AW #015 – When to Buy vs Build Your Next Woodworking Shop Project


In Episode number 15, I talk about when to build vs when to buy that next woodworking shop project.  If you are like me, you sometimes struggle with that dilemma.  I see a router station, drill press table, new storage system, or cool system or parts to build cabinets quickly at the store or on line and say, “That is nice!”  But then you say, but I can build that . . why should I spend money on that?

Then I get into my shop and suddenly have the following types of conversations with myself  . . . “ok well my wife really wants me to finish this table, but if I make this new workbench I would probably work a lot faster;” or . . . “gosh, if I could rebuild my router table to collect dust better, and allow me to adjust the router bit level faster I might use it more” . . .  or “if I would only build a drilling station to hold all my cordless batteries and drills, then I would always have a place to put drills and drill bits when I finish working with them.  But, I told my wife I would finish my dining room table before Thanksgiving.  Maybe I should go ahead and buy that new station so it will help me finish that project.”    

As the circular cycle of ‘I can build it vs. do I have the time to build it’ continues, I sometimes start to research the prices online to see if you can find what I am interested in cheaper somewhere else.   The next thing I hear is my wife coming in the shop and saying, “I Thought you were coming in here to woodwork. What have you been doing for the past two hours?”  WHAT?  I JUST LOST TWO HOURS OF WOODWORKING TIME?  ARRRGGGHHHH”

Well maybe that has only happened to me . . . a couple of times.  So, I finally got sick of losing precious woodworking time trying to make these decisions.  Last year when I simplified my shop, I also decided that I was going to put my shop on a budget like the rest of my life.  I decided that I prefer room to move in my shop over lots of stuff in it and got rid of a ton of tools that I simply never touched.  If I had duplicates, I got rid of them, unless I used them for cub scouts.  I did not want to continually get sidetracked with debates about shop projects.  So, I decided to ask myself three simple questions when it comes to building shop projects vs purchasing them.

I am going to share with you the three things I consider when trying to work through my purchasing dilemma.

1)            I first ask myself “Does the shop project that I am considering purchasing fully or nearly fully satisfy my needs.”  In other words, I don’t want to spend $100 on something that I have to then spend hours modifying to meet my needs.  If I need something for a specific task that I am going to use repeatedly, I want to make sure that it is set up in a way where I love using it.  If the answer is no, I will most likely custom build that project, but I still consider the following two questions.

2)            I consider my time and how much is it worth vs. how much the project costs itself.  This answer is highly dependent on your current circumstances.  If you woodwork for a living, you should be able to answer this question easily.  If not, you may be struggling financially as a woodworker.  But, I am not going to get into that here.  If you woodwork as a hobby, you may find this more difficult to answer.  For example, as a lawyer, I bill out at $400 per hour (and no, I do not bring this money home.  I am part of a firm, so it goes to pay the firm expenses – and sometimes I, as the business owner, have to skip a paycheck).  In the shop, I cannot say that my time is worth $400 per hour.  I am on a strict budget at home in the shop.  But, when I started selling the pens I turn a few years ago, I decided that I wanted to make sure I made at least $15 per hour on my pens.  That number has gone up recently only because I have gotten faster at making them.  Now I am at $30 per hour.  But, you get the idea.  If you think your time in the shop is worth $20 per hour, and you think a shop project will take you realistically 20 hours to build, then it might be worth purchasing that shop project if it costs you $400 or less (because you have to consider your material costs true).  If building shop projects is more about the experience and you are not too concerned about spending time on a shop project, then this question may not be as important to you as it is to me.

3)            What is my time deadline on a certain woodworking project.  In some cases, you may have promised a family member, a close friend, or even a client a certain project within a certain time period.  If you are running out of time to complete your project, and you know that a specific shop project will help you with completing your task, then you purchasing that project might be worth it to avoid damaging that relationship or that person’s confidence in your ability to complete projects as promised. The next your spouse considers your plea to build that piece of furniture, she/he may just go out to the store and buy it because they did not want to wait months.

So, I applied these questions to one of my most recent purchases, a drill press table that I attached to my drill press, and I am so happy I did.

Drill Press Before

Drill Press Before

Drill Press Table Package

Drill Press Table Package


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3 thoughts on “AW #015 – When to Buy vs Build Your Next Woodworking Shop Project

  1. Great episode Leh! I enjoyed hearing your insight on when to buy vs build. I have been following the same mentality for the past couple of years and it has served me well. Hope you continue with the podcasting efforts, I appulade your perseverance! Always enjoy listening…take care.

  2. Hey Leh, Good show. I am profession furniture maker in Texas. I want to e-mail you proposition to you about your show, and I don’t want to put it up on comments but I didn’t see your e-mail anywhere were I could e-mail you directly. My company called Shaka Studios and you can pull it up on the web or Facebook. Thanks Shane