Woodworking Dopers-Newbie here and need some (or lots) of advice please!

After a bit of hemming and hawing, I’ve decided to get into shimming and sawing. Ok, bad pun. But I am starting up the hobby of woodworking and really am interested in making mission (arts and crafts/ stickly/ amish) style furniture. I took a class at Woodcraft and learned how to make mortise & tenon and dovetail joints, how to plane, how to saw, how to chisel, and all of that basic stuff by hand. It was great, but it’s also a bit lengthy to do so I would like to get more into the power tool side of things.

Right now, I currently have a couple power drills, a dremel set, and a workbench with a vise. I got some chisels as well and a hand plane. But that’s really it.

I made the mistake of watching New Yankee Workshop with Norm making a Morris Chair and Settle and he really made it look “easy”. The same way Richard Thompson makes guitar playing look quite simple.

That said, space is kind of limited. I’ve got a place I can go to have the wood planed in a planer (and I feel pretty confident I can plane the rest by hand.) So what should I buy to complete my shop. My budget isn’t unlimited and while I don’t need top of the line, I’d like it safe (so places like Harbor Freight, while cheap, kinda scare me).

I’m thinking I need a router, a power saw (not sure if that’s a table saw, miter saw, some combo of those, or what), and a dust collection system. Maybe more? I’m not sure what exactly I need. So, please steer me in the right direction.


The Shop Smith is still a great all in one power tool. Lathe, Drill press, saw, and power sander. A friend of mine bought one 25 years ago. I’ve spent many happy hours in his garage working on projects.

The shop smith does require planning. You must plan all your cuts. Then drilling. Lathe work. It’s time consuming switching the tools around. So you have to work smart. But the convience of having these multi tool in a small garage makes it worth it. imho

part 1 of the demo.

part 2

Perfect world. I’d love a huge shop like Norm has. With a lathe, table saw, radial saw, planer,jointer and all those other goodies.

His best tool is his vacuum dust collection. All his tools are hooked into it. Makes the shop almost sawdust free. You can develop severe allergies to hardwood sawdust.

I think I found it, but $4K is a lot out of this beginner’s budget. :eek: I’m thinking maybe a fourth of that.

Sometimes you can find a used Shop Smith. People buy them and lose interest in woodworking. They are heavy. You’d have to find one local and go get it.

A checklist for buying a used one. Make sure all the parts are with it. PDF

I’d go with a good tablesaw. Not a portable one on a stand, but either a contractor saw or a used cabinet saw. I use mine for about 75-80% of my cutting. Spend a weekend making yourself a bunch of jigs for it and you can do damn near anything with it.

A router and a good router table will come in extremely handy.

If you have the space, a good dust collection system would be ideal.

Harbor freight has a nice lathe for $200. 75 reviews. looks pretty good. A lathe and good quality table saw (with extension table) are the two most essential wood working tools. A lot of woodworkers make their own extension table for the saw.


I love this guys homemade setup for his table saw. That is very nice and well thought out. Making a project like this is good experience for any woodworker. I’m sure similar plans are available online.

A very, very basic homemade router table. Great beginner project. There are much fancier ones. But this gets the job done for a beginner.

Detailed plans to make a wood vise. Another good beginner project. Learn some lathe work.

I wouldn’t have guessed that the lathe was used a lot in Mission style furniture. I thought those were more for making things round (Like a spindle or baseball bat) or are there other things you can do with those?

To make furniture you need a table saw for ripping boards to width, a miter saw for cutting boards to length (you can do this for shorter lengths on a table saw but it’s not ideal for longer workpieces), and a router. A router table is nice to have and is something you can build yourself, but I have gotten by without a router table for many years. You also need clamps. Lots of clamps. I don’t have a lathe and I don’t think you need one given the style of furniture you want to make.

It is important to get high-quality tools (which doesn’t always mean high-priced tools). If you can’t align the rip fence to the blade on a table saw you can’t make straight rips and you are wasting your time and the wood. A miter saw has to make square cuts. I’ve got one that is a 1/2 degree off square. It’s useless for making furniture. I keep it around for rough cuts to preserve the blade on my good miter saw.

I’ve made bowls, cups, table legs on a lathe. Made many candlesticks for Christmas presents. It’s one of my favorite tools.

