Top 40 Tools Every Woodworker Should Have
#31: The Jig and Dado
Your table saw is much more versatile if you have the full range of dados and jigs to use with it. Jigs were mentioned earlier in this list, and their use for tenons, tapering, panel- cutting, and many other uses. A stacked dado is two blades with a set of chippers in between. This is used for cutting grooves, or removing large parts of stock. The saw blades make the side of the groove straight while the chipper removes the large part of the material between the saw blades. You can adjust the width of the chippers, to get bigger cuts. You can also use a wobble blade for this, but it – wobbles – and vibrates your table saw, and won’t cut a flat edge.
#32: The Compound Miter Saw
You already have a tenon saw with a miter box, but if you’re going to get into crown molding and other such projects, you’ll need a compound miter saw. You may have used your circular saw for those beveled cuts and miters. However, nothing beats the precision of a good compound miter saw for those combination cuts.
A miter saw can be set to bevel up to 45 degrees, and will cut at a 60 degree angle in both directions. The miter gauge on your saw should be easy to read and clearly marked. There should be hard stops at each major point, such as 0, 15, 22.5, 30, and 45. These degrees should be stopped on both sides. Not only that, you should be able to lock the saw at any angle you wish.
The bevel on the saw is the ability to tilt the saw to compound the cut – hence the name. This gives you the ability to cut 2 angles with one cut. You’ll need the 10” saw blade if you intend to cut 6” lumber. The 12” blade is nice, but few people really need the extra size, although they appreciate it if they have it. 8” blades are just too small for most woodworkers. You can find compound miter saws with a sliding arm function, like a radial arm saw, but they’re pretty pricey.
#33: The Router
Every woodworker should have a router. With the router, you can shape the edges of your work. The variety of shapes is endless, with the various bits available. If you’re a beginner, a stationary base router will do almost everything you need. This will start and end the cut at the same depth that you set before you make the cut.
A plunge router allows you to plunge the bit into the wood, make your cut, then lift it back out. You can use your stationary router in a router table, making long cuts with ease using a fence. Some woodworkers even convert their table saw to accept a stationary router so that they can use the rip fence and feather boards.
You should get a router with at least 2 HP, or it will be underpowered for hardwoods. It needs variable speeds, since large bits need to operate at slower speeds. If you don’t have a variable speed router, you can burn your bits. You’ll also burn hardwoods, if you can’t slow down the router speed.
Consider the size of the collet, too. This is like the drill size – they’re available in ¼” and ½” size. You can put the smaller bits in the larger size, but not the other way around. The larger bits are harder to find in the stores, and are more expensive. They balance out their cost and rarity, though, because they are more stable than the ¼” bits, and won’t chatter as much during use.
You’ll need to decide between grips on the router. Some of them have pistol grips that you hold with one hand, others have 2 handles on opposite sides. Think about the weight of the router and the uses, and decide which is best for you. Either way, though, the on/off switch should be within finger reach. You shouldn’t have to move one of your hands to switch it on or off.
Some of the newer routers have sensors that evaluate the load. They adjust the RPMs accordingly to keep them within a given range.
#34: The Band Saw
You just can’t beat a band saw for cutting precise shapes and curves. But, what a lot of woodworkers don’t realize is that the band saw is a powerful ally when cutting rabbets and tenons. You can also rip small pieces of wood and even make your own laminate strips with a band saw. There are free-standing, or cabinet band saws and table mount models that you can attach to a work bench or a dedicated stand. The free-standing models are usually bigger, more sturdy saws that have more features. They also have larger motors. These are the models used by professionals. However, you can still get professional results from a mounted saw.
You’ll want to look for 2 things with your band saw: depth of cut and throat. The depth of cut is the distance between the cutting plate and the upper guides on the blade. This will determine the thickness of stock you can cut. There are some saws, however, that can have risers attached to make it possible to cut thicker materials, so you can go from 6” to 12” with the use of a riser.
The throat is the distance from the saw blade to the back frame of the saw. A cabinet band saw will have a deeper throat, usually about 18”, while the bench models have 12” to 14” throats. This will determine the width of stock that you can cut. When you see information referring to a 12” Band Saw, it’s referring to the throat.
The size of the motor will matter. Most band saws made for home hobbyists will have up to a 1 HP motor. More expensive ones will have variable speeds, but the woodworker doesn’t usually use the different speeds. The slower speeds are intended for cutting metal and plastic. They may come in handy if you’re planning on shaping exotic woods such as acacia or bamboo. Just be sure to check the moisture content levels in these woods before you make any fine applications, or they’ll change size and mess up your work.
