Tools, where to start?

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Forum topic by Puff posted 01-23-2011 12:38 AM 2622 views 0 times favorited 32 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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16 posts in 2867 days

01-23-2011 12:38 AM

As a beginning woodworker, what power tools should I get, and in what order?

I’ve been planning to buy one or two major tools, but I may be able to afford to buy several. I’m trying to find the right balance between buying a lot of stuff at once, and buying things I’ll just end up wanting to upgrade later.

I have the very basics, some handtools, a hand drill and a circular saw. I’ve been generally advised that my next few purchases should include a cordless drill, an orbital sander, and either a mitre saw or a saw table.

Mainly what I foresee working on: furniture, home renovation, and leatherwork. The home renovation and leatherwork I’ll leave aside for now, because I’ll probably hire an experienced contractor for the more serious renovation things (e.g. dormers for the attic) and the rest, along with the leather-related projects, probably qualify as furniture.

-- "Always cut towards a major artery... that way you'll be careful."

32 replies so far

View Lee Barker's profile

Lee Barker

2170 posts in 2849 days

#1 posted 01-23-2011 01:05 AM

A tablesaw allows you to make smaller boards out of big ones, when you need them.

A jointer allows you to make larger boards out of smaller, when you need them.

A chopsaw allows you to cut miters so your boards can go around corners.

Plan on buying four clamps a month until we tell you to stop.

Once you have four clamps, you can build all the stuff you need for your workshop.



-- " his brain, which is as dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage, he hath strange places cramm'd with observation, the which he vents in mangled forms." --Shakespeare, "As You Like It"

View Puff's profile


16 posts in 2867 days

#2 posted 01-23-2011 01:38 AM

Thanks. I’m beginning to get that feeling about clamps, yeah :-).

I have been doing a bit of reading and I have a general sense of what the major tools are. I’m asking more about prioritizing.

Obviously, if I’m planning to do, for example, mostly mortise & tenon construction, it starts to make sense to consider buying a mortiser. But that’s a rather specialized tool. For more generalized tools I’ve seen people advise that a table saw is the main first big tool, and others say a mitre saw (including popular woodworking’s beginner tutorial, “I can do that”: ). I’m trying to find the balance between my particular woodworking tendencies and the general usefulness of the tool…

Getting back to clamps, that’s definitely something I need to learn more about: I’m getting an inkling that there are a plethora of odd little tools (like clamps) that are essential but not often discussed, probably mostly in the $20-$30 range (though I’m sure they add up quickly). What else fits in this category? Measuring tools obviously (tape, square, speed square), clamps and hold-downs and bench vise, what else?

-- "Always cut towards a major artery... that way you'll be careful."

View Puff's profile


16 posts in 2867 days

#3 posted 01-23-2011 01:43 AM

While I realize you can spend as much money as you want to on tools, what would be a “reasonable” amount to expect to ultimately spend on tools? $2500 all in? $5000?

-- "Always cut towards a major artery... that way you'll be careful."

View Camper's profile


232 posts in 2855 days

#4 posted 01-23-2011 03:12 AM

I went a few years with a router set (fixed and plunge base), a table saw (preferably a contractor saw) and a sander (finish or ROS), especially if you are planning to buy already dimensioned wood.

A drill press is also an excellent addition. It may not seem critical but comes in handy when you want to drill straight holes, mortises and even sanding. A benchtop is sufficient for hobby purposes IMHO.

Planer and jointer would allow you to clean&dimension rough wood but if you are buying wood that’s already dimensioned then these are not that critical.

I am still a beginner and have eventually acquired all of the above and a few others. If I were to do it all over, I would still go table saw, router, sander and drill press to start out and then buy more tools as needed or as you see them at a good price.

I have been lucky buying decent quality used tools at a fraction of the cost. Most of these appear on CL pretty frequently…

Oh a dust collector, while not critical, is a great addition as well.

My 2 cents…

-- Tampa-FL

View Brian024's profile


358 posts in 3399 days

#5 posted 01-23-2011 03:25 AM

Power Tools: Table Saw, Router(Combo kit), Miter Saw, Hand Drill, and Sander.

Hand Tools: Small Fine Tooth Handsaw, Chisels, and Hand Plane.

Measuring, squares, and ofcourse don’t forget the CLAMPS.

My preferred method for making mortises was a router, I bought a mortiser but the only reason was to make things go faster, which if you are not worried about speed, save and but something else, maybe a bandsaw.

View live4ever's profile


983 posts in 3009 days

#6 posted 01-23-2011 04:14 AM

Puff – if you’re looking at it from the point of view of “how much do I need to spend to get a pretty good functional shop?”, yeah, I’d say somewhere between $2500 and $5000 will do that for you, depending on how much of your tools you buy used and whether or you have a tendency to over or underbuy.

The thing about woodworking that you probably already know is that there are multiple ways to accomplish certain basic tasks (ripping, crosscutting, dimensioning, etc.). It becomes a question of

“CAN I do that [task] at all?” vs.
“Do I have an EASY and SAFE way of doing that [task]?” vs.
“Do I have the easiEST/fastEST/safEST/highEST quality way of doing that [task]?”

