “WT223 – Take a Class or Buy Tools”

I took this class and was well worth it. Since i was also self taught i learned many different techniques that i had never thouthought of. There was so much i picked up. Bob also tried to talk about different ways to do a cut but we all worked on one way to keep class streamlined.

$300 is what I paid for very comparable instruction at a local community college with an instructor plus two instructional assistants, that’s 48 hours of class time. If there’s a community college in Joe’s area and the price is about the same as here, then $1,000 would give Joe almost a year of instruction plus access to machine tools with safety instruction on their use.

For me, the answer is both. But not what he originally asked. I would get the lunchbox planer and skip the jointer. Then use what I had left to get some online training, if I need it. Lots of good information can be found online for free. But the paid stuff can be really good. The class would show him the techniques to build a hall table. Any technique in that can definitely be found online. I know hands on training can be much better than learning by yourself through online training. But for the value, I think he would be better served to buy what tools he needs and then buy training as needed after that.

the best tools in the world will not make a good carpenter, but a good carpenter can do good work with any tools at hand. learn something first. part of what you learn is what tools you need. there are things you can spend a lot of money on, only to learn later that you don’t need that thing. so, learn first, then decide.

I would go with the jointer and planer since if you took the class, they would be used heavily and having them in your arsenal in your own shop is such a game changer. Buying dimensioned lumber is costly and limiting. Continuing to “borrow” machine usage takes away from shop time which has a value all its own.

The only other thing is, how do you get a planet and the 8″ jointer mentioned for $1k. The jointer alone would eat that budget.

Thanks for the show!

You can spend a lot of money buying tools before you have skills. Buying tools that are either not used or replaced with better tools can cost more then the class. On line information is plentiful and I use it often, however classes force you to concentrate on the subject and actually use the tools.

In Joe’s case, married and just getting his PhD, time is one thing you can’t get back. He doesn’t know when he will have time in the future to take a class. – work, kids, marriage, family have a way of filling your life – not that these are bad things – tools are easier to find then time

You asked for examples… After I decided this hobby was something I would stick with, I slowly got enough tools to mill my own wood and do basic construction with power tools (6″ jointer, lunch box planer, Festool track saw, Festool router, a basic sliding miter saw, and marking / measuring tools). I then made a few things from Marc’s free site to build confidence and a one from Matt’s site. I then treated myself to a woodworking ‘vacation’ of sorts and took a 5 day class from Daryl Peart at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking on a specific project. It was a great class and having a specific goal was perfect for me. That class gave me even more confident and now am appreciating the WW guild. I hope to build a few projects from their soon. Thanks guys!

My wife has a Ph.D and if this guy is about to start his, he’s looking at several years of very little to no free time. If he’s working and going to school then he will not have any free time. Based off that, I would be tempted to take a class (maybe not the one he listed) just for the experience and the lack of ability to do so for a few years.

I’m in a similar situation in that I don’t have a jointer but my brother-in-law has an 8″ Powermatic with a helical head. Guess what tool I’m not buying anytime soon? Sure I do almost all of my joining by hand but that’s beside the point. Don’t judge me.

Regardless, a cheaper, specific class and a tool would be a nice compromise.

Some kick back here, I hope you guys bring this up on the next show, because no one did.

I am a fairly new woodworker and I went the tool route, so maybe because this is so fresh its so crystal clear to me..
If he is buying more tools, you have more to consider than just the tool. Both planners and jointers make a lot of mess and chips, so he will have to factor in a dust collector or at the very least a really good shop vac. Its nearly impossible to run a jointer properly without one, they get clogged and you have stuff blowing back in your face, then chips pile up on the table. I am sure we have all experienced that. So if he only has $1000 to budget, I’d almost say go hand tools. You can get the Woodriver jointer plan on sale for about 300 out the door (maybe less) if he is anywhere near Steal City tool works, he can get a refurbished lunch box planner for under 200 a dust collector for under 200 or so, a air cleaner for 150 about and still have 200+ left over. This is of course assuming that he has the required space, he knows how to use these tools, and the power. I have to hire a guy to rewire my shop to get my jointer in the basement, its not cheap. I am not a big hand tool guy, but I’d say he may be the perfect candidate for a few hand planes and scary sharp. But if you consider power tools, you need to consider, foot print, power, dust collection, safety gear, replacement blades, tool tune up (jointers can be tricky) and do I really need it? The fact is most timber supply, hardwood suppliers have s4s boards waiting to go, and that is what a ton of people buy anyway. And in case you are wondering, my budget was fairly limitless when I did my shop, I got some pretty epic tooling, and the education is coming by at a fairly steady pace with online resources, I’d go that route for sure, just different tools. I’d exclude the jointer for now, and get a few more hand tools for flatting table tops, jointing edges, and face then run it through the planner.

Hey guys, I am the one who asked the question. To start out with – I am finishing my PhD not starting – so I am coming off that 5 years of very little shop time that Jonathan P was talking about.

After listening to the guys thoughts on it I have decided to do a little of both. I am taking a “specialty” class on wood turning – something I have always wanted to do but just feel intimidated due to the fact that sticking a tool into a piece of wood spinning at 1500 rpm seems inherently dangerous to me.

Depending on how the class goes (and how much I enjoy it) I think I might buy a used mini/midi lathe and the associated tools I need.
I do have access to the milling machines if needed at a studio (Keeseh) which is about an hour from my house.

On another note let me say – Thank You for the advice and all the content (free and paid) that you guys put out!

Warning to Joe! Turning has been found to be addictive! A pen-turning class was the first class (and second, several years later) I took, and dragged my wife along, too. The class was in November, and we had a lathe by Christmas. The wife turns more than I.

Something Shannon said struck a chord with me. I am focusing more on hand tools now, and classes make more sense to me for using hand tools. What is sharp? What am I doing wrong with my hand plane? Why can’t I saw a straight line? I watch the videos, but I think I need someone there to knock me upside of the head and say, do it this way!

I’m attending a sharpening class at the local Woodcraft next week for $75. Maybe it is just to make me feel better, but I hope it will help my woodworking.

Sounds like you came a whole circle from planer/jointer to lathe. I have been turning for about 10 years. And, turning can be addictive. Over the past several months I’ve been letting a friend use my lathe and although I’ve never been a teacher I’ve tried to help him as much as I can. In that process I learned that U Tube has a wonderful variety of excellent videos on turning. I’d suggest that you start with some videos that give a general overview; use lots of practice stock; and get you a good grinder. Learning how to sharpen your tools is an absolute necessity for turning and U Tube has videos on sharpening. I’d concentrate on learning how to use and sharpen a roughing gouge, spindle gouge and a skew for starters. If you’re interested in bowls you’ll also need a bowl gouge or two and keep in mind that almost every thing you do with a bowl gouge is the opposite of the way you use a spindle gouge. Good luck.

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