That’s actually a very good question. I suspect the answer was different in the 1940’s when Lyle Gilliom designed his first woodworking machine kits.
Back then the concept of DIY was alien to just about everyone but farmers. Sure, every man had a handsaw or two, a nail apron and hammer, and an assortment of hand tools, but large power tools?
Craftsmen tools in the 1940’s were built for the professional craftsman, and the average hobbyist just couldn’t justify the price.
Enter Shopsmith, Delta Home Craft, and AMT. These tools were down-sized and down-featured from their professional cousins. 18”- 24” bandsaws, 10” - 12” table saws and 1/2”-3/4” arbor shapers were common in the cabinet shop, but unheard of in the home shop. Home-grade bandsaws had 8” - 10” wheels; tablesaws had 6” – 8” blades and routers and shapers just weren’t available.
That is of course until Gilliom’s Gil-Bilt tools. These tools were truly professional sized. 12” & 18” bandsaws, a 8” & a 10” table saw, and so on could be made from a clever set of plans and a kit of custom made hardware.
So that’s the way it WAS. Today we have readily available at the local Big Lots, Harbor Freight, Woodcraft, Rockler, Lowes, Home Depot, and even Sears have Chinese and Taiwanese knock-off’s of the classic Delta/Rockwell 14” Bandsaw for as low as $299! Want a 10” table saw? No problem. $299 will get ya a cast iron contractor-style saw too.
My grandfather would have LOVED to have tools this cheap! Or would he?
Both of my grandfather’s were absolute geniuses when it came to building tools or pushing the tools that they had to their extreme. If my dad’s father needed greater accuracy he would build a jig or fixture with the skill and speed that most guys change socks. If my mom’s dad needed a tool he was just as likely to build one from an old washing machine and parts from a Model-T than to buy it. It is from these men that I get my drive to build my own tools.
When you build your own tool you can make it a little taller of lower than anything on the market to fit your needs. Want an extra 6” of table behind the saw blade? You got it. And how many woodworkers do you know who make their own power tools? No, nothing beats the pride in accomplishment that comes from a tool that you made coming to life at the flip of a switch.
What does a shop-made toolmaker look like?
- Woodworkers like us don’t just wish we could make a grandfathers clock, crib or gazebo; we’re the guy who actually makes one.
- We used to buy Wood Smith magazine just for the two pages called “Shop Notes”, now we have the entire collection of Shop Notes magazine. (In binders no less)
- We drive VW’s, JEEPS, SUV’s, Harley’s, boats, snowmobiles, etc, because we actually like the idea that we will occasionally get our hands dirty.
- When our son says “Hey Dad, I want us to build a six cheese nacho cheese fountain for my wedding reception” we smile with pride and anticipation and simply say: “Only six?”
- We prefer charcoal grills, and have the biggest one on the block; but we’ll own a gas grill if we want because you can’t put a label on us.
- We don't talk about building tools to most folks because "The Others" don't and won't get it.
- Many of us own some Shopsmith tools and actually like the time it takes to do "changeovers". They are engineering marvels and how could more time touching a power tool be a bad thing anyway?
No, making a woodworking machine isn’t for everyone. And that’s another reason we do it.