Tool Guide


Wood is a very enjoyable material you can use to build many things, both functional and decorative. It is easy to work, glues easily, takes a fastener well and can be finished to just about any shade or color you desire. So here are some essential tools to get started.

Safety Equipment is a good starting place. It’s pretty basic and does not require a big expense. Safety Glasses, Hearing Protection, Dust Masks & Push Sticks. Hearing protection has a Noise Rating Reduction, NRR, measured in decibels dB(A), the higher the number the better. NRR 29 is about the highest available. Dust masks with 2 elastic straps and an exhaust valve work great. Dual straps keep it in position and the exhaust valve helps prevent warm exhaled breath from hazing your safety glasses. Push sticks can be purchased or shop built, make several and keep them around every machine.

Layout & Measuring Tools are essential. The 3 basic ones are a Tape Measure, A Combination Square and a Ruler. You’re going to use these a lot, so get ones that are easy to read and a pleasure to use.

Folding Saw Horses are great. They store out of the way and used in conjunction with plywood can become a handy work surface. A few cleats on the underside of plywood will make a suitable temporary work table.

Saws are essential for cutting boards to the desired size. They could be a hand saw or an electric saw. Hand saws come in cross cut (cutting across grain) and rip (cutting along the grain). Cross cut saws have a higher tooth per inch for controlled cuts; rip saws have fewer teeth per inch to help clear saw dust while you’re cutting. There are many options for electric saws, table saws are the all-around saw, they can be used for both cross cut & rip, and accessories like a dado blade and tenoning jig can be added to expand the possibilities. When you’re picking out a table saw, it would be good to check to see if a dado throat plate is an available accessory. An earlier article tilted Saw Blades Demystified will help with blade selection.

Miter Saws are for doing cross cuts and miters; compound miter saws have the capacity to do bevel cuts as well. Cross cuts can also be done on the table saw, so this tool can be added at a later date. There are a lot of options and accessories to consider, so you might get started with the table saw to help better understand what features to look for in a miter saw.

You’re going to need some way to straighten out the edge of a board. Again, this can be done with a Hand Plane or an Electric Joiner. Hand planes with 2 handles (called bench planes) can be divided into 2 basic functions. Short ones, under 14”, called Smooth Planes and are used to smooth the surface of a board, long ones, over 14”, called Joiner Planes are used to straighten the edge of a board. Think of a road grader, they’re used to even out the high and low spots along a road. There is a 14” plane called a Jack plane, kind of like Jack of all trades. It is used for both smoothing & joining. Electric Joiners are a real time saver; they can do both surface and edge operations. They are named by the maximum cutting width, entry level options will be 6”or 8”. Most 6” models run on 120V circuits, 8” models might require a 230V circuit. Both sizes will have cutter head options: straight knife (disposable or re-sharpen), or 4 sided carbide insert that are turned 90 degrees to the next sharp edge and replaced when all 4 edges are dull. Carbide inserts come in 2 options: Square, the cutting edge is parallel to the axis of rotation, and Curved, e cutting edge is at a diagonal to the axis of rotation. Both do a good job, they tend to have less chip out around knots and on highly figured wood like birds eye maple. Bed length is also an important consideration. A good rule of thumb is 2 times the overall bed length is about the maximum board length for accurate results.

Thickness Planer is nice to have but is a tool you can acquire at a later date. Wood is available surfaced or rough, and surfaced wood is generally a common thickness in most lumber yards, 25/32 for hardwoods and 3/4 for pine. With careful design and stock selection you can build quite a few projects with already surfaced wood.

You can work without a Vacuum, but I strongly suggest getting one. Besides clean up, the upholstery brush attachment can be used to deep clean wood just prior to applying finishes. Plus, some brands of electric sanders offer a vacuum hose adapter.

Drills are essential for a many operations in a woodshop, Again these can be hand drills or electric, corded or battery. The old egg beater hand drills are a classic but not really a production tool. A cordless drill is great choice, because it can both drill and drive a screw with a driver bit. Most cordless drills have a multiple setting clutch; it’s a great feature that allows for driving screws without strip out. Additional battery powered tools can be purchased as a “Bare Tool” and share the batteries and charger that came with your drill, so keep this in mind when you select the drill.

Dowelling Jigs are a basic and simple way to do joinery. They work on edge-to-edge joinery and right angle joints. They are an accessory that really expands the application of your drill. A combination square can be used to quickly and accurately transfer boring pattern lines for right angle work.

Drill Bits are essential. Brad point bits are great because they don’t skate and because the brad tip is easy to align with a pencil mark. Stop Collars can be added to control the depth of cut. They work great in conjunction with a dowelling jig.

Electric Sanders are a real time saver. The 2 most frequently used are 1/4 sheet orbital sander and a random orbit sander. 1/4 Sheet Sanders use standard sandpaper that is cut into quarters and attached to the tool with a spring loaded clip. They operate in a constant orbit, so you need to be careful about swirl marks. The square format allows for inside corner work. They may or may not have dust collection. Random Orbit Sanders remove material faster and help reduce swirl marks because of the random orbit. The sandpaper discs are round and, for woodwork, have hook & loop attachment to the backing pad. The hooks on backing pads wear out, so keep a back stock one on hand. Backing pads are available in Hard, Medium & Soft. Hard is for flat work, soft is for contoured work. Medium does both functions reasonable well. Dust collection is included on all R/O sanders.

Clamps, There is no such thing as too many clamps in a woodshop, so start your collection early. Some basic C clamps and bar clamps will cover most of your needs. 3” C clamps are a good size, because they fit most applications and are not unwieldy. Bar clamps are needed for edge joining and right angle joinery. They’re usually sold without the bar, and you supply the bar to whatever length meets your application. Joiners clamps are a bar clamp with a deeper reach. They come with the bar and are sold in specific lengths.

Chisels and a Block Plane are great for hand detail work. They do a lot of things that electric tools cannot do, like square up the end of round cuts made with dado blades & router bits. Use a wooden or rubber mallet with the chisels. Rubber mallets have other practical uses in the shop as well. You will need some way to hone them, to start with 600 grit sandpaper on flat surface will do the job. Grinders and whetstones can be added as your hobby grows.

Routers are not absolutely essential, but they really add capacity to your collection of hand-held electric tools. They can be used for decorative edge profiles, joinery and pattern work. Accessories like edge guides, plunge bases and router tables really expand the things that can be done with them.

Jig Saws and Band Saws are for curvilinear cuts. Depending on the type of work you’re planning on doing, these tools could be added later.

There are a lot shop-built items that will be helpful. Push sticks, Clamp Pads, A Wooden Straight Edge, Footed Rails for lifting work in the air during finishing, Work Tables, Outfeed Tables, Etc. All will expand the capacity of your shop and will be used as frequently as store bought tools.