What are the best tools for woodworking? If you’re just starting out, I’m certain you’ll find this article quite helpful. Over time you’ll find your took kit expand but for beginners these are the most essential tools for woodworkers — In my humble opinion.
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Intro | Best Tools for Woodworking
As a beginner, you may want all the woodworking tools for every type of project. Though life isn’t always that simple. Our bank balance and our wish list seldom coincide. After 30-years of buying tools, I think I can shed some light on the topic. When you’re starting out, you need to concentrate on the essential tools for woodworkers. It may take some time before you have all the tools you need. You should first try to invest in the best woodworking tools that you can afford. This article is going to help you on this exciting journey.
You may be fortunate enough to have a home woodworking shop. Though most folks will be using their garage as a home shop. This isn’t too serious, as long as you have somewhere to practice your woodworking hobby. You may be wanting to make your own furniture, perhaps it’s picture framing that grabs your fancy, or DIY woodworking projects around the home. Whatever your goal, there are several essentials that every woodworker needs. With time, you will start to prioritize, buying specialized tools for specific types of woodworking.
VIDEO | Beginner Tools for Woodworkers
The important part, as a beginner, is to establish which are the essential wood working tools that you need. It helps to know which are the best tools for woodworking. It would be great to jump right in and buy a woodworking lathe if detailed ornate woodwork is your thing. But I’d suggest starting with the basics and then work your way up the list.
Experience has taught me that the basic essentials, for the beginner, should be hand tools. For centuries, carpenters and cabinet makers used only hand tools. They created beautiful, detailed, and ornate pieces, using only basic hand tools. Okay, if we’re going to be realistic, some power tools can be considered as essential these days, especially for the hobbyist. Carpenters of old would spend a lifetime perfecting their art. An apprentice could spend years cutting only dovetail joints for the master carpenter, before moving onto more complicated tasks. Modern power tools require some skill, but they make things easier and faster. The thing is, quality power tools are expensive and really cheap power tools can often be a waste of money.
Power Tools vs Hand Tools for Woodwork
So you could start out with a few hand tools: chisels, hammers and mallets. With these tools, as well as rasps and files, along with a few clamps and, of course, the ever-important saws, you can do basically everything. There is some merit in learning the basic art of working with hand tools before moving onto more sophisticated power tools. It teaches you to work methodically, patiently, and accurately. Though, no matter what tools you use, accuracy will always be the thing that counts. The golden rule for woodworkers (or any craftsman) is: measure twice, cut once.
When buying hand tools, always buy the very best. I say this because it’s a lifetime investment. Or rather, an investment for generations. Quality hand tools never die and will most certainly outlive you.
When it comes to buying your first power tools, the cost makes your decision more complicated. If you ask any experienced woodworker, which are the best power tools for woodworking, nine times out of ten the answer will be Festool. Though most will add that it took many years of working with other brands, before they could finally afford Festool. The Festool range is also limited to mostly circular saws and orbital sanders. Though they also make the best jointers. For now, I’d say this is what should be aiming toward, perhaps not something you’d be buying at the offset.
Your beginner power tools for woodworking are likely to be cheaper brands. Be practical about this. Really cheap, unknown brands, are going to be a disappointment. Trust me on this. Sometimes a full kit, with just about everything you need at a price you can afford, can be extremely tempting. But, inevitably, these tools will be second-rate. They probably won’t be very accurate and, more importantly, they’re not going to last. This is not to say that you don’t get high-quality, comprehensive tool kits. You need to be conscious of what you’re buying, if the price looks too good to be true, think twice about buying it.
What you want, for now, are power tools that are going to last a few years and be accurate enough, even if they aren’t perfect. Hey, we all have to start somewhere. Brands like Ryobi and Skil are affordable and reasonably accurate. Bosch prices vary, but if you can find affordable Bosch power tools, this would be my first choice for the beginner on a budget. They should keep you going for quite a few years, after which you may be in a better position to buy something of a higher standard. It’s always easier to buy one quality tool at a time. Initially, you’re going to buy a bunch of tools and you’ll be stretching your budget.
As you replace your cheaper power tools, there are some brands that stand head and shoulders above the rest. I’ve already mentioned Festool as being the very best. But even then, you’ll be buying some tools from other brands, as you won’t get everything you need from just one brand. Even if you never own a Festool saw, the other top brands are also great.
My personal first choice is always DeWalt or Makita. Metabo is another high-end brand to consider, I’ve just stuck to the first two, mostly DeWalt. What is great about DeWalt tools, especially for the beginner, is that they continue making their older tools long after new models have been introduced. This means spare parts availability is always guaranteed. From a budget perspective, previous generation DeWalt tools are always cheaper. Whilst you may not be getting the most modern, cutting edge technology, the older models still offer outstanding quality and their features are likely to beat the best that up-to-date cheaper brands have to offer. I often see previous generation DeWalt tools on Amazon at prices that are fantastic for what you’re getting – sometimes up to 50% discount.
Now it’s not my job to convince you which is the best woodworking tool brand. I’m simply pointing out what I’ve come to rely on, based on years of experience. Back when I was younger and, perhaps somewhat foolish, I bought many cheap tools. Without fail I was severely disappointed. Nothing is more heart-breaking than spending your hard-earned cash on a power tool that gives up the ghost after a few months. In hindsight, I can say that I would have been better off spending my money on beer and burgers, instead of buying cheap tools. At least, I would have got some joy out of the money spent. Though the more practical approach is to save your money and wait until you can buy something decent.
Work Bench and Vise
Before you start considering which are going to be the best woodworking tools, make sure you have a sturdy workbench and a good vise. If you’re using your garage as a woodworking shop, a portable workbench might be the best option. Make sure that your workbench can handle a good deal of weight and won’t tip over if you place too much weight on one side. Also make sure the feet can adjust, so that it won’t wobble on an uneven floor.
Affordable Workbench | Kreg KWS1000
A bench vise need not be too expensive, though some can cost a hefty fortune. It’s important to know what to look for. Most of the more expensive vises have a lot of clamping power. Large vises that exert a lot of force aren’t necessary for woodwork. A heavy-duty vise is intended for metal work where you’re exerting a lot force to bend and shape metal. Exerting too much force on wood is a bad idea. It will leave marks on the wood and possibly even crack or disfigure your workpiece. An important aspect to a woodworking vise are the jaws. You want coated jaws that won’t damage the surface of the wood. A jaw that can hold round, as well as flat pieces, can also be an advantage.
Rotating Bench Vise | Capri Tools 10519 (6-inch)
I like a vise with a rotating base, so you can work from any direction. Though, if you’re going for a rotating base, make sure it it’s a good vise from a respected brand. The base must fasten on at least two sides and have strong teeth to hold the vise in position.
Best Tools for Woodworking
Regardless which power tools you may end up buying, the basic hand tools will always be useful, often essential. So put a lot of thought into which hand woodworking tools you buy and the quality of what you’re buying. Power tools may make things easier, but there will be times when a hand tool is the only tool for the job.
— Manual Saws —
No woodwork shop can function without saws. While a circular saw is likely to be one of the first woodworking power tools that you buy, you will always be using saws that operate with human power. There are three basic types of saws that you’ll need.
Often referred to as panel saws, the hand saw is the most widely used by woodworkers. It has a flexible blade that narrows toward the tip. These saws have larger teeth and enable you to cut quickly. This means a rough cut to rip through boards or make cross cuts. The benefit of using a hand saw is that you can cut boards to size in a relatively short time, but the cut will require some finishing.
These saws are easily identified by their rectangular blade and the rigid back that lends them their name. Backsaws have fine teeth for making fine accurate cuts. They are often used with miter blocks to make angled cuts with perfect precision.
Frame Saws (also known as bow saw or bucksaw)
Some may know a frame saw as a turning saw or a bow saw. The modern equivalents to a frame saw would be the band saw or jigsaw and they do the same job. You use a bow saw to cut curves and intricate shapes in wood. Like their modern counterparts, frame saws come in a variety of sizes and the blades will also have teeth of different sizes. Really fine teeth allow you to work with exact detail and give a very clean cut. Larger teeth are used for rougher cuts at greater speed.
— Hammers —
There are countless hammers available in all shapes and sizes. Of all the choices available to you, I consider three types of hammers to be essential for the woodworker. While these fall into three basic categories, you’ll want some types of hammers in a variety of sizes for different tasks.
Hammers need not be too expensive. But, like everything, the best hammers will cost more. It’s worth paying a little extra for a good hammer. Things to look for are the way the head of the hammer is attached to the handle. Cheaply constructed hammers often come apart or the head may move about. A good grip with a well-balanced center of gravity are obvious signs that you’re getting a quality hammer.
Being the most versatile of hammers, the claw hammer can be found in just about any tool box. They are used for a variety of purposes, particularly knocking larger and thicker nails into wood or masonry. A claw hammer is easily identified by the lever at the back. This wedge shaped claw with a slot in the center has a curved shape and is primarily used to remove nails by gripping and then levering nail from the object.
Cross-Peen Hammer (also called a machinist’s hammer)
A cross, or straight peen (pein) hammer has a flat round surface on one side, like a claw hammer, and a wedge shape on the opposite side of the head. They are mostly used for cabinetry and joinery. The wedge pein is perfect when starting to knock in panel pins and for working in corners where a regular round head can’t access.
The purpose of a wooden mallet is to allow you to tap on a surface without damaging it. They are used for knocking a chisel into wood and for tapping against wood when joining two pieces together. You will often see them referred to as joiners’ mallets.
Today, many tasks that once required a chisel have been replaced with a router. A chisel is used to cut grooves or slots into the edge of a wooden surface. Cutting an opening for a door lock, or making ornate decorations have always been done with a chisel. You’ll need a variety of chisels of different thicknesses and a sharpening stone is essential for keeping the tip of your chisel sharp. In addition to a regular stone, a sharpening kit can save a lot of time by easily maintaining the correct angle as you sharpen the chisel.
Hand Planer (also available as corded-electric and battery-powered)
Used to finish wood to a perfectly smooth surface, or shaving small amounts of wood to obtain a flush joint, a planer is a very necessary woodworking tool. A planer is also the best tool to make thin cuts when fitting a door to a frame.
Of all the hand tools used for woodworking, a planer is the most sophisticated and you need to pay special attention to certain aspects. The planer blade needs to be adjusted finely and accurately and this requires a well-made blade mechanism.
Sliding Bevel and Squares
A square is made up of two surfaces joined at exactly 90° and is used to check and line up pieces that are joined at right angles. A sliding bevel serves the same purpose, but is adjustable. Using a sliding bevel you can transfer your angle from piece to another, or set it to the required angle for marking and lining up pieces that to be joined.
Rasps and Files
A rasp is flat on one side and rounded on the other. It has a long rectangular surface which is attached to a handle. A rasp is used to roughly shape a wooden surface and creating rounded or beveled edges. A rasp has a rough surface and shapes a wooden surface relatively fast. A file has a finer surface and removes less with every stroke. You use a file to smooth the rough finish created by a rasp.
You can never have too many clamps, nor can you have too great a variety of clamps. Long, adjustable clamps are used to join boards across the length or width. Smaller G-shaped clamps are used to join, or hold in position, pieces across the thickness of the wood.
Adjustable clamps have traditionally used a worm screw that you tighten and loosen with a lever. These clamps are very reliable and should always remain in working order. However, they can be time consuming to adjust. Using one hand to tighten the clamp, means that the pieces that you’re clamping can shift whilst tightening the clamp.
Many woodworkers prefer more modern, single touch clamps. These clamps allow you to shift the clamp into position by depressing a handle to adjust the clamping head. You can then squeeze a handle to tighten it. These clamps save a lot of time. Though, like any of the more sophisticated hand tools for woodworking, you must be prepared to pay extra and ensure that you buy a good quality adjustable clamp.
Drill and Bits
I can’t see the point of buying a hand drill as electric drills are inexpensive and versatile. You will need a good variety of drill bits. Standard helical bits are cheap and come in every size you can think of. Spade bits are the woodworkers’ best friend. They have a flat, spade-like tip with a sharpened point, making it super-quick to drill large holes into wood. There are all kinds of specialized drill bits that allow you to shape, cut, and grind just about any material. You can also get bits to fasten any type of screw head or bolt. A good storage system for your drill bits and accessories is essential as they always go missing and an organized storage bow saves time when looking for the correct bit.
Additional Woodworking Tools
Screwdrivers of varying sizes and types are always needed, not just for woodworking. A steel tape measure and some straight-edge metal rulers are essential. A chalk line allows you to mark a line over any length. They are useful for long boards and construction carpentry.
