Setting up a new woodworking shop? Here are a few suggestions on which big tools to consider. I've set the bar pretty high; this is a "minimal compromises" list for someone serious about buying once and buying right. Good tools waste less of your time and greatly reduce the level of frustration that is common when you are starting out in woodworking. Resist buying any large tools from HD or Lowes - its all crap.
Below, I list the very best tools in each category along with several other very good options. If money is no object, then life is simple: buy a SawStop table saw, all other stationary machines from Powermatic, and all smaller tools from Festool. If you have a more typical budget to work with (~$6000), then buy quality used tools. If you give yourself 6 months, you should have no problem locating a $600 cabinet saw with a good fence, a $400 14" bandsaw, a $300 planer, and a $300 miter saw.
"I never bought a good tool that didn't pay for itself." - Paul Waelder
1.) Table Saw
There is no reason to buy anything but a cabinet-style table saw with Biesemeyer-style rip fence. Contractor-style and benchtop-style saws are everywhere, but they are not significantly cheaper and have numerous drawbacks. If there is any question, work with a cabinet saw for 5 minutes and you'll understand. One avenue is to look for a used Delta Unisaw on Craigslist - something 10+ years old. Put a little work into it and you'll have a reliable lifetime tool. There is tons of help online. Whatever you buy, shoot for a left-tilt, 10" saw with 5/8" arbor.
Best on the Market --> Powermatic PM2000 ($2700)
Best on the Market --> SawStop Professional ($3000)
- New Grizzly G0690 ($1500)
- New Grizzly G1023 ($1500) - Used Powermatic PM66 or PM1000 w/ all parts and a Biesemeyer-style rip fence ($1000-$1800) - Used Delta Unisaw w/ all parts and a Biesemeyer-style rip fence ($600-$1000) - Used Jet w/ all parts and a Biesemeyer-style rip fence ($1200)
What I Use --> Restored Delta Unisaw 34-461 ($400) and 2hp Grizzly contractor saw G0576 ($600)
2.) Thickness Planer
If you want to build furniture, you will use rough cut lumber or reclaimed lumber. If you use rough cut lumber, then you will need a quality planer. Planers do an efficient job of thicknessing boards - a task that is not easily accomplished by hand or by other power tools. They do in seconds what will take you hours with a handplane. But there is a big difference between planers. A major time waster is dealing with problems caused by cheap lunchbox-style planers. Cheap planers not only snipe the ends of boards (they all do this), but leave shallow troughs across boards that need to be sanded out. The Dewalt DW735 is the right first planer to buy. The price on these hardly fluctuates, so just bite the bullet and get one. This is the only tool you should buy from a big box store. Otherwise, go with a larger floor model from the used market or get a new one with a spiral cutterhead.
Best on the Market --> Powermatic industrial planers ($3500)
Best on the Market --> Dewalt DW735 ($700)
- Used Powermatic, Jet, Delta, or vintage models that have been well cared for (~$1500)
- Any of the lunchbox style models from the various makers (<$300)
What I Use --> Used Porter Cable 13" lunchbox ($100), Rigid 13" lunchbox ($300), Lie Nielsen handplanes
3.) Sliding Compound Miter Saw
I use this tool every day in the shop. Miter saws are designed to handle framing lumber, but if you keep the saw tuned up, the blade clean and sharp, it will serve you well in furniture making. Saws that lack the sliding function are far cheaper, but frustrating to use after awhile. You will need to put your saw on a stable stand that extends at least 4 feet to the left and right.
Best on the Market --> Bosch 12" Dual Bevel GCM12SD ($675)
Best on the Market --> Festool Kapex KS120 ($1500) - Dewalt 12” slide compound miter saw DWS709 ($400)
What I Use --> Dewalt 12" DW708 slide compound miter saw ($600 c. 2005)
Bandsaws cut curved parts, break down large parts, and make quick everyday cuts of all sorts. They are very safe, considering the heavy work they can do. If you only made chairs, a bandsaw might be the only power tool you'd need. The right size is 14". The right first saw is a used Delta. These things are everywhere and, if taken care of, they will last forever. Consider upgrading the blade guides on any used saw. Rip fences on bandsaws are, in general, not important - use whatever fence the saw comes with. A sharp blade makes any bandsaw great.
Best on the Market --> Laguna 14” ($1100)
- New Grizzly G055LX ($525)
- Used 14" Delta ($400-$700), Jet, or Powermatic in good working order w/ the riser block, if possible
- New Rikon 10-326 14" ($1000)
- Any large vintage saw from a shipyard ($1000-$3000)