What tool should I get next?

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Forum topic by dbockel2 posted 11-30-2015 05:55 PM 982 views 0 times favorited 26 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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107 posts in 371 days

11-30-2015 05:55 PM

As a novice/amatuer woodworker, most of my tools are either 1) hand-me-downs or 2) entry level, more portable type stuff. I don’t have a dedicated workshop so I don’t really have the space or setup for things like a professional cabinet saw or any large free standing tools (not that I have any business using them at this point). Here is a summary of what I have and my general take on each. If anyone has the willingness to give me any suggestions for future purchases/upgrades I would appreciate the opions.

What I have:
Table Saw – DeWalt DW744. Seems to work OK enough but my fence has a burned area from when it contacted the blade once and I often struggle to cut perfectly straight/square cuts despite my best efforts to build jigs and such that I would hope to improve my results. My TS does NOT have a riving knife/splitter—I am not sure if that could be part of the problem with struggling to cut straight. Evidenced by my constant inability to get my cutting boards to glue cleanly across the surface of the board despite repeated efforts to ensure a flat/square surface.

Circular Saw – I have an old piece of shit and I rarely use it (other than trimming a large piece of plywood recently). But I could envision using one and a newer one would probably be a nice upgrade (and they’re not that expensive).

Miter Saw – Another brandless piece of junk that I don’t think cuts very straight lines (and does not have an extending blade/radial reach). But for basic chopping of boards into smaller lengths, it does the trick decently enough. But I think I could get a better saw.

Thickness planer – I bought a Porter Cable portable planer earlier this year. While I like it, my planing seems to never be perfectly flat and I don’t know if it is due to 1) not having a jointer with which to first square one side of the board, 2) having an inferior thickness planer, 3) something else..

Drill press – I have a cheap Skilsaw drill press I got earlier this year. As far as I’m concerned it does exactly what it needs to do.

Router – I have a porter cable router with plunge attachment as well. I think it works fine for what I use it for. Basic roundover bits and cutting bits.

Bandsaw – I have a craftsman bandsaw that I got earlier this year for a couple hundred bucks. I think it is OK. Probably more than sufficient for my projects but certainly nothing special.

JOINTER – I DO NOT HAVE ONE. DO I NEED ONE? If so, are there any suitable models that are <$300 but do a good job? Will I get that much use out of it? I did build a straight line jig for my TS a while back but given my aforementioned straightness challenges, I’m not sure it does much more than help me clean up rough lumber.

Should I get a jointer? Should I replace my TS or TS fence (the DeWalt fence honestly seems like a piece of junk to spend $80 replacing). Are there other tools/accessories I should consider (say a Kreg Jig or new saw blades/router bits?) Just trying to think of where I can expand/upgrade.

Most of what I build is fairly simple—so far that has been cutting boards, adirondack chairs, deck coolers, a barn door, other little crafts/projects. I do not have a lathe and have never spun any wood. Interesting as it sounds, I don’t know that I have the space or desire to pursue it yet. I am considering doing pantry shelves at some point as my next potential big project.


26 replies so far

View WillliamMSP's profile


679 posts in 1025 days

#1 posted 11-30-2015 06:11 PM

I’m very much a novice, too, but…

This is a question that I encounter pretty frequently when it comes to cameras/lenses. Whether it’s cameras or ww equipment, my answer is the same – if you have to ask what you should buy next, you probably shouldn’t buy anything. As you continue to work, it should become apparent when you bump in to the limitations of your current tools – let the needs of your work dictate your tools, otherwise you’re just taking shots in the dark (and potentially wasting a lot of money).

-- Practice makes less sucky. - Bill, Minneapolis, MN

View dbockel2's profile


107 posts in 371 days

#2 posted 11-30-2015 06:19 PM

lol—I get the camera/lens example very well (it is another hobby) as I know that it is not the camera that makes the photographer. In the same way I think i can reasonably conclude that it is certainly not the tools that make the woodworker. That said, given some of my aforementioned limitations/challenges mentioned in my post I thought there might be some useful suggestions as to potential improvements or upgrades that might help out (or perhaps some training videos or techniques that I should try to improve results).

For example, I recently saw a “right-angle jig” that someone here made to help ensure perfect cutting board corners/glue ups. I made one that I know is perfectly square and flat yet I am still having some glue up issues which I think are a result of a “not perfectly straight” cut on the TS—hence not sure if I should consider a jointer, new fence or even upgrade the TS itself. Anyway, I appreciate your response and your point is well taken. But it’s the holidays so chances are better than even that I will be adding something to my garage and I want to make the most of it. :)

View Ripper70's profile


111 posts in 329 days

#3 posted 11-30-2015 06:21 PM

From the description of your table saw maybe a new and better fence would be useful.