The cutting surface, or table, should be made of steel alloy, aluminum alloy, or cast-iron. It should also be adjustable up to 45 degrees, so that you can make cuts at an angle. The measurements of the cutting surface should be about 16” x 16”, with miter marks.
The saw blade of the band saw is actually a continuous band, like an alternator belt, with teeth on one side. It rides on 2 wheels. The width of the band will determine the radius of the curve you can cut. As a woodworker, you’ll want saw blades from 1/8” to 1” in width, keeping in mind that with the wider blade, you can’t cut as wide on your curves. The number of teeth per inch will matter here, too, with 1/2'”, ¾”, and 1” blades at about 3 teeth per inch, and thinner blades with more teeth.
The wheels on which the saw band rides should have a brush on them to keep debris from accumulating. These look like the bristles from a paint brush being held in a clamp. You’ll need to change out the brushes once or twice during the lifetime of your band saw.
Between the band saw blade and the wheel is a tire. This looks like a big rubber band. Most of them are made of either rubber or urethane. You have to glue the rubber ones onto the wheel, while the urethane doesn’t have to be glued down. The urethane also lasts longer, too. The tires you choose for your saw should be a little smaller than the wheel – again, it’s like an alternator belt. You want it to be tight. If you have a band saw that just doesn’t do the job any more, consider your maintenance of the machine. It could be that it just needs new tires and brushes. If the tires are dried out and cracked, the saw blade will drift and chatter. If the tires and brushes have been worn out for a long time, you may even need new wheels. But, once you replace all of these and adjust the wheels, you should have a smooth-running cutting machine.
# 35: The Radial Arm Saw
The radial arm saw is expensive, bulky, and heavy. And, it’s absolutely indispensable to those who own one. If you choose to get one, just plan to have a permanent home for it, because it’s probably not going to travel to worksites with you.
The radial arm saw us usually used to perform crosscuts. However, you can use it for bevels and miters, dadoes, rabbets, moldings, and even as a router guide. It can perform the same functions as a compound miter saw and a table saw. However, it’s a little harder to use in these capacities. It’s kind of a trade off – you get a multi-purpose saw for the more extravagant price, but it will be a little harder to use than saws made specifically for those purposes.
With a radial arm saw, you’ll move the saw rather than the material. The depth of the throat will make a difference with this saw. Your set-up will determine the success of your work. Set up your fence carefully, and make sure your stock is snug up against it. Then, turn the saw on, and let the blade get up to full speed before you start pulling it toward you.
Now, with this saw, you’ll get a lurching, crawling effect that you may not be prepared for. Experts say to install the saw on the work table with a very slight backward slant in order to keep it from “walking” forward on your work bench. You’ll also need to be prepared for the saw blade to “grab” the wood. This is one reason that set-up is so important. With a fence securely in place, the wood has nowhere to go, and there’s less opportunity for your hand to get yanked into the blade. The saw will try to determine the speed it travels through the wood. You’ll have to keep a grip on it, and make it go at your speed.
You can use your radial arm saw to cut dadoes and rabbets. Your dadoe blade installs easily into the arm. Just be sure to remember the direction of cut, because it’s different from your table saw. Also, always reinstall the blade guard when you change the blade in any of your saws.
While this saw may be better at cutting complex compound angles, it can be trickier to set up. Once you think you have it set up, make sure the clamping levers are locked into place.
You can sue the radial arm saw to rip narrower stock. Just make sure that the riving knife and pawls are in place should there be a jam or kick back.
Setting the depth of cut is important. With other saws, since the cut is to the top or outside, this won’t matter. But the radial arm saw is being drawn across the stock, cutting all the way through it into the surface below. So you’ll have to pay close attention to the depth of cut so as to not sacrifice your work surface on a regular basis.
# 36: The Drill Press
While most holes can be drilled with your power drill, there will be applications in your woodworking where a drill press will be invaluable. The drill press provides you with the ability to do precision drilling, and deliver especially accurate large-diameter holes.
One of the best features of a drill press is the ability for you to set the depth of the hole. This is especially useful when you have a number of holes you need to drill, all to the same depth. The drill press also allows you to use forstner bits, hole saws, and spade bits, drilling wide diameter holes to depths that would be very difficult to drill by hand.
