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Forum topic by richgreer posted 07-12-2011 07:27 PM 4893 views 0 times favorited 23 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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4541 posts in 3642 days

07-12-2011 07:27 PM

When I think of things like router tables, drill press tables or cross sleds we all have the option of building our own or buying a pre-made product. I used to be a purest and believed that I should build anything I could. This, in part, came from my father, a farmer, who always said, “Never hire someone else to do what you can do”. Thus, my Dad and I did our own wiring, plumbing, welding, etc..

My opinion on this subject has changed. Manufacturers have such an advantage when it comes to sophisticated machinery (often computer controlled) and the economies of mass production. If I put any value on my time (I do) it is often hard to build something for less than what you can buy it for. I’d rather spend my time building real projects that go to others or go to our home than spend time building cross cut sleds and router tables.

For me, the answer is often a combination. I recently bought woodpecker drill press table and then spent time building a better tall fence for that table. Also – I recently bought a woodpecker router table with stand and spent time building a dust catching box that was customized to suit my needs.

In both situations noted above, the products available were very good and for me to make something comparable would have taken many hours (hours I would rather spend on other projects).

My principle has become almost the opposite of my Dads – “Don’t build what you can easily buy”. The manufacturers have such an advantage. For me, the job of a woodworker is to build custom items you cannot buy at a store. That applies to stuff I build for distribution as well as stuff I buy for in the shop.

I remember when I was a serious amateur photographer and had my own darkroom. People would ask me if I would process their roll of film and make prints for them. The answer was alway “no”. My process was totally manual. It was slow and tedious. Professional labs have automated, computerized machinery. My darkroom was for doing something special that could not be done by a high volume lab. The same is true of my workshop.

What do you think?

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

23 replies so far

View DonnyBahama's profile


215 posts in 3099 days

#1 posted 07-12-2011 07:56 PM

For me, two factors come into consideration on these decisions…

1. Are there improvements I would make if I was building it myself? The answer to that is usually ‘yes’.

2. How much will I save by building it myself? While I tend to be a pretty busy guy, I have even less money than time. If it’s a closeout item (as my Woodpeckers drill press table was when I bought it) that costs less than the materials, it’s a no-brainer (unless there are significant/must-have improvements I’d need to make to it.) On the other hand, stock on-hand (which I tend to think of as “free wood” since it’s already paid for) is a big factor in that equation. If my financial situation improved, I might rethink all that, but I doubt it… I like making jigs and fixtures as much as I enjoy other projects.

-- Founding member of the (un)Official LumberJock's Frugal Woodworking Society -

View live4ever's profile


983 posts in 3578 days

#2 posted 07-12-2011 08:45 PM

I’ve started to lean over into the “buy” category, but I definitely began as a “build” person. For the newer woodworker especially, who is already devoting funds to setting up shop and purchasing wood, buying things like fences, tables, jigs, etc. can be a hard sell.

These are some factors I consider:

1) How much will I save? This is the primary factor, as you’ve pointed out Rich, the savings aren’t that huge when you factor in your time. Also, if the item is going to require many hours of construction time, I’m more likely to buy it. It was fun to go through a few builds, but as I’ve found, I’m more likely to allow them to languish for several months, which prevents me from performing the operation they are intended to help me with.

2) Does the purchased product offer better materials, function, or longevity? Often times commercial jigs will have parts that are higher quality than what I will be able to produce in the shop. They may utilize more metal or laminate-faced materials. Some of these features may lead to a jig/fixture that will stand up to abuse longer than my own version would. Sometimes the parts used in a commercial jig may offer more adjustability than I would get on my own.

3) How difficult will it be to source materials? One of the most frustrating parts of building myself is getting materials for the project. I LOVE going to the lumberyard to choose lumber for a woodworking project. I HATE going to Home Depot or other stores to find the right nuts and bolts, plastic laminate, plywood, etc. Why? Because I usually have to go to multiple stores to find what I am looking for. And occasionally, I can’t get the esoteric hardware part I need locally, so I have to order online from a place like McMasterCarr. Sourcing casters nuts, bolts, knobs, T-track, plywood, MDF, laminate, rods, threaded inserts…these things take a lot of time (ESPECIALLY if you are trying to save $$). But if I have a good portion of the materials laying around and I simply need to get to work, I might build it.

