When we began the Obsessed Woodworking resource for the home woodworking enthusiast, we jumped right in with very specific woodworking techniques, power tools, joinery, hand tools, and more for the experienced woodworkers. Not experts, mind you, but nonetheless experienced hobbyists.
Here we are, turning today to the beginner woodworker who is ready to outfit their shop with beginner essentials. We’re going to break down the lists into three segments:
- Hand tools for the beginner
- Power tools for the beginner
- Basic tools for every woodworking shop
Settle in with a cup of coffee or tea, and follow along while we share our research and woodworking knowledge for beginners as well as basics for all shops. There is some overlap, but we’re digging deep for this one.
Beginner Woodworking Projects
We wish we had a dollar for each time we’ve written these words: the right tool for the right job. It applies to just about any tool and any job, actually. We will start with jobs; first, those a beginner is most likely to tackle.
The projects a beginner woodworker is likely to undertake are the determining factor in the list of essential woodworking tools, so it makes sense to begin here. Kitchen cabinets with raised panels, fancy lathed legs for a new dining room table, and a chest of drawers for the bedroom won’t be among the first projects undertaken. Fancy furniture making probably won’t make the list of likely beginner projects.
But, picture or mirror frames with mitered corners, a farmhouse table with straight legs for the dining room, a coffee table, a birdhouse, a name plaque for the front door, or a cookbook holder might make the list. There are some common needs for each of these projects, and they define and determine the list of must-haves for the DIY enthusiast.
Those everyday needs form the list of tools a beginner’s shop should have and include:
- Something to measure with;
- Something to cut with;
- Something to hold in place with;
- Something to assemble with; and,
- Something to finish with.
Some tools can help you accomplish each of these steps in a beginner’s project: hand tools and power tools.
Measuring Tools For The Beginner Woodworker
Even someone new to woodworking has likely heard the expression “measure twice, cut once.” It’s a good rule to follow. In order to do so, good measuring tools are essential.
Tape measures are considered on the list of must-haves, and they should be attached to your work belt. These are retractable measures that range in length from 12 to 30 feet, and the tapes can be locked to the necessary length for your measurements.
Among the choices for measuring tapes are:
- Steel tapes. Retractable, lockable, and the most common.
- Flexible reels. These can be fabric or steel and can be up to 100 feet.
- Folding rules. These are measuring devices that fold into easily storable sizes and are considered very accurate. They are rigid and usually fold into increments of 12 inches.
- Basic yardsticks. We all know what these are and how long they are – it’s in the name. You can use the straight edge for drawing straight lines even.
Choose one or two of these to have handy in your shop, whether on your belt or your workbench.
One other measuring tool that’s a must for the beginner is a square. It’s used to measure right angles, draw a straight line across lumber, and generally measure and verify square angles. It, too, is an essential tool for the beginner.
And, speaking of a workbench, that should be on the list of common beginner woodworker’s projects, too.
Cutting Tools For The Beginner Woodworker
Some of the big DIY stores will cut some of your wood purchases, although they will not take responsibility for the accuracy of the cuts. Ripping a 4’ x 8’ piece of plywood in half, or breaking down a 12’ 2 x 4, can give you roughly the sizes you might need, but for greater detail and accuracy, you’ll be cutting your lumber to the size your project requires.
While the list of power saws is long, we’re considering the beginner’s needs based upon the projects likely undertaken. We’ve narrowed this down to those you will most often use as you begin to acquire greater skills.
Every beginner will need one, and becoming proficient in its use expands its usability in your shop. As you’d expect from the name, it has a circular blade with varying numbers of teeth to choose from depending on the lumber to be cut and the purpose to which it will be put.
Ripping blades are used to cut along with the grain of the lumber; crosscut blades for cutting against or across the grain; and combination blades for both cuts.
All circular saws are electric or battery-powered. As for sizes, they begin at 7 ½” up to 10” for basic cutting, and 12” blades are available for larger dimensional cutting. The beginner will be satisfied with the smaller sizes for most shop cutting.
