Thursday, July 2, 2015

Thursday Thoughts - Tools

Earlier in life, I eschewed expensive power tools like the table saw, drill press, bandsaw, planer and jointer. Why did I downplay the utility of such tools? Mainly, I think, because I had no experience with them, I didn't have shop space and I couldn't afford them. That was then. This is now.

My shop is cozy (read that as "small") but I now have a table saw, bandsaw, drill press, planer and a mortising machine (which wasn't even on my radar when I was younger). There is also a radial arm saw in the back of the barn and a disassembled jointer in the basement (I have no idea how to get it up out of the basement and reassembled).

My Dad and I bought the radial arm saw (Craftsman 10") in the mid-70s. I brought it to the Farm from my brother's place last summer. My intention was to set it up in one of the long aisles of the barn to rip staves for birdsmouth spars (the shop is too small to rip anything over 9' in length and the table saw).

So, as I began setting up the radial arm saw, I began reading up on using it for ripping. Well, 95% (or so) of the articles on the subject strongly recommend against ripping boards on a radial arm saw, citing safety concerns. Even those that said it can be done safely recommended against an inexperienced user from using the tool for ripping. While I am gaining experience in the shop on my tools, I have zero experience using the radial arm saw. The recommended tool for ripping? The table saw.

Well, if I can't use the table saw in the shop, I decided to use this smaller saw that has been stored in the barn.

When the time comes (waiting for several schedules to match up), I'll set up the saw and in-feed and out-feed support in the garage (nice level floor with space out the door) and we'll (helpers and I) rip the CVG Doug Fir I have on hand for birdsmouth staves. We'll also bring the router table up to the garage to notch the staves. We'll begin with the mizzen mast. (An 8' practice spar went together without mishap a week ago.)

Lastly, my inexpensive ($150 on CraigsList) Ryobi benchtop planer has, apparently, given up the ghost.

Up until yesterday it worked fine. Yesterday, the On/Off switch was finicky - had to be wiggled a bit to make contact - and then the motor would only run without a load. Running a board through, even without the blades in contact with the wood, caused the motor to quit running. One possibility is the vibration of the board being pulled through the planer is enough to cause the On/Off switch to fail (I am not an electrician and have never played one on TV - so I am just guessing). I'll ask one of my electrically inclined friends about it and try to find a replacement switch on line to possibly replace the existing switch. The other possibility is a new planer (a truly new model, not a used one).

The last four years have taught me the utility of large power tools and the value of buying the best new tool I can afford when I need a new tool.


  1. Nicest thing is that tools are really needed to build boats... yeah... and the investments in tools are nothing compared to the value a boat gives us... really true! I am serious Bob. It may sounds like I am defending the fact that I just bought a new belt sander after the previous one just died on me... they are not cheap. Especially not the makita one I bought. But I know how much use it gets from working on our boats. I just love the fact that it is OK to get what I need.

    1. Rik, I agree - and I definitely need tools for boat building. And there is no need to defend the purchase of a tool - especially a replacement tool!

  2. I remember the day Dad cut his hand on the radial arm saw while Mom was at work. When she came home, she said she had a buyer for the saw. The look on his face was priceless as he said, in that voice he hardly ever used but which made us all stop and listen, "The radial arm saw is not for sale!" He also told me that day that the way to get fast service in an emergency room is to go in with your hand in a bloody towel and say, "Radial arm saw."

    1. That is a great story, Debbie, and part of why I decided against using the radial arm saw to rip the staves for the spars. Even with those magic words, "Radial arm saw." and a bloody towel, I have no desire to test service and treatment in the emergency room!