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Which Woodworking Tools to Buy First?

I began woodworking in 2005. At the time, I lived in a 24' x 24' mobile home located right next to a remote airstrip. I had no shop, no garage, and commuted 105 miles roundtrip every day to work. I knew I wanted to build stuff in the evenings, but did not have much time and really wasn't sure what I wanted to make. I figured I would use the front patio as my workshop. I chained the new tablesaw to the porch post and started cutting. By year two, I started making sculpted rocking chairs. By year 8, I was in my 4th shop (none were fancy). I'll start building the newest shop here in Alaska this Spring.

I've been at it for 10 years now, mostly as an avid hobbiest and remodeler. I sell things occassionally and have a website. I completed a major kitchen cabinets-bath-flooring-ceilings-windows-electrical-deck-yard-shop remodel on our old house in Idaho last year.

My tool buying has slowed considerably in recent years. I now own most everything I need. I have never been interested in collecting tools. I simply buy good tools and put them to use. I give away those that gather dust. All in, I figure I have invested $30,000 in tools over 10 years. Always paid cash.

Below is a list of tools I currently own (or have owned) and use regularly, organized in the order they were purchased or received as gifts.


Bold Text indicates a reliable tool and a solid purchase.

Red Text indicates the best tools I own, always a joy to use. These make woodworking more fun.

Block Plane - Stanley Low-Angle w/ Adjustable Mouth #STA12-960 <-- High quality, low cost

Palm Sanders - Porter Cable 5" Random Orbital Sander <-- I'm on my 4th one of these

Circular Saw - Skil 7-1/4" Mag77 worm drive <-- Reliable, heavy, construction site standard

Table Saw - Grizzly left-tilt contractor-style w/ cast iron wings, 110/220v, 2 hp #G0576

Miter Saw - 12" DeWalt #DW708 Sliding Compound Miter Saw (gift from Alan)

Miter Saw Stand - Ryobi steel tubing <-- Awesome, no longer made, rare quality from Ryobi

Router - Porter Cable #690 fixed base/plunge base combo kit

Spokeshave - Lee Valley Flat Spokeshave #O5P32.51

Jigsaw - DeWalt DW318 <-- Total crap tool, buy Bosch jigsaws

Sharpening Jig - Lee Valley Mk.II Honing Guide

Shoulder Plane - Lie-Nielsen O1 Steel Medium #1-042 <-- Performs a specific task well

Tenoning Jig - Delta Deluxe Universal for table saw <-- Just like Norm

Drill Drivers - DeWalt 18v XRP 3-speed drill <-- Way too heavy, gave it away

Shavehorse - Built a Brian Boggs style horse in white ash <-- See FWW Issue #139

Water Stones - Norton 1000g/4000g combo, 250g Norton <-- Keep submerged in tupperware

Air Filtration - Jet 3-speed Air Filtration unit w/ timer #708620B-AFS1000B

Air Nailers - Porter Cable 18g Brad Nailer and 16g Finish Nailer (gift from Alan)

Compressor - Porter Cable CFFN2511 135psi portable pancake style

Bandsaw - 17" Grizzly #G0513 <-- A lot of saw for the money, 131-1/2" blades

Workbench - Built a Roubo in Doug Fir w/ traditional screw leg vise & 10" Columbian vise

Smoothing Plane - Veritas #4 (gift from McBeans) <-- Great tool, better than L-N

Spindle Sander - Delta BOSS benchtop model <-- I never use this tool

Portable Vacuum - Rigid 4.5 gallon ProPack <-- Indispensable, perfect size for on-site work

Rasps - Dragon brand, coarse and fine <-- Great cheap rasps from StewMac

Chisels - Stanley Sweetheart set <-- Well balanced, enjoyable to use, well priced

Clamps - Wetzler #412 <-- Best clamps ever made, eBay only, no longer made

Clamps - Bessey 12" x 5-1/2" heavy duty <-- Second best clamps ever made

Clamps - Bessey tradesman professional series F-style bar clamps <-- Great all around clamps

Clamps - Pony #37HD1 <-- Great all around clamps, affordable

Clamps - Irwin QuickGrip <-- Buy only the smallish ones

Drill Press - 15" Rigid floor standing model #DP1550 <-- Pretty good quality, no complaints

Belt Sander - 4" x 24" Porter Cable Variable Speed #362V <-- Workhorse, loud, strong, effective

Rabbet Block Plane - Lie-Nielsen rabbet block plane

Card Scrapers - the medium-hardness kind <-- Required for any furniture maker, saves time

Jack Plane - 14" Lie-Nielsen Low Angle Jack #1-062

Drill Driver Set - DeWalt 12v #DCF815 & #DCD710 <-- Great tools, every day users

Planer - 13" Rigid 3-knife Cutterhead Benchtop Planer #ZRR4331 (gift from Alan) <-- Blew itself apart

Dado Stack - 8" Freud Professional Dado #SD208

Jointer - 6" Jet Gold Series jointer #JJ6CSX

Nippers - 6" Channelock End Cutters #356 <-- Use these all the time, never would have imagined

Miter Gauge - Incra 1000SE

Wet Sharpener - 10" Grizzly Wet Grinder #T10010 <-- Useful, but not that fun to use

Planer - 12-1/2" Porter Cable 2-knife Benchtop Planer #PC305TPR <-- Bought used $100, good tool

Compressor - Hitachi EC12 portable hotdog style compressor

Framing Nailer - Hitachi NR90AE

Framing hammer - 18" Stiletto titanium framing hammer <-- Makes hammering nails fun again

Wide Belt Sander - 16" Jet #16-32 wide belt sander w/ stand (gift from John)

My 2nd shop. I built my first two rockers here. Pullman, WA

Suggestions to New Tool Buyers

Power Tools - For the mid-budget buyer, stick with Jet, Bosch, and Makita. You will be very happy.

First Purchases - Table saw, Planer, Rough-cut lumber.

Hand Planes - Stick with Veritas. And buy new hand planes - they are way better than the old Stanleys.

Workbench - Build yourself a split-top Roubo style bench from construction lumber.

Workshop - Work outside, out of direct sun, as much as possible.

Do Grizzly Tools Suck or What?

No, they don't all suck. You get what you pay for. There are good Grizzly tools and bad ones. Grizzly's very large, commercial tools are super nice. Their entry-level machines are lousy. A few good choices for the woodworker exist: the large stationary thickness planers, the larger bandsaws, the helical-head jointers, and the cabinet saws that sell for >$1000. Grizzly does well with big, simple tools that don't require finesse or daily adjustment.

What Would I Do Differently?

1.) Should have bought a Powermatic cabinet saw first thing, even though I couldn't afford one at the time.

2.) Spend more money on wood, less on tools. Find local sawyers and mills. Use locally-grown woods.

3.) Take a chairmaking course from Curtis Buchanan early on.

4.) Vertical-stacking auto mechanic-style tool cabinets in tandem with a traditional wall cabinet work best.

5.) Diamond sharpening plates are the best way to sharpen hand tools and blades (Dia-Sharp, EZE-LAP).

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