Buying Tools: All the gear, no idea

Do you remember growing up when you’d save like mad for something? Your first ever guitar, or a skateboard, or a plastic pony! It wouldn’t be the best, but it would be cheap! And it would be yours. And then it’d break and someone you might want to kick in the shins says dolefully, “well, you get what you pay for.” Hmm, thanks for the advice. Too little, too late!

But that kind of advice sticks with you. You just can’t get away from the apparent wisdom of this sage advice. Even if it is just a bald truism.

And so, whether as a student, a new fully fledged cabinet maker or a seasoned veteran, you find yourself staring at your computer screen, knowing how much money you’ve got, what you’d like and what you need. That jack plane is £150, and 4 stars from people with an opinion they simply have to share. And that other plane is £250 and has 4.5 stars. So a half a star’s worth will cost you £100. Good to know, I’ll remember that. See if I can’t by a half a star for less next time. Knowledge is indeed power!  

But then here’s an old one on eBay for £30. Thirty quid!!

Bottom line is it’s a nightmare knowing what to buy and how much to spend.  

“Spend what you can afford”

There you go, another utterly useless bit of advice from people who should know better. 

How to spend it

So here are a few home truths about budgeting to be a cabinetmaker, gleaned from years of watching others spend wisely and unwisely, and from me, personally, spending wisely and unwisely.

  1. You will spend every penny or dime your conscience will let you. So be strong and vigilant!
  2. People selling things do not always (OK, almost never) have your interests at heart. So listen to their advice, listen to everyone’s advice, but take your own council.
  3. If it’s new, from Germany, and a bit pricey, it will work. Forever.
  4. Buying second hand from someone you know is better than buying second hand from someone you don’t know. They probably want to stay knowing you (in a good way), and you don’t know the guy on Craigslist/Gumtree even if he sounds like a really nice bloke!
  5. Paying a few pounds more from a physical company that’s been doing the same thing for thirty years pays in the long run. That nifty sounding web company that you’ve never heard of, with dodgy images and a low price tag, is often best avoided.
  6. If the price is too good to be true, it isn’t true. Ebay is very useful for showing how much tools and machines have actually sold for in the past. In general, there is a lot more price transparency out there than there was before the Internet. Take advantage of that.
  7. Listen to all recommendations, but always get a second opinion.
  8. If you can’t buy new, buy second hand from a trusted, experienced, warranted company that specialises in second hand tools or machines.
  9. Ahem, you get what you pay for.
  10. But, don’t spend more than you can afford.
  11. And free advice is worth every penny you paid for it!

Until next time,



David established Rowden Atelier in 1995, a now world renowned fine woodworking school. Discover Rowden, the woodworking courses, and the work that students go on to do.

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