Power Tools You Should Own
A power tool is, technically, anything that requires electrical power to function. Here, we’ll start with the most humble of power tools. The really good stuff comes later.
#21: The Shop Vac
You may not think of a shop vac as a woodworking tool, but just try to get any work done with your saws kicking up powdery sawdust into your eyes. Now, you can go all out, and get a built in vacuum system installed. This is much like the home vacuums that have outlets in every room of the house. You just take a hose with you from one room to the other, plug it in, and the vacuum does its job, taking everything to the central vacuum receptacle.
While this may be a dream scenario, the more realistic version is the portable shop vac. You can use one of your handy clamps listed above and clamp the hose to your saw, vacuuming up the sawdust as it’s made. This keeps your cutting line clear and unobstructed. If you choose a wet/dry vac, you’re getting even more for your money. Be sure to get one with enough amps in the motor. Low amps in these small motors usually mean low power, and you want it to work as hard as you do.
#22: The Bench Grinder
Get a good bench grinder. It doesn’t have to be in the way – you can make a stand for it and keep it in the corner. But you’ll be amazed at how much you’ll use a bench grinder. You’ve got to keep all of your chisels sharp, and keep the burrs off of your screwdrivers, too. A grinder doesn’t cost that much, and the time and expense it saves you when you have dull tools will pay for itself in no time.
#23: The Circular Saw
A good circular saw is one of the most versatile tools you can own. Most people consider the circular saw to be a carpentry tool, but, combined with proper clamping of your materials, they are just as accurate as any table saw. Plus, you can use a circular saw for tasks that you could never attempt with a table saw. It makes a lot more sense to set up a couple of saw horses and get out the circular saw to cut a sheet of plywood or MDF than to try to maneuver around in your shop to cut them on a table saw. A High quality circular saw should be the first power tool in your shop.
All of your saws will have options on how many teeth-per-inch, or TPI you use. To make your decision, you need to know what you are striving for with a cut. A saw blade with a lot of teeth will make smoother cuts. However, you run the risk of burning your wood. This is because a fine-toothed saw moves more slowly through the stock. It also doesn’t clear the sawdust out of the cut as quickly, since the gaps between the teeth are smaller. These gaps are called gullets, and on fine-toothed saws, numerous small gullets hold more sawdust than the bigger gullets on a wide-toothed saw. The wide-toothed saws will aggressively buzz through your stock with less burning, but the cut will be rougher, probably requiring refinement with your orbital sander or jointer.
As a general rule of thumb, you should keep a selection of blades for your saws. Your circular say and table saw, as well, can make rough cuts with a 40 tooth saw blade, and plywoods and other laminated materials will work well with an 80 tooth saw blade.
If you know that the blades of your saws are right, but are still having trouble getting the cut you want, the moisture content of your stock may be wrong. Wood that has a moisture content level that is too high for your area will “feather” when it’s cut, regardless of the size or sharpness of the blades. Wood that is too dry will crack and split when you cut it. If it seems that no matter what you do to your saws, you still don’t get satisfactory cuts, use your moisture meter to check the moisture content levels of your stock.
#24: The Power Drill
The next power tool you should purchase is a power drill. Now, many people swear by cordless drills, but they’re more expensive, and that can’t do everything that an electric drill can do – that’s where the term “power” comes in. Power drills are not as expensive, and their more powerful than cordless drills, which do have their place in your shop. The steady power that comes with a corded drill makes it a better tool for extended use, especially when using large bits such as paddle bits.
Most power drills are variable speed, with 2 speeds to choose from. When you select a power drill, you’ll choose which sized chuck you want – 3/8” or ½”. This will determine the size of bit you can use. If you anticipate the need for larger drill bits, such as for lag bolts used in decking, you may want the ½” drill. They also have more power. Typically, both chucks accommodate the smallest diameter whether you use a keyless chuck or not. Some people swear by keyless chucks, others find that they occasionally loosen. Others find that keyed chucks loosen. It’s up to you.
#25: The Sabre Saw
Every woodworker should have a sabre saw. Often called a jigsaw, it will allow you to cut curves and patterns in your stock materials. You’ll probably need an electric one, rather than a battery operated, although the battery powered sabre saws work fine on thin material and limited use. You need to find one that fits your hand. Too small, and you can’t grip it; too large, and you can’t control it. For thicker materials, you’ll need a band saw, which we’ll cover later.
