Once you have the four aforementioned handheld power tools in your arsenal and you've had time to get comfortable with using them, its time to make your first (and likely most important) major tool purchase. The table saw is the heart and soul of every woodworking shop, the centerpiece around which all of the other tools are used and organized, so you'll want to buy the best table saw that your budget can comfortably afford. Take the time to learn which features you really want and the table saw that best fits your budget and your needs. This article will show you the most common features, and how to determine what features you need and how to know if those features are really well built, or simply added on to the saw because they are selling features.
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So, you have decided to start woodworking. One of the first questions that must have crossed your mind is what equipment do you need for your new hobby? One mistake that many beginners do is going on a spending spree and buying a bunch of unnecessary stuff. This is especially true for power tools which they assume are essential to becoming a “real” woodworker.
More than a decade ago I spent 2 weeks in Maine aspiring to learn furniture making. On my return home I started enthusiastically planning to turn my basement into a proper shop – with all the “essential” tools I had learned to use. My list reflected my engineer’s preference for buying quality and quickly exceeded $25k in power tools alone (table saw, band saw, joiner, thickness planer, drill press…) even before solving the power, lighting and dust challenges.
Wearing a respirator is essential when hand-applying or spraying high VOC finishes, working with mineral spirits or acetone or working with a sander or a saw. Wood dust is known to be a very dangerous workplace hazard. Long-term exposure to airborne dust can lead to all kinds of different respiratory disorders such as bronchitis, allergic rhinitis, asthma, and even cancer.
Other than the panel saw, all my kit fits into a 50x33x17cm wooden wine box. After years of relying on power tools for everything, I’ve found this minimalist approach very refreshing. Asking myself ‘will it fit in the box?’ helps me to curb ‘add to basket’ tendencies. My only additions to your list are a Stanley No. 18 block plane, a Lie Nielsen dowel plate and a small engineers set square, all non-essential but they do get used.
My $0.02 worth. I agree with the thickness planer [mine is 10″] but anything over a 6″ jointer is expensive and space-consuming, so use hand planes as in your later blog. I inherited an 8″ table saw that my dad and I used to build a 12′ outboard boat back in 1955. I’ve used it for ripping, but I’m having second thoughts because of safety issues. Some have suggested a band saw for ripping, which is quieter and safer to use. I gave my router away [and hope to get rid of my Freud biscuit joiner and 6″ jointer]. A quality eggbeater drill works every bit [pun not intended] as well as a power drill, and they cost less. A coping saw and a jewelers saw negate the need for a jigsaw unless you are into making puzzles. Chris Schwarz has a video short on one of the Highland Woodworker series showing how to joint the edge of a board with a plane and a simple jig on the workbench surface. Another reason to bypass the jointer.
The block height’s going to be a personal thing, depending on what you use it for. Mine’s about knee height, which is on the low end, but I did use to do a tremendous amount of prepping straight from the tree. As you’re the same height as me, I’d say 33″ would be a tad on the high side. If you imagine you’ve got a longish piece of wood to work down the length, you want to be holding it almost vertical, rather than angled as it’s less likely to slip. The higher the working surface, the more angled it’s naturally going to become, hence why mine’s so low.
But before you purchase clamps, build your first project and put it together without glue. Then see how many clamps you think you will need to put enough pressure in all the right spots. Then proceed to purchase that number of clamps. Repeat this process on your next project, and purchase more clamps if needed. This is better than running out and buying a huge collection of woodworking clamps. See my buying guide for different clamp types, uses, and my favorite brands.

As someone who is just progressing past being a “beginner” (just getting into building furniture) in the woodworking community, I would say there are a number of changes I would make to your list. First, I would say that a power jointer/thicknesser does not belong on the list by any means. They are way too large of an investment and take up a lot of space (not to mention you can buy your stock at the desired dimensions). I also strongly disagree with the concept of joinery devices. As someone new to the trade, I feel this is a very important skill that must be developed, not skipped over by buying devices power devices that achieve a single goal. I think the jigsaw should be replaced by a good bandsaw. I just purchased my first major power tool and it was a 14″ bandsaw and not a tablesaw for space reasons as well as versatility. The bandsaw allows me to resaw, cut curves, (now that it is adjusted for drift) rip pieces of stock accurately that are thicker than a table saw could handle, etc. Once the cut is complete, a handplane can remove any saw marks and square/flatten a surface. It is also really useful for cutting tenons and dovetails. Handsaws can be used for crosscutting and anything else the bandsaw cannot handle. As for a bench, if you are getting into woodworking, this should be your first real project (and it is not expensive to make). You are also missing a good vise to be attached to the bench.

