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As any Toolmonger knows, opinions are like, um, cheap screwdrivers: every “old tool guy” has a drawer full.  And while the advice of “old tool guys” can save your ass, sometimes it’s just based on the tool-guy equivalent of old wives’ tales.  So it shouldn’t have surprised me that I received an earful from the peanut gallery when I told them about my recent 8′ x 3′ bookcase project — and how I made the 8′ cuts with a Skilsaw instead of a table saw.  Based on all the guffawing and laughter, you’d think I told them I was trying to hammer nails with a pencil. 

Why is it that so many people believe that you can’t build furniture without a $20,000 wood shop?  Incredibly, folks have been building furniture since long before electricity was available to drive power tools. 

Yes, a table saw is better for sustained long cuts.  But I didn’t have one on hand when I decided to crank out the bookcase, so I managed with a straight-edge clamped to the wood and a circ saw.  After a bit of set up and tweaking, it worked just fine without a single hitch. 

And now I have a nice, inexpensive oak bookcase.  The naysayers have, well, whatever they have.

The lesson: you have to decide what’s best for you yourself.  Never let anyone tell you what you can accomplish.  Often you’ll find that the very same people raining on your parade haven’t done it themselves.  Or that they’re rehashing advice they got from someone else.  Or they’re just scared to try the project. 

Don’t let naysayers — or a lack of expensive tools — stop you from trying and learning.  Give it a go! That’s really the best way to learn anyway.


22 Responses to Tip: Bet On Yourself — Not What Others Think

  1. William says:

    I hate to be a naysayer but from the picture won’t your straight-edge clamped to the wood fall off as you cut and quit holding your cut in place? Shouldn’t the straight-edge be on the other side?

  2. Kurt says:

    Preach on Brother Sean. I’m still building out my meager shop. I’ve built several things so far with the tools I have on hand (and a table saw wasn’t one of them). I’ve done full rip cuts like you describe. It’s not ideal, but it works.

  3. Sean O'Hara says:

    Excellent observation Will, yes it would have fallen for sure. However I find the neighbors kid works great for that type of gig. I pay him $5 and a Dr. Pepper (with his parent’s approval of course) to borrow him for 30 mins and we both get a good deal and have a good time.

  4. Eric says:

    Is the kid’s parent’s approval for allowing him to (1) work around power tools, (2) accept money, or (3) have a Dr. Pepper? 🙂

  5. Drew says:

    For long cuts on large sheets of plywood, I much prefer to use a clamped straight edge and a circ saw. My table saw is pretty minimalistic and I’ve no rollers to support a large piece and (usually) no extra hands available. The circ saw + straight edge is pretty easy AND accurate compared to manhandling a 4’x8’x3/4″ on a (low end) table saw.

    In conclusion: Yay go Sean!

  6. Sean O'Hara says:

    Lol, All three Eric. He was stoked about the tools and the cash and the caffiene I throw in cause it’s hot out in the shop. 😉

  7. Scraper says:

    I agree. There is always more than one right way. I know a guy who has every woodworking power tool imaginable. And another guy who does just about everything with a few hand tools. Both create some incredible furniture. The only difference is the fancy tool guy makes sawdust a whole lot faster.

  8. jgb says:

    Ditto to what Drew said. I wouldn’t dream of splitting a 4/8 sheet of plywood on my $100 portable table saw. I used a circular saw with a straightedge to cut two sheets down the middle a few weeks ago to make some shelving though.

  9. McAngryPants says:

    Lesson #3: Wood putty is your friend

  10. Chris Murray says:

    Thanks for posting about this, as I am sure there are going to be a lot of new woodworkers who will find this helpful.

    All I ever heard when I started woodworking was how I needed a planer and a jointer and how without them, I would not be able to build nice furniture. I found this to be very disappointing and frustrating until I remembered how much furniture my father built with just a skil saw, table saw and router (all three that I have).

    All it takes is some imagination and creativity and you make anything you want with just some basic tools.

  11. F451 says:

    “Bet On Yourself — Not What Others Think” Is THAT where I’ve gone wrong in life?! Aaaarrrggghhh!

  12. Rick says:

    Great post Sean –

    This hits close to home as well – because I’m like many who are still fleshing things out (and saving for a house, and trying to keep a near-vintage german car on the road, and raising a 16 month old, and, and, and….).

