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2015/02/01 - Putting together a woodworker's tool set

posted Jan 31, 2015, 10:23 PM by Jeff Balderson   [ updated Feb 6, 2015, 1:47 PM ]
I've talked with a few people over the years that are interested in woodworking, but don't know where to start or what tools to get.  How learn, what to lean and what tools to buy are completely dependent on what you want to build.  If you're really interested in building outdoor furniture, your skill and tool needs will vary quite a bit than someone interesting in building Queen Anne dressers.

Getting Started
Its hard to get started in something when you don't have an end goal in sight.  Find some simple projects to tackle until you start developing a repertoire of skills.  Working on shop projects is a good way to develop those skills, but not have to worry as much if you make a mistake.  Remember, the sign of a good craftsman is how well he hides (and never mentions his mistakes).  

Here's a few places I visit for ideas and inspiration:
Learning techniques
I like to feed my brain while I'm doing other boring tasks.  The easiest way to do that is always have an earbud in your ear, listening into podcasts.  Hint: listen at 1.5x or 2x speed to make the information download even faster.  Here's a few podcasts I listen to:
Read Books.  Visit a library (remember those?).

If you prefer to take classes, here are some places to look into :
  • Hacker/Maker Spaces - Some may teach classes and lead workshops on all aspects of woodworking.
  • Community Centers - Some have Woodshops with various levels of commitment and cost.
  • Woodcraft - all woodcraft stores offer classes, as far as I'm aware.
  • Community Colleges
  • Woodworking Schools - here's a list at Fine Woodworking
Last but not least, once you hear about something that you think might be useful, try to practice it.

Initial "required" tools
The list below are the tools I think you'd need to tackle most small househole woodworking projects.  I'm assuming you have a few tools needed for basic home repair (e.g., screwdrivers, pliers, wrenches, basic claw hammer, safety goggles and ear protection) and will focus on the pure woodworking ones.  

Just remember that with tools, you usually really don't get what you don't pay for in most cases.  Low-end tools (e.g., Ryobi and Skill, just to name two) are usually just that. They typically will be lower powered, use more plastic components (e.g., gears and housings) that will wear out much faster,  potentially deform more, be less feature-rich and be less accurate than their higher priced counterparts.  There are exceptions to every rule, however, and it depends on how frequently you'll use the tool and how accurate you need the tool to be.

The couple of links I provide below are for clarification since sometimes the tool terms can be confusing or overly generic.   The links are to the ones I have or have used or newer models if mine are no longer in production, solely as a basis of example.  Don't take my word for it, however, definitely do your own research.
  • Circular saw - crosscut and rip stock; cut down plywood.  Get a rip blade, combination blade, and a high tooth count (e.g., 60) plywood blade.
  • Straight Edge/Track - Used with the saw to cut long, very straight lines
  • Drill and bits - Simple plug-in drill with a decent selection of bits.  I'm still my grandfather's ancient plug-in drill and bits (I resharpen them)
  • Jigsaw - Cut anything that's not in a straight line.  Still using my grandfather's here as well.
  • Small set of chisels - cut notches, clean up cuts, resize pockets, chamfer edges
  • Set of clamps of varying sizes - 4x6", 4x12", 4x18" should get you started.  It really depends on the size of your projects, however.  This is one of those times when cheap is definitely good enough.
  • Router - trace templates, treat edges.  Get a 2-1/4 HP or better, will accept 1/2" shank bits, variable speed in a two-base kit (fixed and plunge).
  • Random Orbit Sander
Later, I'd add the following, more or less in order
  • Cordless Impact Driver
  • Corless drill
  • Router Table - joint edges, cut profiles, mortise and tenons.  You could make one or buy one. 
  • Block plane and Jack Plane (#5)
  • Set of diamond sharpening plates and angle guide for sharpening the chisels and plane irons.
  • Card Scraper and burnisher - leaves a smoother surface that accepts stain and finish better than even find sandpaper.
  • Table Saw
  • Drill Press
  • Bandsaw
  • Air Compressor with brad, pin and finish nailers (in that order)
So, there's my brain dump on getting started.  

Just remember 
  • Inspiration is everywhere.
  • Start small and keep it simple.
  • Don't over-analyze things or you'll never get started on your projects (i.e., Paralysis by Analysis)
  • You will make mistakes.  All woodworkers do.  Fix them as best you can. Make it a feature.  Never say a word to anyone, since they probably won't notice if you don't tell them.
  • Failure is always an option, but it shouldn't be a reason to not start on a project.  You will *ALWAYS* learn something from any project you tackle, even if it fails.
  • You usually get what you pay for in tools, unless you happen to get a good deal on a closeout model.