1- Viability of a project
I think there are two reasons to make your own tools. First, you can do it just for fun. By that I mean there doesn’t need to be a greater purpose for the project other than the desire to make it. In these instances, the viability, time investment, and profitability of the project don’t matter very much, it depends on the interests of each person.
The second reason is more rational. It can be born out of the desire of benefiting from an idea or work. You may have to optimize the time you invest in it, automate processes, adapt an idea or piece of furniture to your needs, or simply because you want to get more out of your business and you can’t find what you’re looking for on the market or in your area.
One of my most vivid childhood memories is watching my father, a construction worker, making handles for the hammers and sledgehammers he used at work. I remember him sitting in front of his workbench, shaping the wood into a cylinder by cutting it with the edge a piece of glass. I believe these memories relate in some way to both of the reasons I mentioned before. He was having fun and at the same time he was getting the personal satisfaction of making his own tools. Also, he was saving money on hammer handles. If you put a price to your time, you’ll reach the conclusion that making your own handles doesn’t pay off if you take their market price into account but, again, it’s a personal thing.
Apart from that, when I was a child I started making my own projects, likely by imitation. I started making simple wooden toys or harmless toy weapons. Because I was keen on woodworking, I joined a carpentry course in a school. Not enough time was spent in the workshop and we were taught a lot of theory without any practical applications. I still think a lot of that information wasn’t necessary to learn the trade, I only learnt to memorise all that info that I wouldn’t use in real situations. I believe that this is essential when it comes to opening your minds; seeing any trade from a different perspective and coming up with solutions on your own.
Because of that and because I was a teenager I got discouraged and dropped out after four years. That course, along with a few small computer-aided design courses were my only formal training.
When I was 18, having left school, I started working in small carpentry shops building all sorts of furniture, and here is where I gained most of my knowledge. Towards the end of that period, I started working with CNC tools, which opened up a world of possibilities.
When I was around 18 I also started playing the guitar. Shortly after I thought about making one myself, since they were made of wood. Eventually I decided to give it a try, and this marked a turning point in my career. For one, working as a luthier provides you with a deeper knowledge of wood and manual techniques. And also, a lot of the tools I required either didn’t exist or were unaffordable for me, so I decided to make them myself.
Making a guitar is no easy task. It takes a lot of precision, so you have to be very patient and thorough. Since I couldn’t join any training courses, I had to read up on the subject, search for information on the internet, and go through a lot of trial and error. Many people told me all that time and work wasn’t worth it, and they were right if you’re only looking at profit – I was putting in a lot of time but barely made any money. However, I’ve never regretted doing it.
After all of those experiences, I reached a point where I had obtained all the knowledge required to make my own computer-aided designs, I could use CNC tools, and I needed custom tools for my work as luthier. After automating many guitar-making processes and building several tools, such as a homemade CNC, I decided to build my own table saw to upgrade the equipment of my little workshop. The ones I found on the market were either too expensive or not suited to my equipment needs. Keep in mind that at the time I was working in a 15 sq m single-room shop (you can see it in this article) so I needed to use space efficiently.
Using only a few hand tools and plywood I built my own table saw and router. A few days later I recorded a video showing its basic functions and shared it on my Youtube channel. What happened after that came as a big surprise to me… A lot of Youtube users asked me if I could make one for them or give them plans to build one. Because I knew how to make 3D model of the design with all its measurements and a cut list, I launched a small website where I shared the design at a reasonable price.
Finally, what once appeared to be a waste of time and money eventually became my way of life. It may sound strange, but I’ve learnt everything I know by adhering to the “DIY” and “you don’t need too much to work fine” philosophies.
I hope my words motivate and inspire you to create your own projects. As you know, everything is possible if you dedicate enough time to it.
2- Uses of homemade machines and tools
After I completed my first table saw, a carpenter who back then made built-in wardrobes, told me this tool wouldn’t be able to handle demanding, high volume carpentry work – and he was right. But I don’t think he realised that not all jobs have to involve big projects. By the same token, the table saw he’d bought wouldn’t be able to supply a multinational furnishings business with enough furniture. It would also be a waste to buy one for a small scale operation, such a small model workshop. It all depends on what you want to build… There are carpenters who make a living without electricity, using only their hands.
I’m more of a believer in small, quality productions. This way, the resulting products are more sustainable and durable. Logically, these tools may not be as precise or sturdy as those developed by big-name brands, widely available on the market and tested by a multitude of users. But as I said, it depends on how you approach your projects and your way of life.
This kind of homemade tools can be used for a variety of purposes. For example, they can be used in home projects, such as making small furniture for our house.
