Buying Your Last Tool First

  • Advertise with us
Blog entry by TheWoodenOyster posted 06-19-2014 03:12 PM 3762 reads 0 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Buying Your Last Tool First

I acquired my first shop space around 2 years ago. Once I moved into my shop, I began my quest to fill the shop with awesome power tools. This post will discuss the overarching rule I follow when buying my power tools, and some examples of tools I have purchased.

My thought process about buying powertools is this: Buy your last tool first!!! What I mean by that is make your first tablesaw, bandsaw, router, jointer, etc the one that you want to be using when you are retired and making things for your grandkids. Now, I know many of you won’t agree with me and may think that is a waste of money or a waste of a great tool because you, a mere novice or even intermediate, aren’t worthy of that awesome tool. Wrong. First off, let’s talk about money. Many of you will say “But Dave, I don’t have enough money to buy the ever coveted Last Tool”. OK, well do you have enough money to do this…

2014 – Buy a junky craigslist saw for $100
2015 – Cheapo saw off craigslist breaks, go buy a new portable tablesaw from Home Depot for $400
2016 – Home depot saw works alright
2017 – Realize that you kind of want a bigger saw now. Sell the Home Depot saw for $200. Buy a new contractor/hybrid saw for $900
2018 thru 2020 – Hybrid saw works well
2021 – Again realize that you want a bigger saw. Sell the hybrid for $400. Buy your last tool off of craigslist for $1000.

From what I have concluded, this is the course that many of us woodworkers take. During the time period set forth above, you will have spent $1800 total and gotten probably 2-3 years of marginal saw, and 4-5 years of great saw (assuming the hybrid works well). At the end you have your last tool. Now let’s try this…

2014 – Buy your last tool off of craigslist for $1000

Now you spent $1000 and you have an awesome saw to start off with. Win

Now let’s address a few critics out there who will argue with the following points:

1. I just don’t have the money right now!

As a disclaimer, I absolutely do not encourage anyone to go into debt or take out a loan to buy a huge tool. If you only have $100, then you might have to build up to buying a bigger and better tool. That is fine and is probably the responsible thing in your situation. But, for those of you who have maybe $500 to $800 to spend, I beg you to consider going a little higher if you need to in order to get your last tool. I had a $800ish budget for my bandsaw and tablesaw. I spent the extra $200 on both and got incredible tools. I have been blessed with a good job and income, and I understand that not everyone has. But if you can do it, spend a little more on your first tool.

2. Well, I don’t think I need a great tool because I am just a beginner!

Pardon my bluntness, but this argument is lame. I had about 15 minutes of experience on a tablesaw when I bought my unisaw. If you buy a crappy cheap tool, you are only going to run into frustration, which is the last thing you need starting off. Having well running tools is essential to happiness in the shop, and if all you experience in the shop is frustration, you may just up and quit.

3. I don’t know what to look for!

That is what the rest of us are here for. I only have 3 years of woodworking experience, so every time I am out to get a tool, I post on LJ’s asking what to look for in a used powertool. Here at LJ’s we have a plethora of information and people will gladly let you know how to choose a tool and what to look for in that tool. From past experience, I can say that those are some of the most responded to forum topics I have ever posted.

I have a few last thoughts and exceptions that I want to bring up.

1. If you have a chance to get a free tool or a really cheap tool, take it.

The tools in my shop that are not “last tools” were free (or super deals). I have a cheapy drill press that was free, a 6” jet jointer that was free, and a steal of a planer (DC-33) that I couldn’t turn down and had to buy on very short notice to replace another planer that died in the middle of a time-sensitive project. When I get tired of these tools, I will replace them with “last tools”. But you can’t beat free. And for the record, the planer is heavy duty made in America cast iron, so while it isn’t my last planer ever, it is still a well made machine that will last as long as me.

2. Don’t buy your last tool and rarely use it just never use it at all.

If you are just dabbling, don’t buy a $1000 tool. If you are fully committed to this hobby and have really enjoyed it for a year or two, then go for it.

3. A last tool looks different depending on whom you are.

If you build furniture, cutting boards, boxes, high end stuff in general, then you are probably in the boat I am in, and a “last tool” used is typically in the $1000 range. But if you are just a DIYer, you likely don’t need as expensive or precise a tool as many of us do, and a “last tool” for you might not be as expensive as a “last tool” for others. If you use a cordless drill once a year, don’t go buy the 8-tool combo Makita pack from Home Depot for $800. If you use 4 of those 8 tools every month and need the rest a few times a year, then it is probably worth it.

Hopefully you all have enjoyed this post and I am glad to get it off my chest. I have wanted to write about this for a long time. In all, I have had great experiences with my “last tools”. I wouldn’t trade them for anything and they have made my woodworking experience much more enjoyable and efficient. Just as a little bit of eye candy, I have attached some photos of my “last tools”. Hope you enjoyed reading and I welcome any feedback, questions, and disgruntled hybrid saw owners.

