I want to start woodworking/carpentry

Well, my husband does. He wants to start with simple things like benches, tables, shelves. Any advice on what tools he should start with; table saw, circular saw, etc.? We plan on looking over craigslist.

He has a bunch of cordless stuff like a drill, circular saw, sander, reciprocating saw, but he thinks they won’t work well due to the battery constantly dieing.

Any advice? TIA

Cordless is the bee’s knees, but sometimes those multi-tool kits they sell aren’t up to snuff. If you get a decent cordless drill (mine is a Makita, about $200 at Home Depot), it’ll be one of the most-used tools in the arsenal.

To get started, the most important thing, in my opinion, is a study workbench. You can make the substructure out of 2 x 4’s bolted together, but I’d buy an actual workbench top of maple or some such, preferably with a vise. It won’t come cheap, but it’s probably worth it.

After that, a tablesaw – even a cheap contractor’s saw – is the next most indispensable item. What you get is a question of what price point you’re comfortable with. I have a cheap saw, a Makita again, probably $250, and it’s, in some ways, a plastic piece of garbage. And yet, it does the basic job I need it to do. For $500 or so, you can get a much better saw, say a Ridgid from Home Depot. A really good cabinet saw is upwards of a thousand – probably well upwards of a thousand, actually.

Really, the best way to get started is to dive in. Pick out a project, and get the tools to suit. Many projects later, you’ll end up owning 10,000 dollars’ worth of tools… and you still won’t have enough.

A lot of people who get into carpentry tend to ignore safety equipment. Look for goggles with a 287 stamped on them. They’re the ones approved for carpentry work. A good pair of steel toed boots for when he steps on that nail that got away, or drops a heavy piece of wood/steel/tool on his feet. Something to protect his ears from loud tools. Some dust masks for when he’s cutting wood.

< snark>
Thank god it isn’t you, then. Carpentry is no place for a straight woman.
< /snark>


As Sal says, probably the most versatile “major” tool for a carpenter is a table saw. Once you’ve got that, I’d probably next invest in a router. Or maybe a random orbital sander. Or maybe a set of bessie clamps. Excuse me, if anyone needs me, I’ll be in my bunk.

When I was working in a cabinet shop, we used nothing to drive screws but cordless drivers. We just had batteries charging at every outlet in the shop, and it worked out pretty well. If you’re going to be working for hours at a time, a corded driver will start to drive you nuts. Our orbital sanders, on the other hand, were all corded. Cordless sanders run out of juice way too fast to be useful.

Here is my list (some of these have already been mentioned):

Workbench with a vise
Clamps. Lots and lots of clamps.
Table Saw
Compound Miter Saw
Hand held Drill
Drill Press
Router with a nice set of router bits
Circular saw
Jig Saw
Belt Sander (low priority - you can skip this at first)
Finishing Sander
Hand held saw with multiple blades
Nail Sets (you can get a set of them in multiple sizes fairly cheap)

I personally don’t use cordless tools, except for a cordless drill/screwdriver (though I have a corded drill as well). I would think that a cordless circular saw will probably have enough battery power to get you through a typical project. A cordless drill might not. My cordless drill has two batteries, and I leave one on the charger. I’ve had to change to the second battery a few times in the middle of a project.

He needs an enclosed, dry place to work and a separate or partitioned area to finish the creation away from the dust of the work area. And it should have power to the area because cordless tools are great for small jobs but you really want plug-in power for anything lasting. And depending upon the area and time of year he may need some heaters or fans.

As far as major power tools a good table saw with tilt and a dado blade set up will be the most important tool. If you can get one that includes a joiner that would be ideal.

The rest is going to be standard hand or power tools, common things, a few planes, furniture clamps, sander, drill, a router. If he starts buying tools it may seem like it will never stop but really, after a short while you end up with most of what you need. Get a Home Depot account and you will be set.

But the most important things will be a proper area to work in and the best table saw set up you can afford.

Ehh… we don’t really know what kind of room you have for these projects. Ripping wood on a table saw and making it smaller takes room.

You said your husband already has a good cordless drill. That is the tool that I use most day to day. And you say he has a circular saw. But is it a good one? Milwaukee worm drives are all I’ll ever use. But that is more for hard framing and construction work for that. I’ll never have to replace it. It’s that good of a saw.

For benches and small projects around the house, I would have to recommend getting him a good power miter saw. They insure accuracy and a very fine cut. Smother than the wood that was cut. And they are portable.