Best Power Tools for Woodworking
Most of the hand tools mentioned above have more capable modern equivalents, power tools. Every seasoned woodworker accumulates a large selection of power tools over time. Some specialized tools, like a jointer, have revolutionized the way work. When looking for the best power tools for woodworking, some can become very expensive. A table saw and thickness planer, for example, are really great tools to have. But, in the beginning, it may not be possible to buy all the power tools that you want.
Cordless vs Corded Tools
Battery-powered cordless tools are definitely the way things are going. The tools and batteries that you can buy today are a far cry from the earlier models that we first saw. The downside is that cordless tools are always more expensive. So, if your budget is limited, corded power tools are going to be your best bet.
However, if you can afford to do so, begin with cordless tools. They save so much hassle and time. The trick to buying cordless tools to stick one two brands only. If you keep buying different brands, you’ll end up with a heap of batteries and chargers – each tool will have a battery that only fits that tool. Using only one brand is ideal. All your tools will use the same battery and it becomes financially feasible to buy a number of batteries so that you always standby batteries when one (or more) needs to be placed on charge.
DeWalt has the largest range of cordless tools, closely followed by Makita. This is another reason why these are my brands of choice for power tools. Both make excellent batteries and chargers.
No DIY shop is complete without a drill. For woodworking you probably don’t need a very powerful electric drill and you don’t need a hammer function either. But, since you’ll be using your electric drill for than just woodwork, consider a more powerful machine. A hammer function is needed if you’ll also be drilling into rock or masonry.
An electric drill can also serve as driver in conjunction with bits designed for screws and bolts. Small, battery-powered drill-drivers are not at all expensive and incredibly worthwhile. They are powerful enough to drill into wood and make driving in screws a quick and effortless task.
This is likely to be the first woodworking power tool that you buy. Circular saws have varying blade sizes and this will determine the thickness of the wood that you cut with the saw. A handheld circular saw is incredibly versatile, but fixed position circular saws offer better accuracy and easier working for complicated cross cuts.
You can get a number of circular saw accessories, if you buy from a brand that has these. Some handheld circular saws have the ability to adapt into a table saw. This might be something to consider if you don’t have the means to buy a table saw, or don’t have shop space for one. These adapted table saws will never be as good as the real thing, but will make for a good start. Many will also have an adapter to allow you to use your hand held saw as a plunge saw. So you can get a lot of different power saws in one, if you buy the correct one.
Apart from a handheld circular saw, there a several other types that also use a rotating circular blade. These being a plunge saw, sliding saw, miter saw, and a table saw.
A plunge saw is a circular saw that has been mounted to a base. The saw motor and the blade are attached to a plunge head. This holds the saw in a perfectly square position. You can pull down on the plunger handle to make perfectly square cross cuts without any effort.
A regular plunge saw is a handheld saw attached to a flat base, the saw pivots on this base and allows you to set the depth of your cut. You can get several attachments for these saws. The most popular of these are tracks. The track is a guide with a slot into which the base of the saw fits. Using a track saw, you are able to make long rip or cross cuts in a straight line. The track saw ensure a perfectly straight line without having to concentrate on keeping the saw aligned.
The blade size of a plunge saw becomes more important as this determines the thickness (depth) of your cut. A 10” plunge saw will cut a depth of 5.5”.
Chop Saw (also known as abrasive saw and a cut-off saw)
A chop saw is similar to a plunge saw. But instead of being handheld with a base plate attached to the saw. The saw is attached to a table and the pivot action allows for perfectly square cross cuts. Like a plunge saw, a chop saw can only cut to a depth of about half the blade diameter. You’re also limited by the width of your cut. The saw can only move up or down and cannot move forward to make cuts that are longer than blade diameter.
Sliding Miter Saw
A sliding miter saw performs the same function as a drop saw. The difference is that the saw head can also slide back and forth. This increases the width cutting ability of the saw. Sliding arms are used for both regular chop saws (90°) and miter saws that can cut at multiple angles. Sliding miter saws are more common than sliding chop saws, as they usually have smaller blades and this makes additional width capacity of the sliding action more important on a miter saw.