4) Can I do it myself absolutely reliably? Can I make a decent to good version of the item in question with the tools I have and the skills I’ve acquired? For example, does the function of this jig/fixture depend on it being square? How reliably can I build perfectly square? When you’re just starting out, and may not have the tools to do precision work, making a precision jig can be an exercise in frustration.

5) How unique will my version be? Of course, if I can think of or plan some features that aren’t available in commercial versions, building it becomes more likely. A custom size or fit. Or incorporating two functions into one jig to save space. And so on…

I’ve found as my skills have gotten better, I make better jigs and fixtures. Most of the stuff I made early wasn’t made well enough to perform its function well, which affected the quality of woodwork those items assisted with. I may have saved myself time, effort, and money had I just bought some of those things from the get-go instead of making them twice, but that’s part of learning. And making jigs/fixtures for the shop is still a great way to learn.

-- Optimists are usually disappointed. Pessimists are either right or pleasantly surprised. I tend to be a disappointed pessimist.

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3642 days

#3 posted 07-12-2011 08:55 PM

live4ever – You and I are clearly on the same page.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View reggiek's profile


2240 posts in 3838 days

#4 posted 07-12-2011 08:58 PM

Another consideration, along with those mentioned above, is whether I plan to use the item more than a few times…..if so…I might consider purchasing as they typically manufacture out of materials I am not well suited to use – i.e. metals and plastics. I can do some minimal machining of metal and plastic…but when it comes to actually designing and creating custom parts…I am left having to find a machine shop with suitable capabilities.

If the item I need can be fashioned from wood (with minimal additions of metal or plastic)...I will typically do it myself…unless it is a big time taker as I have another job (day job) which takes most of my time….Not having alot of free time to devote to my woodworking….I try to maximize the time I do get…this sometimes means buying a jig rather then making it myself.

-- Woodworking.....My small slice of heaven!

View live4ever's profile


983 posts in 3578 days

#5 posted 07-12-2011 09:14 PM

Jigs/fixtures I considered building recently but then chose to buy:

- taper jig
- TS cove-cutting jig

Jigs/fixtures that I could have bought recently but chose to build:

- miter key sled (easy and cheap to build compared to commercial alternatives)
- large crosscut sled
- router table & cabinet (saved $$, but it’s still not completely done!!)

-- Optimists are usually disappointed. Pessimists are either right or pleasantly surprised. I tend to be a disappointed pessimist.

View Bertha's profile


13569 posts in 3261 days

#6 posted 07-12-2011 09:26 PM

I like the idea of build…but my impatience usually results in buy. I’m trying to overcome my poor delay of gratification skills by building my own shop cabinetry.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View DrDirt's profile


4600 posts in 4310 days

#7 posted 07-12-2011 09:43 PM

Yep just went the buy it route this week – haven’‘t installed it yet thoug (Birthday isn’t till Friday)
Drill Press Table!

One of those items I plan and plan and plan on making but never made it to the top of the list – saw it and with the coupon it was 27.99 with the t-tracks and fence already installed. I have the Delta DP350 which has worked well for me over the past 5 years, so I really don’t know why it has terrible reviews, maybe I was just lucky.

-- “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Mark Twain

View Don W's profile (online now)

Don W

19387 posts in 3135 days

#8 posted 07-12-2011 09:44 PM

I built mine and I would build it again. I built it as an extension of my table saw. ..... Well that’s not completely true, I built it as a stand alone because I had a portable table saw, but converted it when I got my old craftsman. I added a home built router lift. I wouldn’t have said this before I built it, but the router lift makes the table.

I think the table itself is fairly simple to build. Even the lft was easy. The fence is the hardest part. Note the home made router fence attached to the home made table saw fence.