Your comfort level amongst those feelings kinda dictates your shop budget. If you said that you just want to be ABLE to do all the major woodworking tasks, it changes the tool list to the bare minimum. My favorite example for this has to do with jointing:

Most woodworkers eventually choose to face joint a board with a jointer if they can afford the cost and space of having one. That’s the easiest/fastest/highest quality way of doing it. But you can also face-joint by hand with a large well-tuned plane, by router with a large sled jig, by planer with a planer sled. To some, those options are perfectly doable and done regularly. To others, they’re too much trouble compared to just obtaining a jointer.

For some people, it works out better to buy tools as their projects require them and build up the shop slowly.

For others, that approach doesn’t work and they need to plan and equip a full shop from the get-go.

Both approaches are reasonable and have their merits. Do you know which better describes you?

All that being said, here’s just one example of a nicely-equipped shop with “good” (not el cheapo and not the nicest/largest equipment) tools, bought as a mix of used and new. Such a shop would allow you to do most woodworking projects fairly easily. It’s just an example to give you an idea in answer to your cost question above, but as you pointed out, the cost could be significantly lower or higher. You don’t absolutely NEED any one of these tools, but they’re the tools that are most typically employed for different tasks.

Cabinet tablesaw or capable hybrid $600-1200 Router + table $150-250 6” Jointer $250-450 13” lunchbox planer $250-450 14” bandsaw $400-700 12” benchtop or 15” floor dill press $150-350 Miter saw $100-200 Random orbit sander $40-100 Jigsaw $50-100
clamps, assorted handtools, measuring/marking basics $500

It’s hard to say much more than that without knowing your work-style and the kind of stuff you like or plan to make. The order of acquisition of the major woodworking tools is in many ways, very personal. I think 90% of people would tell you your first major tool should be a tablesaw. But Gary Rogowski wrote an interesting article in FWW a few years back on why the tablesaw wouldn’t even be in his first 5 tools to get!

-- Optimists are usually disappointed. Pessimists are either right or pleasantly surprised. I tend to be a disappointed pessimist.

View Scott10's profile


28 posts in 3040 days

#7 posted 01-23-2011 04:36 AM

CharlieL is correct in my opinion but there really isn’t a right way or wrong way. If I had the money at the time I would have bought all the tools and equipped the shop from day one. Unfortunately it didn’t work like that for me. Get what you need when you need it. You’ll know when you can’t get by without it.

I started my woodworking out of necessity. We put a 1700 sf addition on our 1000 sf house and our contractor went out of business with 2/3 of the job done. We had a 12×15 walk in closet put in and had to get estimates on the wood shelving. Our BEST estimate was $9,000 and that was laminated mdf with wood face frame installed.

I bought a Craftsman 10” sliding comp miter saw, a ridgid 5” random orbit sander and a Makita Lxt 18v combo kit (drill, impact driver,sawzall). I had a circular saw and router already. I built the entire built-in for the closet out of cabinet grade maple ply. Ripped with circular saw and guide, dadoes with router and guide. Glue and screws, hidden or plugged. Now, how to make that plywood edge look like real wood? I found some unfinished hard maple flooring for $1/bf and decided to use that to build my face frames. Of course, i needed to rip off the tongue and groove and cut to width, so I went back to the depot and bought a ridgid ts3650 table saw. While there i bought a Kreg Jig to make the facce frames. All spent, about $1000 in tools, $2k in materials and i had a closet built better than any i could have had put in by someone else.

Of course, the story doesnt end here. I became addicted to woodworking, and my family and friends became addicted to my woodworking. All of a suddent they all needed something built. The tools had to be put somewhere (16×16 heated shop) filled it with more tools: 15”planer, 8” jointer, drill press, clamps, big bench, dust collector, ceiling air cleaner, clamps, jigs, , several more routers, router table, more clamps, lotsa rough cut lumber…......... I think i’m about 5k behind at this point, but whos counting.

-- Scott

View juniorjock's profile


1930 posts in 3764 days

#8 posted 01-23-2011 04:39 AM

Chuck has a good point… and that’s kinda what I did. There’s no need to buy a machine that’s going to sit and gather dust for a year or more (or if you ever need it). Buy what you need, when you need it…. when you can. Good luck.
- SY

- aka JJ

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3073 days

#9 posted 01-23-2011 04:40 AM

I suggest that you be guided by the work that you want to do. Start with a basic project that you would like to do and ask yourself, “what tools do I really need for this project that I don’t already have?” Buy those tools and get started. Continue doing that slowly. Project 2 might be done with the tools you already have. Project 3 might require you to buy another tool. Buy each tool carefully. Buy a tool that will serve you for the long term and don’t go crazy with gimmicks. Look for good used tools.

Some woodworkers are really tool collectors that do woodworking to justify their tool purchases. Better woodworkers are focused on the work they want to do and they buy tools (begrudgingly) when they need them.

