I often refer to the Skil 7500 belt sander as the shop’s secret weapon. When things get bad or when bad measurement has reared its ugly head, I’ll reach for this first. With a 3” x 18”, forty-grit belt draped around the rollers, there’s not a lot of wood problems that can’t be shaped down to size with this monster.
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Though it seems to be a point of contention with shop dwellers the world over, the ShopSmith that lives at my place still continues to prove that it’s up to whatever task I lay down before it. I’m close to a dozen projects into since I set it up and it hasn’t missed a beat yet — except for snapping a 20-year-old belt on the band saw.
It’s true that you can get a bunch of standalone tools that do the same job, and there are drawbacks with the all-in-one setup time that is the rallying cry for nay-sayers. However, after an experience with my hand-me-down rig I can say that it does indeed work great if you’re willing to put up with about 3 minutes of change-up period for the different configurations.
Does it work for everyone? — obviously not. It does work to spec and provide a great deal of functionality in a small package, though. If you hunt one down used it’s not a bad bargain and the things you can accomplish from lathe work to the horizontal boring machine are uber handy to have around the shop. Hate if you want to, but it’s a great piece of gear we love having access to.
ShopSmith [Shopsmith site]
This pair of small Klein cutters has been with me since I left home and stole them from my father’s tool bag — with his permission, of course. The thing about good hand tools is they don’t quit easily. This pair has been through hell stripping and cutting wires and now serves another function entirely.
In the last few years these rugged little cutters have been clipping 18-gauge brad nails when they pop through from a badly-placed nail gun shot. The Klein is just small enough to wedge in at strange angles and clip the ends of the brads, and has been doing so with steady regularity for the last two years.
They are also the designated stuff-cutters for the shop and spend most of their time on the pegboard hanger above the workbench. It’s a rare and valuable tool that can’t be put away due to usefulness, and these cutters are it.
Not one wood project completed in my shop in the last year has been called “done” without a coat or two of Watco Danish oil. We’ve written about its ease of application and wide spread availability, but the real gem here is the way projects look after you’re done.
When we first heard about this wipe-on finish that doesn’t streak and leaves no splotches, we thought folks were giving us a hard time. To our constant surprise we find it’s simple and relatively cheap to stain with and comes out looking like colors you might find at the local furniture store. I have personally done dozens of furniture projects and tried every color available, and I can honestly say that there isn’t a dud among them. Just wipe it on and let it dry. It really is that simple.
Each project winds up looking just like the pictures on the can and, with a little poly and wax over it, is good enough to put next to anything in the house and not radiate that special “I did this myself” vibe.
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Yep, we’ve seen our share of “ten best” lists, too. But trust us, this one’s a little different. Rather than just rounding up the the new tools this year and picking our favorites, we’ve taken a more Toolmonger approach. These are the tools we used the most in our shop during 2009 — we just couldn’t put ’em away no matter how hard we tried.
Some are new, some are older. Some are tools we’ve reviewed in the past, and some are just tools that we dropped our hard-earned cash for because we needed (or wanted) ’em. But they all share one common thread: we used the ever-lovin’ crap out of ’em, and we can recommend them wholeheartedly.
You’ll also notice that the pictures we’ll post aren’t studio shots. They’re photos of the actual tools we used and beat to hell — dirt, scratches, and all.
We’ll post the list one tool at a time and follow with a roundup once we’ve revealed all our selections. We look forward to hearing your opinions in comments.