I HAVE BEEN a power tool woodworker since day one. I began my journey in the wood shop at the University of Alabama more than 30 years ago. This shop was full of professional grade stationary power tools.
The table saw was a large Delta Unisaw, there was a monster size band saw – just massive. The thickness planer was old school; heavy cast iron everywhere and it had a wide, 24-inch capacity. Their power jointer was equally impressive, but I don’t exactly remember how big a board it could take.
I had use of this shop twice a week for a full semester, pretty sweet for a beginning woodworker. I made a perfect score as a final grade and the writing table I made in that class now serves as my computer desk. It is interesting to me that this writing table; all these years later, is now the table my hands rest on while I type away at this blog post.
So I am a power tool woodworker. I am working to add hand tools to the mix, but a quick look at my workshop reveals the home of a power tool guy. As I was driving yesterday, I began thinking about those early days of woodworking – setting up my first shop and what my first five main power tool purchases were…
One – The Table Saw
For some reason I have always viewed the table saw as the center of my workshop. Many woodworkers would see the workbench as home base, but there have been many a day in which my table saw’s large, flat, cast-iron surface pulled double duty as both a cutting tool and a work surface.
The table saw can rip and cross-cut boards with ease, or should cut them with ease. Form tenons, dadoes, slots – a variety of joinery can be created at the table saw. Add in an accurate miter gauge and you can cut corners at precise angles. This means you can make some good miters without having to buy a miter saw (get a miter saw if you need to cut angles in large boards – a safety issue).
Where appropriate, I have ripped and cross-cut boards with a hand saw, but at 53 years of age, I just don’t think I’ll ever see the day I give up my table saw for hand tools. So, to my table saw I want to say: “I love you, man.”
Two – A Sander
I hate sanding. I hate sanders almost about as much. My current random orbit sander is a lot easier on my wrists as it vibrates away. I remember the first one I owned – it was terrible and the swirl marks it made in my lumber were maddening.
But, sanders are a must have power tool and as I understand it, the newest models are virtually vibration free. I have a five-inch palm sander and when I bought it I considered the larger, six-inch version, but was concerned it would be too big. I DO NOT own a belt sander. The aggressive nature of the belt sander has done more damage than good on many a project of mine.
Three – A Powered Jointer
After I got my table saw, I attempted to make panels for tables and cabinets. While I learned the importance of a powered stationary jointer in my shop class, I rolled the dice and tried to make panels without one. This just didn’t work well. It wasn’t long before I purchased a six-inch Craftsman jointer. It is the one I still use today, but sadly, I think it is nearing the end of it’s useful life.
But the jointer is ideal for straightening a bowed edge or establishing a flat face on a board and a properly set up powered jointer will make quick work of this.
On a side note: I have heard some woodworkers say that a six-inch jointer isn’t really useful for furniture making. It seems the six-inch capacity is too skinny. Thankfully, I have been oblivious to this way of thinking for several decades. I have always viewed my jointer as a very adequate tool and it has served me well all these years.
Four – A Plunge Router
The router is a very versatile tool. I have used mine to shape the curves of bracket feet, form raised panels, cut straight edges on the ends of wide panels, make mortises and of course form decorative molding. All of the moldings, panel moldings and bracket feet in the bedside table photo above were made with a router.
You need to get a decent router – my first one was limiting in two ways: it was under-powered and accepted only tiny router bits. Making raised panels with small router bits is almost impossible; almost. Once, I came close to buying a big, three-horsepower plunge router, but it was so dang heavy, I chose a 2 1/4 horse model and have been pleased.
Routers have become complicated things. There are fixed base routers; some that plunge; others do both and some even come with lift capability. And having a tiny router is in style these days.
I like the plunge router the best. I used one in a router table for many years, but for table routing I think a fixed base router is best. So you really need a router which can do both.
Five – The Band Saw
There are woodworkers who would think I am crazy to list the band saw so far down my list of the basic power tools; some view the band saw on an equal level as the table saw.
My first band saw was a 14″ Craftsman model – lots of plastic on that one. The bearings eventually gave up. Now I own a Jet 14” band saw – their deluxe version. But I use it mainly for small tasks.
This is one tool I do not know how to set up. My Jet band saw shakes too much. The mobile base I got for it makes it less stable; the cast iron table is smallish and even though I got the deluxe model, it did not come with a fence. I’m afraid I should have bought a larger band saw or the same size, but from a different manufacturer.
KEEP IT SIMPLE. You can do a lot of woodworking with these five power tools. Later I added a drill press and a miter saw. Speaking of a drill, I see this tool as mainly a DIY tool; if you have a house, you are going to need a drill. But a quality cordless drill is sooo handy in the workshop.
I was at my local Woodcraft store yesterday and was looking at mortising machines. I don’t think I’ll add a mortising machine any time soon. I think it best that I continue to use my plunge router or drill press to make mortises. Oh, and I do need a new drill press.
I guess I will continue to be mainly a power tool woodworker even though hand tools are starting to grow on me.