HI to all
I need some help as to what tools i should buy first as i am in the
process of setting up a workshop.
I have all the basics eg, Screwdrivers, squares, tapes, handsaws. i
will be making general items such as furniture and some home renovation
skirting and door surrounds . I will also be replacing a flat roof on
my garage this spring so if there is any specialised tools needed there
Any help is much appreciated so thanks in advance
To add to Bob's comment, buy the best table saw you can AND spend the time
to set it up correctly. Very few tools, regardless of price come out the
box or crate ready to run accurately. Most need minor set adjustments.
If you really want to build furniture (with casework, drawers and doors) and
do any cabinet work, I concur wholeheartedly.
A circle saw, which is handy for a lot of jobs, will not last long for any
serious furniture projects where panels and casework is involved, and/or for
most cabinet making endeavors.
Because serious and successful panel, case, and cabinet work ultimately
require painstaking attention to "squareness", a goal much easier and less
time consuming to achieve by batch cutting project parts from a good cut
list with the best table saw/fence combination you can afford.
Also, a "carpenter" has a different set of skill and tool requirements than
a furniture/cabinet maker, each of which also require different tools and
The advice about deciding what the preponderance of your work will be is,
indeed, the "key" to deciding what to buy, and when, but a good table saw in
the 21st century is pretty much a key, and very handy, player in most of
"Let the can (of worms) be opened!"
I'm certain you'll get a myriad of answers back on this one. The
basics: "only buy the tools you need as the project requires" + "buy
the very best you can afford or skip it". While both maxims are
entirely true, part 2 (buy the best) is easy where as the first part is
really what you're asking about and not easy to answer. A set up that
works for one woodworker may not work as well for another. You mention
that you'll be building furniture and doing home improvements. I think
you need to consider two approaches and a couple of practical issues.
As for approaches, you have to consider how mobile you need your tools
to be. If you need tools that can do the work outside of the shop then
you're in the market for cordless and portables (i.e. circular saws,
cordless drills, jig saws, etc.). If you will be doing most of your
work in one spot and have room to dedicate for such work (a shop) you
can get more accuracy and efficiency from stationary tools (Table saw,
band saw, drill press, stationary work bench, etc.). A dedicated
stationary set up will be much more expensive and can eat up space
pretty quickly. Some woodworkers will suggest having all the tools
under the sun in case you have both tasks at hand. As soon as you mix
home improvement with furniture making you're bound to get that
suggestion as furniture making often requires more accuracy than
powered hand tools can deliver. However, another consideration before
you make a leap is what kind of wood you intend to work with and how
large your furniture pieces will be. Plywood, 4S Pine from Lowes and
8/4 rough maple are all very different ballgames that require different
approaches and tools. Large furniture always requires larger/longer
tools than small furniture, unless you're working with plywood which
may require a panel saw system or circular saw with a couple of horses
and a guide.
OK, now that that's out of the air (and I had a chance to say it first
before someone wise-cracked you, which I'm sure someone is itching to
do), I'll tell you what I'd do considering the information you've
My guess is you're not a full-time carpenter running a production shop
that also does on-site custom work. I'd guess you're a home owner who
does the occassional project (1-2/month max) in your spare time or on
weekends. I guess you probably need a little flexibility from your
tools and are not yet fully comfortable with the idea of trading your
parking space with a table saw. I would also guess that you probably
get your wood pre-finished from a home improvement center. If I'm off
you have to bear with me as I haven't completed my Vic Vickeys 3 months
to mindreading course I got on the internet. :-)
Under these circumstances I would start with no less than these three
1. A planer. Even though home centers sell the wood s4s, you still
need to get it flat and as close to 90 deg on all corners to start
with. Many will say get a jointer first to help with this, but you can
get the first edge of a board flat through so many other means without
spending the money on a jointer and you'd need a big jointer to start
with that I say get the jointer when you find you can't live without
one. A planer, on the other hand, is essential.
