For a young wood pro starting out, purchasing equipment can be difficult and confusing. A simple purchase with the best of intentions can affect your business in both good and bad ways. These days there are a lot of options for machinery and power tools, which means it can be overwhelming for someone just getting started. I would like to offer some simple insights I have gained from professional experience.
One question I hear often is, “What equipment do I need?” This requires some rigorous honesty if you are like me and get excited at the sight or thought of new shiny equipment. In my experience, there are two correct answers to this. The best way to figure out what answer is right for you, is answering another question: “What am I going to make?”
If you have one or a few specific products exclusively in mind, then the answer is to get only the biggest and best equipmentyou can afford that is required for those specific pieces. Keep it simple.
If you are crazy like I was (and still am), then your answer is, “I plan on making everything!” In that case, I have some bad — and expensive — news for you. You are going to need just about everything in the world of equipment and sometimes multiples of the same thing (two band saws minimum is a rule I live by).
If you are primarily working with solid wood, then I will suggest you focus your time and finances on what I call the “triangle” or “big three,” being the table saw, planer, and jointer. No quality, timely, and profitable woodworking is going to happen without them. These are daily used machines, do not be afraid to spend extra if you can. If you are more focused on the use of sheet goods, then a sliding table saw might be a wise choice instead.
An old friend told me years ago, “Buy the absolute best you can afford and pay more now so it doesn’t bite you later.” After over a decade in my profession, this has never been wrong. I’ve taken out loans for equipment based on this simple statement, and it has always worked out.
Good equipment pays itself off. I prefer the perspective of seeing equipment as employees. I need the most qualified, experienced, and dependable I can get. Sometimes that means the “starting pay” can be a little more but worth adding valued help.
Another great tip I wish someone would have told me: Buy equipment that has available parts as close to your workshop as possible. The truth is no machine or tool is perfect. Stuff breaks after lots of use. You are a professional, so making deadlines and profit matter most. The difference of waiting two days for a part versus a week is a major factor in running your business. Establishing good relations with equipment company reps is also a good policy when it comes to needing help with parts and problems. This has saved me several times on tight deadlines.
Remember the overall purpose of equipment: It is to help you get work done efficiently and accurately. If it does not increase or perform those two, you need to ask yourself if you really need it. Well-made, quality equipment typically has this desired outcome in my experience.
One other thing I have learned is that we all have tasks within the work we don’t really like. For these tasks, buy the very best you can afford. As counter intuitive as that seems, it actually makes the task go quicker and a little more pleasant. Once the hours add up it makes a big difference, and you might find yourself dreading it a little less. An example would be that you strongly dislike sanding. That means you should buy the best sanders you can.
I know it sounds like I am saying to buy expensive equipment, but be aware that the best is not always the most expensive. I encourage you to read and research purchases online. Talk with other pros and go to trade shows and machinery showrooms to put your eyes and hands on the equipment for yourself. You will be surprised at how competitively priced the market can be. Most importantly, know that an investment in lifelong lasting equipment is really an investment in yourself and your business. Ultimately you are betting on you.
Editor's note: The 2023 #YoungWoodPro competition is now open for entries. Please feel free to submit a project using our entry form for an opportunity to be recognized for your craftsmanship! Deadline for entries is March 10, 2023.
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