#26: The Palm Sander
A good palm sander is vital to any woodworker’s power tool collection. The palm sander will use ¼ sheet of sanding paper, and is small enough to get into tight places. However, you should be careful not to sand patterns into your finished work with the palm sander. They usually move in a circular pattern, or back and forth. Either way, they can leave swirls and streaks in your wood that show up once it is stained, so be sure to keep it moving across the surface you are sanding so that you don’t sand grooves into your wood.
#27: The Random Orbital Sander
A random orbital sander is actually a step up from the “little brother” version – the palm sander. The random orbital sander uses hook and loop (Velcro) to fasten the sanding disks to the sanding pad. The random movement of the disk helps to avoid sanding patterns into your wood. Your main precaution with this tool is to make sure that your hardware supply store has discs in stock in every grit. Otherwise, you’ll have a sander that you can’t use because you can’t find sanding pads for it.
#28: The Table Saw
Now, we start getting into the first permanent fixture in your woodworking shop – the table saw. Of course, table saws can be loaded in the bed of your truck, so, technically, they’re portable. But, the table saw is not one you can pick up with one hand and head to the worksite. The table saw will be the workhorse of your shop, so get a good one. You’ll use it to rip, miter, shape, square, groove, and join, so a good saw that suits your needs is vital.
The work surface should be heavy duty to withstand the abuse it will take. Look for a handle to raise and lower the saw blade easily. It should have another handle so that you can adjust the angle of the blade. See if there are connections for a dust collector, too, to make that aspect easier. You’ll want your table saw to have enough power to cut through hard wood and make deep cuts. Again, look at amps and horsepower. The motor should start with little to no vibration and run smoothly. Make sure it has a blade guard and that the on/off switch is easy to reach. These days, the power switch is a paddle that is easily pressed with you knee if you need an emergency off.
The blades for your table saw are in the same categories as the hand saws: rip and crosscut. The rip blades have deep gullets. The crosscut blade has a kerf, or extra cutting chisels, on every tooth, on alternating sides. This produces a very fine cut surface. Rip blades are designed to cut with the grain of the wood, as you rip stock. Crosscut blades can cut either with or against the grain. The most commonly purchased blades are combination blades, ranging from 24 TPI to 80 TPI.
As pitch from the wood you cut accumulates on your saw blades, you’ll need to pause and take time to clean them off. The pitch will heat up as you use the blade, and overheat the blade, damaging it. There are a number of commercial cleaners available, but you can just soak them in oven cleaner. This will dissolve the pitch, with only a little rubbing. Do not use any abrasives on your saw blades. Scrubbing cleansers and rough pads will leave scratches on the blade, which will only hold more pitch, making the problem worse the next time you need to clean the blade.
All saw blades dull over time, but your circular saw and table saw blades can be resharpened, if they are carbide. Since carbide blades are more expensive, this feature makes the blade more cost effective, since sharpening will prolong the life of the blade.
Your drill press will have a platform for the stock you are drilling, but your table saw will have – well – a table. There are a few precautions you should take with each of the tables you use with your saws and drills. These tables are usually made of cast iron. Cast iron rusts easily. It will come with a special grease that protects the surface during storage. You’ll need to clean the grease off of the surface, and apply a protectant in its place that won’t stain your stock or be a fire hazard. Possibly the best product for this is simple car wax. Carnauba wax protects your car from harsh elements, and will do the same for your table. Just be very sure that you don’t use silicone wax, because the residue interferes with the finish on certain woods.
#29: The Rip Fence
Your table saw should have a rip fence. You’ll want one with fine-tuning adjustment that runs parallel to the blade. Some rip fences have an adjustment knob on each end of the fence, others on just one end. The main thing to look for is torque. When you move the fence, do both ends move evenly, or does the far end hand up? This can be a real problem, and you’ll save yourself a lot of frustration and stock lumber if you have a rip fence that stays parallel to the cutting blade.
#30: The Miter Gauge
Look for a T-groove miter gauge on your table saw. While most saws have a built-in miter gauge, it may move out of the groove when you’re making your cuts. The gauge needs to slide smoothly in its grooves without being loose.