-- "You know, I'm such a great driver, it's incomprehensible that they took my license away." --Vince Ricardo

View bondogaposis's profile


3969 posts in 1771 days

#4 posted 11-30-2015 06:40 PM

Buy a hand plane.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View whope's profile


137 posts in 1865 days

#5 posted 11-30-2015 06:49 PM

I don’t have a joiner. I have a piece of MDF that I trimmed about 1/64” off in front of the table saw blade. The table saw blade is embedded in the MDF and I align the back of the fence with the outside edge of the blade. I get straight enough edges that I can then run the board through normally to get parallel sides. Limited to edge joining by the height of the blade. Eventually I’d like to get an 8” joiner. But I’m fine with what I have now.

There are jigs for running warped lumber through a planer if you don’t have a joiner. (One is in my project list).

Don’t sell yourself too short. An experienced woodworker may be able to overcome a bad saw setup, but someone who is in-experienced will get frustrated and dis-illusioned with one.

I was originally frustrated with my TS until I bought an after-market fence (Vega Pro-40) and a good miter guage (Incra 1000SE). Now I’m not sure I could ever justify a new TS. And I have tried. :)

I don’t blame the equipment for my mistakes. I do give it credit when something comes out well.

-- Measure it with a micrometer, mark it with chalk, cut it with an axe.

View Richard H's profile

Richard H

483 posts in 1101 days

#6 posted 11-30-2015 06:56 PM

Without a way to flatten a surface and square a edge be it by hand, with jigs or with a jointer you will always be limited in the level of precision in your joints you can accomplish. It might also be one of the reasons you are not getting very good results on your table saw as it works best when two jointed and square edges are used down on the table and against the fence. That’s not to say you can’t get by with mostly straight boards and getting close but ultimately it’s going to limit you somewhat. A planer makes two parallel surfaces to each other and without a jointed surface down on the bed you just end up with two twisted surfaces that are parallel to each other.

For the budget you specified I think your best bet is either going to be buy a used 6” (8” if you are lucky) jointer or build a planer sled to flatten faces to compliment your straight line jig. I hesitate to suggest hand planes because $300 won’t buy you a set of ready to go hand planes with the stuff you need to keep them sharp. Sure you could buy a bunch of used planes that need tuning but unless you know what a good plane feels like or you can get some help from someone local who does you will be asking for a frustrating period of trying to figure it out on your own.

View rwe2156's profile


2116 posts in 901 days

#7 posted 11-30-2015 07:02 PM

What Bondo said ^ and at the same time some sharpening supplies and skills.

If you get into ww’ing that requires it, of course a jointer is nice, hand planes can do the same thing (which brings up the question $2-300 in planes to to the job of a jointer, whether you have time to mess around flattening boards by hand, etc.).

I think at some point you should concentrate on building hand tool skills, because even with machinery, you are going to need them. The best machine will not make you a talented ww’er, only practice will do that.

I would start by getting some projects in mind that will involve higher levels of ww’ing and getting skills developed such as lay out, marking, making and fitting joints and use inexpensive wood. Eventually you will progress. Be willing to just take a piece of scrap, practice some joints like mortise/tenon and dovetails. In the beginning it might be horrendous. Just whack off the ends and try again (here again, you need some decent chisels and a saw). There’s much more satisfaction in this than machining them with a router jig.

As far as the planer, I don’t worry about what the board looks like. A planer is a thicknessing machine, not a surfacer. My philosophy is plane it close then use a smooth plane to surface the board. Yes, you can sand your head off and spew dust all over the place that’s your choice. But I submit you will never duplicate the surface with sanding. Most I do is a little hand sanding with 400 grit.

-- Everything is a prototype thats why its one of a kind!!

View distrbd's profile


2220 posts in 1867 days

#8 posted 11-30-2015 07:06 PM

Buy a used but not abused jointer, generally speaking you can do without any of the tools that you already have,you’ll find a way around not having a table saw,a jointer, a planer ,circular saw etc but since you already have most of the basic WW tools, buy what you don’t have, you’ll be surprised how often you’ll use it.

-- Ken from Ontario, Canada

View ErnestP's profile


14 posts in 332 days

#9 posted 12-01-2015 01:32 AM

Probably the best investment might be to find and join a local club
and/or take a few courses at the votech.
Even the quicky courses at the local woodcraft can help.
Focus on learning tool setup, cause if it’s not setup right, it won’t do the job right.

I’m sure somebody will have a comment on this advice.
However, I’ve been doing this for several decades and I can still count to 10.
If you don’t have someone giving you some hands-on tutoring, to learn safe operation,
do NOT buy a joiner. It is a tool of convenience, not an essential must-have.
It is not a forgiving tool, and takes some effort to get the hang of.
Some skills should only be acquired with supervision, not trial and error.
From your post, I don’t think one would give you the best ‘bang for your buck’.

Building an extension table for your table saw, would be a worth-while investment.
But, your table saw is a job site tool and is only meant to rip boards, not sheet goods.
The top and fence are too small to easily enable precision case work.

To straighten material, make a track for a skil saw out of 1/8” hardboard.
Use that combo to get a straight edge and then take it to the table saw or chop saw.

