One of the most common questions I get asked on my Instagram, is “what main tools should beginners get?”. It is easy to look at an established woodworker and see projects they produce, but what tools do they use the most…and what tools are a waste of money? I am going to go through the ten tools that I use the most and recommend to any beginner or DIYer looking to step up their shop game. I will also go over ten tools to stay away from if you are newer that you may not use as much unless you’re serious about getting into woodworking as a serious side hustle or even full time job, like me.
Let’s start with the most obvious of all the tools…
1. Miter Saw
A miter saw is the number one tool I recommend to anyone looking to do any sort of projects or DIY. You will need to cut wood and this is the most versatile tool out there to do so (yes, there are several other tools you could use like a circular saw or jigsaw) but for the most accurate cuts, you will need a miter saw. I highly recommend getting a 12″ sliding miter saw. This will give you the most bang for your buck as you will be able to cut larger, more wide boards. I have the Makita which features front rails to save space in the shop. But DeWalt also makes a great 12″ saw as well.
2. Brad Nailer
The second tool I suggest getting is a 18g brad nailer. I use mine almost every single day along with my miter saw. Brad nailers are great for joining boards together when you need to hold them together to wait for glue to dry. There are several projects I have done just using my miter saw, brad nailer, sander, and glue. Brand nailers come in several sizes- 23g pin nailer (small nails), 18g brad nailer (most commonly used/versatile), and 16g nailer (large nails for larger projects). I personally own the Ryobi nailers (I have all three sizes from them) as I like the ability to change out the battery to all their tools.
For every project you use wood on, you will more than likely need a sander to get your final project nice and smooth. You don’t want to spend a lot of time building a project just for it to come out rough to the touch. Starting out, I used the DeWalt 5″ orbital sander. This sander is great for beginners as it lasts a long time and the only thing you need to replace is the pad every so often, depending on how many projects you do. I have since upgraded to the Mirka 5″ orbital sander that attaches to dust collection, but I’d recommend starting off with the DeWalt. Stay away from palm sanders and other types- make sure to get the random orbital sander as this will give you the best finish and is easiest to work with to get your project smooth.
A drill is a pretty common tool most everyone has in their tool arsenal. I currently own 12 drills (but obviously you do not need that many!). If it’s within your budget, I would actually recommend getting not one, but two drills. This way you can keep your most used drill bit in one (mine is a 1/8″ bit), and then keep your most used driver bit in the other (mine is a Phillips head). This will make your projects go by SO much quicker as you won’t be changing out the bits several times throughout the project. Just like my brad nailer, I own all Ryobi drills since their batteries are universal. But there are lots of other quality brands such as DeWalt, Milwaukee, Ridgid, etc. out there if you are not a Ryobi fan.
5. Kreg Jig
Next up would be a Kreg Jig. This jig allows you to drill pocket holes for pocket hole screws to join pieces of wood together. I use pocket holes especially for face frames for cabinets and cabinet bases. But you can use them for many other applications. I don’t recommend it, but you can use it for table tops, table bases, etc. (See my post on the 4 ways to attach boards for a table top here). The Kreg Jig is a great introduction into joinery, but make sure your wood is dry before joining! Which leads me to my next tool……
6. Moisture Meter
One of the biggest mistakes I made as a beginner years ago was not knowing about moisture in wood. If you work with wet wood, it WILL warp on you and leave you frustrated with a now ruined project. It could take days, weeks, or years but wet wood will dry out and warp over time. The key is getting a digital moisture meter and bringing it with you when you go to the lumber yard to pick out your wood for your project. Always sight your boards to make sure they are free of cups, bows, and twists and then use your moisture meter to check to make sure the moisture reading is between 7-11%. This is the ideal range for furniture building from MY experience. Other carpenters may say as low as 4% and as high as 15%. It also depends on your location if you live in a more dry area or humid area.
