Popular Woodworking 2005-12 № 152, страница 12

Popular Woodworking 2005-12 № 152, страница 12

Out on a Limb

The Dot on the Box Isn't That Important

Just about every day we get at least one call from a reader who wants assistance with selecting a tool or machine. And I'm always amazed by both how much research they've done and how misguided it usually is.

Part of the problem is that these readers are usually new to woodworking, so they're not sure which feature s are important and which aren't. And part of the problem is the way we make, market and purchase items in our consumer culture. These two problems feed off one another and make it difficult to make sense of our tool catalogs.

When we compare one tool to another, we usually end up lining up all the features of one tool against the other. This is a primitive defense against our ignorance about a tool. We're usually trying to buy something we've never owned before so we research and compare features down to the smallest detail. Some of these features are valid and useful. Brand A jointer has a 1-horsepower motor; brand B has a 1V2-hp motor - so brand B is (we hope) more powerful.

Other features aren't important, however. Some band saws offer two or three speeds. And I hear readers regularly state that this is a feature they weigh as they choose one saw over another. Is this an important feature on a band saw? Not for most of us. The slower speeds are for metal-cutting blades. I've never used a metal-cutting blade on my band saw, nor do I expect to. It's not that important.

Then there are features that are somewhat useful. To stay on the topic ofband saws, many machines come with a fence. This seems useful except when the fence can't be easily adj usted to compensate for the drift of the blade.

And then there are the bells and whistles. I call these the "dots on the box." These are the

features listed in the marketing materials or on the tool's packaging. Some are important; most are not. Here are some dots: a wrist strap, bubble level, light, laser or 30 clutch settings on a cordless drill.

We tend to favor the tool (or child's stroller or automobile) that has the most features. But do you know what these features really do? Do you know if they are something that you'll really need? I think most of us simply think, "That light on the cordless drill might be nice to have - in case I ever assemble a highboy in the basement during a blackout." I'm guilty of this behavior myself.

The next time you buy a tool, see if you can identify the three or four critical features of that sort of tool and focus only on those. Then try to find out how well each tool is made - something that's never called out on the box.

If you can do this, I think you'll pick simpler tools that are made well. If we're lucky, this might encourage manufacturers to make tools that focus more on function than features. And you are not alone in this. We will do our part here at Popular Woodworking to help you identify the core features and ignore the fluff.

Check out our review of 14.4-volt cordless drills on page 70. What's important about a cordless drill? More than anything, how many holes and screws you can get out of a charge, how well-balanced and well-made the tool is and (as always) the price. Features beyond these core attributes are either lowering the quality or raising the price. PW

Christopher Schwarz Editor



After earning a doctorate in exercise physiology, Kathy spent 10 years as the owner and operator of a restaurant and catering business before turning her love of woodworking into full-time employment. Now, she's retail operations director for woodworking and gardening tool company Lee Valley Tools, as well as an avid gardener and woodworking teacher. Also a passionate turner, Kathy sells her turned bowls and kaleidoscopes - for which she even makes the colored glass pieces. When time allows, Kathy heads for the mountain lakes of Alberta with her grandfather's 1913 Sponson canoe that she restored. In this issue, Kathy teaches us how to make a "chair devil" (page 80).


To simply call Kerry an English teacher, chairmaker or author gives short shrift to his many talents. In addition to building beautiful Shaker ladderbacks (we've had several in our office here) and teaching chairmaking at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking, Kerry constructs equally impressive case pieces. Add these other facts to that list: Kerry is a talented illustrator, some of his furniture is built using recycled motorcycle crates and all his pieces are made using a humble set of tools you'd find in almost any garage. In this issue we launch a series of articles by Kerry about Shaker furniture (page 38) that showcase all of his skills as a builder, teacher and thought-provoking writer.

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Popular Woodworking December 2005

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