Make & Model Envy

August 2, 2011

When I was growing up there were two things every boy knew; baseball stats and cars.

I knew how to play baseball (sort of) I could throw, catch and hit a ball but other than that I was an amazing benchwarmer and “Big League Chew” consumer.

When it came to cars, I wasn’t much different. I could find ours in a mall parking lot like nobodies business. Didn’t matter the time of day or how long we’d been in there, I knew exactly where we left it as if it were a part of me.

But when it came to make and model, I was clueless. A fact not lost on my friends when retelling them about a sweet looking ride I had seen.

Me: “I saw this totally rad silver van with a bubble window and a wizard casting spells painted on its sliding door”
Friend: “Was it a (insert make and model here)?”
Me: “No! I told you it was silver with a Wizard.”

The same is true for what was under the hood. Horsepower, engine size, torque, all of these are a foreign language even today. Probably explains why I drive a small red car. I think it’s domestic?

Forward that ignorance of stats and cars to today and really the only difference between me then and now is some facial hair (seriously, I’m really not much taller either).

What does this have to do with woodworking? Well, a lot really. That ignorance of stats and specs has actually carried me quite a ways, especially in woodworking.

Like many of you I love tools, I want them all. But unlike some woodworkers, you’ve no doubt encountered on a forum somewhere, I don’t care who makes them. I only care they make them well.

Don’t get me wrong, brand loyalty isn’t a bad thing, in fact it’s something that can help to spur a company on to make better tools. That company knows its customers will most likely walk away when they start equating their tools with a bad experience. But brand loyalty can also blind an individual from realizing there’s more out there.

Just because their favorite brand builds a 5HP drill/driver doesn’t mean a much smaller model from another manufacturer won’t do the same task. What it does mean, is you won’t need assistance to do it.

I think we tend to lose sight of the fact that pieces of historical furniture we desire to replicate were probably built with much simpler tools. Tools today we might even scoff at because their blades weren’t forged from the heart of a dying white dwarf star.

In the hands of the right craftsman a piece of scrap metal, a gum wrapper and some twine could be tools.

Of course with that said, there is junk on the market, probably built from scrap metal, gum wrappers and twine.

But that doesn’t mean something that falls in the middle isn’t worth the money. I’ve paid a lot of money for a tool or two I’ve never used, simply because it was new and they told me it was better than anything out there.

My 1-3/4HP granite topped cabinet saw can cut the same wood my 1/2HP contractor saw could too. The only real difference I could see is in how I handled my feed rate to get it through the blade. The same is true with my 1HP bandsaw compared to my old 1/3HP model.

Once you understand the limitations of a given tool, using it efficiently and not expecting small miracles will yield the results you desire.

Don’t get me wrong, just like you, I love seeing the latest and greatest the tool world has to offer. But at the end of the day, my make and model envy dies down once I head in the shop and just build. Something I should maybe doing right now.

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