I’ve made bowls similar to this.

I didn’t think about the OP’s interest in mission style. That is mostly squares and rectangles. A lathe isn’t a priority.

HF is not good for a lot of things, but they have a great price on C clamps and the quality of the clamps is fine. A shop literally can never have enough clamps. Their bar clamps are not as good, you would be better served to get nicer ones.

I also like my HF dead blow hammer and 4-pound mini-sledge, both of which were about $6 each. Some of their accessories are not bad, like drill bits.

I would look at Craigslist for used power tools and try to pick up a table saw and a planer at minimum. Next priority would be a drill press, bench sander, jointer, router table, and bandsaw.

Emphatically agree. At my old place I built a lot of indoor and outdoor furniture and near always had a project going on, this without the benefit of a dust collection system. It got in the way a lot then, especially when staining or sealing and just keeping other things in the garage clean. But it was the process of moving that demonstrated just how bad it had been and how it’d invaded every last noon and cranny.

Now that we’re in a new house and garage I don’t woodwork much anymore, mainly because I don’t want to create that same dusty mess. A collection system would completely remove any reticence from the proposition.

My shop is in my cellar. I’ve done several pieces of mission style furniture and there’s lots of straight ripping required, followed by lots of sanding. I would recommend a good table saw as your first purchase AFTER you buy a dust collector. That stuff goes everywhere! And when it gets into your lungs it’s hard to breathe. A good $300. dust collector will cut down on 90% of the dust. Not perfect, but 90% better than nothing.

Buy some safety glasses. Several pairs, so you never cut without them. Buy a cheap router table until you figure out if you need a bigger or better one.

The heart of any woodworking shop is the table saw. Get the best one you can afford. In fact that goes for all your tools. Buy the best you can afford. Read woodworking magazines and visit websites for reviews and tests. There is a wealth of information out there.

A miter saw is a good tool to have, but your table saw (or hand tools) can do the same thing, so I’d make a bandsaw my next purchase. A 12" is sufficient for the hobbyist. A router or two will round out the basic woodshop. With those tools you can make a router table and lots of jigs. And (as Tommy Mac would say) “before you know it” you got yourself a woodshop.

Then you will find yourself in a very dangerous situation. The “tool collection” stage of woodworking. Yep. All that stuff you see in Norm’s shop? Uh-huh! You’re going to want it too. The cool spindle sander, the benchtop mortiser, the dovetail jig, the biscuit joiner, etc. There’s no turning back after that. You’re hooked!

There is also the “non tool” stuff you’ll need in the shop. Glue, screws, nuts n’ bolts, hinges, stains and finishes, tape, brushes, an 8 x 10 color photo of Norm to hang above your workbench. :cool:

The advice about clamps is right on. You’re going to need lots and lots of clamps. Bar clamps, pipe clamps, c clamps, band clamps, corner clamps, handscrews, toggle clamps. You can never have too many clamps!

Check out Woodcentral for tons of information and advice. A great bunch of woodworkers. I’m pretty sure we even have a few guys up in your neck of the woods.

One final note:

Now before we use any power tools, let’s take a moment to talk about shop safety. Be sure to read, understand and follow all the safety rules that come with your power tools. Knowing how to use your tools properly will greatly reduce your risk of personal injury. And remember this: There is no more important safety rule than to wear these (tap tap) safety glasses. *
*This quote from Norm may seem lighthearted and trite because it is so well known to those of us who watch New Yankee Workshop, but I really do take it to heart. Any time I get a new tool I read (study!) the manual before I use it. And I keep (and use) a pair of safety glasses at each power tool.

I agree with peanuthead. However for mission style furniture I would move the mortiser/drill press a bit further up the list. Good exposed mortises are fundamental to the style and there is nothing worse than a beautiful piece of quartersawn white oak with a gash from a slipped chisel.

Oh yeah, find the best chisels you can then get the set up from that :slight_smile:

I gotta admit to being a cheater there. :o

Sounds like I want to get the following in this order for sure:

  1. Dust Collector
  2. Table Saw
  3. Clamps clamps clamps
  4. Band Saw
  5. Router
  6. Mortiser/Drill press