Also, to make models, wooden toys or, in my case, musical instruments. As I said earlier, you can do it for the love of it or for professional purposes. It’s all up to you, of course!
Some of this website’s users use these homemade machines for their daily work and as their livelihood. In this thread you can see some examples of the tools they have built. If you’ve just completed yours, share your work to help more people.
3- Tools and knowledge required
As you can see in my videos, you don’t need a lot of expensive power tools to do your own projects. The minimum required is a jig saw, a circular saw, and a router. Any of those three tools can be attached to your first table saw. Ideally, you should design a quick attachment system for the table saw so that you can reconvert them into portable tools in a matter of seconds. Apart from that, we should also have a cordless screwdriver, a sander, and a vacuum system.
You’ll also need a few hand tools, such as a hammer, gouges, chisels, wrenches, files, clamps…
Also, materials such as sandpaper with different grit types, oils and varnish, screws, glue, some wood, and, of course, lots of plywood!
Depending on the machine or project, you’ll need different degrees of woodworking knowledge. If you take a look at my videos, you’ll get a feel for how complex each project is and how far your knowledge will get you.
The greatest advantage of building your own tools is the insight this gives you into how the tools work, apart from general knowledge of carpentry. When you finish building them, there will definitely be things you wish you’d done differently – it always happens… But that’s why doing your own projects is so great! Besides, since you’re the creator of the project, maintenance and repairs will be easier. After years of using them, you might want to rebuild some of your homemade tools. It’s at that time when the woodworking expertise you’ve acquired over the years will be put to good use.
Some knowledge of CAD software could come in handy, it’ll open up a whole lot of possibilities… SketchUp and MaxCut are the programs I use most often.
Sketchup is an indispensable CAD tool for woodworkers, and it’s free. You can make your own 3D models, with custom and sectional views and annotations. It will give you a better understanding of the model, allowing you to take measurements anywhere at any point.
MaxCut is a program that makes cutting diagrams so that you can get the most out of your plywood. You can also run cost and cut simulations. It’s free and easy to use.
4- Which tools should I start with?
If you’re only starting out in the field of carpentry or if you already have some knowledge and plan on making your own small workshop, I suggest you start with the table saw. In both scenarios, I recommend looking for a carpentry shop that not only sells the materials, but also cuts and marks all the pieces required for its construction. This will be easy if you show them the cut list included in the plans, plus they don’t usually charge much per cut. To avoid any nasty surprises, get a quote first.
Ordering precut materials will speed up the process and make the assembly easier. If you already have some experience, you can cut the pieces yourself with a circular saw, although the result may not be as accurate. I also order precut materials in some of my larger projects.
Once you’ve gathered all the required parts at home, you can complete the table saw with hand tools and some screws following the instructions in the plans and the videos on my website.
You must also take into account how much space you have. Some people’s workshops double as a garage or storage space. In that case, I recommend starting with the Portable Workshop. It’s much more compact and can be folded and stored when you’re not using it. It’s also easy to transport if you need to take your table saw somewhere.
In these cases it’s also advisable to build rolling stands for all of your tools so that you can keep them handy and move them around in your work space. Here you can see some examples of stands I built for my tools.
Once you have your own table saw, like me, you can use it to build the rest of your projects and tools… Keep in mind that the tools you’ll end up using depend on your needs or working methods. For example I barely use my sliding miter saw at all because of the way I work, but in many workshops, they can’t do without one. In my opinion, your next tools should be the band saw, the lathe/sanding station, and the 3D router.
5- Choice of materials and cost
This may vary depending on where you live. First of all, some materials or types of wood might be hard to come by. The climate is also a factor. In reality, you can use virtually any kind of board to build these designs, although certain materials will obviously produce more stable and longer-lasting tools and furniture.
If you’re going to use a different material, it’s better to use one of the same thickness. This way the measurements of all the parts will the same as in the plans. If you go for a different thickness, you’ll likely have to alter the measurements of some other parts to make up for the change. You can recalculate the dimensions by modifying the 3D SketchUp model included in my plans. However, this may prove difficult if you’re not familiar with the program.
If you live in a very humid region, and your house or workshop aren’t well insulated, it’s a good idea to use marine plywood. For certain parts, particularly load-bearing parts, it’s best to use hard plywood, but typically there aren’t many parts of this type. Using plywood has many advantages. We’ll need fewer tools than when using solid wood, work time is reduced, and replacing damaged parts is quite easy
It’s possible to buy plywood online, but shipping this kind of material can be very expensive due to its size and weight. It’s best to buy it from local superstores or carpentry shops. If you want to compare plywood prices, find the contact details of local carpentry shops on the internet or on a phone book. Call them and see who can give you a better deal and whether they will deliver to your workshop. Sometimes they’ll agree to do it if they make frequent deliveries in you area.
