Professional Cuts From Inexpensive Tools?

Article - July 7, 2008

This week’s question comes from Ben who writes:

I am using craftsman shop tools – Table saw, scroll saws, drill press, planer, ect and I’m finding my cuts are not as perfect as I’d like. How can I get professional cuts w/ unprofessional tools ($ is always an issue) – should I be buying $90 blades or are my 20 dollar ones ok?

And here was my response:

Hey Ben. You certainly can get acceptable results with inexpensive tools. I know some amazing artists and woodworkers that produce mind-blowing quality, without the help of higher end tooling. It comes down to sharp blades, properly tuned tools, and solid techniques. The great part about this is that those three things DO NOT have to put a strain on the budget. Doing your homework, reading, and practicing will cover you in the technique area. A decent square and a ruler that measures down to 1/64″ should cover most of your tuning needs. And a small set of waterstones will keep most of your tools sharp.

Now the table saw blade is an excellent question. That’s one place where I truly believe a few extra bucks will give you much better quality cuts, and save you money in the long run. A high quality blade (Forrest, Tenryu or Freud Fusion for example) will run you between $85 and $100, depending on the vendor and any sales. An average big box store blade will run you $15-$35. Now the cheaper blade will give you decent results initially, but I have found that they tend to dull faster than the higher quality blades. And when it does dull, depending on the blade, you might not even be able to have it sharpened. The high quality blades are made with big carbide teeth that can handle years worth of sharpening. And with sharpening running about $20, you can see how the math will work out in your favor over the years.

I find the same thing goes for other blades and bits. You don’t necessarily need to go for the top of the line, but you will usually save money in the long run if you stay away from the brands and product offerings that are considered more or less “disposable”, and your cut quality will improve as well.
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I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. What tricks and tips have you learned for getting the most out of your more budget-friendly tools?

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