7. Biscuit Joiner
As mentioned above, I do NOT recommend joining your boards for table tops together with pocket hole screws. The reason for this is, wood expands and contracts with the changing of seasons (this is why they tell you to leave a small gap between wood floors and baseboards). If you screw the top boards together and they go to expand/contract they will not be able to properly move because of the screws, thus leading to cracking/warping over time *even if you got wood within the proper moisture levels*. For this, I recommend a biscuit joiner. This will allow you to properly join the top boards together where they can expand and contract freely without constriction of screws. You can also use this to cut the slots in your bases for z-clips (to attach your base to your top to allow for that wood movement).
8. Speed Square
One thing I know for certain when building anything, is that you always want to be square! I heard it along time ago from my friend’s grandfather, “start square and square”. That has stuck with me throughout my entire woodworking journey. I now own several squares, but the one that I use the most is my speed square. A speed square is one that looks like a triangle, it has a lip on the bottom that you can easily run up and down a board to mark your measurement at 90°. Hence why it is called a speed square, because it allows you to make these marks in a speedy manner. I have Woodpecker’s brand squares, but you can find speed squares are in a big box store.
9. Jig Saw
Number 9 on the list would have to be a jigsaw. Jigsaws allow you to make awkward cuts that randomly pop up within a project that your miter saw cannot do. For example, if you need to notch out a corner of a piece of wood for your windowsill, you would not be able to do that with your miter saw, so the jigsaw comes in handy to make that awkward cut instead. Plus you can make other cuts for smaller projects similar to scroll saw cuts, like if you want to cut out a letter or a curve, a jigsaw will allow you to do that. Again, I have Ryobi as my battery operated jigsaw since the batteries are universal, but for my corded jigsaw I have a Bosch as it has a little more power than the battery operated one.
10. Table Saw
Last, but definitely not least, I would have to say a tablesaw. A tablesaw will allow you to rip boards and plywood into strips accurately. You can also build a jig for a tablesaw to act like a jointer so you can get perfectly straight rips on either side of boards to join together for table tops to make them seamless and you don’t have to spend the money on buying an actual jointer. You can also make a sled to be able to cut many different types of cuts, and you can also get dado blades for half lap joints and notching out for drawers etc. You can do so much with a tablesaw! *Out of all the tools above, the tablesaw is the most dangerous in my opinion, please always be aware of your surroundings when working with any tool!*
Now, tools that I recommend staying away from if you are a beginner….
As mentioned above, you can use your tablesaw to essentially act as a jointer if you create a jig. So unless you start cranking out tables, I do not recommend getting a jointer right away. They are fairly expensive, they take up a good bit of space, and again, you can achieve similar results with the tablesaw and a jointer jig. While I absolutely love my jointer, I don’t recommend beginners getting on right away.
While a planer is another amazing tool to have, again, it is not a necessity for beginners. As long as you sight your boards at the lumberyard to make sure there is little to no cupping, you really don’t need a planer right away anyway. And more times than not, you probably know someone who has one that you could use in the event that you really needed to run a board through to get flat. They also take up a good bit of space, are on the more expensive side, and again, really not a necessity right out of the gate.
3. Festool Domino
As a beginner, you will probably be starry-eyed seeing any festool product. I know I was, and I still am! But the domino is essentially a biscuit joiner on steroids. No need in spending over $1000 on something you can get at a big box store that does almost the exact same thing. The only reason I currently own one is because of the amount of tables I produce. Dominoes are a lot thicker and bigger than biscuits, but both are merely used for alignment, not stability. Wood glue is what holds your boards together, I recommend titebond ultimate in the green label. A project will always break in the wood grain before it will break in a glued joint if properly assembled.
I didn’t get a bandsaw until I was almost 2 years into my business. And to this day, I still hardly use it. I absolutely love my bandsaw, but it is one of the tools that I do not use that often which is why I would not recommend it to beginners starting out. Bandsaws are great for cutting curves and things like funky charcuterie boards etc. but you can add this to your list for later on down the road.
5. Large Dust Collection System
For beginners, the best dust collection would be to simply hook up a shop vac to your miter saw or tablesaw. There is no need for a large dust collection system right away unless you plan to be milling a lot of wood, as milling produces the most dust. A shop that can also be used for a number of different things to help clean up the shop. So do not waste your money on a large system right away.
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