Lots of good comments! I do think it is a bit of stretch to include a jointer and surface planner on the ‘basics’ list – we’ve got a slippery slope here! And a lot of different approaches – money, space, time, resources, etc. But lets plunge ahead. If you buy your wood already (or mostly) prep’ed, then the jointer & surface planner can be postponed. You definitely need a way to accurately measure linear distances (e.g. length, width) so a good ruler and tape measure. You need to be able to measure squareness – so you need a good combination square. You need to be able to mark the wood – so a good marking knife, an awl, some chalk, a fine pencil, etc. You should have some decent chisels (and good ones don’t need to cost a lot!). You will need to sharpen them (again not expensive – piece of plate glass and some sandpaper). You need a way to accurately cut your wood – a couple of good handsaws and a file or two for sharpening. You really should have a decent work surface/work bench/etc – a good first project by the way. Last of the basics – a good drill (3/8″ vs battery type). Lastly (I could go on but room is lacking), take a look at Paul Seller’s video’s for simple but highly competent work.
As someone who is just progressing past being a “beginner” (just getting into building furniture) in the woodworking community, I would say there are a number of changes I would make to your list. First, I would say that a power jointer/thicknesser does not belong on the list by any means. They are way too large of an investment and take up a lot of space (not to mention you can buy your stock at the desired dimensions). I also strongly disagree with the concept of joinery devices. As someone new to the trade, I feel this is a very important skill that must be developed, not skipped over by buying devices power devices that achieve a single goal. I think the jigsaw should be replaced by a good bandsaw. I just purchased my first major power tool and it was a 14″ bandsaw and not a tablesaw for space reasons as well as versatility. The bandsaw allows me to resaw, cut curves, (now that it is adjusted for drift) rip pieces of stock accurately that are thicker than a table saw could handle, etc. Once the cut is complete, a handplane can remove any saw marks and square/flatten a surface. It is also really useful for cutting tenons and dovetails. Handsaws can be used for crosscutting and anything else the bandsaw cannot handle. As for a bench, if you are getting into woodworking, this should be your first real project (and it is not expensive to make). You are also missing a good vise to be attached to the bench.
Dan, I’m worried about you. The stress must be getting to you. Somehow you’ve lost your ability to count. By my estimation, your list has at least 29 items, some of which are actually “sets” of items, like chisels or crayons, which I only counted as one item. Perhaps you need a break from all that blogging, and time to get back to basics, like counting. I can help. Come over to my shop and we can count things like parts, items on the honey-do list, and for extra credit, screw holes. Don’t worry about making mistakes, I’ll guide you through it, and we can round up if necessary. Ha!

I am finally getting to practice my woodworking more after years of collecting tools. By using tool reviews and thinking of the kind of work I would like to do, I have accumulated a nice set of tools without purchasing many mistakes. I decided to use Paul Sellers book and videos and start learning from the beginning. He starts with projects that begin with a small set of tools. One of those tools is a spokeshave. Even though I know much of what is in the first lessons, I have picked up a few new tricks, and am learning to use my tools more efficiently. My most important tools are my workbench and vise. The workbench was tough to build as I was on the floor using hand planes; not a good way to work. I have no jointer; did get a small planer and made a sled for it so I can flatten a board. My tools are in my house, so there is no room for a big table saw or bandsaw. I have a chopsaw and a piece of an old Craftsman tablesaw I got for free. It has to be moved outside to use. A circular saw with a guide is handy. My guide has a plate on which the saw is mounted. The plate slides on aluminum angle (with help of rollers) which is screwed to plywood. Once the initial cut is made in the plywood, the plywood is simply lined up with your cut marks and clamped down.
My $0.02 worth. I agree with the thickness planer [mine is 10″] but anything over a 6″ jointer is expensive and space-consuming, so use hand planes as in your later blog. I inherited an 8″ table saw that my dad and I used to build a 12′ outboard boat back in 1955. I’ve used it for ripping, but I’m having second thoughts because of safety issues. Some have suggested a band saw for ripping, which is quieter and safer to use. I gave my router away [and hope to get rid of my Freud biscuit joiner and 6″ jointer]. A quality eggbeater drill works every bit [pun not intended] as well as a power drill, and they cost less. A coping saw and a jewelers saw negate the need for a jigsaw unless you are into making puzzles. Chris Schwarz has a video short on one of the Highland Woodworker series showing how to joint the edge of a board with a plane and a simple jig on the workbench surface. Another reason to bypass the jointer.
If you can buy a bunch of tools at one time, you can save a ton on shipping, as the more you buy, the lower the rates. Also, take advantage of free shipping offers. Compare to see where you can get the best deal. Whatever you buy, make sure it is high quality. I have a Nicholson backsaw I bought at a local store before I knew of the woodworking suppliers. It has never been used much, but cuts much slower than saws such as Gramercy or Lie-Nielsen, even though mine have smaller teeth than the Nicholson.
Dividers (or compass) are used for taking and repeating a measurement over and over again on a work piece. Traditional woodworkers rarely take measurements with a tape measure when doing fine joinery work, but rather take a measurement with dividers then transfer that arbitrary (yet accurate) measurement to another work piece. This removes a degree of inaccuracy.
about three years ago I thought to make even only a cutting board I would need a complete set of machines, stationary and handmachines, plus of course a few handtools for “hybrid woodworking”, then I discovered Peter Sellers and most importantly Chris and The Anarchist’s Tool Chest, that was a revelation! So I find it absolutely awesome that you show us how to start with even less tools (especially the advice for saws is great, much cheaper to only get rip)!
Lots of good comments! I do think it is a bit of stretch to include a jointer and surface planner on the ‘basics’ list – we’ve got a slippery slope here! And a lot of different approaches – money, space, time, resources, etc. But lets plunge ahead. If you buy your wood already (or mostly) prep’ed, then the jointer & surface planner can be postponed. You definitely need a way to accurately measure linear distances (e.g. length, width) so a good ruler and tape measure. You need to be able to measure squareness – so you need a good combination square. You need to be able to mark the wood – so a good marking knife, an awl, some chalk, a fine pencil, etc. You should have some decent chisels (and good ones don’t need to cost a lot!). You will need to sharpen them (again not expensive – piece of plate glass and some sandpaper). You need a way to accurately cut your wood – a couple of good handsaws and a file or two for sharpening. You really should have a decent work surface/work bench/etc – a good first project by the way. Last of the basics – a good drill (3/8″ vs battery type). Lastly (I could go on but room is lacking), take a look at Paul Seller’s video’s for simple but highly competent work.
Most of your cutting will be done using power tools. While you can go full neanderthal and work solely with hand tools, modern power tools will make your woodworking hobby much more enjoyable. And you don’t really have to spend a fortune to get them. For some of them, you can easily find low budget alternatives. You can also ask your wood to be cut at the store you are buying it from.
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