Most of us are tool junkies. I freely admit it. When I was just starting out, I bought whatever new gizmo was on the market. I went to weekend auctions, scooping up super deals on tools that I never used. Sometimes I’d get a large piece of equipment that I actually needed and spend days moving, installing, wiring and rebuilding it, eventually learning why I got such a good deal on it.
I justified these purchases as an investment in my company. It turned out to be a poor investment of my time and money.
The first consideration for justifying a purchase is need. Will it speed production or improve the quality of work?
I look for bottlenecks in my fabrication process and determine where the most time is spent. Sanding is often the culprit. It’s tempting to rush out and buy a 48” wide-belt sander. But then I’ll have to upgrade my dust collection system, stock up on replacement belts, and deal with all the calibration and maintenance issues. It comes down to an analysis of how much time is spent sanding per day, week and month. If the new sander is actually needed, the purchase makes sense. I finally went with the cheaper option of buying larger diameter hand-held sanders.
Cash flow is always an issue for small shops and making a large capital expense can be the slow kiss of death. Financing is often the way to go, while leasing is a big hit with your accountant at tax time. Basically, your monthly payments are fully deductible. When buying new, many manufactures offer zero interest, which can be very attractive. But don’t be seduced without considering other factors.
Large equipment takes up valuable floor space. So, consider machines with smaller footprints or hand-held tool alternatives. Festool’s Conturo edge bander is a good example. It’s not as fast as a production unit but can be stored under a bench.
Consider buying a more expensive tool or machine because a higher price usually translates to better quality, less maintenance, and less down time. Invest in quality. It’s smarter and only hurts once.
When buying used equipment, learn as much as you can. Are spare parts available. Is the manufacturer still in business? Be sure to know what you’re getting into and how much time this unit will require to set up and maintain.
Using one specific job to pay for a tool isn’t a bad idea, but make sure you can still pay all of your bills. Generally speaking, if a piece of equipment can pay for itself within a year, you’re ahead of the game.
Don’t get blinded by technology. Yes, it can make a huge difference but crunch the numbers. Many new pieces of equipment require special and time-consuming training, and the cost may not be included in the purchase price.
It seems that whenever I buy, a better, faster model is introduced. So, it’s wise to have a buy back or upgrade option from the seller.
Safety is another important consideration. Anyone getting hurt on the job is costly and will affect your bottom line. So, buying safer machines is a good investment.
Consider the variety of tools that are designed specifically for a small shop that can make a big difference in profitability. For example, a compact HVLP spray finishing system, planer/joiners, or vertical panel saw.
If I was starting over again, I’d consider a combination machine – an all-in-one table saw, planer, joiner and shaper, for example. It can be cheaper than buying separate machines and will save space.
Scott Grove is an art furniture maker, sculptor, and YouTube personality who selectively teaches and lectures, most notably at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking and The Chippendale School of Furniture in Scotland. For more, visit www.imaginegrove.com and www.scottgrove.com.
This article originally appeared in the January 2019 issue.