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Thread: Replacing the "big iron" tools...

  1. #1

    Replacing the "big iron" tools...

    and building a "woodshop" with portable tools.

    Hi. Russ Bransford made an interesting post in a thread comparing EZ and Festool. The EZ vs Festool discussions are pretty much useless, but Russ brought up an interesting point about replacing the TS.

    For many us without a large space to create a permanent workshop this raises a critical issue - how to create a decent workshop without the use (or with minimal use) of the big iron tools.

    I've seen many people use very creative ways of using small spaces for woodworking (Stu Ablett comes to mind) or using portable tools to achieve great results (Per Swenson comes to mind).

    Since Ken closed that thread (probably a good idea) after I posted about this issue, I decided to bring it up in more proper thread for discussion. Below is edited version of my post to start the discussion.

    Have a good one,



    Like you, I'm wrestling with these too. We need to talk about the big issues:

    - Can you create a "portable" woodshop that can be taken to a work site or set up quickly in your garage that allows you to do finish carpentry or fine woodworking?

    - Can large, heavy tools like the table saw, bandsaw, jointer, drill press, and workbench be replaced with lighter, portable tools and STILL get excellent results?

    Workbench magazine did an article in 2005 called "Euroshop The small shop that works big". Here's a PDF of the article:

    The first two pages are the most important and cover this concept. If you have good portable tools, disregard the last four pages which are focused Festool tools implementing the concept. In the pictures on the first two pages, it also shows a small Rikon planer/jointer, a space-saving triton wood-rack, a portable plywood cutting table, a portable DC, and a portable workbench, guide and router being used to route a board.

    This particular article was the first time I'd seen the portability issue addressed. The article is how I became aware of Festools and how they were being positioned. Although I now like the Festools as products, it was the underlying concept of portability AND quality woodworking that attracted me because it met my needs.

    Can you replace the Festools with another circular saw, EZ guides, a Fein DC, a Porter Cable router and another portable workbench? Absolutely! Whatever works best for you!

    Is the Euro Shop concept viable? I think it is. But how do you implement it? It's not the tools, it's HOW you can use them. But the problem is...

    If you look at the woodworking magazines, virtually ALL writers have 20-50 years experience with "big iron". E.g., "First ya take your board and slap it on the jointer. Then take it to your big ole 10" plainer. Then cut 'er down with your humongous table saw, cut notches wit' your 18" band saw, and drill them holes wit' your drill press." Like I have space for all that stuff!!!

    I learned some techniques with my Festools, but that's maybe 1% of what I need to now. I'm looking for better solutions for jointing and planeing in a small space. A good, compact, movable router table for my Hitach router. How to cut quality holes without a drill press. There's lots more. I need better answers from other users.

    And I'm NOT interested in marketing hype presented by someone trying to sell their products. I.e., "just buy my products and all your problems will go away!" NOT!

    It's great if you have enough space to bring in the big iron and if you can work in one place. That works for some people, but many of us don't have that luxury. My house is pretty good sized, but there's NO room to build a shop. Like Europeans and Asians, we Americans are living in smaller and smaller spaces.

    Like you, I think we need to focus on the bigger issues rather than arguing about whether one tool is slightly better than another.


    It's amazing what you can accomplish in the 11th hour, 59 minute of any project. Ya just have to keep your eye on the goal.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Houston, TX
    Putting aside for the moment whether or not you can get the quality from portable tools, how much time is lost in setting up/tearing down/moving these portable tools and tables?

  3. #3
    I'll chime in as I beleive my approach to my shop was similar to what your speaking of. My shop is 21 X 13, not huge by any means. I tried to be smart about the tool selection in regards to size.

    Current tools
    10 table saw with extension wing router table
    14" band saw
    9", 6" X 48" sander
    12" planer
    6" benchtop jointer
    Oscilating sander
    12" comp miter saw
    Shop vac for dust collection
    1200 CFM shop filter

    One key to any of my sucess was building a set of bases for the jointer, planer, and oscilating sander that all fit onto one base, then I have a vertical rack I built to house the tools not in use.

    The other important item was a french cleat system arounf the whole shop, gets thing up and out of the way, my lumber storage is on this as well.