2. A decent hand drill or a drill press. A drill press is going to
give you the ability to drill near perfect perpendicular holes in wood
that will give you the ability to use simple dowls for joinery. It can
also drill out your mortises for more complex joinery. It can be used
for sanding (drum sander) and for making a wide variety of jigs and it
takes up hardly any space as well. It's only limitation is that it is
not portable. I think it is essential for furniture making. I think a
portable drill is your other necessity. Both shouldn't cost much and
are so useful I can't imagine being without them. As for drill
presses, there are several models but I strongly suggest a freestanding
model. It can handle large and small pieces, takes up hardly any
space, is more accurate than the smaller models and doesn't cost much
in comparison to other tools.
3. A power saw. Here's where you have to define what kind of woodwork
you do. Some argue a bandsaw is the first saw you should own, some
argue a table saw. There are good supporting arguements on both side
but they tend to center on the type and size of wood being worked on,
along with the environment (production vs. hobby). I have both because
I have the room and haven't gotten to the point of mortgaging my house.
If I had to do everything over and if I were in your shoes I would
start with THE BEST circular saw I could find, buy a couple of decent
guides and build a couple of portable (but solid) saw horses. With the
right set up you can rip, cross cut and bevel cut quickly and
accurately. A good circular saw isn't going to cost you anywhere near
what you'd pay for a reasonable table saw or band saw (and if you don't
want to be frustrated with your work you need a reasonable table
So, there you have it. If I were to venture toward a fourth 'must
have' tool I'd say a decent router; Porter Cable, Bosh or Milwaukee.
Other than these I'd say buy a tap set (you'd be surprised how often
manufacturers don't fully tap out their screw holes), a decent hex
wrench set, a decent socket set, a good set of carpenter's rulers (Lee
Valley has a set that's a steal), a good set of ear plugs and a good
face shield or goggles and a good shop vac. I reach for all of these
items much more than I ever imagined I might when I first got serious
One last consideration is to keep your reciepts and be mindful of the
tool return grace period. If a tool is not what you expect or looks
like it's going to start collecting dust you need to return it
immediately without a second thought. There is nothing worse than
having a garage full of tools that either don't work as promised or
never met your needs. I'm not saying you beat up tools for 30 day
projects and take them back, but you need to be able to quickly assess
whether what you've bought is going to provide you years of use or
years of headaches/neglect. Many people buy tools on a whim. I've
done that myself. Now I give every tool a day or two before I open it
to be sure that I really wanted it. If I still need the tool within
that time frame then there's good cause to open. If I haven't opened
it odds are I bought it on a whim and probably have little regular use
for it. I know that sounds silly- so sue me.
If you want more specific advice I think you'll have to decide (and
post) what kinds of wood you intend to work with, what size projects
you intend to build and how often you intend to wood work. Everyone
here has their own opinion, much of which they've found to work best
for themselves. Sometimes you find that what works best for one (or
most, even) is the worse solution you could imagine for your situation-
and vice versa. Sometimes woodworkers use techniques simply because
they "feel right" and get outstanding results, where as other
woodworkers would find such a set up insane. The only way to really
know what works is to try it out. Hopefully this post has been
helpful. Best of Luck!
Nothing. Keep your money in your pocket, you can always spend it later.
Think what you're going to do, and what you'll need to do it with.
Start with those tools.
The idea that "I need a fully equipped workshop NOW" just doesn't work.
For one thing you don't need any workshop until you have projects, and
the projects can drive what tools you need. You will also never have a
"fully equipped" workshop, because there's always something extra you
realise you want. Most importantly, this is a good way to be suckered
into buying fads and gadgets you regret afterwards.
Don't buy anything.
Buy stuff you need, when you really can't manage without.
Buy really good stuff, sacrificing quantiy for quality as necessary
(this is cheaper long term).
Don't buy gadgets or newly invented tools. If Sheraton didn't have one
and Maloof hasn't got one, then you really can manage without one. Even
if Norm has two.
Buy shelving and storage for all these tools you're going to have. Make
sure it's safe and dry too.
Buy lots of finishing products. Get a roll of _each_ abrasive grit (40
to 300, then the fine wet & drys too). Have a bottle on hand of
finishing oil, danish oil, button shellac, garnet shellac, blonde
shellac, wiping poly etc. Also the various wax polishes and a range of
brushes, cloths etc. These things are all cheap and mostly storeable.
