Shop equipment; what kind do I need to get started?

26 Jan
Stocking a shop with equipment can be a large stumbling block for us woodworking upstarts. It’s hard to know what the best path is.
Do I start small and then upgrade as I go?
Do I try to start with all the best equipment?
How do I get the money to pull that off?
I had the opportunity to speak with the man my friend is doing her apprenticeship with. I visited them at his shop which is a stand alone garage behind his house  in a well populated neighbourhood. My friend had filled him in on my goals to set up shop, and he was VERY helpful and was more than willing to let me pick his brain for two hours.
The ah-ha moment I had was when we talked about shop equipment. Let me preface this by letting you know that at the school I had attended we were using industrial sized table saws,  panel saws, drum sanders, jointers and planers. We did 9 shop visits to small, medium and large-sized shops and all of them had industrial grade machinery (except for the luthier we visited!).
This was the first successful shop I’d visited where a portable planer, and a contractor’s table saw were in evidence. Now I’ve seen countless videos online with shops like this in them, but I didn’t know these woodworkers personally and couldn’t ask “Can your machinery handle the everyday milling of a woodworking business?”. The answer in this case was yes. What I had passed off as hobbyist machinery could actually get the job done for my purposes too. And that’s because just as in this situation I will be running a one “man” shop building one-offs, versus a production line. Another reason this will work for me and for you is that upgrades will follow.
Which leads me to the two tips that he shared on machinery:
  • get the best machines that you can afford (as in now)
  • when buying used, never pay more than half the retail value of the machine  (you never know what that machine has been through, no matter how shiny and clean it looks.)
My own apprenticeship “boss”, Tim also debunked the myth that woodworkers starting a business need all the best tools. Tim said that he started out with a canvas bag of tools and now owns solid, good quality stationary equipment that still isn’t beefed up on horsepower, isn’t large capacity (6″ jointer, 12″ planer), and was not bought new. But Tim is able to do the quality he promises to clients, the volume of work he’s capable of, and he told me that he doesn’t have any debt.
Recently I stumbled across a website for woodworkers starting a business that I found very inspiring with a lot of useful content run by a guy named Adam King. If you read the article I just linked to up there, you’ll note that there are just 3 things you need to start a woodworking business today:

A Work Space (borrow a nook in a basement if you need to)

A Creation to sell (go on start to create with the tools you do have!)

A Client (start with friends and friends of friends)

So this is the conclusion I’m sticking with- start small and work your way up. That way you can start now and stop holding things off until everything is perfect, or your funds are there.

That said, my next step is to fix the electricity in my shop space as it’s been through a fire and could be dangerous to use as is.

I’ll be sure to update you in future posts with the:

  • Machinery I currently have and how I came to acquire it
  • Tools I find to be essential
  • How I plan to start with what I have
  • And finally what I may have to buy on the cheap to cover my bases

2 Responses to “Shop equipment; what kind do I need to get started?”

  1. Olly Parry-Jones January 27, 2011 at 3:24 pm #

    Assuming you don’t have mountains of spare cash(!), I’d advise you to try and start out with a few basics.

    There’s an old saying “buy cheap, buy twice!” and I firmly stand by that.

    A collection of basic hand tools is essential and, grouped together with a small collection of portable power tools (router, circular saw, jigsaw, etc.), you’d probably find that you can avoid some of those bigger purchases, at least until you have the funds later.

    I’d consider purchasing a decent planer and thicknesser (jointer and planer) first of all. That way, you’ll save money in buying sawn boards, you’ll have more control over your stock sizes and you’ll also be able to machine up any scraps and spares with ease.

    Trouble is that, for best results, you really do need both machines… However, a thicknesser (planer) can be used to flatten and straighten short lengths with the aid of a jig.

    Hope this helps. Look forward to seeing your workshop and woodworking grow. 🙂

    • Warped Boards January 27, 2011 at 4:48 pm #

      Thanks for all the useful feedback Olly! I agree about the jointer and planer- I’ll probably need both.

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