I have always wanted to…

I have always wanted to make a guitar with a mismatched headstock like the one being played here by the incomparable Bill Frisell.

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There’s something about this devil-may-care combo that also strikes me as supremely pragmatic. This neck. This body. Do they sound good together? Sure, let’s go with it.

Having been off of Instagram for the past two months I’ve realized how much of a cash cow that platform must be for toolmakers. I hold nothing against toolmakers sharing their wares on IG. It’s smart business. You have to get the word out somehow and there are few tools like IG to whip people into a frenzy over wood choice and gleaming steel. What I realized though, is that this sort of environment (like all advertising) is designed to introduce want, and then to transform want into a need.

Another way of saying this: it’s easy to cross the line from tool as useful object to tool as precious object. This sort of veneration feeds the machine, but it doesn’t necessarily make us better woodworkers.

But doesn’t having better tools make us aspire to better work? Yes. Sometimes. There’s some validity there, but you still have to put in the work. And if you put in the work, the tools begin to show it.

Is there a tool equivalent to Bill’s axe in your tool chest? Hopefully.




5 Comments Add yours

  1. Andrew Brant says:

    You’re so right. I remember when I first was getting started I loved #handtoolthirsday and sharing all these things I got. I didn’t know what i was doing, and happy to share a Stanley jack plane on eBay I picked up, that was exciting. Then I discovered all the boutique makers (Paul sellers, thank you for your humility in tools getting me started) and got a few things I was even more proud of. But I hit a wall- I started to have everything I needed, and even if my bevel gauge wasn’t the most expensive, locking, hand made thing it worked, and I got it at an antique store for a couple bucks. I got so I didn’t really participate in hand tool Friday or anything else because I had nothing new and cool to share. Then I realized it’s not the point.

    If a band makes a good song, I may be curious about the gear they used, but I’m often just as happy to find out it’s some old pawn shop guitar and 25 year old boss pedals. So what? Great music. I love Pedro the Lion, but when I’ve seen them live they just used the amps that were at the venue and guitars borrowed from their opening act. It was the most “these are just the tools, the songs are what matters” statement I think possible.

    Tools are a part of woodworking, and all art making, but there’s a culture online of just selling tools. And I’m not demonizing them- if anything, I recognize that most of the tool makers I really like are one man or woman in a shop trying to make the best thing they can and have a living, and that’s awesome. But it’s a game. And a sponsorship game. No different than my friend who drives a sponsored race car, covered with logos.

    I’m far more interested these days in what people make with their tools. That’s the art. And long may it run.


    1. Yep, I’ve got some good friends who are toolmakers on Instagram and this is certainly not a knock on them. Quality is important, and I’m grateful they make the fine tools that they do. I’m blessed to own a few, but I’ve also realized that whether my tools look good on social media is utterly beside the point.


  2. pathdoc75 says:

    Yes Jim, you are spot on with the tool acquisition, drink the Kool-aid boutique tool obsession.
    I have been on that tool road much more than once, but now I am selling many of these finer tools I possess, as owning fine tools does not equal me making fine wooden projects, a sobering thought. Just watch the ever excellent Paul Sellers or the minimalist to the max pro woodworker Richard McGuire, both in the U.K., and look at the exceptional quality of their work to find out that high end tools are not needed for refined woodworking. However, getting out in one’s shop and making items and watching these pros will make us better woodworkers, even using vintage tools. Just my opinion, and I am thankful there are these boutique tool makers there if anyone wants to spend more money for high end tools, just not this old dog anymore.
    Thanks for bringing up that topic.


  3. John says:

    You can transform a car from a precious object to basic transportation with a 10 penny nail in a few seconds. It’ll make your arrival all the same. That said, I won’t trade my Honda for a Yugo any time soon.


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