-- The Wood Is Your Oyster

6 comments so far

View a1Jim's profile


118142 posts in 4458 days

#1 posted 06-19-2014 03:32 PM

I had that same thought years ago when I bought my Powermatic 66 with a Excalibur sliding table.Did you approach work for me ? Yes and no, I found for the size shop I had the Excalibur took up way to much space and even though I’ve used my TS for years I would replace it with a Saw Stop if the funds were available. I think it takes time and experience for a person to evaluate what ultimately will be the last tool/equipment the will need,so in the mean time they play the game of constant upgrading. The other problem with being able to select the last tool you will every buy is that in time folks shop sizes change larger or smaller and perhaps the power available changes too,plus technology changes some tools as an example Saw Stop.


View TheWoodenOyster's profile


1335 posts in 2816 days

#2 posted 06-19-2014 03:53 PM

Jim, definitely some good points there. I think the sawstop is really an outlier. Because of the incredible pros is offers, it is probably an exception, but a very pricey exception. As far as shop sizes changing, I have a 1 car garage and manage to have a unisaw with an outfeed table, a 6” jointer, a 13” planer, a benchtop drillpress, and a big powermatic bandsaw. Other than the unisaw, I roll them out into the driveway for use. In the end I would like to have dust collection and have my machines stationary, but for the time being, I have been able to make some large machinery work in my small shop. Some folks do not have a shop the size of mine though, and I could see how buying large machinery would literally be impossible for them.

-- The Wood Is Your Oyster

View whope's profile


224 posts in 3327 days

#3 posted 06-19-2014 03:55 PM

I agree with much of what you said. And if you already know that you’ll be making good use of what you’re getting it makes sense.

When I was beginning woodworking, I wasn’t sure I would like it. Certainly not based on my experience in 8th grade shop! Whether I’m good at it is another discussion. :)

There wasn’t much of an internet then (early 90’s), at least not accessible like it is today, so deciding what to get wasn’t as easy.

So I started off with a ‘high-end’ contractor saw. I think I spent $700 on it. I’ve put another $600-700 for an upgraded fence and mitre over the years as I’ve found the need to improve those aspects. I’d love to get a Stop-saw for the safety aspect, not because I think my current set up is limiting me.

When I went to purchase my bandsaw this year, I knew that I was seriously into woodworking. So spending the money on getting a quality tool upfront wasn’t an issue. I’m expecting to spend much more on a jointer when the time comes.

Timing is important, too. Had I heard about the Laguna 1412 two months after I did, I’d wouldn’t have known about it when I was ready to buy.

Funny how spending $1300 on a new laptop every 3-4 years seems easier (for me) than spending the same on a tool that will last my lifetime.

-- Measure it with a micrometer, mark it with chalk, cut it with an Hammer.

View Woodknack's profile


13503 posts in 3261 days

#4 posted 06-20-2014 03:06 AM

I agree with your theory on buying saws. Quite a few people have posted how they’ve owned several saws over a period of years, and some of them still defend their buying habit even though it clearly did not work out well. I’ve owned the same table saw for a decade and a half and will probably own it for quite a long time to come. I saved my pennies and bought right the first time. But I don’t understand the beef against hybrid saws. A cabinet saw is not going to work in everyone’s shop, mine for example. I could not have a Unisaw, it’s too big and heavy for my shop, and would be a hardship to even get it to the shop. So I own a Delta contractor and I love it. I love it as much today as the day I bought it. On the other hand I wouldn’t agree to the same degree on every machine or tool, they are not all equally important and there are exceptions where a cheap tool is better than no tool (e.g. drill presses and band saws).

-- Rick M,

View TheWoodenOyster's profile


1335 posts in 2816 days

#5 posted 06-21-2014 02:09 PM

I’ve never used a hybrid saw, and my comment there at the end was really just a joke. I suppose the way I think about it is if you think a hybrid saw will work for you forever, then that is your “last tool” and buying it is a wise decision. What I am trying to help people avoid is buying temporary saws or other tools just to last them a little while til they can get a bigger one. I guess that keeps a lot of people working, but sometimes unnecessary self-inflicted budgets keep people from buying a lifelong tool.

-- The Wood Is Your Oyster

View Rob's profile


704 posts in 3952 days

#6 posted 08-02-2014 01:16 AM

I’m very jealous of your bandsaw find, not to mention those sweet freebies you picked up. The asking price for 12- and 14-inch bandsaws on my local CL is the same as new, or even higher than new in some cases!

Now, let’s see some more pictures of your shop!

-- Ask an expert or be the expert -

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics