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Most Essential Woodworking Tools for a Small Woodshop
I’ve been passionate about my woodworking and woodcraft hobby for more than a decade now. In that time, thanks to my employer, I’ve had to move around quite a bit and live in a variety of places. I have been fortunate enough to acquire lots of woodworking tools along the way, but one thing I have not been able to get more of is space. Though I did get lucky once – my wife allowed me to share the garage with her car in one house we lived in. I could only dream of having a setup like Norm Abrams’ New Yankee Workshop, complete with top-of-the-line tools and the talent to make professional grade furniture pieces. Then reality sinks in and off I go, down the stairs to pursue my hobby in the confines of my small ten foot by twelve foot basement shop like so many other part-time woodworkers.
With shop space being such a luxury for most woodcrafters, the question often comes up, “What are the most essential tools for a woodshop?” So, I want to give you my perspective on which tools are absolutely necessary for a small woodworking shop. You will also find links here to buy woodworking tools online at cheap prices!
A table saw is the catalyst for any woodshop regardless of size. The great thing is that table saws are available in a variety of configurations and it is easy to find one that will suit even the smallest shop like mine. About 80 percent of all cutting you will do as a woodworker will be done using a table saw. A table saw is the most precise tool for cutting wood to the dimensions needed for your woodworking projects. Besides cutting, a table saw is also useful for forming beveled edges and slots for assembling wooden panels. In the small woodshop, the saw’s table is perfect for providing additional workbench space when not used for cutting. A decent bench top table saw will run between $200 and $500, but will make your projects easier and much more accurate.
Router and Router Table
A router is probably the most versatile woodworking tool in any shop. It is mainly used for creating decorative edges on work pieces, but are also good for creating joints and dadoes (grooves). Routers can be used as a regular hand-tool, or they can be mounted underneath a routing table. Though free-hand routing is sometimes required, mounting the router to a router table is the preferred method for using this tool. It provides an extra measure of stability, as well as a smoother, more professional result. A router, along with a table and a variety of bits, can quickly become one of the priciest tools for a woodshop, but none-the-less very essential.
Jigsaws are great power tools for cutting irregular shapes in wood. A band saw is another woodworking tool capable of the same type of cuts, but because of its size and space requirements, is not recommended for the smaller woodshops. A jigsaw is more efficient because it takes up considerably less space and can easily be moved around as needed. Jigsaws are also much cheaper and easier to maintain than a band saw. Blade changes are accomplished in a matter of seconds, which is nearly impossible with most band saws.
Compound Miter Saw
A miter saw is a power tool that is used for making accurate crosscuts and angled cuts in wood. They are excellent for creating the mitered (angled) cuts needed for things like picture frames or crown molding, and most are precise enough to produce a good snug fit between two adjoining pieces. Miter saws are sometimes referred to as a chop saw because of the chopping motion used to bring the blade down into the wood. This also comes from the saws quick ability to cut lumber such as 2 x 4’s down to the required length in a snap. Miter saws come in two varieties, a fixed blade which can only perpendicular cuts, and a compound miter saw which is able to be tilted to produce beveled type cuts. There are even inexpensive miter saws with laser guides that are extremely helpful with lining up work pieces and ensuring uniform cuts in similar wood pieces. Miter saws usually come as a bench-top power tool and easily fit in small places. It would even be possible to use a miter saw on one of your table saw extensions when not in use.
A power drill, either electric or cordless is another tool I would consider essential in the small woodshop. Though there are bench-top drill presses that may work for your needs, they are typically much heavier and are not easily moved around in a smaller shop. If precisely straight holes are required in a work piece, there are plenty of jigs available to allow your power drill to be used much like a drill press. Most projects can be assembled using good, strong wood glue or brad nails, but there are times when screws are a better option, making a power drill great for pilot holes and countersinking to hide the screws. Here’s another little tip; a power drill also makes an outstanding disk sander when used with the right attachments. Companies like 3M make a round sanding attachment for power drills that use round sanding disks with adhesive backs for easy changing between grits. When space doesn’t allow for a belt or disk sander, this is a wonderful option.
Sanding is just one of those necessary evils when it comes to woodworking. It is probably the least favorite task of any woodworker, yet it is so important to the beauty of the finished piece. You could opt to sand everything by hand, but that could take hours. There are many great, inexpensive hand-held power sanders available that make the job a lot less tedious. You can get a simple vibrating sander, an orbital sander, and even hand-held belt sanders. None of them take up much room and they make the life of a woodworker so much easier. Orbital sanders are my preference because they move in a circular motion and glide easily across the wood leaving a soft smooth finish in no time. Also, most palm sanders today come with a dust collection system which can be important to keeping the air clean in a small shop.
Small Woodshop with "Luxury" Tools!
With these few tools, it is possible to accomplish any woodworking project you could dream up. Sure, there are plenty of other tools that could make other tasks even simpler, but in a small woodshop wouldn’t be practical or easily used. From my experience, these tools are vital to producing a quality result. As you progress, and hopefully gain more of that elusive thing called space, you can start adding the “luxury” tools like jointers/planers, drill presses, band saws, lathes and more. One thing I neglected to mention was the obvious need for a solid workbench. A good workbench, with as much workspace as you can get, is an indispensable item for any woodshop. For those of you that may be new to the hobby of woodworking, I hope this gives you a good idea of how start equipping your shop. For those of you that have been around a block of wood or two, you know how quickly a small shop can become cramped and ineffective. The most important thing is to keep having fun and keep making sawdust!
Free Woodworking Plans and Designs
There are some great free resources on the Internet for getting free woodworking plans and designs. One of my all-time favorites is The Scrollsaw Workshop. Steve Good has made hundreds of his scrollsaw patterns available free of charge and he has some outstanding designs. He also has lots of instructional videos for the beginning woodworker.
Another quality site for free plans is Jim Barry's FreeWoodworkingPlan.com. You can find all types of plans from beginner woodworking projects to advanced. The database is updated often and you are sure to find something to get you started.
Here are a few more free woodworking plan resources:
More Woodworking and Tool Links
- Woodworking Plans & Tools | Fine Woodworking Project & Supplies
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