Earlier this week, I was asked to be interviewed about getting started in making things, and the conversation turned towards the best tools for the money. The guy asked me what I think the best thing to invest in, and we naturally discussed how, once you have all the tools you need, you tend to think the things that support your workflow are more important that the cool-looking trappings of the woodworker. Like, how my favorite power tool is actually my two horsepower dust collector on its own circuit, because that's the machine I use on every single process. Or how I'd rather have an inexpensive Japanese dozuki saw and a really nice mechanical pencil and Starrett combination square vs. low grade measuring and marking tools and a fancy dovetail saw. (Though, to be fair, I do have both.)
But, it got me thinking about the truly best value in woodworking, the craft process, etc. Like what's something that's entirely inexpensive yet you use on every single project?
And so, I submit: the safety glasses retainer strap is the single best value in woodworking. No, it's no sexy like a dovetail saw or an all-brass handplane, but they cost less than a dollar, and pay for themselves over and over again.
When your safety glasses are around your neck, you'll always have them with you. When you're in the middle of one of those Saturdays where you have four different projects going on in four different areas of your house, you'll have what you need when it's time to execute.
This means, when you're balanced on a ladder getting ready to drill into the ceiling and you have your bit lined up just so, or when you've set up a full sheet of plywood balanced on a sawhorse and someone is helping you hold the free end in place so it doesn't bind the saw blade and kick back, you're ready to go to perform the action. You don't have to say, “Oh wait a minute,” and step away from the process to go find the gear you left two floors away.
I imagine I have five to six pair of currently “in use” safety glasses. I keep a few in the garage, a few in my basement work shop, a pair in my to-go toolbox, and a couple bonus sets on hooks attached to my stationary power tools. I don't like to wear them when I'm drawing or laying things out (I find the scratched plastic and accumulated saw dust to blur my vision), and if I'm wearing ear protection (which I try to, always), they don't really fit on top of my head. I wear regular glasses, so if I don't have my contacts in, I need to switch them out when doing detail work.
Every single one of those pairs has a retainer strap. I bought a batch for $5 more than ten years ago. And they've been part of everything I've made since then. They've lasted longer than the actually safety glasses themselves, which are constantly getting replaced. How's that for money well spent?
I recently bought a new set of retainers so I could photograph them for this post (the twelve year old ones were kinda gross and weird colors). I spent $4.42 on six sets, meaning they cost 74¢ each. Maybe that's nerdy, but it's the best three quarters you can spend.
You only get one set of eyes. It is always worth it to wear safety glasses. Keeping them on you at all times means you never have to do the calculus of whether or not to go find them as you complete a task. And that's what matters most.