Is this you?
I would just love to make some garden projects with wood but I’m afraid of using power tools.
I get it—I hear you—I’ve been there—and the good news is, it is indeed possible to not only overcome your fear of power tools but learn to love them. Own them.
Yes, they can be scary. Yes, they are powerful. And that’s why they are so efficient and useful and essential for so many fabulous home and garden projects.
Let’s look at some common reasons why we fear them, how we can (safely and, dare I say, happily) address these things, and, best of all, get busy making all of the cool projects we’ve been dreaming of.
We’re Not Paging Dr Freud
The goal here is to gently coax those of you who are ready, to take the next step and get comfortable with power tools.
I don’t really wish to set up the couch and page Dr. Freud to analyze this but it can be helpful to be honest with one’s self about what might be holding you back.
Beyond the basic—I am afraid of this—see if you can spell out exactly what it is you fear. That will tell you how you can remedy it. I share my own example below.
Besides the potential danger of power tools, some readers here say they have always left the use of power tools for their spouse. If you’re going to take over this role or share the use of tools with your sidekick, be mindful that you are stepping on someone else’s turf and probably messing up their workshop, so you’d best come to an agreement first and ease in with care.
Most of us have territories or roles like this in our homes without ever realizing it until someone tries to take over. It’s all fun and games until someone messes up the sewing machine or craft supplies. And we’re here to learn to use power tools and make cool stuff, not to end otherwise healthy relationships.
I’m not sure how common my story is but I’ll tell you why I avoided power tools for many years and what turned it around.
Cost and noise.
As a young homeowner, good quality power tools were just not affordable for us. And I didn’t mind too much because I just can not stand the noise. That ear-bending, all-encompassing, relentless, shrill can’t-miss-it noise that just about every power tool makes. It’s awful!
Fast forward to a few years ago when I decided to enclose our back patio to create a nice private, shaded summer room.
I knew there was no way I was going to end up with a professional-looking room if I kept using my old hand tools. Amongst other things, I needed precision cuts and sunken screws to make this baby right.
It was pretty neat to learn that with just one $30 purchase—can you guess what it was?—I had the cure for my fear of power tools. More on this below.
Why We Fear Power Tools
The fear of power tools seems to fall into 3 basic categories.
1. Fear of danger and injury to one’s self, someone else, or stuff.
2. Fear of the unknown/no clue how to use them.
3. Dislike of loud noises.
These are all rational and realistic and things that can be overcome.
Why Learning to Use Power Tools is Awesome
1. You get to make all sorts of cool stuff.
2. They save you lots of time.
3. They are way more precise than hand tools.
4. You don’t have to wait for someone to help you.
Getting Past Your Excuses
If you really want to do this, the excuses are not really going to fly anymore so I’m not going to rehash them.
How We Can Overcome Our Fear of Power Tools
1 and 2. Fear of the danger or injury and fear of the unknown both have the same solution.
Knowledge, skill, and experience.
It’s pretty rare that we have a proper introduction to power tools or learn how to use them from a good instructor.
Often they are just part of the family tool kit and we learn by trial and error.
Stop right there!
Just like driving car, operating the major power tools requires awareness, thought, and care every single time you use them.
The danger comes from recklessness. The more potentially dangerous the power tool (like a big saw), the more care you take. Again, it comes down to knowledge, skill, and a distraction-free, safe work environment.
All of this is completely within your power and essential to do.
Millions of people know how to use these things and you can too.
2. Noise is another deal-breaker with power tools. I solved this one with $30: good ear protectors. Look for a pair of ear muffs that drops about 30 decibels from the sound (e.g. a 30 rating).
I could not believe what a difference this makes.
I use mine not only when I’m building stuff in the workshop but also when I’m cutting the lawn. I cannot stand the sound of lawnmowers (or leaf blowers-ARG) and this brings it down to much softer, acceptable levels. You can still hear what’s going on (which is important for safety too) but it’s not causing ear damage or pain.
Along with the ear protectors, you’ll also need safety glasses, steel-toe boots, and hand protection (safety gloves with good grip).
Ways to Learn the Proper Use of Power Tools
1. Read the manuals.
Learn all of the safety precautions, how to change blades, how to adjust settings, how to lube or maintain the tool, and exactly what it is for.
Learn the best ways to build your projects from a trusted source and follow the steps provided. A good builder/maker of stuff is often also giving you the wisdom of their experience, allowing the most efficient use of tools, materials, and time. And sometimes, as you gain more experience, you’ll figure out some cool tips or shortcuts to share.
Consider your environment as well as your project. Immediate safety requires a distraction-free, secure work space with the right materials. Choice of materials also has an enviromental impact.
2. Watch YouTube videos.
My main saw is a sliding dual-bevel compound miter saw (yes, the name is mouthful, but what an awesome saw!) and I could not for the life of me understand the user manual.
Fortunately, I found several YouTube videos with excellent step-by-step videos walking through everything I’d need to know to use and maintain the saw. This made all the difference for making me feel knowledgeable and comfortable. And I can’t begin to tell you how euphoric it is to make those first crisp, clean cuts with the power saw after years of wrestling with various hand saws.
And don’t forget to prepare for the unexpected. Know what to do when there are tough knots in the wood, or a saw blade needs replacing.
3. Take a class.
Some home improvement stores offer free classes on using various power tools. If yours does not have a class, ask the manager if s/he could provide one.
4. Find a teacher.
It’s a big misconception to think that because someone knows how to do something that they will also know how to teach it.
If your otherwise lovely spouse is an annoying teacher, avoid that landmine and find help elsewhere.
If you know someone who is really skilled at using power tools and a great communicator, that may be the person to ask. If you are comfortable asking them ‘dumb’ questions and they are patient and helpful with their answers, this could be your person.
Choose a simple beginner project and learn by doing.
Ready to Start?
- Figure out what’s holding you back. Knowledge? Danger? Noise?
- Learn what you need to know to safely operate and maintain the tools.
- Get and use proper safety equipment every single time.
- Will you be stomping on someone else’s territory?
Be respectful of your spouse, their turf, and their role. Prepare them for your upcoming transformation into an awesome maker of cool stuff.
And, if you can learn the power tools, make a kickass potting bench, and stay happily married, that’s a good as it gets.
If things don’t go as planned, be sure to get the tools or at least the potting bench in the settlement.
This is the fun part. Once you are comfortable with some basic power tools to drill, sand, and cut wood, a whole world of project ideas awaits you.
Here’s the Basic Power Tools I Use
- Cordless drill – I use this both for drilling holes and and with screwdriver bits.
- Palm sander – it’s essential to remove rough edges if you want your projects to have a finished look.
- Jigsaw – handy for small, quick cuts and curved cuts.
- Sliding dual-bevel compound miter saw – it’s worth it to get a 12″ saw if you can for maximum cutting depth.
- Circular saw – there are electric and cordless options.
- Electric chainsaw – this quiet, lightweight machine is excellent for trimming branches.
- Electric staple gun – I use it for attaching chicken wire as well as upholstry projects.