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.
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I just moved overseas and had to give up all of my power tools due to space limitations and power incompatibility. Upon arrival the first power tool that I bought was a cordless drill/driver and the second was a circular saw. I then modified the saw to improve its performance for cabinet quality work by putting a zero clearance baseplate (just a piece of 1/4″ plywood screwed to the base) this allows the saw to cut plywood panels without tearing up the edges. I also bought a length of aluminum rectangle tube stock for a straight edge. Together the straight edge and the zero clearance baseplate makes the circular saw a fairly accurate tool for plywood construction projects. It’s not as easy to use as a Festool track saw but it cuts almost as clean and cost about 1/5th the price.
excellent post! noone can beat good advice from someone who makes a living at this. it’s struggle to commit to minimal tools but i can attest to getting too many too soon and not mastering them all. it can even slow down a project trying to fiddle with a new tool and create some waste. i’ve taken to the idea to make 6 projects with the same problem i like to solve with a specialty tool. then ask do i really need it.. for instance i want to incorporate more sliding dovetails. as per you sound advice you don’t need anything more than what you listed but i keep eyeing a dovetail planes both male and female. i just saying resist and build! learn efficiency with what i have and decide if its a roadblock to success or profitability
Basic woodworking tools are different from beginner woodworking tools. For one thing, I don’t like to use the word “beginner” unless I am using it accurately. It’s not a very useful label, in my opinion, because it implies that there are clear-cut and hierarchical steps in your growth as a woodworker. Who wants to return to grade school during his or her valuable shop time? So I only use the word “beginner” when I’m talking about someone who is touching woodworking tools for the first time.

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After you have chosen the perfect table saw for your woodshop, the next major purchase one should consider would be a compound miter saw. While not as expensive as a quality table saw, a compound miter saw is invaluable for cutting compound angles (beveled, mitered and combination cuts) on the ends of a piece of stock. Once you develop your ability to make precise cuts with a compound miter saw, you'll find that your circular saw spends a little more time in the drawer than it used to.
A marking knife is used for marking where you will be cutting with your saws and chisels. For getting into tight spots (like dovetails) and making very accurate lines (which is vital for tight fitting joints) you need just the right marking knife. You would think that any old knife would work, but you would be wrong. Years ago I purchased several that didn’t work well.
Dan, my work space that is available for power tools is quite small, about 6′ x 20′. It may seem like a lot on the surface, but a long rectangle is a bear to work in. It requires a lot of serpentine action. That said, I don’t have too much room for large footprint tools. I have settled finally on three big tools; a small bench saw, a thickness planer, and a drill press. I had to forgo the jointer, so I use hand tools to make up for it’s absence (as I do with a lot of my hand tool techniques). I have gotten to the point where I can flatten one side and true an edge of a board reasonably quick. I then finish it up with the thickness planer and table saw, giving me a nice flat board. I guess what I am basically saying is, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and don’t write off hand tools as a quaint way to experience the past. They worked for thousands of years, and still do! Thanks for the blogs, they make for great reading.
I just found you site and from what I have seen so far is very impressive. I cannot believe it took me this long to find it. I have a question concerning the Stanley 62 folding rule that you and Chris Schwarz recommend. I checked on ebay and there seems to be a wide range in prices. Do you have any more information or a recommendation as to the where more research could be done on these rules? Also, if I win the video, I would like the Howarth Bow Saw video and/or the black Got Wood? t-shirt. I live… Read more »
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