Setting Up Shop #6: I Can Do That, Chapters 1 and 2

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Blog entry by DylanC posted 10-23-2011 05:09 PM 1410 reads 0 times favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 5: Shop Built Router Table for under $30 Part 6 of Setting Up Shop series Part 7: I Can Do That, Chapter 3 »

So, I’m (slowly) working on building up an arsenal of tools to begin my woodworking, and more often than I care to admit, I find myself browsing through the Grizzly catalog or some website, making a mental wish-list. Most of my time is spent contemplating how much I am willing to spend for a jointer/planer/bandsaw/etc. That’s when it hit me.

I’ve started a few hobbies in my life that I never really pursued. Spent a lot of money with no results. For example, freshman year of college I bought an electric guitar and a few accessories…probably spent $400-$500 bucks. That’s a lot of money for a college student. I never learned to play a single song. Never even tried, really.

So I don’t want to make that same mistake again. Even if woodworking turns out to be a lifelong hobby for me, I’d like to get some results before I spend thousands of dollars on tools. So now I start asking myself, “What are the bare essentials I NEED to have in order to make nice stuff?” That’s when I stumbled on the “I Can Do That” manual from Popular Woodworking. It’s a few years old, but it does a pretty good job of outlining the basic tools (hand and power) a beginning woodworker should start out with. It also lays down a few ground rules on “good behavior.”

The first rule is take care of the tools you’ve got. Do what you need to do to keep them rust-free. Rule two is to learn to keep your tools sharp and tuned up. Without rules one and two, even a $300 hand plane will end up junk. Rule three is to buy tools that will last, and will do the job you bought them for. That doesn’t mean you need to buy top-of-the-line, but buying quality pays off. Buying “disposable” tools is a waste of time and money.

The first chapter (Chapter 2) with recommended tool purchases is dedicated to measuring tools. The two basics recommended by the author are a 12” combination square and a 16’ tape measure. When buying, make sure that the square is really 90 degrees and that the scales on the ruler and the tape measure are both accurate. If an inch on one tool isn’t the same as an inch on the other, bad things will happen.

With this advice in mind, I started acquiring measuring tools. Besides the 12” combination square, I also bought a 6” combination square to use as a try square. And, an engineer by trade, I wanted to have a digital caliper for precise measurement and set-ups. And just for good measure (no pun intended) I bought a 6” and 12” steel ruler so that I wouldn’t need to disassemble my combination squares when I needed a ruler. The 12” ruler came from the drafting section of an office supply store…I couldn’t seem to find one at the local big-box stores. I already have a few tape measures, but mine are all 25’ plus “carpenter” type tapes. I’ll probably pick up a 16-footer sometime soon. The logic here is that the smaller tapes are lighter, more flexible and will lay flatter than their larger brothers.

I’ve been trying to review all my tool purchases here on, so look there for detailed reviews. Sometime soon I’ll post on Chapter 3: Saws. I know I was surprised to see what tools did (and didn’t) make the list.

-- Dylan C ...Seems like all ever I make is sawdust...

3 comments so far

View flippedcracker's profile


91 posts in 2479 days

#1 posted 10-23-2011 05:37 PM

I do the same thing. I start a new hobby, buy all the essentials to get going, and then stop doing it. That’s why I’ve been slightly reluctant to buy tools. A good place to start Witt the bigger tools is craigslist or eBay. Never underestimate the power and value of buying used. I found a 6” craftsman jointer on CL for $75. It work great and should last me at least a few years. A bonus is that the same guy was also selling a disc/belt sander, but wasn’t getting any bites so he gave it to me for free. There are deals to be found, if you’re lucky and persistent.

View DylanC's profile


204 posts in 2701 days

#2 posted 10-24-2011 12:37 AM

You are right about the used tools…that’s how I got my Unisaw. Probably how I will eventually get a planer, jointer, bandsaw, etc. In the meantime, borrowing is even cheaper than buying used ;)

-- Dylan C ...Seems like all ever I make is sawdust...

View William's profile


9949 posts in 2868 days

#3 posted 10-25-2011 12:31 PM

You bring up a topic I have talked with other people often about. I always recommend them starting with things that will be useful through life anyway, like hammer, drill, circular saw, square, things like that. I had these basic tools when I started woodworking. All of these, even if you decided you absolutely hated woodworking, you may still need through life, especially if you have your own home.


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