Set up your woodshop right!

If you want to expand your woodworking hobby, you’ll likely have to invest in an area that can accommodate your needs.

If your hobby is in its’ infancy, chances are you’ll do alright with a space the size of a garage (if you organize it well enough that is).

If I were just setting up, and I planned to make projects for paying customers, I would want a few essential items (I would go with quality used on the more expensive tools; you can find these items on Craigslist from people who have upgraded over time).

What kind of equipment would benefit a beginner wood worker?

  • Saws that make life easier (and projects better!):
  • Table Saw – I cannot express how important this one item could be! If you plan to make any furniture or boxes (or anything really that you want to be straight and not made out of just 2×4’s). Making straight cuts with other cutting tools like a circular saw can pose a few problems since you could end up “walking” the saw up to 1/8″ from one side of your workpiece to the other, causing a gap when assembled. You can get a large model that stays in your workshop or opt for a smaller portable unit that can be stored on a shelf in your garage if need be.
  • Compound Miter Saw – There is a big benefit to having a saw like this on hand, especially one that is over 10 inches or a sliding compound miter saw. These can provide super clean cuts at different angles to get that perfect fit-up on the corners of that picture frame or shadow box you’re working on for a customer or your grandmother. Different sizes are available depending on your needs, though 10″ will likely be sufficient for most projects.
  • Jigsaw – Though it’s not entirely not necessary for most projects, you may find it comes in handy. A jigsaw is a cost-effective way to and is more portable/takes up less real estate in your workshop than a band saw; however, it can’t do certain things that a band saw can do (but there a plenty of things a band saw can’t do that a jigsaw can). They can both be used to cut whatever odd shapes you want! You want to cut a heart shape out of the middle of your table top or end? Drill a pilot hole, drop in your jigsaw and cut it out! [So nice for projects that have “non-geometric” shapes].
  • There are a couple other “large” tools that may be useful to you
    • Drill Press – First introduced in machine shops and metal shops almost 200 years ago, today its’ utilized in a variety of trades. It’s basically a fixed version of a hand drill (in a vertical orientation) with a moveable table below the chuck holding the bit you need to use.

      In woodworking, drilling a series of holes at the same depth can be made easier with a drill press than its’ hand-held counter part. If a project has some metal accent pieces that need to be attached with nails or screws, you’ll need to be able to drill holes into the work piece. Though it’s not absolutely necessary, you’ll find yourself returning to the drill press time and time again.

    • Air Compressor – In the field today, there are a lot of pneumatic tools (sprayers, grinders, nailers, etc). If you want to invest in some of the pneumatic tools that make things a bit faster, you’re going to need air.

    • Thickness Planer – This machine is used to mill down boards to a flat and finished surface. If you’ve ever noticed how lumber may be uneven or twisted, this machine solves the problem (within reason, depending on how warped your boards may be) by passing the material through a cutting head which takes down the high points on the material (one pass at a time) until the piece is even enough to work with.

    • Table Sander/Belt Sander – A stationary sander which has a wide sanding belt that travels in a closed loop to allow for QUICK work of sanding down work material (such as a dowel that is just a bit too big for the hole you’ve drilled). You can round sharp edges, shape and polish small pieces with a belt sander, and it makes quicker/more stable work that a hand-held unit. It could be useful on a lot of projects, depending on the type of work you’re doing.
  • The “Small Stuff” counts too!

    You’ll probably want to get more hand tools than listed below, but here are some options to consider:
  • Hammers – Not all hammers are created equal! You’ll need at least a claw hammer for nails. But there are many other types you may eventually need to add: there are joiners mallets for wooden wedges and dowels, mallets for use with a chisel, brass hammers for metal pins, and plenty of other options.
  • Hand Planer – These are so useful! For example if you build a tabletop out of multiple boards, you’ll likely have differences in the boards butted up to on another, to get an even surface, a hand planer can take down all of the high spots and create a super flush work piece. [These can be hard work to use on larger projects, but they get the job done right].
  • Hand Saws – There are a few different types; you’ll find the most use out of “Rip Cut” saws which cut along the grain of your work material, and “Cross Cut” saws which cut against the grain of your material. Another type may be a miter saw which has a brace at the top to keep the saw from flexing, providing a super accurate cut. You could invest in a coping saw if you’re going to need precision cuts for things like dovetail joints. This is basically a hand-held scroll saw.
  • Chisels – You’ll need a set of chisels! Many woodworkers find themselves using chisels more often than any other tool in their shops, so investing in a quality set that could last you decades is not a bad idea. These are used for cutting, chopping, pairing, scraping, and joinery to name a few things.
  • Squares – It’s good to have a few different squares on hand. Including a combination square, framing square, speed square, and a sliding bevel square. These are used to mark out your work to keep the angles consistent and provide a good fit-up when you go to assemble. It’s not considered a square, but a spirit level/bubble level is a good tool to keep around to make sure your workpiece is level and plumb.
  • Measuring tools – When doing joinery work, many woodworkers will pass up a tape measure and opt for a compass or divider to get consistent measurements. Also, calipers, a rule and a tape measure will be tools you should consider adding to your toolbox (or tool wall).
  • CLAMPS – I cannot express enough how much clamps will help you! When you’re working alone and you only have two hands, you’re going to love as many clamps as you can get. Strap clamps, bar clamps, C-clamps, there are so many different kinds and they are a godsend. 

You will add more tools as you progress in your craft!

Along with the tools above, you’ll likely have if you own your own home (such as drills, saws, and impact drivers). There are always more tools out there that can make your day and your life easier when doing a project, so you can get to that next project even sooner without sacrificing the quality of the work you need to finish!

Don’t worry about picking up all of these items to get started in woodworking, the important thing is to START with what you’ve got. Getting going as a hobby should be slow and enjoyable; but starting woodworking as a business, you’ll have to take on projects that you can handle with the tool arsenal that you already have (you could build decks if you only have a circular saw and a screw gun).

Building up your inventory of tools can happen as you take on jobs. If you don’t have a table saw, but you take on  job to build large birdhouses or benches, here is some advice:

Work the price of the table saw into the quote to your customer (perhaps not the entire price, unless the project is elaborate), also work the price of the materials you’ll use into the quote. Even though you won’t turn a profit for your pocket on this job, you’ll be able to afford a table saw, which will allow you to take on more paying jobs that require the saw that you otherwise would not have.

The point is that you’ve got to get out there and start creating! Follow your passion for woodworking and keep the craft alive!

As always, thanks for reading!

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