    I have access to my dad’s stuff, but he doesn’t have a heck of a lot. Basically his Dewalt 18v driver is the only thing of his that’s really useful to me in building anything. Otherwise I’ve got the Ridgid circ saw (thanks to toolmonger.com and ridgid) that I’ve used just as you’ve described – a solid straightedge with some clamps. Depending on how I’m cutting I’ll use either a pair of old saw horses or two picnic table benches side by side (for ripping sheets lengthwise). Haven’t had a problem yet.

    What I’ve been researching lately is what I would need to do with hand tools to accomplish the same thing many are doing today with power thickness planers and jointers. Woodworking Magazine has been invaluable in helping with that (as has its sister publication Popular Woodworking. You can do all of that with hand planes. And you don’t have to buy expensive Lie Nielsen planes either. Yard sales, craigslist, etc. and invest some in a good sharpening setup (and time in learning how to get proper bevels, etc. on your plane irons, and you can pretty much build anything you can think of.

  13. Rick says:

    Oh yeah.. the websites for those two magazines are:
    http://www.popwood.com (what are we? 12? – quit the snickering – I’m serious 😀 )

    I particularly like Woodworking Magazine as it’s focused more on technique than tool reviews and the like and it’s ad free. (though it’s only published semi-annually I believe.)

  14. TL says:

    With a bit of planning and effort you can do amazing things with hand tools. What the big stuff gets you is speed and repeatable accuracy. Instead of ten minutes of setup per cut with the circular saw, the tablesaw knocks that down to 30 seconds and lets you make repeated cuts even faster. Often times for me that speed difference is the difference between a project I enjoy and one I cuss at.

  15. Dave says:

    I found an even easier way than hiring the neighbor kid. Lowes charges $0.25 per cut and it’s easier to haul the plywood.

  16. lens says:

    I will never have room for a table saw, but I’ve achieved the same results (maybe better) with Festool’s circular saw and guides. The set up is not cheap but since space was more of a problem than cash, I sprung for the Festool rig. Their design also cuts Melamine without chipping. Once I had the guides, I also got their router. I know there are cheaper ways get these tools, but the convenience of their guides and clamps lets me get set up faster, so I actually do the project, rather than just think about it. That’s important when I have to pull the car out of the garage to do anything.

  17. Jay says:

    I built a DVD case with a circular saw and set of jigs that I built from straight edged plywood. I used the jigs to do rabbets for the drawer bottoms and it worked great. It takes a little more mental activity to figure out how to get the job done without all of Norm’s tools, but it increases the bragging rights to say “I built it with a butter knife and a rock”

  18. JohnJ says:

    There’s is an easy way to improve both the accuracy & finish of the portable circ saw cut. Simply make the cut slightly oversize, then re-adjust the guide and trim to the final size with a router.

    Yes, this too has limitations, but with a good straight edge (not any old chunk of scrap lumber) it’s not hard to get a cut that will be fine for all but the most demanding needs.

    Oh – about the guide, I clamp support boards under the work to prevent it from moving around as the cut is made. By clamping everything, nothing moves as the cut is completed, and the accuracy is maintained for the full cut. Sure, it’s a lot of extra work, but for me, the results are worth it.

  19. Aaron Baca says:

    My father and I built a beautiful linen shelf in a couple of days using little more than a circular saw, a pair of sawhorses and liberal doses of brainpower and patience.

    I see that aluminum angle stock at the hardware store all the time. I bet it would be very useful for building a straightedge with a nice piece of hardwood.

  20. Jim D says:

    Through experience, I’ve learned that large power tools allow to do everything much faster. Like, miscuts.

  21. Andy says:

    You know where I learned the clamped-straightedge method of circ saw cutting? Two sources: Norm Abrams and Tom Silva. A person would have to get up pretty early in the morning to convince me that _they_ don’t know what gives good, consistent results.

    And JohnJ? Excellent idea with the clamped support boards. I will use that.

  22. Erin L says:

    When lining the interior of my shop with classic rib metal panels, I often had to cut and rip them to size. I did the entire thing with straight edges and clamps and after measuring the offset between the guard and the blade, I was able to compensate and make accurate rips and cuts. I went through a ton of abrasive metal-cutting blades though. 🙂 (Wear hearing protection when you do this. The reverbrations through the metal panels is horrific.)

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