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Whether you’re just starting out and are wondering what essential woodworking tools a beginner needs or you’re an experienced carpenter who needs to replace a saw that ran out of juice, these are the essential tools every woodworker must have in their workshop.
Like most any list on the internet, this is based on my experiences and is just my opinion. I have seen some amazing woodworkers that can build things I couldn’t dream of using only hand tools. So you don’t have to own every item on this list just to start making cutting boards to sell at the local farmers market. However, if you want to make a variety of projects, and not have to spend hours creating a jig to do the job of a fairly common tool, then this list is a good place to start.
This is also going to assume you have some basic home improvement tools already. Things like a tape measure, cordless drill, level, hammer, etc. This list is that next jump towards being a more serious woodworker. A woodworker that might want to start generating income. And don’t think you need all of these tools at once. Like most people, I built my collection slowly over the course of several years. And it’s still growing!
Hardwoods Vs Softwoods
Lumber can be grouped into two broad categories – softwoods and hardwoods –based on a botanical distinction. Hardwoods are those species that come from leaf-bearing trees that produce flowers, fruits or nuts. Common North American hardwood lumber includes maple, oak, ash, walnut, cherry, beech, birch and poplar.
There are many less common Western hardwoods as well, like butternut, mesquite, holly, pear and sycamore. Other countries log innumerable hardwood species as well. Some of these exotics include teak, mahogany, ebony, rosewood, bubinga, purpleheart and pear. These exotic woods can be purchased through the Internet or specialty catalogs; however, they are pricey and may only come in a limited size.
Softwoods come from the large family of cone-bearing trees that bear needles rather than leaves. Firs and pines of all sorts, redwood, cedar and cypress are typical North American softwoods made into board lumber. Because these species are well suited for construction purposes, all lumber used fro framing and roughing construction comes from softwood trees.
They are sufficiently strong for structural applications, yet are easy to work with common hand or power tools. Another advantage is that cone-bearing trees grow rapidly and develop straighter trunks and branches than the hardwoods. And
finally, more softwood trees can be planted per acre than hardwood trees so they produce a higher lumber yield in less time.
Any discussion of woodworking machinery should begin with shop safety; hand tools require safety precautions as well. Woodworking machines are made to cut, chop, abrade, slice, drill and shave materials that are considerably harder then human skin. When used carelessly, machines are dangerous and when used properly, machines can be a wonderful help.
Wherever woodworkers gather, stories of accidents and near-misses come up sooner or later. Perhaps the term ‘accident’ is misleading here because ‘accident’ implies the injured person is a‘victim’ of circumstances beyond their control; in most cases, it may be more appropriate to say that the ‘perpetrator’ suffers the consequences of his or her own carelessness.
Consciousness of safety is the first requirement of good craftsmanship. Here are several things you can do to protect yourself while working with wood, either with machines or hand tools.
- Wear hearing and eye protection when using saws, routers, sanders and other equipment. To keep splinters and dust out of your eyes, use large plastic safety goggles, a face shield or safety glasses.
- Keep your workshop area clean and neat so you won’t trip over a scrap of wood or an extension cord at an inconvenient moment.
- Tie up long hair; don’t wear loose-fitting clothing or any jewelry. All of these items can get caught in the machines and drag you towards the blades or other sharp parts.
- Don’t use machinery when you are tired or have consumed alcohol – any amount of alcohol, even a little bit is too much for operating machinery. This type of machinery is dangerous enough when you are fully alert, so why increase the odds of an accident?
- Focus on what you are doing at all times and take a break if you mind starts to wonder. You are most likely to have an accident when performing the same operation over and over again. Walk away for a few minutes between cuts.
The Best Woodworking Tools For Beginners
Below I’ve listed the 10 basic woodworking tools for beginners, including layout tools, hand tools, and small power tools. I’ve also noted a few extras (yes, you will need pencils), but the odds are you already have most of them.
1. Essential woodworking tool: Marking gauge
Marking gauges have been a staple of woodworking tool boxes for centuries. Along with a simple combination square (see below), it forms the basis for any kind of joinery work — fine or rough.
What’s great about marking gauges is not just how useful they are for both basic and advanced joinery, but also how easy they are to use.
You will need one for mortise and tenon joints, dovetails, rabbets, thicknessing, and countless other tasks. It’s such an essential woodworking tool for beginners to learn the basics of joinery that it should be one of the very first tools you buy.
Handwork in woodworking tends to be the line where craftsman and factory worker split. Working by hand enables one to create joinery which most machining cannot. The preciseness of the chisel in removing waste enables for a tight and perfect fit in joinery. Chisels come in every shape and size as well as different materials. The harder the material, the less one would need to sharpen, enabling more time to work. Chisels are used in creating dovetails, mortise and tendons.
