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designing and building with wood channels my creativity and challenges my mind.
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Sunday, May 9, 2010

Rockler: my go-to Woodworking Store

I love my local woodworking store.  It's called Rockler, and it's in Porter Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  There are, apparently, Rockler stores throughout the U.S., and they have an online store as well.  Rockler's closest competition is a chain called Woodcraft, and another competitor is the online retailer Lee Valley.  But so long as Rockler carries what I want to buy (they occasionally don't), I will always go to them.  Why? Read on:

I first visited Rockler about two weeks before I dove into woodworking as a hobby.  A contractor friend took me there to buy veneer for a pair of speakers he was helping me refinish.  Before we entered, he told me "Don't talk to anybody in here.  They have no idea what they're talking about."  We found our veneer, and at the register I asked Jiles, one of the sales associates there, a question about veneer.  Jiles gave me an answer that sure sounded pretty informed. But my friend was livid that I had gone against his wishes. 

One badly botched veneer job - and a passive-aggressive swipe of a borrowed orbital sander - later, I decided to stop hiring my friend, and do all future woodworking projects myself.

Hence, my second visit to Rockler.  I was amazed at the difference between Rockler and Home Depot.  Those who know woodworking know that these two stores can scarcely be compared, but for me it was an eye-opener.  Each sales associate was him/herself a woodworker, and all of them seemed knowledgeable.  Best of all, they were all willing to spend a lot of time educating me on woodworking.  Even better:  Unlike my former friend, who claimed to know the answer to anything, the sales associates at Rockler would happily say "I don't know, let's find out" or "let's ask so-and-so about that". 

But I became a die-hard Rockler fan after trying to buy my table saw.  The Delta Hybrid Saw at Rockler (their lowest-end table saw) cost a cool $1300.  But that same week I saw a Ridgid saw of similar power and size on sale at Home Depot for $299.  I asked a few people about the Ridgid.  "Good saw", they said.  Since I had just bought a $1,400 Festool Kapex mitre saw at Rockler (my second power tool....don't ask me why), I figured I'd not buy top-of-the-line this time, and instead purchase something more appropriate for my skill level (whatever that means).  I figured there couldn't be $1,000 worth of differences between the two saws.  Boy, was I wrong.

After renting a truck and hauling the $300, 500 pound Ridgid saw home and into my basement, I assembled it.  Once assembled, I discovered that the trunnion wasn't touching the blade-angle adjustment screw inside the saw.  I couldn't move the blade off of the 90-degree axis!  It was broken.  Not by me, but due to a manufacturing defect.  I went online, and found dozens of similar stories concerning this particular saw.  No wonder it was on sale!

When I called Home Depot, they said they'd give me my money back if I brought back the saw.  After four hours of assembly, renting the truck, and enlisting my buddy to help me take the thing home, I was in no mood to do it all again in reverse.  But, at the end of the day, that's what I had to do.  It ended up consuming three days of my life, and costing me a hundred bucks in truck rentals and beer for my friend.

In the middle of my Home Depot ordeal, I visited Rockler in Porter Square.  I bought the $1,300 Delta, and the next day Doug and Pete from the Cambridge Rockler store showed up at my house with it.  They helped me move it into my basement as well.  What's more, they had already done most of the assembly.  And Pete had put the rest of the parts into little plastic baggies with labels telling me where each screw went.  Adding the cast-iron wings was all that was left for me to do, and it was a snap.  When I was done I turned the saw on and it worked beautifully (still does).

I will never buy another real tool from Home Depot, and I won't go to Woodcraft or Lee Valley unless I absolutely have to.  Thanks to Doug, Pete, Brian, Sandy, Jiles, and Woody, I am learning the craft quickly, making smart purchasing decisions, and am totally happy.  Time and again the team at the Cambridge Rockler store have delivered customer service just like they did that day with my table saw.  They're my team, and they've given me a huge jump-start in the woodworking world.  Thanks!

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