A comment from William on my previous blog entry mentioned that his advice to beginning woodworkers usually involved investing in tools that would be useful to any type of handy-person, not just woodworkers. Things like circular saws, drills, and hammers that are essential to almost any type or DIY work around the house.
William’s advice reads like a page from the I Can Do That (ICDT) Manual. Chapter 3 is titled Saws – Jigsaw, Miter Saw, Circular Saw. This was music to my ears, as I already own all three.
Starting with the Jigsaw, the author argues that a quality jigsaw with the right blade can do many of the jobs that usually end up at the bandsaw. And what makes a quality jigsaw? For starters, the author recommends a barrel-type handle (which offers better control) over the more traditional top-style handle. A quick & convenient blade release is a must, and should be standard on any name-brand saw. A blade stroke of 1” is typical and shorter strokes should be avoided. Amperage of the saw is not critical, but it should have a nice long cord. Some saws offer an orbital setting, which moves the blade forward and backward, in addition to up and down. This generally improves the speed of the cut, but usually results in a rougher edge. Other features like worklights and dust-blowers are nice, but not deal breakers. My saw is a basic Black & Decker model. It doesn’t have any of the “optional” features mentioned in the ICDT Manual, but it does have a 3-blade storage compartment on the saw, which I really like. Oh, and the blades recommended by the author: the Bosch T234X and T101BR.
The miter saw is next on the list, and can be used to make cross-cuts on all sorts of projects. I own a 12” Craftsman compound saw, and for the most part it serves its purpose. However, I generally feel that craftsman power tools can’t compete with other national brands based on quality. The ICDT Manual makes no endorsement of any brand, but generally recommends a basic 10” miter saw, although most saws on the market today are of the compund-type, and even sliders can be priced quite competitively. Twelve inch saws offer a significant increase in cutting capacity (and price), but that extra capacity may not be necessary and a slider can be a good compromise. Also, blades from a 10” saw are likely to be more affordable than for the 12”. Other features to look for are ease of adjustment, and a quality, carbide blade with between 40 and 80 teeth. The adjustment feature refers to the ability to adjust the soft “stops” that indicate the saw is at 90, 45, or other common angle. These stops need to be adjustable in order to assure accurate miters.
The third and final saw in this chapter is the basic circular saw. With the right saw and a shop-made fitted guide, a circular saw can compete with a stationary table saw as far as accuracy, and can be easier to use when cutting full size sheet goods down to size. Here, the author recommends a basic sidewinder (as opposed to a worm-drive model) with a metal base and large, easy to use adjustments. The saw should feel comfortable in your hands, and be light enough to use comfortably. Also, the saw should have a built in locking mechanism for changing the blade. The author recommends avoiding battery-powered saws, mainly due to the limited amount of power that batteries are able to store and the inconvenience of having to wait for a battery to charge before you can make your cut. Again, the blade is a critical component of the tool and a carbide blade with more teeth will give a cleaner cut. As with my miter saw, I started with a Craftsman circular saw. I built my shop with it and while I was finishing the interior, the motor seized. That same day I upgraded to a mid-range Makita and haven’t regretted the purchase yet.
In the end, how you use the tools is at least as important as the quality of the tools. A $300 jigsaw is no good at all if the operator can’t remember which side of the line to cut on.
-- Dylan C ...Seems like all ever I make is sawdust...