Having _all_ of them on hand immediately makes working a lot quicker
and more efficient.
Lots of catalogues. These days Axminster, Screwfix and Lee Valley can
ship anything to you in a couple of days. Don't spend your own money
today when you can rely on their stock keeping instead.
Books are something I probably over-spend on. But a half-dozen of the
classics are a good starting point (Tage Frid, Flexner on finishing,
Joyce's Encyclopedia, a good worked projects book on a style that you
like, maybe Hoadney's "Understanding Wood" pretty soonish too)
Hand tools are usually a good buy, as are measuring / layout tools and
tools for maintaining other tools. This will then open up the world of
old S/H tools from eBay, which is how you can get better hand tools for
less money and an evening or two's restoration.
Avoid hand power tools like the plague. They eat up your budget,
they're rarely as much use as advertised and most of them are
appallingly badly made (Black & Decker, I mean you). A cordless drill
is reasonable, so is a decent, cheap random orbital sander (Bosch
PEX400). Anything else is probably excessive, until you really know you
need one. A biscuit jointer should follow you home on the first day you
buy plywood or MDF, but it'll look a bit silly if all you do so far is
Avoid fixed machines until you know what you need and what you're
buying. A table saw is the heart of the workshop and worth getting
early on, but either don't spend much (Ryobi 3000) or make sure it's a
damn good one. A thickness planer will pay for itself quickly if
you're going to buy cabinetry hardwood as sawn boards rather than
planed. Bandsaws are great too, but you'll kick yourself if you buy
something too small early on and outgrow it rapidly.
Andy, Keith has said that he wants to do furniture and some smaller
items. He'll need a table saw to do furniture.
> Books are something I probably over-spend on. But a half-dozen of the
As part of the learning process, books are excellent. Let's add the net,
(especially here), magazines and Norm--even if he has two of everything,
he still teaches good assembly technique.
Avoid all but the two mentioned, until you have a specific need for.
Avoid them until you are educated enough to make an informed purchase.
This can be an expensive hobby to begin, so take your time. The good
side is that even if you buy the wrong tool, you can hope to resell it
for 60-80% of new. Education isn't cheap either.
Other old posts of mine on tool buying
Do your own searching with groups.google too. This topic pops up fairly
In contrast to the advice "Buy the best table saw you can afford" ...
When the woodworking bug bit me I wasn't sure if it was fatal <g> and I
didn't want to spend a lot of money on a table saw. I spent about $100 IIRC
to get something like this.
(Amazon.com product link shortened)
It was great! I built a lot of functional but filled-with-beginner-mistakes
projects. For example my router table has 1" dados for a 3/4" shelf.
Whoops! Kaint blame that one on the tools!
Another benefit is my Sears (don't ask) shop vac did a good job of dust
collection when connected to the world's ugliest frustrum I built under the
bench saw. (The bench saw, with the motor in the housing, has few entries
for air and a shop vac can easily get most of the dust. A contractor saw,
with its open back, either needs a big dust collector or extensive
modifications to successfully use a shop vac.)
After about a year of dedicated weekend sawdust creation I was better than
the saw and I wanted something better for the now obviously fatal attraction
to the hobby. There were things I wanted to do that the bench saw simply
wasn't up to. Finally, its shortcomings were worse than my mistakes. ;-)
I bought the bottom-of-the-line Grizzly contractor saw but upgraded from the
sheet metal wings to cast iron since one of the two wings couldn't be
installed flat. (Grizzly tech support was great on the whole experience.
We even split the shipping costs.)
Man Oh Man! did I love the Grizz! Some of the first cuts I made were
paper-thin slices off the end of a construction-grade 2x4". No lie, you
could almost read through those Georgia Southern Pine slices. No way the
direct-drive bench saw could do anything like that! It could cut as thin
but the vibrations from the motor would break off pieces. I'm kinda
embarassed about it now but I put a half-dozen slices in an envelope with a
note "These were all in one piece when put in the envelope. My new table
saw is great!" and mailed them to my folks. Hell, it had to have been 30,
35 years since anything of mine went on their fridge. ;-)
I sold the bench saw to a neighbor for about half what I paid for it. I
wish I had had space for it because, believe it or not, there are *still*
some cuts I would make on it instead of the Griz or any other table saw.