The saw has rails and this allows you to pull the saw head back before pushing it down onto the workpiece. As you cut, you not only press into the wood, but also push forward on the saw. The saw blade moves along the rails in a straight line. So the width of your cut is increased by the length of the rails.
Basic Miter Saws
A basic miter saw allows you to adjust the angle of the cutting head to make miter cross cuts. These too can be plunge or sliding saws. A compound miter saw can also adjust the blade angle to make bevel cuts.
Table saws can be expensive and they require a large area. Not many home shops will have a full-size table saw. Though a jobsite, portable table saw can be sufficient for most of our needs. A table saw makes it quick to rip large boards to size with perfect accuracy. This can be a great help if you need to cut a large amount of boards to the same size. You can set your fence once and then pass the boards through the saw without having to measure each time.
This is another saw that most of us can’t do without. A jigsaw serves the same purpose as a hand framing saw. It just makes the job faster and easier. Unlike a circular saw, the jigsaw has a reciprocating blade that moves up and down. You can maneuver the jigsaw over a workpiece to cut shapes and curves. There is a huge variety of jigsaw blades available for cutting just about any material.
A jigsaw is limited to the thickness that you can cut by blade length. Some jigsaws can be adapted to be used as a table saw.
Band Saw (or bandsaw)
These are usually big floor machines, with some smaller benchtop options. They are less common in home shops, as most of us can get away with using a jigsaw. A band saw does the same job as a jigsaw but can handle much greater widths.
A band saw has a blade that forms a continuous loop and a table onto which you place the workpiece. Unlike a jigsaw, where you move the saw, when using a band saw you, maneuver the piece on a flat metal table. This allows you to hold the piece with both hands and affords you better control over the cut.
An electric hand planer works in the same way as a conventional hand planer and allows you to remove small layers of wood to finish a surface. They obviously work much faster than a conventional hand planer.
A thickness planer is a large standing tool, some smaller machines can be benchtop thickness planers. They have a table with a rotating cutting head and you can feed boards through to get a square finished product to the exact thickness that you set it for. The size of your thickness planer will determine the size boards that it will accommodate.
Large commercial shops often use industrial size table sanders that use a sanding belt. This is a loop of sandpaper that fits around rollers to move the sandpaper in one direction. It’s more likely that you’ll be using a handheld belt sander in a home shop. This works in the same way, but is small enough to hold. Unlike a table sander where you move the workpiece across a table, you move a handheld sander across the workpiece.
These sanders can finish large flat surfaces rapidly. They are unable to work into corners and the surface will require final finishing by hand or using an orbital sander.
There are two types of orbital sanders. A conventional orbital sander has a sanding pad that rotates in one direction. A random orbital sander moves the pad in a random pattern. By using a random pattern, the orbital sander leaves no circular swirl marks and is the best for a perfect finish. If you’re using an orbital sander, instead of a random orbital sander, you will probably have to do some hand sanding afterward to remove the fine marks.
Both types of orbital sanders are used for final finishing of a wooden surface. They have a pointed tip that allows the sander to work into corners, where a belt sander can’t reach.
Routers have a machined metal base that you press onto a flat surface. A rotating cutting tool then cuts slots, or grooves into the surface. This is done using a plunging router. You press down on a plunger to the desired depth and then move the router forward to the cut the groove.
A fixed router doesn’t plunge into the wood. The cutting tool is locked at a predetermined depth and is used to finish the edge of a piece by moving the router along the edge. Plunging routers will almost always be able to function as a fixed router. Whereas a router built only to work in a fixed position cannot plunge.
Router cutting tools come in many shapes and sizes and allow you to cut patterns and create ornate edges for table tops and the like.
I’m discussing the jointer last, because I feel that is more of a luxury item, not an essential woodworking tool. They will save you a lot of time when making joins at any angle. Most use flat elongated discs, often called biscuits. You may know these tools as biscuit jointers. Some, like Festool, can use dowels that are flattened and come in many sizes for different thicknesses of wood.
A jointer cuts a perfectly sized slot into the edge of both pieces that need to be joined. They have an alignment viewer, so that the slots are exactly where they need to be in both pieces. You can cut as many slots as are needed in virtually no time at all. You apply glue to the disc or dowel and insert into the slots on one piece. You then press the second piece that needs to be joined against the first. In a matter of minutes you have a strong join that is perfectly aligned and it’s almost impossible to go wrong.