The features you should look for when you purchase your drill press will begin with a bench mounted or free-standing model. For the record, the free-standing models usually have larger motors, making them more powerful. This means your work will be smoother. You can also work on larger stock with the free-standing drill press. Look for variable speeds, too. This will be accomplished by the ability to switch the belt to a different pulley setup, changing the speed at which the chuck rotates. This is important because hardwoods and softwoods must be drilled at different speeds (softwoods require faster speeds than hardwoods, while hardwoods will burn at high speeds). Finally, look for a feed that has several handles on it. You want the utmost control when you plunge the drill bit, and having 2 or 3 grips on the lever will help that. The plunge lever should be lockable so that you can set the depth of plunge, with an automatic redraw.
The free- standing floor model may also come with another great feature – the ability to swing the drill table out of the way. Some of them can also be tilted to a 45 degree, too.
Look for a table that has slots that allow for the use of clamps, so that you can use jigs and fences on the table. There will be slots on the table that allow for this.
To drill really large stock, look for a drill press that has a really deep throat. Just as with the band saw, this is the distance between the working edge, in this case, the drill bit, and the vertical support at the back of the press.
Your drill press can really help with joinery, as well as in drilling holes. With the proper attachment, you can actually drill square holes. The chisels that cut the square part are attached above the chuck, and the drill bit fits inside. This makes drilling mortise and tenon joints easy.
Other uses and tips for your drill press:
Use it for sanding. You can use a sanding drum in the chuck and adjust the table height to sand curved cuts easily.
Offset holes are easy to drill when you clamp the piece down.
Small pieces can be clamped to the drill press table, preventing them from moving around as you drill.
Make a V jig to hold round items, such as chair legs, for drilling.
Clamp stop blocks to the drilling table, if you have to drill in the same place on several pieces of wood.
#37: The Surface Planer
The surface planer is high-tech’s solution for the dedicated woodworkers through the generations who have patiently and skillfully planed their stock by hand to get it the right thickness. The time saving surface planer makes your world much simpler. The planer has a table onto which you feed your stock. This table is between 10” and 14”, so that’s the maximum width of stock you can send through. A set of blades rotate, cutting the wood as it is fed through.
You adjust the depth of cut with a crank, usually on one end of the planer. It actually looks kind of like the wheel on a sewing machine. Most planers will plane your stock down 6 inches, but you need to do this in small increments.
You achieve a smooth, evenly planed surface, the intake rollers inside the planer will pull the stock in and feed it under the knives, while outtake rollers pull it out the other side. The stock will move slowly and steadily beneath the knives which are rotating at a very high RPM. This yields a smooth finish to your stock. There should be pawls within the planer, so that if the rollers lose their grip on the stock, it won’t kick back out of the machine. You should also check to see if the surface planer you’re considering has a dust vacuum, because the amount of sawdust generated by these machines is epic.
You should always use hearing protection when you’re using a surface planer. These will be the noisiest tools in your workshop, and can cause damage. Safety glasses are also suggested for all power equipment.
Tips for using the surface planer:
Hand feed the stock until both sets of rollers have grabbed it.
For extremely long pieces of stock, use extension tables or feed rollers on each end.
Keep the stock in line with the plane table to avoid gouges. If the stock enters at an angle, it will be gouged.
Stand beside the stock you are feeding into the planer. If you stand behind it, and there is kick-back that the pawls don’t catch, you will be injured.
NEVER use your hands to clear a jam. Use a spare piece of scrap lumber to push out anything that gets stuck in the planer.
Don’t try to plane items that are too small for the planer. These are best hand sanded or clamped, with the block plane used, instead.
#38: The Jointer
The jointer is the most reliable and accurate way to insure square edges. It also will yield flat surfaces that won’t go through your surface planer. Rather than using a saw blade, the jointer uses a cutter head that rotates at high RPM. It is positioned between two tables. The infeed table is usually at a lower height, based on how much you want to remove from your stock. The outfeed table is at the same height as the cutting edge, supporting the board as it is cut. There should also be a fence to help provide accurate cuts. You’ll need a flat edge to do your woodworking, and the jointer can cut a flat edge and smooth surface on your stock. For instance, if you have a 2 x 4 with a roughed up edge, you can place it, rough side down, against the fence on the jointer. Using a push stick, push the 2 x 4 across the jointer knives, and it will cut down the rough parts of the edge. You may have to make several passes to get the surface completely smooth. This will not only give you cleaner cuts, it will save wear and tear on your motor and knives. Remember, too, to always allow the blades to get up to full speed before you begin cutting.
You’ll need to give slight downward pressure to the stock as it goes through the jointer. Shift the pressure to the front of the stock as it exits the blades. Do not lift the stock until it is completely free of the blades. Then, return to the starting point for your second pass.
