Reader Email
Comments 17

Reader Email: Advise on Power Tools

Since the monstrous spike in traffic resulting from a woodworking plan appearing in SketchUp’s newsletter, I have received several email messages from readers.

Here is one from Tom with a question:

“Hi Jeff. Saw your info using SketchUp and working with wood. I am a beginner at wood working. I just bought a compound miter saw to use for small projects and to get my feet wet and wondered if you can lend any advice about the types of power tools I should have for my shop and about using SketchUp to build plans from for a project. Any help is appreciated.”

Not sure I am qualified to answer this question; the woodworking corner of the internet is full of information on this subject, but here is how I replied…

“Thanks for visiting my website. Here is what I did when I started.

I bought a table saw. This kind of saw can cross-cut and rip boards. I got a 10″ contractor style saw (I currently use a Jet 10″ saw). I quickly bought a 6″ jointer to ensure I got a flat edge and face on my boards. With these two tools, I could glue-up panels for cabinet sides and table tops.

I bought a router (don’t buy one with a 1/4″ collet – too small for some router bits). A router can cut in a variety of ways, but especially decorative edges on boards.

I did a lot of woodworking with just these three tools. Of course, I had a drill, coping saw, etc – smaller purchases. A drill press is very handy to have.

Much later I got a compound miter saw which I now use for most cross cuts and some angle cuts.

I would encourage you to look into hand tools like planes and a decent set of chisels. I am just getting good with the three hand planes I own and find them very rewarding to use. These kind of tools also require a sharpening set up which can be (like everything) inexpensive or expensive. Much of this depends on what you want to make though.

SketchUp is a great software product and tool, but many people find it to have a big learning curve. The best learning product I know of is Dave Richard’s DVD which is inexpensive and can be ordered by going to Taunton See the link below.”

Dave Richards’ SketchUp DVD

One thing I would have added had I thought of it – search for a local woodworking club. I am really enjoying my membership in the Alabama Woodworker’s Guild. This past Saturday, I got a schooling in plane blade sharpening skills and then hand plane set-up. This was hands on, one-on-one training with an expert. And the training was with my sharpening accessories and my hand plane; I felt that was important. No learning on some other honing guide for example. I now have a polished edge on my #4 smoother and it cuts wonderfully.

While there, I spoke to Guy Lovelace; a woodworker from north Alabama. He is a recent reader of my blog and we had a great conversation about the classes he has taken with Chris Schwarz as well as Roy Underhill. I would add that to my advise to Tom: take classes. I have taken one; a great one – a full semester woodworking shop class at the University of Alabama while a student.

I am interested in your thoughts as well. Leave a comment and let us know what advise you would share.


  1. Great advise Jeff. If I could add one thing from my own experience (one which I seem to still be learning) is to invest in the best tools you can afford and research before you buy. Don’t settle on cheaper tools because they are cheap. Good, accurate tools will yield good accurate results.

  2. We have a Makita table saw that was brought to our home/farm 5 years ago when my grandfather died. He had gotten it some 20 years ago when they lived in NC, then they(and it) moved to SC. The Makita traveled all the way north to Illinois in the back of a u-haul truck and then sat for about 3 years in my barn. Then my hubby got pissed at our “eh” table saw. He finally listened to me(after about a year of me saying just try the Makita) and brought it up to the garage…He now loves it and raves about it. Then I point out that we could have been using it the whole time. 🙂 Not sure if Makita is/was a good brand. Grandpa usually got the best he could afford, but it has been a blessing to us!

    • Tami, yes I like Makita tools. the palm sander I use is a Makita and I have had good results with it. Sounds like your grandfather knew how to buy good tools. 🙂

      • Not too surprised, he would be into hobby phases. In NC the spacious 2+ garage was mostly woodworking equipment. 🙂

  3. Just to clarify my previous comment. Some table saws are expensive and my comment could seem to some to be a large first purchase for a beginner. The table saw I bought in the beginning and still use cost me 40.00 at a garage sale. I have added a fence and tuned it up since but I still use it and it’s the only one I have!

    • You are right. A few years ago, I took my Dad shopping for a new table saw and the current version of my saw is about $1,000. Ouch. There is some risk with a used tool, but some people love the challenge of fixing up older tools.

  4. I might add that the table saw with a plate that can be removed and subbed with your own plate for special cuts increases the utility of the saw immensely. I made do for years with a $99 Home Depot store brand saw tjat had a sheet metal plate. When I finally moved up this was my first requirement.

  5. Dennis Hill says

    Not exactly a woodworking tool but one I find nearly indispensable is an air compressor. Not only does it give you an excuse to acquire other handy tools like nailers and paint sprayers but it blows clean everything from tools to projects to me when I’m covered in lathe chips.

    • Dennis, an air compressor is a tempting thing. I have a small one for my brad nailer, but don’t think it is big enough to spray. The woodworking shop at Alabama had a big one and we used it much like you mention, to spray dust off tools and ourselves. 🙂

  6. That sounds like sound advice to me, Jeff. Your top three are hard to argue with. Beyond those it’s largely a matter of where the hobby takes you as to which tools come next. The jointer points in the direction of working with solid lumber, so a lunchbox planer might be a next step (assuming one doesn’t commit to the hand tool route).

    • Cal, I agree. Depending on the projects built, the tools could vary greatly. One thing I did when needed was take panels to a local cabinet shop for sanding. I did not have the tools to flatten a table top of need be (or I did not want to put all the elbow grease into sanding and sanding a table top flat). Typically I would pay $20 to have a couple of panels “slicked up” both sides. Money well spent to me.

  7. Dave says

    I started with a Shopsmith and still have it 25 years later – It now sees very limited duty as a drill press, drum and 12″ disc sander, but I have pushed a lot of board feet through it over the years. My Dad and Grandfather both had a Shopsmith as the center piece of their shops. So I learned woodworking on them. I have opted for stand alone equipment over the years replacing most of the functions, but I keep it around as a lathe on the few occasions when I need one. I bought mine used in 1989 (I believe it is an early 80’s model) and it is still very functional. It got me a lot of functionality for one purchase. Buy an older one from someone who took care of it and you can make a lot of sawdust while you learn what tools you really want/need. To that I will add that buying a decent safety gear and getting used to wearing it early in your career will pay dividends later in life. Wish I had done that! I have used sketchup for a few projects and am still learning with it, but it is a great way to show a client – or a wife – what the final product is supposed to look like.

    • Good stuff Dave – I was wishing for a Shopsmith not too long ago to do a horizontal boring job I needed completed. I also like the idea of using it as a specialty tool – for less frequent tasks like you mention. Now when I think about purchasing a tool, I have to think hard about how often I’ll actually use it; keeping in mind that I am a weekend woodworker.

      I have only built three projects for others and I too found SketchUp to be a nice tool to help visualize the project. Thanks for the comment.

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