A direct-drive circular saw has its blade mounted perpendicular to the motor and is the most common. It is the most common in circular saws and will suffice for the beginner.
Start with this saw for your beginner’s shop.
These saws are also electric and essential in the beginner’s shop. Unlike circular saws where the blade moves in a circular motion, jigsaw blades move up and down and are used to make straight, circular, and snake-like cuts. Imagine a piece of a jigsaw puzzle, and you get the idea.
They are easily operated with one hand, and blades are available in various tooth configurations and numbers depending on the piece to be cut. They are handy when making an internal cut – – simply drill a hole into the wood, insert the blade, and begin cutting the circle or puzzle piece.
This, too, is a saw belonging in a beginner’s shop.
Compound Miter Saw
We mentioned picture and mirror frames among a likely beginner’s project list. A compound miter saw will cut the mitered corners for the frames.
These saws, also electric running on a regular household current, are similar to circular saws in that they can cut with or against the grain of lumber. They differ, though, substantially in that the blade is fixed in an arm that is then drawn across the wood to be cut.
The angle of the blade is adjustable to create, for instance, the 45-degree angles that are necessary for a square frame corner. They are also adjustable to make a bevel angle to the wood being cut, particularly helpful when installing trim along a baseboard or door opening.
Blades run from 7 ½’ to 10’ to 12”, but a 10” is sufficient for most beginner projects. Compound miter saws are the evolution of the basic chop saw.
A table saw is the power tool most often seen in a beginner’s shop for virtually all other cuts. Like that of a circular saw, its blade is round, but unlike the circular saw, the table saw’s blade extends up through the “table,” and wood is pushed against the blade.
An adjustable fence holds the lumber being cut straight as it is pushed through the blade, and a riving knife keeps the kerf open, so it doesn’t tighten on the blade or get kicked back on you.
We’ve written extensively about table saws and the variety of models available, so we’ll link back to them here, here, and especially here, for instance.
For power saws, then, we recommend:
- Circular saw – price ranges from $37 up to $150+
- Jigsaw – price ranges from $35 to $200+
- Compound miter saw – price ranges from $140 – $800+
- Table saw – price ranges from $140 – $8000+
Honorable mention in power saws goes to the bandsaw. It’s very helpful but not necessarily essential in the beginner’s woodworking shop. Eventually, though, it will be, as it is excellent for ripping rough stock and making intricate curved cuts.
Sometimes a hand saw is more than sufficient for a particular cut. A few are very handy to have around, although you’re likely to use the power tools most often.
However, consider stocking your shop with a couple of hand saws, like a coping saw or a keyhole saw. Invest in hand saws with high quality, sharp blades for a smooth cut, or even consider a Japanese hand saw.
If you are using dowels for joinery in a project, there’s nothing like a good keyhole saw or a Japanese hand saw for a smooth, accurate and perfect cut flush with the surface.
None of these handsaws is expensive, and they don’t take up a lot of space on your workbench. Just don’t cheap out on the blades.
Tools For Holding Wood In Place
Clamps, clamps, clamps. Pipe clamps, trigger clamps, C clamps, F clamps. Every shop needs them at some point in so many projects. Make sure you have a wide selection of clamps in both size and style.
Need a piece of wood held in place while you cut it? Clamps.
Gluing several pieces of lumber to create a tabletop? Clamps.
Gluing pieces of wood together to create a thicker piece? Clamps.
Using cauls to apply pressure across a span? Clamps.
You get the point. Clamps are an essential element in your shop, even for beginners.
Tools for Assembly in a Beginner’s Woodworking Shop
This category has a mixture of both hand and power tools, and the tools are pretty obvious. Hammer, mallet, screwdriver, power drill all make the list.
Hammers come in various sizes, determined by weight, as well as handle length and handle material. A smaller hammer is necessary for finer wood projects; for larger pieces to be assembled, a larger hammer will do.