    Of all these tools the one item that is difficult to use is the small jointer, even with a 4-5' board edge jointing is tough to be exact. I often consider and upgrade of this tool. I could have saved a bit of space with a small 6", 4"X36" sander, on another interchangable base, but most of these seem to be toys.

    I think it can be done but you need to think about every purchase, how you will use it and how you'll store it.

    I hope to post a shop tour thread with pictures soon.

  4. #4

    That's a non-starter...

    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Jones III
    Putting aside for the moment whether or not you can get the quality from portable tools, how much time is lost in setting up/tearing down/moving these portable tools and tables?

    This is relevant ONLY IF you have a place to permanently set up your tools. If you don't, it's a non-starter. That's the point...

    Many people don't have the space. So how do you effectively create a "woodshop" that can be set up quickly, allow you to do quality work, and quickly store everything away.

    It's amazing what you can accomplish in the 11th hour, 59 minute of any project. Ya just have to keep your eye on the goal.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Anaheim, California
    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Jones III
    Putting aside for the moment whether or not you can get the quality from portable tools, how much time is lost in setting up/tearing down/moving these portable tools and tables?
    A lot. (DAMHIKT)

    Of course, for anyone with a shop where the "big iron" tools (or the miniature versions thereof) are on mobile bases and have to be moved/rearranged to be used at all, it's not that much different.

    But we're not talking about a "production" environment here.
    Yoga class makes me feel like a total stud, mostly because I'm about as flexible as a 2x4.
    "Design"? Possibly. "Intelligent"? Sure doesn't look like it from this angle.
    We used to be hunter gatherers. Now we're shopper borrowers.
    The three most important words in the English language: "Front Towards Enemy".
    The world makes a lot more sense when you remember that Butthead was the smart one.
    You can never be too rich, too thin, or have too much ammo.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    London, Ont., Canada
    Quote Originally Posted by Dan Clark
    This is relevant ONLY IF you have a place to permanently set up your tools. If you don't, it's a non-starter. That's the point...
    I can only speak of myself. Anything else is speculation.

    I've never used any Festool stuff, so I really have no idea how well they perform, and so on.

    But on the subject of space? For me, it is a matter of importance and priorities. When I started woodworking back in 94/95 I had a 2nd hand Tablesaw in a tiny one-car garage, with a very rough bench. I also had a very small 6x8 corner of the basement where I hung a vice on a bench to have a place for hand tool work, assembly, and finishing.

    It was awkward, but doable.

    But the more I got into the hobby, the more important the hobby became to me, and a larger priority I placed on it.

    So when we moved, 8 yrs ago, having a workshop was a priority. We simply didn't look at houses that didn't have room for a workshop. It was important to us. If I were to move again, I'd want an even larger shop.

    As I visit this and other forums, I see that all around me. All kinds of folks make a shop a priority, and make it happen somehow.

    This is only peripherally addressing your question, I know. But living in North America, as most of us do, we're used to having larger spaces.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
    Sumter, SC

    I was afraid that post would not be discussed and even thought of raising the topic myself.

    I have become aware of the need for an easier way to do woodworking because of health issues and the desire to be able to move virtually a total shop to the job site.

    I forsee the multi use table like the MFT or the new table Dino is working on as a center for this. I have replaced some heavy iron in my shop with portable tools and have not lost any speed or quality. At the same time, I have found an easier way to do the tasks.

    An excellent example of what you are talking about is adapting a portable handheld planer to work on a rail so that it can basically function as an edge jointer.

    There are lots of things currently in the research and development that will lead us in that direction.


  8. #8
    I think that the "Euro shop" as shown in the article is deeply achievable. There are lots of good tradesmen (and artists of their craft) who achieve great results with portable tools. My concern about the concept in a hobby shop is that I think great quality work becomes much easier with quality tools and there is an inherent risk that frustration will arise in trying to achieve good results with bargain basement tools. I guess what I am trying to say is that it doesn't matter what colour the tools are but that you are likely to struggle to implement the concept with a $20 circular saw that you picked up in a remainder bin at the borg.