By the way – - From the very beginning, incorporate the use of hand tools. Many good woodworkers use both power tools and hand tools. There is a place for each. It’s not one or the other.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View Gofor's profile


470 posts in 3786 days

#10 posted 01-23-2011 05:09 AM

Starting out:

For furniture work, a decent table saw (belt driven contractor saw, cabinet saw, or hybrid), is the most versatile main investment tool you will want. (talking the $600+ new retail range. Nothing wrong with buying old good iron). Add an aftermarket miter gauge (Osborne EB-3, Incra, etc…another $100+) and a decent dado set (another $100), and you can do most of the tasks after you make the numerous jigs. This is one area you will regret going cheap on. A table-top or direct drive saw with a stamped metal or aluminum cast top will not do what you want, and the portable “contractor” saws will leave you wanting more table size, more accuracy and more stability. BTDT as have many before me. If you buy a decent saw, use it well, take care of it, and decide you don’t want it or want to upgrade, you can resell it easily for 60+ cents on the dollar. A cheap one is worth maybe a dime on a dollar if you can find a sucker to buy it.

Next build a decent solid work bench with at least one side vise. Doesn’t have to be fancy, just flat and sturdy.

After that, a router combo will be wanted, a sander will be needed, and maybe a thickness planer. Cordless tools used for furniture type work usually are smaller/lighter (12v is a good size).

I used my miter saw quite a bit on furniture projects for several years before I bought an accurate miter gauge. I now use it only for construction type work. Considering a good miter saw is $400+, and a good miter gauge around $100, you do the math. You can always build a cross-cut sled for the table saw and save that $100 also.

For the leather work, a good bench will also be needed. However, you may want to look at some variations in design. It will probably be smaller (more like a table) but still have some clamping features to allow stretching and a solid surface for working the designs. A seat with a top surface that can be tilted, raised/lowered and rotated is a plus. Probably best to look a designs and make your own.

For home repair/expansion work, a good miter saw on a good solid portable base is worth its weight in gold. The table saw would be low on the priority for most of this. With a miter saw and a good cutting guide (home made) for your circular saw, you can do most needed work. That is also when you will really appreciate the cordless drill/driver (12v minimum, but 18 will be better for larger projects). In this case, one of the combo kits that include a sawzall or a panel saw and an impact driver would be good choice.

Despite your post asking for power tool recommendations, I will also add a couple hand tools you will find very valuable: a good block plane with adjustable mouth; a combination square; a try square; a back saw; a good set of bench chisels, and a set of brad point drill bits. Forstner bits, like router bits, are best bought as you need them, and go with decent quality (Bosch, Freud, USA-made Craftsman, etc). Make or buy a good 27 oz wooden mallet to use with the chisels. Don’t break the bank on these starting out altho the more accurate the squares are the happier you will be. Learn how to sharpen the chisels and plane blades, and buy better quality as you see what you end up using the most.



-- Go

View Orion Woods's profile

Orion Woods

67 posts in 2768 days

#11 posted 01-23-2011 08:52 AM

I agree with the tablesaw, router (plunge/fixed package), drill/driver, random orbit sander although the router and tablesaw could switch spots. You can do a lot with a router, and I mean a LOT! You can do mortise and tenon joints for instance with a couple easy shop made jigs.

Good luck!

-- Brian

View knotscott's profile


8014 posts in 3374 days

#12 posted 01-23-2011 02:49 PM

Desire is the most important component. You’ll find a way to get things done from there.

There’s really no right or wrong in which tools you get first or how you choose to do things, but most shops feature a good table saw. Add a router, planer, jigsaw, sander, and a work surface to the mix, and you’ll have some good capabilities. A jointer, DC, DP, and BS are all worthwhile too. It all depends on what you’ll be building next and how you choose to accomplish the steps.

-- Happiness is like wetting your pants...everyone can see it, but only you can feel the warmth....

View iamwelty's profile


259 posts in 3114 days

#13 posted 01-23-2011 02:55 PM

Get the tool you need when you need it or if you see a “too good to be true” deal drop in your lap…. It’s God’s way of saying that you need that tool….

-- There is a fine line between eroticism and nausea...

View helluvawreck's profile


31082 posts in 2865 days

#14 posted 01-23-2011 03:12 PM

As far as stationary power tools I think it good to have a table saw, drill press, jointer, band saw, and miter saw. I would also add a lathe because some of your work will invariably involve turnings. As for power tools, I would have a plunge router, a laminate trimmer, a 3/8”-1/2” power drill, a battery powered drill, a biscuit joiner, a saber saw, an orbital sander, a small air compressor, 2 or 3 staple and nail guns, and a router table.

However, in no way would I neglect the hand tools. IMHO, the hand tools come first. You should have a basic set of good quality hand tools.

With all of this you can build most anything.

At some point you might want a planer for convenience.

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View SnowyRiver's profile


51457 posts in 3479 days

#15 posted 01-23-2011 05:33 PM

It would all depend on what type of work you like to do. I always feel that in most cases the table saw is the main component of the shop and the rest should be designed around it. If you do get the table saw, get a good one…the best you can afford, even if it means buying a top line used one. You wont regret it.

-- Wayne - Plymouth MN

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