With so many options, determining the best woodworking tools isn't easy. In this brief article, we hope to shed some light on the best woodworking tools for a DIY woodworking shop.
There are definitely several key tools that you will need in order to set up a proper, functional, modern day woodworking shop.
One thing to keep in mind is that you can literally drive yourself looney searching online for a list of the best woodworking tools. There’s simply so much stuff out there nowadays, you could spend a couple thousand dollars before you even realize what hit you.
Also, another danger to consider is that the more tools you accumulate, the more you’ll come to rely on them being the craftsman instead of you. You could spend all the money in the world on the best woodworking tools, but at the end of the day there’s absolutely no substitute for the skill to know how to use each tool.
What we’ll try and do in this article is come up with a small list of the most essential/important tools you’ll need to set up an inexpensive yet full-range woodworking shop.
Also, we’ll go over a few of the small yet indispensable hand tools you’ll need as well to make your shop complete.
The Tools: What you need, and what you don’t
First, let’s think about the basic things you’re going to be doing in a woodworking shop:
- Cutting/ripping wood down to size
- Straightening/planing/jointing edges and faces so they’re completely flat
- Cutting grooves for joinery
- Prepping/sanding for paint/finish
When all’s said and done, you really only need a handful of tools to do everything above, and to do them well. And in our opinion, you’re much better off learning to do everything on one or two tools (i.e. a table saw), rather than buying a separate tool for every specific little thing.
(If you don’t believe us, check out this video showing its many different uses).
From there, you’ll want to invest in a jigsaw.
While you won’t use your jigsaw nearly as much as you do your table saw, they really are necessary in that they can do certain things that the table saw can’t, most significantly of which is their ability to cut curves.
Next, any self-respecting woodworker needs to know the basics of how to plane a piece of wood. This means getting it from its rough, unmilled state to where it’s completely flat, square and ready to be made into a piece a furniture.
There are several ways to do this, and not one of them is really right or wrong. The most convenient way would be to use a power jointer and planer, but these are big, expensive machines that aren’t too practical for the beginning woodworker. (Check out our article here on the differences between a jointer and a planer).
You could also go old school and use a combination of hand planes. Hand planes of course are much less expensive than a big power tool like a planer, but their drawback is they require a lot of skill, practice, and patience to achieve good results. If you’ve got the time, there’s absolutely no substitute for learning how to hand plane, and you’ll quickly earn the respect of your fellow woodworkers.
All things considered, the easiest and most practical way to plane a piece of unmilled wood is to use a router. You can pick up a halfway decent router fairly inexpensively, and the good thing about investing in one is that there’s truly no limit to what you can do with it - planing a piece of wood is just one of a million different things a router can be used for.
Also, before we forget or go any further, we feel we need to talk about the circular saw. Like the table saw, the circular saw is another invaluable power tool you’ll find yourself using all the time.
Do you need both a table and circular saw? No. Will your woodworking/DIY life be infinitely more convenient by having both? Yes. And you by no means don’t have to go out and buy the most expensive saws you can get - if you buy wisely, you should easily be able to pick up both a circular saw and a table saw for around $300.
Lastly, you’ll need something to finish off your woodworking pieces and prep them for paint, stain, or whatever you’re going to be finishing them with.
For this, your best bet hands down is going to be a dual action random orbit sander. There are other options out there (belt sander, orbital sander, detail sander, etc), but the random orbit is definitely the best all-around, all-purpose choice. (And for any edges/tricky corners that you can’t get to with the RO, you can always just hand sand).
So that about does it for the big tools. However, you’ll still need a few small hand tools to finish off your shop and make it a truly full-range woodworking facility.
First, you’ll need to get a good chisel, or better yet, a good set of chisels. If you’re only getting one, go with a ¾” for the best all-around use. However since chisels are cheap investments, you’ll probably want to go ahead and get a 3-piece set - most of which will come with a ½”, ¾”, and 1”.
You won’t use a chisel all the time, but when the time comes that you do need one, there’s no substitute for them - you can use them for carving out recesses and notches, cutting joinery grooves, chopping corners, shaving rough surfaces, and scraping glue and caulk. An absolute must-buy for any woodworking shop.
Level & Speed Square
You’ll also need a level and a good speed square for marking out straight edges, scribe lines, and so on. (You can also use the pivot point on a speed square and turn it into a protractor for marking out angles and curves).
Practical Use for Each Tool
To summarize, let’s take a look back at our list of the essential things you’ll be doing in the woodworking shop, and supplement it with what tools you’ll need to get each job done:
Cutting/ripping wood down to size
Table saw (*our recommendation)
Straightening/planing/jointing edges and faces so they’re completely flat
Router (*our recommendation)
Hand planes (low angle block plane, jack plane, jointer plane, and smoothing plane)
Power joiner and planer (two different machines - very large and expensive)
Cutting grooves for joinery
Table saw (*our recommendation - but you’ll need to build jigs)
Prepping/sanding for paint/finish
Random orbit sander (*our recommendation)
Buying Guide for the Best Woodworking Tools: Our Top Picks
For most of these tools, we’ve already written up detailed buying guides. So instead of going into full-on reviews of each of our top picks, we’ll simply go over our #1 choices for each tool.
While performance is a huge consideration, the ultimate goal with this list is to help you set up the best woodworking shop you can for the best overall value.
Table Saw: We recommend the 7491RS from DeWalt. It’s a bit expensive, but it’s an absolute gem. (For a full review and our complete table saw buying guide, click here). Also, for a much cheaper table saw option, this Craftsman Evolv 10” is pretty decent one at a fantastic price, though it’s no comparison to the DeWalt.
Random Orbit Sander: DeWalt DWE6420 5” (check out this article for our complete guide on RO sanders).
Best Woodworking Hand Tools
Chisel Set: (For the record, we LOVE chisels… we couldn’t pick just one set, so here’s a few different options for you to mull over)
Speed Square: DeWalt 7” Premium Rafter Square
Summary / Bottom Line
So remember, the goal in setting up your first woodworking shop is to try and have as few tools as possible, while at the same time making sure you have everything you need to cover all the basic tasks.
Most of what you invest in will depend on your budget: if money (and space) are not much of an issue, go ahead for instance and invest in a full on jointer, planer, router, table saw, scroll saw, band saw, and all the other goodies.
However, for the vast majority of folks that are trying to set up a quality workshop on a budget, all you’ll really need is a table saw, jigsaw, something to plane with, and something to finish with. These, in our opinion, are the best woodworking tools for your DIY shop.