I'm 6'3", tall enough to do many cuts safely *beside* the bench saw. (No my
wrists aren't ever over the blade. I'm not that stupid. ;-) I'd stand on
the safe side of the saw.) With "real" table saws you're always behind the
saw, possibly in range of kickbacks, broken carbide blade tips, etc. With
my bench saw I was able to do a large amount of cutting beside the saw, 100%
out of the way of anything going wrong.
In fact the last thing I built (just a couple nights ago) I would have done
on the bench saw instead of the Griz if I still had the bench saw. It was a
simple shelf to fit in a bookcase to double the # of paperbacks that fit on
the shelf. I set the width by sliding a Nero Wolfe paperback into the
upraised blade with the fence, lifting out Stout tome, then making it a
smidge or two narrower. Clearly not a high-precision measurement. ;-) I
ripped the MDF shelf to width. But I'd rather have been standing beside the
saw instead of behind it, even with all my featherboards and push sticks.
If I ever hit the lotto and build my 5,000 sq. ft. shop ;-) I'm going to
have a high-quality bench saw in there somewhere. It's a useful tool I'd
I guess my point is, if finances are an issue, even a good low-end tool can
help one build useful things.
Think first about a workbench. You can make a very servicable one from
construction grade lumber (softwood two by stock) Then think about a
vise or even two vises. Ideally you want a mount-under-the-benchtop
woodworking vise AND a bolt-to-the-top-of-the-bench mechanic's vise. A
bench wants to be heavy and rigid so it doesn't wiggle as you plane and
saw stuff on it. Think about where the bench goes so that you can mount
long pieces in the vise[s] without hitting the walls, lally columns,
etc. I use my bench more than anything else in the shop.
Your most used stationary power tool will be a saw. Most folk go for
a table saw. Personally, I prefer a radial arm saw because it works
just fine backed up against a wall and only needs clearance in one
direction, whereas a table saw wants clearance all around it. Either
type of saw wants to made from cast iron rather than sheet metal
stampings. Cast iron holds its shape and won't bend under load,
resulting in straighter and squarer cuts. Ten inch is a nice size for
the home shop.
After the saw, I use the drill press a lot. Mostly drilling plain
old holes. The drill press gets the holes straight up and down and in
the right place with greater ease than a handheld power drill. I have
not yet acquired the various accessories for shaping, sanding, and
I have yet to acquire a planer, a jointer, a lathe, or a bandsaw,
although one of these days....
I use a skil saw for cutting up 4*8 sheet goods. With a straight
edge clamped to the stock, some saw horses, and a good plywood blade, it
does a good job on stuff too big to get thru the radial arm saw.
I would buy my tools one at a time as the project needs them.
Otherwise you can wind up with a shop full of nice stuff that doesn't
get used much.
You didn't say where you were located. Around here (E. Central
Illinois) a flat roof is definitely not a do it yourself project.
If it doesn't seal perfectly, or isn't laid properly you will
In that case, either consider moving or at least have yourself declared
an "artist" to get the tax dodge. Here in England I'm used to getting
ripped off on the imported prices of US tools but when I lived in
Ireland it was even much worse -- and as for the cost of timber!
It's also not a climate that's conducive to successful use of a flat
You asked your question at just the right time -given the
length and depth of Chrisgiraffe and Andy Dingley's responses
and Mark's counter point for "buy the best you can afford".
Nice to read responses which are longer than a line or two.
I started out to do ply carcase and face frame cabinets.
The Festool Plunge Saw, Guide and Plunge Router, along with
a miter saw would probably done most of what is needed,
along with a work/assembly bench of 2x4s, 4x4s and layers
of 3/4" ply. Add a Chiwanese vise, some dogholes and a
couple of handsful of clamps and go to it.
Alas, I called and asked for Laguna Tools video on the
Robland X-31 combination machine. $6K turned out to
be just the down payment on my woodworking addiction,
the subsequent monthly installments often equal my
BEWARE! This way lies madness - and a close to empty
checking account. You are on Lee Valley and Lie Nielsen's
mailing list yet?
Just do it! You'll find the money you'll need - somewhere.
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