I have bolts threaded through the wood to level the insert. I made the insert but made it a standard size so I can buy one if I choose.

The outlet only has one plug switched, so the other 3 are live for general use.

Now should you build one? What do you get more enjoyment out of. Woodworking or fussing with the homemade tools. The answer is clear for me. You make your choice.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View live4ever's profile


983 posts in 3578 days

#9 posted 07-12-2011 09:51 PM

DrDirt – Funny thing is I made that EXACT drill press table, except mine isn’t laminate-faced. And the cost for the 1/2” plywood (doubled up), t-track, and a few knobs probably exceeded 27.99.

-- Optimists are usually disappointed. Pessimists are either right or pleasantly surprised. I tend to be a disappointed pessimist.

View Bertha's profile


13569 posts in 3261 days

#10 posted 07-12-2011 09:54 PM

DW’s stuff still looks cooler than the stuff you can buy;)

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View knotscott's profile


8347 posts in 3943 days

#11 posted 07-12-2011 09:54 PM

Like you, I do both depending on the item, the price, the construction, time in my life, etc. Money and time are always tight for us, but sometimes one means more than the other at any given time, so I react accordingly!

I purchased my first RT but hated it, and have built a few since. I also built the RT fences up until my most recent one which attaches to the face of my Jet Exacta II fence. I bought a DP table from HF for something like $22 (same one that Dr. Dirt showed above)....couldn’t justify making one when I could buy it at that price. I built my workbench and outfeed tables quite a while ago. I’ve built crosscut sleds, but sold them with the saw they were made for. I have a store bought taper sled that was a gift.

-- Happiness is like wetting your pants...everyone can see it, but only you can feel the warmth....

View NBeener's profile


4816 posts in 3742 days

#12 posted 07-12-2011 10:13 PM

For me, it’s largely an economic issue—opportunity cost.

If I build this thing (a NYW-esque router table is an excellent example), it will be in place of, and significantly delay, the next non-shop-related thing (eg, piece of furniture or gift) that I was going to build.

I’m comfortable that I can build a shop jig that is good enough for my needs, even if it’s not as good as one I could buy.

[“Good enough” is clearly different from “as good as.”]

I like the Dubby crosscut sled, for example, and don’t think my shop-made sleds are their equal, but—at the time—my queue of non-shop projects wasn’t backing up like it is now :-)

Good question, and … a daily question in SO many businesses !

-- -- Neil

View Dan's profile


3653 posts in 3448 days

#13 posted 07-12-2011 10:45 PM

They way I look at it is if it is something that I have an interest in building then I build my own and if its something I have little or no interest in building then I buy it.

As far as the time I usually build jigs and shop projects during the times in which I have no other projects going on. Week nights are also a great time for me to work on shop projects. With my schedule I am limited to my shop time on the week days. I personally don’t like starting big projects when I only have a few hours so I save the bigger things for weekends. However a few hours is enough time to make a jig or some other shop items.

A good example I have is I made some of my own hold down clamps to use with a T-Track. You can buy these clamps for pretty cheap but I had nothing else going on at the time so I made my own from some scrap maple cut offs. I spent a decent amount of time cutting them out and shaping them with a rasp but had I not been working on them I probably would have been watching tv. It was something to keep me busy and I enjoyed doing it. Had I needed these clamps to complete a project I was working on then I would have bought them. However I didn’t need them, I just wanted them so I made them when I had nothing else going on.

-- Dan - "Collector of Hand Planes"

View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 3258 days

#14 posted 07-13-2011 04:05 AM

I personally get a great deal of satisfaction using something I built myself: router table, super sled, etc. But I didnt hesitate to buy my HF drill press table as I didnt see where a shop built one would be any different than theirs. Sometimes I think I enjoy building jigs more than building projects. To each his own.

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 3726 days

#15 posted 07-13-2011 05:01 AM

Time issue here. I can’t afford to spend time building a tool when I could buy the tool to make the stuff I need.

-- jay,

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