If the carpentry shops won’t sell you plywood, ask them who their supplier is. The department stores that supply these shops might give you a better price. When you ask for a quote, keep in mind that there are several board qualities. You don’t need to use the best type, but don’t let them rip you off.
Here you will find a very complete article about the boards and materials that I use in my projects.
Some of the boards and materials that I use in my projects are hard to obtain, more so if we’re talking about small pieces, such is the case with HPL. Every once in a while I visit industrial estates and, after seeking permission, I check the waste skips of factories that do large carpentry projects. I almost always find pieces of board that I can use in my small projects, as you can see here.
The choice of materials is also very important from an ecological standpoint. When it comes to woodworking, birch plywood is an environmentally sustainable choice. This species is quite abundant and grows rapidly. What’s more, plywood manufacturers repopulate birch forests as they cut the trees down. Besides, we will produce less wood waste than if we were to use solid timber.
You should do the same before purchasing the rest of the materials, such as screws, accessories or electrical components. Ask for the prices in several hardware stores. You can print the example with pictures of screws included in my plans so that they can see what you need more easily. Since these parts are small, you can also look up prices in online stores. In this section of the forum you can find links to many of the required materials.
6- Safety, estimating and organizing work time
Estimating and organizing the work time is another important consideration. It’ll help us finish the project within a reasonable time, before we get discouraged and abandon it…
Besides, when things don’t turn out the wait you expect, or you have to repeat some steps, we can get nervous and careless, resulting in work accidents. This is a dangerous job, so safety is a top concern. Throughout my career I’ve seen all sorts of accidents. I myself cut my hand with a table saw when I got distracted doing a very repetitive task. Like in any other job or daily activity, routine and lack of attention can lead to accidents.
If you just started out in this trade, first you should familiarize yourself with all your power tools before using them. Make sure all their accessories are in optimal condition before plugging them in and test them on small pieces of wood. Don’t forget to use safety equipment if necessary, such as goggles and gloves. It’s also advisable to search for information and videos on how to use power tools.
Don’t forget to equip all your homemade tools with safety measures such as emergency switches, push sticks and vacuum systems.
With that out of the way, and with plans in hand, where should we start? Well, first I believe you should familiarize yourself with the plans and the project. This may take a few days of reflection. You should first picture in your mind where you should start, what tools you’ll be needing, and what pieces to cut and assemble first. Normally you could use my videos as a guide, but you may find other approaches that are more suited to your tools or way of working.
7- Support me so that I can keep creating
As you might imagine, designing and building these machines and the other projects on my website is an arduous task that comprises many stages.
1– Developing the project in my mind and making sure it’s viable. Once I have a rough idea, I have to model it on a CAD program. This takes countless hours of work in front of the computer… If I’m lucky the design will work on the first attempt. If not, I will have wasted hours of work and will have to start the design again…
2– Simultaneously, in order to finish the design, I must get a hold of all the materials and components required, some might be hard to find, or some might be too expensive… I always try to use materials that are as cost-effective and widely available worldwide as possible. I also share the results of my online searches in my forum.
3– Once I’ve finished the model, I prepare all the annotated presentations, PDF sheets, pictures and cut lists that you can find in my plans. If you haven’t seen them yet, you can download some of them in the free plans section on my website. The experience I obtained from my previous projects helps me understand what an user with average knowledge about woodworking needs and doesn’t need in order to complete any of the projects.
4– Finally I can start building the project, although having to shoot video at the same time makes it more complicated! Just like when modeling on the computer, if I’m lucky everything will work first try. On more than one occasion I’ve had to scrap plywood panels and hours of work and had to start from scratch. Some issues aren’t noticeable until you finish building the project.
5– After completing the project, it’s time for yet another time-consuming process: editing and uploading the videos and pictures to social media… You can imagine how long it can take in some of the larger projects.
6– At the same time I have to manage all my social networks and my website, as well as replying to forum posts and preparing the articles. I also have to reply to the private messages many of you send me asking for help or advice doing your projects.
Managing all this work requires my full dedication. The money I get from Youtube barely covers the maintenance of my site. That’s why selling plans, my other source of income, is so important to me.
Whether you want to build your own tools or are visiting my site for fun, I appreciate any contributions that will allow me to continue developing my ideas. You can support me by purchasing some of the plans I sell for €3 on my site. It’s not much, but it adds up!
You can also help me by following me on my social media and sharing my work on yours. You can also share your projects on my website or translate my videos into your language.