Something like this

you can buy workbench plans and components and lumber at home improvement stores.

corded tools are needed for the power, speed, duration of wood working. cordless is good for screws.

hand held circular saw is good for construction and rough cuts. it takes skill to use for woodworking and is limited to what it can be used for.

table saw is needed major tool for fine woodworking.

a corded 3/8" drill and maybe drill guides (devices to guide for 90 degree holes) can be a start. later a bench drill press is nice.

hand tools like saws, planes and chisels give lots of control and safety to a new woodworker. anything in woodworking can be done with hand tools it is just slower. in fact many people feel a great psychological benefit from using hand tools.

Except the learning curve is way steeper than with power tools. But you remind me that knowing how to sharpen your chisels is a vital skill, and requires some sort of sharpening setup.

No one has mentioned a Shop Vac yet.

Since no one has mentioned it yet, I’ll mention getting a band saw. I use mine all the time.

One other thing, there’s a saying out there something like “buy quality tools and you’ll cry once, buy cheap and you’ll cry forever.”

This post appears to imply that you can have enough clamps. That’s just wrong. You need an infinite number of clamps. Plus they need to be slightly bigger than whatever size of clamp you already have.

Coincidentally, I spent most of today doing woodworking. I cut all of the pieces I need to make two nightstands for our bedroom, then spent the rest of the afternoon making a cat tree.

I used my table saw to cut the tops of the nightstands and to cut the various “cat stands” for the cat tree. I used my compound miter saw to cut all of the legs and various bits for the night stands, as well as the supports for the cat tree. All of the nightstand parts were straight cuts, but a lot of the supporting pieces for the cat tree were 45 deg cuts.

To finish the nightstands (which I will probably do sometime this week), I need to use my drill press to cut holes for dowels. If you can make holes for dowels accurately and straight enough with a hand held drill then you are a better person than I am. I will then use a router to put a nice edge on the tops. I have a router table, but you can do the same job with just a hand held router.

So, for what it’s worth, that’s what I used today. I’d say about 75 percent of the work was with the miter saw and the rest was with the table saw. I personally get a lot of use out of my miter saw. I’d put it up near the top of the list.

Just my 2 cents.

<oversensitive response>
I realize this is snark, but the power tools in MY house are all mine. DH doesn’t touch 'em.
</oversensitive response>

To the OP: If budget is a true concern, you can get/ get plans for a table saw ‘housing’ and then mount your own circular saw. This allows you to remove it to use the saw away from the table when necessary.

A dedicated table saw is the best option, but if you have to prioritize, you might keep it in mind.

Hubby might want to see if there’s a local woodworker’s guild. I know that my father was active in one for a long time, and occasionally new people would join. Tell Hubby to look for a mentor with 8 fingers and two thumbs.

My power tools would be:


If you don’t have a jointer and planer, you end up working with wood that is neither flat nor uniform in thickness and these flaws will be magnified on the finished product.

After that, get misc power and hand tools on an as needed basis. The need will be determined by the projects being built coupled with the skills of the woodworker.

Just a word about the router: Do not buy a package of several different router bits. Instead, buy each bit individually as you need it, and don’t skimp on quality.

Better to have 2 or 3 quality bits than an assortment of crap bits, most of which will never be used.

wow. If polygamy were legal, I’d marry each and every one of you (I’m looking at you, Mom-of-Andrew).

Thank you all so much for the great info, and the laughs. The First Gentleman is already on top of finding a few of these items. Would it be cool to post a few links to the craigslist adds he’s found (like a table saw for $50) to get more opinions?

You probably don’t want to know that decent table saw *blades *cost more than that. I’m partial to Freud. Their LM74R010 is a very nice ripping blade and the LU85R010 makes glass-smooth crosscuts.

If you’re going to be doing anything close to seriously, a good table saw is really something you can’t cheat on. I’ve had cheap saws, and hated them. They’re harder to set up, they’re underpowered, and any mechanical shortcomings such as “runout” can create more work for you to correct with lots of sanding to clean up waviness on the cut edges.

One of the better sub-$1000 saws that I’ve experienced is the Bosch 4100-09. It’s technically a “contractor” type saw, but it’s better than the name suggests. Their gravity rise stand is a slick bit of work that’s been copied to various levels of success by other brands and overall, it’s a very nice saw for the price.

If you have a router and router table, you can use that as a jointer. I don’t know anyone other than Norm Abrams who has a stand-alone jointer.