With these three power tools (and a few hand tools), I feel like I could make about 80% of the jobs that come through my shop on a daily basis. Obviously, some jobs will require more specialized power tools to complete, but these three probably find their way into almost all of my work. With that said, there are a few other tools that I couldn’t imagine being without and I feel need to be added to the list.
One of the misconceptions about planers is that they make lumber straight. They do some straightening, but they don’t make lumber straight. That is what jointers do. Many lumber mills just send rough lumber through the planer allowing the board to exit the machine with the same ups and downs and whoops that is entered with, only now to a consistent thickness. This is especially apparent when gluing up a couple of these roller coaster type of boards and trying to get them to line up. After a couple of those glue-ups, you will swear by lumber that has seen the jointer before the planer, and never skip the jointer.
Pocket screws create a solid, simple-to-make joint. Because of the size and visibility of the hole, it’s usually located in areas that are concealed or rarely seen (though special plugs can be used to fill the holes.) Craig Sommerfeld, founder of The Kreg Tool Company, is credited with popularizing pocket screw joinery in the 1980s. The company today is the leader in creating the jigs, clamps and screws used to create pocket screw joints. Learn how to use a pocket screw jig in woodworking projects.
For many of us, the moment we learned that a 2×4 board is actually 1.5 inches x 3.5 inches was simply mind-blowing. The reason for this apparent contradiction is that the board has been planed down to eliminate irregularities. At one point, many years ago, 2x4s actually were 2 inches x 4 inches, but their rough surfaces made them difficult to stock and handle. The old terms, such as 2×4 or 4×4, are still used, and are known as the “nominal” size of the board. These nominal sizes are used because they are easier to say and they stick to tradition. Now, thanks to a lawsuit, most big box stores list the nominal and actual sizes of lumber.

If you work with rough lumber, a planer will be absolutely necessary, except for the most rustic of projects. Every piece of rough cut lumber ends up somewhat not straight, not flat and not consistent in thickness, either from variations during the sawing or from stresses which occur while the wood dries. The planer, combined with the jointer, is a one-two punch to remove these variations and produce straight, flat and consistently thick lumber. The reason the planer is ahead of the jointer on this list is that some lumber is straight enough and flat enough to plane without jointing if the job is a little less finicky, thereby skipping the jointer.

Lacking a jointer? Use reader Court Kites’ awesome tip to create perfectly matched glue joints on wavy or bowed board edges. Lay the boards on a flat surface, then clamp them across the middle with a bar clamp. Lay two 8-in. long by 1-3/4 in. wide scrap boards across each end and screw them in with four 1-1/4 in. long screws, two per board. Keep the screws well away from your future cutting line!
I know this seems really simple and you may already know how to read a tape measure so just hear me out on this one! Often times with woodworking you need to make exact measurements and cuts and it’s rarely pretty even numbers like 15 inches or 15 1/2 inches. It’s usually like 15 5/8 inches or 15 9/16 inches. So, really knowing how to read a tape measure in its entirety is important. And I’ve created a quick post on how to read a tape measure the easy way along with a helpful free printable.
An interesting variation of this layout is displayed in Jim Tolpin’s shop, shown in the photo at right. Tolpin located his jointer to the left of his table saw, its height low enough to allow panels cut on the saw to pass over the jointer. To save space, his portable planer lives beneath the saw. All three tools are oriented toward the garage-style door, which can be opened to allow long boards to be ripped, jointed, or thickness planed.