The Tool Trap

It doesn’t take long to accumulate tools that you don’t use. Why? There’s a question people have been asking for a long time. Depending on who you ask, you’ll receive different answers. Other people’s answers for why I do something doesn’t much interest me. It’s better for me to discover the truth about myself. It makes me a better person, and therefore a better woodworker.

Doris Rowland, commenting on her husband, Ross Rowland, Jr., is credited with the following tidbit:

The only difference between men and boys is the price of their toys.

It was probably true of Ross and is probably true of most men who have more money than they did when they were boys. Money is often the only governor when it comes to acquiring tools. We can justify nearly any purchase if it’s a tool. The money, however, limits the imagination when it comes to self-justification. All of these opinions are based on my personal experiences of acquiring tools and watching others acquire them.

About thirty years ago I was looking through a Sears and Roebuck catalog, at tools. After all, I’d been doing woodworking for all of two years and had acquired much of what I actually needed to do production work. Sooner or later, romance enters the wood shop. We begin to imagine all we’re going to do, and all we can do. It’s easy once you have acquired a few skills, like cutting a ninety degree end on a board. Doesn’t sound like much until you try to do it. A properly set up power tool makes it almost effortless. It’s not until you use a hand saw that you realize just how difficult it can be.

While perusing the catalog I came across wooden hand planes made in Germany. There may not be a woodworking tool with more mysticism and romance surrounding it. Sears must not have been moving them so they had them on sale. They were priced to sell. I had no idea what they did or how to use them, but they were wooden. If you’re a woodworker you like wood. What a trap the combination of wood and tools is. I was instantly hooked, was selling some of the stuff I’d produced, and therefore had some money. I bought all four of the best quality wooden hand plans they were offering with the notion that I would use them. When I got them it was like I’d taken possession of the Holy Grail. I built a tool cabinet in which to keep these newly acquired treasures.

That’s where they stayed for decades. I would take them out to show them to people, but I never, that I can recall, used them. I may have tried the block plane once or twice, but the awful truth is I had little idea what they were for or how to use them. They are a try plane, jack plane, smoothing plane and block plane. A matching set of ECE Primus Planes with lignum vitae soles. They range in size from two feet long for the try plane down to less than half a foot long for the block plane. I got them for a song. Today the set is over a thousand dollars.

Within the past year I have learned to use them, sharpen them, adjust and tune them properly. They are a pleasure to use, but it took me about thirty years to get around to it. That’s the tool trap.



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