3. Circular Saw
The circular saw is a hand held or table mounted saw. Circular saws come with the ability to set the depth of the blade, which enables one to create cut offs, dados and narrow slots. There are upsides and downsides to all saws, and the one down side to the circular saw that its light weight sometimes causes it to move when cutting, and stability in the machine is important for the cut and for safety. On the other hand, this is also its advantage. The versatility and the mobility of this saw gives one the freedom to work anywhere.
4. Wood Carving Knife
Not all woodworking tools are power operated—take this classic wood carving knife for example. Using your own strength, hand-eye coordination, and skill you can whittle, smooth rough wood, or carve nearly any type of wood. The thin pointed tip of the 3.15-inch high carbon steel blade is designed for precise detail work in small areas while the rounded part of the blade can be used to make larger rolled or slicing cuts. The economically shaped handle is made of oak that was processed with linseed oil. The knife measures about 8 inches in total and comes with a leather carrying case to persevere the blade.
5. Thickness Planer
Planers are usually identified by the width and thickness of the stock they will plane. A 12-inch model will suffice for most home workshop jobs. Don’t force the piece into the planer: the machine has a feed control that adjusts the speed at which the stock passes the cutterhead.
6. Radial Arm Saw
The radial arm saw is basically a portable circular saw that glides on an adjustable arm suspended over a fixed cutting surface. The blade and motor are connected to the arm by a yoke, which is adjustable along both horizontal and vertical planes, enabling the saw to be swung in a variety of directions.
For cross-cut work, position the board flush with the fence at the rear of saw and draw the blade across the wood. The bevel lock allows the saw to be tilted for cutting angles; set it to the desired angle using the protractor on the saw housing.
The saw can be swivelled right or left for mitering, or even turned a full 90 degrees for ripping. The blade can also be raised or lowered using a crank. The size of the saw is determined by the dimension of the blade the saw can accommodate. Many models use 10-inch blades, which will cut stock up to 3 inches thick.
7. Combination square
The next tool on the list is another layout tool, and it’s even more essential than the first. What makes the combination square an ideal choice over other types of squares is its ease of use and versatility.
Like a marking gauge, a good combination square is a must-have tool for woodworking beginners. It allows you to mark and cut at both 90 and 45 degrees, which are the most important angles in woodworking.
Everything from cutting a board to length to joining edges to making mortise and tenon joints requires perfect 90-degree angles, and 45-degree angles are equally important for corner joints and countless other cuts. Even if you plan on going the power tool route, a good combination square is a must.
8. Random Orbital Sander
This hand held sander is a great finish sander. When sanding, grain directions should be the first thing one looks at when deciding which direction to move the sand paper. With the random orbital sander, because of its circular movements, one does not need to take too much notice in the grain direction. Plus, with a velcro pad, switching sandpaper discs only takes a few seconds. Most sanders allow for speed control as well. This is an important feature because you do not want to over or under sand your work since what you leave behind after you finish sanding is going to exist.
9. Essential woodworking tool: Clamps
Ah, clamps. Ask any woodworker and they’ll tell you that you can never have enough of them. When you’re just getting started however, there is a minimum you’ll need to get work done.
When you first start woodworking, you need clamps for everything. Holding your work, gluing panels, final assembly, a third hand you always seem to need… the list goes on and on.
But before you go buy a set of 24 or more clamps from the nearest big box store, you should know that as a beginner you can get by with about 8 specific clamps.
Your main workhorses will be pipe clamps, which are sold in sets of fixtures. These fixtures are attached to standard sizes of galvanized pipe that you can buy in any home improvement store. This also means you can swap out the pipes for longer or shorter lengths, making them useful in just about any situation in woodworking.
That said, pipe clamps are large and heavy, which is why a few quality bar clamps should be your next purchase. These will cover most daily tasks in the woodshop, especially until you have a decent workbench and vise.
The last tool recommended for every beginning woodworker is a good-quality router. Routers are used to shape decorative contours on workpieces, and they are excellent at cutting rabbets and dados.
Many routers available today offer two different bases (a stationary base and a plunge router base). But most beginners find that a quality stationary base model will take care of quite a number of tasks—and it can also be mounted in a router table should you choose to invest in one. Choose a router model that has a motor at least 2-hp in size. Other features to look for: electronic variable speed controls (as larger cutting bits should use slower speeds), a soft-start mechanism, and easy-change bit collet (preferably with the ability to use both 1/2-inch and 1/4-inch-shank router bits).