    Some things will always be easier with a big lump of mass to help keep things stable. But easy and possible sometimes have to be balancd against space and cost.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    May 2004
    heath springs, sc
    I think that the 'frustration' you speak of is just part of the hobby/skill process. As the hobby becomes more serious, the quality of the tools, the skill, and the project start to converge. Some of the desire is to make a fine piece of 'furniture', some of the desire is to learn/hone a skill, and there is that desire to acquire nice tools.
    What technology is doing is allowing us to 'purchase' skill when we purchase a certain tool. This will greatly relieve that frustration stage until the next challenge pops up on the horizen.
    This is where Big Iron might start to rust a little. When tool manufacturers start to look at the needs of a shop or job site instead of looking at the needs of the big box marketing program, then you get the real innovation you're looking for. In manufacturing it's called by words like flexible or cells. When it's your hobby it's a little more personable than that, but it's the same idea.
    I survive off of the person who acquires more tools, but yet I have great admiration for the person who acquires more skill. My desire is to keep up with their skill without filling up all the floor space, and still give them the innovation that will allow them to grow with the hobby/job they love.


  10. #10
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
    Plymouth County, Massachusetts
    If I remember right, ( sometimes hard to do lately, I'm an aging "babyboomer") we have already replaced the "big iron". For many years, woodworking was something "carpenters" did in their spare time because they had all the tools. The planers, jointers etc. were beyond the average homeowner, meaning that they were too big and expensive. Only furniture manufacturers could purchase them.

    Then in the seventies and 80's they "downsized" the big iron for us guys and woodworking took off. Now I see a trend where alot of guys are buying big expensive stuff to replace the hobby stuff.

    My question is "who wants to go backwards and use all portable stuff again? Not me. I'm perfectly happy with my nice big Unisaw and my jointer and all my other tools that just sit there waiting for me to play with them.
    Just like my dog!!!!! LOL

    Gary K.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Aug 2005
    Charleston, South Carolina

    Hit the nail right on the head!!!! This hobby/advocation (for most of us) is one of enjoyment and pride in what we can produce from trees (milled of course) and our ability to do so using tools. Power of hand, big or small, old or new, Euro or American makes no difference in the end because it still takes the hands and mind of a "craftsman" (beginner or expert) to produce something of beauty. And remember, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. One mans junk is another man's treasure.

  12. #12
    Thank you Dan,

    Actually, today I can't live with out any of it, or I could
    if I had to.
    The table saw to the GCS.
    I just taught myself to work efficently in both worlds.
    And this is also the nature of the medium I deal with,
    rough sawn mahogany to finished product.
    Anecdote Time.

    My Father, Bob. A career Pro Photographer made a jerk out of
    me when I was about 12. I had saved up and bought a Nikon F.
    Being cool and all I was showing off around the studio, like bling yo.

    Bob came out of the dark room with a shoe box and a playing card.
    Right, a two second pinhole camera.
    Said, Photography is composition and lighting, camera has nothing to do with it.

    Then proved it.

    My humble point is, you have to master what you have.

    You also must love what you do.

    "all men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night....wake in the day to find that it was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible."
    T.E. Lawrence

  13. #13
    "If you look at the woodworking magazines, virtually ALL writers have 20-50 years experience with "big iron". E.g., "First ya take your board and slap it on the jointer. Then take it to your big ole 10" plainer. Then cut 'er down with your humongous table saw, cut notches wit' your 18" band saw, and drill them holes wit' your drill press." Like I have space for all that stuff!!!""

    By having these "larger" tools it allows me to buy wood cheaper so I can afford the projects. Because I have a planer and a jointer I can buy undressed wood from a sawmill for a "fraction" of the cost of dressed lumber.

    for example I bought a "lift" of western maple when I first got started from a sawmill for a few hundred dollars. I used a lot of it to build a 15 foot floor to ceiling wall unit in our bedroom with 16 drawers, many cupboards etc. When it came time to build the 7 foot high doors with rails and stiles and floating panels I had trouble getting enough straight 7 foot by 2 1/2 inch boards for the doors.So I though I'll just nip down to my local Windsor Plywood store and but these few boards. They wanted $25 EACH for them. Of course they were dressed and nice and straight. For the 8 pieces I needed it was going to cost me more than the lift of maple I had bought. I decided I could spend a little more time trying to get some straight pieces from what I had.

