When do You DIY a Project v

s. Buy a Product?

I recently posted about the Bora Portamate lumber rack, and a reader asked a fair question – why not build a DIY solution out of wood instead?

For me, it comes down to why do I DIY?

(Shown above and in the front-page image is Ben V’s workspace, featuring his DIY modular tool cabinet setup. You can read more about his workshop projects here.)

There’s no hard rule as to when I might go the DIY approach and when I might buy a commercially available product. I still design and build a lot of projects, and I have more planned for the next couple of months.

While I have seen wall-mounted lumber racks made out of 2x4s and plywood, and they seem to suit their owners just fine, I personally would not go down that path right now.

Thinking back, most of my DIY projects were usually inspired by two primary motivations – either I needed a custom solution, or I was looking to save money.

For example, I once needed a specialized jig for drilling very precise and repeatable holes in metal. I bought some aluminum bar stock, a fresh hacksaw blade, some steel dowel pins, and drill bushings. It took some time and elbow grease, but I saved money vs. buying the commercially-available drilling jig.

Today, I might just buy the ready-made jig unless I needed the design customized to a slightly different need.

Rather than buy a rolling tool cabinet, I made a mobile platform out of 2x4s and MDF, and my tool chest and two intermediate chests sat right on top of it just fine.

Time and money are both precious, and I would ideally prefer to save both whenever I can. However, these days I tend to go the DIY route when I need a more custom solution, and I go the store-bought route if it allows me to save a lot of time on an immediate need.

Coming up with my own solution to every problem, need, or want can be time-consuming. Most of these projects might involve a design process, a shopping stage where I research and order the necessary tools, parts, and supplies, and then I have to build the project. If I find something went wrong with the design, some back and forth is involved.

I thoroughly enjoy working through this process for certain projects. But for others, that time could be better spent.

If I need more parts bins, I order them, rather than build functional equivalents out of plywood. If I need to drill a perfectly perpendicular hole into the side of a wood workbench, I buy a drill attachment, rather than making my own. If I need a wood chisel, I buy a good quality brand, rather than having to put time and elbow grease into flattening and sharpening cheaper and lower quality offerings.

For something like a wall-mounted lumber rack, I see that as a prime candidate for the “buy it and be done with it” approach, at least given my current priorities.

I have a very long list of projects I’m waiting on, including a number of workshop and office storage projects. I can add a little bit more to my list, but there’s a limit.

Would the project bring me joy?

Are my needs unmet by store-bought options?

Can I save a lot of time or money going in one direction over the other?

So, that’s why I would go with a store-bought lumber rack if it aligned with my needs. A lumber cart, on the other hand – that’s something I am likely to build myself, as a DIY solution will better fit my needs than any of the commercially available products I’ve seen.

This is really no different than other aspects of life. I might eventually get a good meat grinder for making meatballs, burgers, tacos, and chili. But in the meantime, the ground meat I can get from the butcher or grocery store fits my needs.
Where Do You Stand?
DIY vs. store-bought can be a polarizing topic at times.

When do you design and fabricate your own solutions, and when might you buy something despite the DIY approach also being possible?

As mentioned, I tend to lean towards DIY when one-size-fits-most solutions don’t quite suit my needs, and I lean towards store-bought when it might save me a combination of time and effort. Sometimes I’ll go one direction over the other if it will save me a lot of money.

I’m also curious – are there any DIY projects or fabrications you’d like to see ToolGuyd dive into?
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DIY Editorial