P.S. don’t buy ‘entry level’ tools. Wait and save, till you can afford quality.
It’s also cheaper than getting frustrated/injured with an inadequate tool,
you’ll want/have to replace later, with what you should have bought.
With tools, you DO get what you pay for. I’m not saying, be a chump.
But Harbor Freight, etc. is not where you go for quality, tight tolerances or longevity.

Hope some of this helps, Ern

View sawdust703's profile


270 posts in 840 days

#10 posted 12-01-2015 03:15 AM

Sounds like you have some decisions to make, my friend. You seem to be mighty worried about how run down & junky the tools are that you presently own. And, you did not mention one single hand tool in your possession. You can easily build an arsenal of tools to fit your projects, but starting at the top & working down ain’t really the way to go about it, Hoss. With the tools you already have, & assuming you own hand tools as well, you have the ability to do most anything you want to do, within the capabilities of your tools. Its been mentioned to let your projects dictate your necessities. Good advice! With no more work space than you’ve pointed out that you have, make jigs to get better use out of your present equipment. Invest in a couple hand planes, & learn to use them efficiently. Also, start investing in clamps, if you haven’t already. Learn to work with what you have, save your money until you can afford to get the tool(s) you need. And buy the best you can afford at the time. Keep working at it a little at a time, before ya know it, you’ll have all the tools ya need! Enjoy the day!

-- Sawdust703

View dbockel2's profile


107 posts in 371 days

#11 posted 12-01-2015 03:46 AM

Thanks. I guess I should add that I do own a hand plane but don’t really use it much. I guess that showcases a novice’s ignorance…

View muleskinner's profile (online now)


868 posts in 1857 days

#12 posted 12-01-2015 04:04 AM

Sounds like you’ve got most of the basics covered.

Start a project. When you get to a point where you think to yourself “damn, I wish I had a xxxxxxx.” Then that’s the tool you should get next.

-- Visualize whirled peas

View GregTP's profile


49 posts in 363 days

#13 posted 12-01-2015 04:10 AM

ErnestP’s advice is solid. Im not that far removed from being new to woodworking on a tight budget and I have already experienced much of what he is talking about (i.e. replacing tools I should have waited to buy).

Dont buy cheap tools IF the end goal is to be able to expand your woodworking. You wont get good results out of them and in the end you wont be able to do any more than you could have before you spent the money. That being said, there ARE tools you can buy cheap (or not upgrade) because they dont need to be precise. Your miter saw and circular saw for example, keep the ones you have and build some jigs for your table saw. A 90 and 45 degree cross cut sled can make your miter saw almost obsolete. For the rare 22.5 degree angle, make a simple miter box and buy a decent protractor. Im sure lots of ppl will disagree, but I dont use my miter saw for anything but chopping down oversized lumber before I mill it. It was the first expensive tool I bought for my shop, and now it gets used the least.

I am a proponent of buying a jointer, assuming you are going to be working with sawmill lumber. If you are buying S4S stock from the home improvement store, its probably flat enough that you dont need to joint it. Alternatively, find a decent jointer plane (No. 7). In the last few months I picked up a Jet 6” jointer and an old stanley (bailey) No 7 and I have used the heck out of both (although the No 7 is far more rewarding).

-- From exercise machine warning label: "Step ladders can cause injury and even death; the ROM machine is more dangerous than a stepladder"

View oldnovice's profile


5651 posts in 2788 days

#14 posted 12-01-2015 05:43 AM

How about a Benchdog cast iron wing router table extension?
It can pass as a jointer besides being a router table!

If that is out of the question, then a very good hand plane!
There is nothing that compares to thin shavings coming off with a plane!

-- "I never met a board I didn't like!"

View OSU55's profile


1039 posts in 1410 days

#15 posted 12-01-2015 01:17 PM

Invest in education. While clubs and the internet are great sources, become proficient in self study/research. A basic woodworking text book is a great place to start. I have a 1966 edition of Technical Woodworking, by Groneman & Glazer, McGraw-Hill Pub, that is perfect for the novice – my son used the book in high school 5 years ago. While old, it covers all the tools and setup, safety, etc with no pretense to sell you anything. Paul Sellers is my favorite current “expert” for hand tools and joinery – he has all kinds of blogs and videos and isn’t a rolling commercial. As you progress into indoor furniture type projects (cabinets, tables, etc) finishing is 1/2 the project. Start now making a time investment there. My favorite sources are Great Wood Finishes by Jeff Jewitt and Understanding Wood Finishing by Bob Flexner.

Often wood will not come off the table saw straight due to stresses relieved when cutting. A router table, jointer, or jointer hand plane can all be used to straighten the edge – I prefer hand planes. A thickness planer sled is an excellent substitute for a jointer for flattening one face. Clamping cauls are the way to go for panel, or cutting board glue ups – make your own from 2×4’s. Here is my blog on hand planes if you’re at all interested.

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