A jointer makes it possible to salvage bowed or warped stock that you previously may have had to discard. With a bowed board, place in on the infeed table with the bow in the center, facing up. This will keep it from rocking on the table. The two ends of the piece will be jointed first, which is OK. If you have to joint an edge that is rocking, keep your pressure on the infeed table to reduce the rocking as much as possible.
To square edges, make sure that the fence is truly at a 90 degree angle to the tables. Remember your layout square? You’ll use that for this task. Since you’re preparing a squared edge, place most of your pressure on the fence, making sure the wood stays straight up and down as the blades do their work. Numerous, small cuts are preferable to one big one.
The fact that the fence can be angled gives you the chance to make mitered butt joints. You can also make plunges on the jointer, giving your stock chamfered edges.
It may well be that the most valuable tools you own in your woodworking shop are not tools at all.
#39: The Manual
Each of the tools you purchase for your shop will come with a manual. Just resign yourself right now to reading directions. Most tools returned to mail order companies and home improvement stores as “defective” simply were not used according to directions. The hands-on nature of woodworking often means there is a large population of craftsmen who don’t care to read directions, but when you’re dealing with, ultimately, thousands of dollars worth of equipment, all of which can eat your hands, you’re much better off referring to the operator’s manual, rather than learning by trial and error.
A single-drawer file cabinet will hold all of your manuals and warranty information. Keep a separate file on each tool – yes, even your screwdrivers – because many of those are warrantied, too. For filing purposes, file either according to make, such as Black & Decker, Ryobi, etc, or by tool, such as “router bits”, “router”, “router table”, etc.
You may be able to find magazine protectors at your local office supply store. While they are harder to find, they will make it possible to keep your manual with your equipment without the manual being damaged. Some truly dedicated woodworkers even make their own notebooks out of the operators manuals. They take them apart, putting each page in a page protector, reassembling them in a notebook binder. The binder is then left on a shelf under the saw, if possible, or displayed on a shelf for easy reference. You can imagine that the equipment of these woodworkers is also in pristine condition. While you may not go to these lengths to keep your manuals handy, at least read through them at least once, when you first get your equipment.
Each manual will have suggestions for not only safe operation, but for special uses, as well. Chances are, if you’re having trouble with your machine, the problem is addressed in the manual, and you can save yourself a lot of time and frustration by troubleshooting with the operator’s manual.
#40: The Safety Equipment
The safety equipment you use may save irreplaceable parts of you. Fingers don’t grow back, so use feather boards, push sticks, and always use tools according to directions. You should always have proper backup as you feed material through machines, and keep the pressure applied to the correct parts of the stock, as in your instruction manuals.
Your vision and hearing are equally irreplaceable, so always wear safety glasses. If you wear prescription lenses, you order them with safety lenses, making it easy to protect your eyes while you work. Ordinary glasses are not safety lenses, and may shatter if a projectile hits them, causing even more damage.
Your hearing can be protected with earplugs purchased at the hardware store or the local Wal-Mart. If you don’t find them in the sleep-aid section, check the hunting section. You can find the kind that have a string connecting them, so that you just pull them out of your ears when you’re finished cutting, and they lie across your shoulders until you’re ready for them again.
There you have it – 40 tools that every woodworker should think about owning. Ranging in complexity from the humble claw hammer to the complex and potentially dangerous jointer, these tools each have unique uses in the hands of skilled workmen. Proper care of all tools will prolong their lives, and proper use of safety equipment will prolong the quality of your own life. Accessible storage will make your shop not only a safer environment, it will save you a great deal of time in looking for pieces and parts that you use on a regular basis.
Remember that, with numerous power tools, you’ll need dedicated outlets. While you may not run more than one power tool at a time, it’s still better to try to arrange your shop so that each tool has its own outlet, rather that stringing multi-outlet adapters across the floor, with 5 and 6 powerful tools plugged into each one.
If you keep hand tools in tool drawers or on peg boards where they won’t roll around and bump into each other, the edges and handles will last longer. Keep saw blades oiled and stored flat, when possible, so that the teeth won’t be damaged.
Finally, make sure you have good lighting on all of your work surfaces. Overhead lighting is vital to any workshop, but can cast shadows on your work surface. Shadows can not only interfere with accurate cutting, but can be downright dangerous with the optical illusions they can cause, leading you to get your hands too close to saw blades. As you lay out your shop and plan outlets for your power tools, plan for an outlet for a work light, too. You can get excellent work surface lights that will clip on, or mount onto the wall behind your equipment, or stand on the floor and adjust to shine on multiple surfaces.
However you choose to arrange your woodworking shop, the equipment listed above will give you years of use and pleasure.
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