Material cost versus tool cost

I hesitated even posting this topic as it really does relate to the cost of materials (wood in this case) but it got me thinking about how we justify spend in general.

Those of you that follow Jay Bates on YouTube may have seen that he recently posted an idea for a ‘computer armoire’, basically a wardrobe that replaces a computer desk, allowing everything to be neatly shut away when not in use. I immediately like his idea and started working in Sketchup on a version that would accommodate my 5 monitors along with other computer equipment.You can see the overview of my design here, but don’t ask for plans as Jay certainly came up with the idea before me and I expect him to be selling plans in the future.

This build would be my biggest to date and really challenging because it would be on constant display in my house (a lot different to the shop furniture I have often built in the past). However I’m really up for the challenge and decided that I wanted to build the armoire out of solid cherry and cherry ply. This is why I came here to post.

The cost (Canadian dollars) comes out to about $1500 just in materials, probably another $200 on top for hardware. This is a tough pill to swallow, but I’m not sure why. A quick glance around my shop/garage discovers at last $3000 in power tools and probably another $1500 in hand tools, and I’m sure that is being conservative! If I’m honest, I could build this project with a fraction of those tools and it would look the same, however nothing is going to make construction timber look like solid cherry.

So my question here, why do we find it so much easier to spend significant money on tools that may at best give a fractional gain in productivity or quality over what we already have, and yet find it so difficult spending money on the very material we are trying to work with the tools? (or is it just me?)

So $4500 in tools… How much money did you make so far? The point to that question is do you feel you earned the cost and or did you get a return on your investment?

In my opinion it’s because tools are interactive, you actually get to use them to accomplish a wide variety of tasks. Materials on the other hand, once you purpose them, they’re basically locked in, they accomplish a singular purpose once assembled. I guess it’s a comparison of potential vs cost in my mind, I could get so much done if I only had X tool but if I buy materials with that same cost I already have an end in sight even if the product is a joy to complete and is still useful.

Born in the 1940’s I’ve made a lifetime of spending decisions for both personal use and businesses that I’ve worked for and then run based on various different criteria. For business - I like to think that my buying decisions were based on sound economic factors. When we looked at a capital new tool we’d try to estimate how its use might impact company revenue or grow the business and then do a sinking fund calculation to see how we might justify its cost based on our opportunity cost of capital. For non-capital tools – we’d look to see if the purchase could be paid back via increased productivity over the course of the next few jobs. When our estimates were that the payback time exceeded 2 or 3 years – we would probably defer. Naturally – we replaced tools as they wore out, became unsafe or ones that disappeared from the jobsite. We’d also sometimes buy one or two new tools to try out – when they offered the promise for increased productivity, improved safety, increased capability (possible new business?) etc.

For personal use – I’m afraid that my tool buying was not as straight forward. Because I was buying mostly for a hobby – that I took pleasure from – the calculations were not remotely based on economics. I learned early-on that buying poor tools resulted in frustration in the shop. So I tended to buy the best tools that my pocketbook could afford. One of my first purchases of a “capital” tool was a Craftsman RAS that I found was not up to what I wanted (not needed) it to do. I bought it back in the 1960’s probably because radial arm saws were still all the rage back then – as the jack of all trades. By the early ‘70’s I was fed up – and decided to bite the bullet and buy a Unisaw. It was a big bullet to bite. I think I spent close to $1000 after tax and delivery/installation – with a siding table, and premium fence added on. It certainly was a decision not based on economics – but I’ve gotten over 40 years of pleasure out of using it. I use this example to illustrate that we make all sorts of decisions during life about how to spend or invest our disposable income, assuming that we are not struggling to make ends meet to take care of our families and save for the future. If we like tools – even just to look at or collect – we might decide to allot more of our disposable income to their purchase. For me, I have to say that I was blessed with some measure of financial success over the years – so that I could do this without compromising my other needs for money - like buying houses, paying for the kid’s college tuition through grad school, paying for new cars (buying each of the kids one) , saving for the future etc. In a way – my personal tool buying was my “vice”. Others might allot disposable income to gambling, partying, high-end automobiles, fancy clothes, jewelry etc. – I bought tools for me – and let my wife have the jewelry, handbags and clothes and whatever gave her personal satisfaction.

I would agree with the above. Most of my tools (except cordless) are lifetime. Also, most have been acquired slowly over time. Any single large purchase gets more scrutiny.

As to getting by with lesser tools, what’s the fun in that? :slight_smile:

Mjajohson makes a good point. Buying a new tool comes with the anticipation of both instant use and even more potential for future application. It may be the speculation and enthusiasm about that potential future use that gets us to buy. Certainly those folks who write good advertising copy in tool catalogs or announcements try to tap into that set of emotions.

Another part of it might be just how much pride a lot of guys take in their tool collections/hoards. It’s a legacy of work we’ve done and will do. Kinda like how your mom/grandma might have a stash of really nice silverware or dishes, it’s a testament to their commitment to being a host and provider in that way.

This kind of romanticizing goes a long way to justify the bill that comes with a tool collection.

I’m with you on material vs tools too. I am getting better about spending money on materials though. I’ve found that sometimes using better materials makes the job go easier than a better tool.

Can you change the design so that maybe you can use some less expensive material in places that you wouldn’t see? Can you use thinner stock in some places? Could you replace some more of the solid cherry with plywood, could you use a cheaper wood and use a cherry veneer?

Also when I have to spend more money on a project than I would care to, sometimes I space the materials purchases over the course of a few months. Rather than spend $1500 all at once, can you buy the plywood one month and the solid cherry another month. Or you can wait until you see a deal on one of your materials.