I'm Seeing Red

Tuesday, October 29, 2019 2:26 PM

There is no doubt that those of us who watch YouTube woodworking videos see a lot of red tools and get a lot of emails showing these red tools. Woodpeckers has been touting their red tools since 1988 and in recent years have stepped up the pace of their tool introductions and expanded their offerings. As I write this blog post there are four active One Time Only tools being offered by Woodpeckers. I’t very likely that many of us who live in the United States have at least one of their tools. They’ve even managed to expand to other countries as well.

Why are they so successful you may ask, especially when their tools are very expensive. The simple answer is quality and accuracy. The quality of the Woodpecker tools is outstanding. They have been using very expensive machines to make them and the quality of those machines has even improved greatly over the years. These machines also provide the extreme accuracy of the Woodpecker tools. Of course they also are part of the price equation as well. These high quality, accurate machines are very expensive. Woodpeckers also makes it very clear that their tools are Made in America. For years on woodworking forums and later on Facebook groups I’ve seen woodworkers complaining about the quality of tools made in China and similar countries. Woodpeckers has also seen those posts. Their philosophy is that if you want high quality tools made in this country you’ll pay a premium for them.

Other tool makers have seen Woodpecker’s success and are starting to follow their model. I won’t name specific companies here but I’m sure you’ve seen them if you spend any time on Facebook and/or Instagram. I’m sure they are showing on other Social Media platforms as well. Many of these small startup companies are offering very high quality and accurate tools as well. Most of them that I’m familiar with seem to be located in the United States or Canada. At least one is in Australia. Their prices can start below those of similar Woodpecker tools to extremely high prices. Many of these companies seem to be successful, even those that far exceed Woodpecker tool prices.

Now, for those of us who don’t make a lot of money some of these high priced tools may be tempting. As I mentioned above many of us, including me, have bought some of them. But, are they worth the extra cost? Is high accuracy necessary for woodworking? The answers to those questions are very complex. I’m going to only attempt to provide some very basic answers. First of all I enjoy working with wood. I also enjoy working with tools that look nice, function well and are accurate for what I use them for. The last part of that statement is, at least for me, the most important factor. 

Accuracy is very relative. As woodworkers we’re working with wood, not metals. Wood moves more than metal does. That’s an important factor here. My dad was a scientist. Part of his job was designing things out of metal and either making them himself or having them made by a machine shop. I remember once him telling me about some parts he needed. After he designed the parts he sent the specifications down to the machine shop in the basement of the facility he was working at. A few hours later he got a call from the machine shop. The guy in charge tried to explain to my dad that they couldn’t make the parts because the tolerances were too tight. My dad tried to explain how to make them over the phone but the guy in the machine shop didn’t think his ideas would work so he invited my dad down to see what they were doing. To make this story shorter - my dad went downstairs and made the parts he needed and took them back upstairs. As woodworkers do we really need that kind of accuracy? No, because wood moves. I suggest that even getting most tolerances within a 32nd of an inch (.793 mm) are even too small when we’re measuring them on a piece of wood. Yes, we want tight fits but do we actually need to be able to measure more accurately than that. 

Now when  we’re talking about accuracy in angles, especially square, those are most likely more important. I suggest, however, that a good and fairly inexpensive carpenter’s square is just as accurate in measuring square and most other angles that are used in woodworking. I know there are many who will disagree but that’s their problem. I will admit that many inexpensive adjustable squares can and do go out of square and that if you drop any square too many times, even the very expensive models, they won’t measure accurately.

So, why do we see so much red in woodworking shops? —Marketing. It’s very simple. Since its inception Woodpeckers has been offering their “One Time Tools.” You’ve seen the ads. This new tool will do all kinds of things and is very accurate but we’re only making them for a short period of time. If you don’t buy one now you won’t have a chance to own this incredible tool. Currently on their website Woodpeckers shows 132 One Time Only Tools going back to their OneTIME Tool- ONE PIECE T SQUARE - 2010- RETIRED JANUARY 3, 2011. Of course a little over a year later the re-offered the same tool and added to additional sizes. I also noticed that some tools like the Paolini Pocket Rules have been removed from their One Time Only tool history pages. I bought a couple of them back in 2009 on their second time around. These rules proved to be so popular over the years that they are now part of Woodpecker’s permanent offerings. This is also true of their Precision Woodworking Squares and several others. Woodpeckers has been very active in their email sales. In the emails for most of their tools they include a video extolling all the virtues of their tools. Often times these tools do things that woodworkers never even thought of doing or the touted accuracy will make our projects so much better. They are masters when it comes to these emails. In recent years Woodpeckers has even been including the red tool walls that some of the prominent YouTube creators have in their shop. You’ve seen them on their YouTube videos. They’ve even recruited Marc Spagnuolo, The Wood Whisperer, to include segments on their tools in his Friday Live shows. Fortunately Marc is one who will be honest in his tool evaluations, but I’m sure others they recruit may not be so honest.

I must admit that I have succumbed to Woodpecker’s advertising at least once. Years ago I bought one of their Doweling Jigs and later added the Mortise and Tenon Centering Gauges to go with it and have yet to use either one. Many years ago I made many dowel joints in my furniture using an old Craftsman doweling jig from Sears. When I saw the Woodpeckers jig I thought it had solved the problems I had with my old jig. I may be right and I’m sure it will be used sometime for making joints but when I can’t say. This year I even ordered one of their Joiners Marking Gauges and then, after seeing one in use, decided to cancel that order which I must add wasn’t a very easy process. Over the years I’ve been tempted with others but just couldn’t justify the cost at the time. I also almost bought one of their DelVe Squares but decided against it because I didn’t have the cash. Now, I’m glad I didn’t because my similar DFM Small Carpenter’s Square fits my needs.

The bottom line here is that the tools made by Woodpeckers and many other small companies may be necessary for our shops. I recently, for example, produced a video on the Small Carpenter’s Square made by DFM Tool Works in Chicago, stating that it was an outstanding tool and it is. And, as mentioned a few times above, I have some Woodpeckers tools. Most of the tools I buy fit into what I’m doing and how I work. It’s up to us, as woodworkers, to evaluate all the claims, look at what we’re doing and how we work and decide if we need a particular tool. I’ for example, have used the two Woodpecker Paolini Pocket Rules that I have many times in my shop and I’m sure that they will be handy for many years to come. I bought the Woodpecker’s Mini Square for checking to see if my chisels are square when I sharpen them. It’s the perfect size and is very light. I even bought it on sale. Do I wish I had more Woodpecker tools and some that other companies are producing? — Of course. For me it all boils down to what tools I need and the best one I can afford to do a job. I also have to justify the cost to my wife who is the one who takes care of our family finances. That alone helps prevent me from being too extravagant. 

For more on this topic watch my video on YouTube, Relief From Workshop Gas.