I am often surprised at what tools woodworkers don’t use or own, especially when they are some of the few that I find essential. Sometimes it’s just the difference between hand tool and power tool guys, but sometimes it’s just from lack of experience or the fact that they haven’t given it too much thought. Most likely they just buy tools as they need them and never really considered what tools would give them the most bang for the buck.
Once the workshop location is determined, it's time to begin planning how to lay it out. First, acknowledge the need to formulate a plan that's realistic in terms of the space allotted. The size of the structure or workspace will place some constraints on how much can be done. Taking into account size limitations, begin fashioning a plan that keeps efficiency in mind.
Perhaps the most satisfying move I made was to automate the dust collection system. I used the iVACPro system to link all machines to the dust collector. When I turn on any machine in the shop, the dust collector fires up and whisks the dust into the bin. The system also has a programmable delay to allow the dust to make it to the bin before the dust collector shuts down. I set my system for a five-second delay. The system works flawlessly for my band saw, planer, and router table at 115 volts, and also my table saw and jointer at 240 volts.
I could write a whole post on wood species as each species has unique characteristics and traits. But, one of the most common types of wood used in DIY projects and furniture building is pine wood (a softwood). Pine is an affordable and readily available option at your local home improvement store and it comes in many sizes. I highly recommend using pine for beginner woodworking projects. Then, as you improve your skill, try working with some different wood species!
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Chop saw (compound miter saw): I do a mix of woodworking from furniture to built-ins and even finish carpentry, and I find myself regularly using the chop saw. Even if used for nothing more than roughly cutting a long board into two shorter ones to fit in a car, this tool earns its keep. It is especially useful (with the help of an outfeed table) on long pieces that are precarious to push through a table saw. But, since a table saw with a jig can perform many of the same functions, this tool doesn’t make it to the essential list. With that said, I expect to have a chop saw wherever I am working, whether it be in the shop or at an install. If this was a post about on-site woodworking and trim carpentry, the chop saw might be the #1 tool.
Other important power tools—A good jigsaw will help get you through many tasks, particularly cutting curves, that would otherwise require a bandsaw. Look for one with blade guides that keep blade deflection to a minimum. A handheld drill is also essential. A quality corded drill is much less expensive than a cordless one, and will never leave you without a charge. Also look for a quality random-orbit sander with a provision for dust collection.
Table saw: Of all of the tools in the shop, the table saw is the most useful and versatile. It excels at making straight cuts, and with the addition of any of a million jigs, can be made to perform an amazing number of tasks with repeatability and precision. I use the table saw for roughing out smaller parts from larger pieces, all the way through trimming parts to final size. The only limit to the table saw is that the piece needs to be small enough to be pushed through it. Above a certain size, the table saw becomes less useful and even impossible to use as the saw needs to be brought to the piece, instead of the piece being brought to the saw.
My hand tools are stored in a cabinet built into my bench but my shop supplies, air tools, and a plethora of “misc stuff” is in a cabinet on the other side of the shop, and my clamps are mounted on a wall adjacent to my bench, where conventional wisdom says tools should be. I just like it that way. I run my DC overhead and drop down… because my floor is on a slab. My bandsaw is mobile so I can pull it out of a semi-alcove for resawing, otherwise it stays in place for small operations (20″ bandsaws are cumbersome to move, even on leveling casters).
Keep in mind, there are no perfect boards, but try to always use the straighter boards and avoid warping boards. Also, Brandon and I have found that when it comes to picking out lumber at Home Depot and Lowes, they tend to stock up on fresh boards a few days before the weekend starts (so Thursday/Friday). And then, on Sundays and Mondays, the boards are usually really picked over and there isn’t a good selection. Just another tip to keep in mind!
After years of digging down under router tables, lifting the entire unit up to change bits, and then fighting to get the plate flush again in the table, I chose to spend the money to purchase a router table, fence, and lift system. I did a thorough review of these systems, and chose the Canadian made Jessem Rout-R-Lift II kit. The system comes with a solid steel stand, a phenolic table, an adjustable extruded aluminum fence, and their base model lift system. For budget reasons, I did not choose the hefty Mast-R-Lift, but I am quite happy with the lighter Rout-R-Lift II. It will last me a couple of lifetimes, so it is the right system at the right price for me in my one-man shop. Hats off to Jessem for making a great lift at a very reasonable price in the middle of a tough economy. The table is durable, and flat. The direct drive lift is smooth and precise. I mated the lift system to a mid-sized model 690 Porter Cable router, which has a fixed speed, and enough power to do anything I need. The Jessem system uses a bayonet type mount for the table inserts, a nice touch that makes swapping the table insert quick and simple. As with all my machines, the router table is connected with the supplied dust port to my shop dust collection system with automated switching.
Instead of permanently mounting my 6-in. vise to a work-bench, I attached it to scrap plywood so I can clamp it wherever I need it. Stack two pieces of 3/4-in. plywood and screw them together with 1-1/4 in. drywall screws. Mark the vise-mounting holes on the plywood and drill 3/4-in. guide holes through both pieces. Recess the nut by drilling through the bottom sheet with a 1-in. spade bit using the 3/4-in. hole as a guide. Fasten the vise to the plywood with bolts sized to match the vise-mounting holes. If the bolt shafts are too long, cut them off with a hacksaw. — LuAnn Aiu. Plus: Learn how to use vise grips to pull nails.
I really appreciate the article. I am always looking for a way to improve my shop and its layout. I currently have a 34′ x 28′ garage which I park two vehicles and still have some room for a table saw, large bench and various smaller benches and cabinets. All of my large power tools are on casters so I can roll them out when I move the cars outside. Right now I am considering keeping my little truck outside permanently and set the shop up more in a fixed layout. This would make working in the shop more enjoyable and much easier to do more complex projects that I currently take on. Maybe this spring. Thanks for the advice.
Jointer: I use my jointer a lot. When preparing rough lumber it sees as much action as the planer. As a matter of fact, almost every piece of lumber in my shop gets surfaced on the wide face to straighten things out before it even heads to the planer. Without the jointer, my life would just be a crooked, twisty mess of painful attempts to make things seem straight.