For the final post in this series, I am going to move solidly into the world of my opinion. Sooner or later, no matter what tool you decide to buy or what project you plan to tackle, you have to find some place to spend your money. I’ll give you a preview, I am governed by “you get what you pay for” in more things than product selection. I will also add my previously mentioned view that you should never visit a store, talk to a salesman and then buy the item off of Amazon in order to save a few bucks. If everybody did that, there would be no local store – think about it and be fair. Also, please add comments regarding suppliers you like or ones located outside CT and the US.
Tools, Bits, Blades and Stuff – I have a lot of tools that were purchased from Lee Valley, and if you ever want to experience a serious drool-inducing hour, crawl through their catalog of Veritas hand tools. The really cool thing about Lee Valley is that if your tool breaks, they will fix it, or help you fix it. If your tool just doesn’t work, or if you think it would work better if… They will refund your money and, if they agree with you, they will redesign the tool. I also buy mail-order from Rocker. I have been buying from them since before they changed their name to Rockler, (I think they were the WoodWorkers Store) and they have always been very easy to deal with. They have almost everything a woodworker needs, and I really do believe that you have to support the vendors who serve the comprehensive needs of woodworkers as opposed to the ones who simply cherry-pick a few profitable items. Since I live in CT, I am fortunate to be able to shop at Coastal Tool. These guys are a large mail-order tool supplier that just happens to be located in a nearby town. They have good prices, and a good selection, but we’re talking tools, not hardware and supplies. Also proximate to me are two WoodCraft stores. I like WoodCraft because they carry a wide range of tools, hardware, stains, finishes and wood, and they seem to be totally staffed by woodworkers. You can discuss a project and get advice from someone who knows exactly what you are doing.
Brands – Most tool brands are good these days as long as you realize that a $29 orbital sander isn’t going to be as good as an $129 sander. In general, I like Delta and Porter Cable for the American-made history that they represent and for the fact that I have yet to wear out one of their tools, including the ones I inherited from my father. I like Bosch, although I wouldn’t say that I am loyal to them. I will say that with the exception of my very first cordless drill, every cordless drill, driver, etc. I have ever owned has been made by Makita. There are lots of very good cordless tools on the market, but I don’t think you can beat the feel of a Makita drill. I like Stanley tools and I am a total fan boy of the Fat Max brand. Your mileage may vary.
Wood – I prefer buying wood at one of the few local lumber yards that maintain a good selection of hardwood. Lately, I have purchased wood for two projects at the WoodCraft store in West Springfield, MA. I can’t speak for all the stores in this chain, but these guys manage to stock some nice lumber. I generally stay away from the big box stores because their hardwood is bland, expensive and no straighter than the pine, poplar and birch that they stock. I have also had good luck ordering wood from Niagara Lumber. You have to be careful, because your wood is coming via UPS and you get lengths that will ship and will be easy to package. I like the quality of the wood I’ve bought from them, but I usually buy a bit more than I would locally because there might be more waste. I have also had good luck with reclaimed and repurposed wood, so keep that possibility in mind.
Information – There are hundreds of blogs, twitter feeds, Facebook pages and websites dedicated to woodworking. Search, bookmark, Like, subscribe, follow etc. I have a charter subscription to Woodsmith Magazine and the companion Shop Notes. They also have a pretty nice show on PBS. I periodically read Fine Woodworking and Fine Home Building, and I have purchased some of their specialty publications addressing specific techniques.
All of the vendors and products I have mentioned throughout this series have websites, white papers and cyber resources to draw on, but your best bet in some cases is to search the web for that guy who does often that thing that you are about to do for the first time and who shares that experience in a blog.