    For less than $1000 I was able to build a unit that we had a quote of $8000 to build.

    I seldom pay more than $1 per bf for my lumber.

    The same goes for a kitchen reno we did a couple of years ago. We were abl;e to do a $50000 renovation for about 10 grand because I had the tools and was able to do most of it myself.

    So I figure my workshop and tools have more that paid for themselves.

    My other point is how important is you hobby to you. To me its VERY important and so I want the workshop and as many large tools as I can afford. I don't golf or have other expensive hobbies or passtimes so this is where I spend my money. If you want to golf you need golf clubs. If you want to race cars you need a race car. If you want to do woodworking you need the tools. Of course, in each hobby there are different levels of participation.

    Fred Mc.

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    New Zealand
    Can it be done .. yes.
    Is it the 'best' option - depends doesn't it.

    For me it makes sense, limited space and working with large piece of wood. How would you joint and plane an 8ft long 30x2 using 'old iron'? I can do it fairly quickly and cheaply with a guided router. OK, but for the smaller parts a jointer and planer are quicker and easier.

    The discussion does bring to mind an anology with sawmills though. In the old days they were big, not particularly portable and the big saw blade was fixed. The log was pushed through the saw and moved around to cut boards. OK in a high production commercial sawmill they still do that. But any smaller portable mill the log basically says put and the saw is pushed thru the log. They still debate whether it's better to push a bandsaw or a circle saw through the log, but basically the log stay put, the saw moves.

    The problem of having to set up the 'portable' gear is only an issue of space. If you have space for a big table saw and jointer, then you would have space to leave your guided saw set up too ? Just becasue something is portable doesn't mean you HAVE to move it


    Last edited by Ian Abraham; 10-07-2006 at 1:42 AM.

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Oct 2003
    Vero Beach FL

    I'm grapplling with the same issue that you are. I have some Festool stuff, didn't have any good portable tools when I bought the stuff and have been very pleased with the results/dust collection/safety they provide me. I have a MFT, like it a lot for many things but I did buy a CMS when I did my kitchen remodel. I find it a lot easier to cut angles with that than setting up the MFT. I have a little 10" dewalt benchtop saw that I built a rolling base for. When I did my bathroom remodel, I cut all the drawer parts using the MFT, with the stops it was a piece of cake. But then when it came time to cut the grove for the drawer bottom I found that I was happier using the Dewalt, it was easier to "sneak up" on the cut dimension than trying to adjust the depth with the plunge feature on the Festool saw.

    On the other hand, the Festool stuff affords a lot of flexiblity. I don't need a cross cut sled the MFT does just fine thank you, nor do I need a taper jig, the rails let me lay out something at any angle I want.

    I was "getting along" with a little 6" jointer that I found at a garage sale, but frankly it was a piece of junk (what do you expect for $80?) so I took the plunge and bought an 8" grizzly. What a dream! It took some doing but I was able to figure out how to position it in the garage so it will handle most of the work I do, and if I need to run a longer piece through it, the mobile base lets me move it around so I can shoot the piece out the garage door.

    Then I went to the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship and experienced what a "real" workbench can do for the quality of your work. Back home, built a bench

    it is a dream to work on, but now the two car garage is clearly a one car garage.

    I made a rolling cabinet for my CMS and my planer, so I have the ability to support longer pieces of wood and to store the equipment when I'm not using them (I got tired of moving the CMS/planer around and setting them up on temporary saw horse based stands)

    When I look at some of the shops the members have here I feel like Jimmy Carter, there's a lot of lust in my heart. On the other hand, I find that a combination of the portable stuff and some bigger equipment lets me develop my skills and work safely in a relatively small space. I do spend a lot of time moving equipment around, but at least I can do that. And when I'm doing a "big project" I set everything up in our two car garage, banish my wife's car to the driveway where mine sits ALL THE TIME and use the whole space.

    Would I like more space? You bet! But the only way I'm going to get it is to move and that isn't in the cards. So, I'm constantly trying to make the space I have more efficient and enjoy what I can do with what I have.


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