Lightweight hammers will be in the 8 – 10 ounce size, while heavier hammers will run 16 – 20 ounces. There are larger ones for bigger projects, but one of each size should be sufficient for the beginner.
The handle material is essential for comfort. A wooden or composite hammer makes the overall tool lighter, and wood and composite absorb the striking shock.
Mallets come in handy for use with chisels and in driving dowels or for tapping joints together. Their wooden or rubber heads absorb the shock of striking and don’t leave marks.
Screwdrivers need no explanation; Philips head and straight are the choices. For smaller screws and jobs, a hand screwdriver will be sufficient.
But, you’ll likely be glad to have a power drill handy, also. Philips head and straight fittings are interchangeable in all power drills. And, the drill bits can take the stress off both wood ends when adding a screw for strength, and for starting screws in larger pieces.
A mix of hand and power tools in this category is essential once again in the beginner’s woodworking shop.
Finishing Tools For The Beginner Woodworker
We’ve measured, cut, clamped, and assembled. Now we’re ready to finish the wood for whatever application we’ve chosen to use, whether paint, stain, wax, or natural.
We need to prepare the wood for the chosen finish. Sandpaper comes to mind, as do files and planes.
We can sand by hand, of course. And, we can attach a piece of sandpaper to a block of wood to take a little pressure off our hands. A variety of grits are available for sandpaper, identified by number: the lower the number, the coarser the paper, and usually what we start with; the higher the number, the finer the paper, and we typically end with this.
For a power tool, you’ll want your beginner’s shop to include an orbital sander. No strain on your hands and fast; an orbital sander is what you’ll reach to more often than any other finish tool.
Consider a random orbital sander, though, as your best choice. They oscillate rather than move in a circular motion, can fit in corners, and leave a smooth finish. They will run a little more than an orbital sander, but you’ll be glad to have one handy.
No, not the ones you store your papers in, but rather, hand files. They are convenient for shaping and smoothing wood. They can also be used to sharpen blades of other tools. They are cheap, last a long time, and are more easily replaced than sharpened when they’ve lost their edge.
These hand tools use a fixed blade to remove wood and are more cutting tools than smoothing tools. Jack planes will remove a lot of wood with a single pass; block planes are the choice for tighter work in creating smooth finishes in joints, and rabbet planes are used to make right angles needed for rabbet joints.
However, a good jack plane will probably be sufficient for the beginner, as the other types of planes are for more specialized tasks in more advanced projects. The beginner can add to a plane collection as their skills advance.
General Essentials for the Beginner Woodworking Shop
Neither power nor hand tools, but there are a couple of other items the beginner’s shop will want to have.
A sawhorse comes in handy often in a woodworking shop. In fact, it can be the first project for the beginner – two sawhorses, straight-legged and sturdy, that can support spans and weight, will be used often.
And, as mentioned earlier, a solid workbench is the final essential item. Spend up for one, a free-standing model, and with drawers. Having full access to a bench from all sides is handy, and having drawers to hold some of the hand tools mentioned above keep them easily accessible when needed but otherwise out of the way.
The Final List
We’ve identified the basic woodworking tools you should buy first and to make it easy for you, here’s the entire list in a single place:
- Steel tape measure
- Folding rule
- Circular saw
- Compound miter saw
- Table saw
- Coping saw
- Keyhole saw
- Alternatively, Japanese hand saw with multiple blades
- Clamps, clamps, clamps
- Screwdriver of various sizes, both Philips head and straight
- Power drill
- Sandpapers of various grits and sizes
- Random orbital sander
- Sawhorses (minimum of 2)
Although not actually tools, you will also want to stock your woodworking shop with an assortment of screws, nails, and brads of different sizes and styles. They will come in handy during assembly. Your local hardware store can help supply you with what you will most likely need based on the projects you’ve chosen.
The projects we mentioned at the outset, which are most likely to be part of a beginner’s undertaking, will require all or any of these tools to complete. Each of the power tools mentioned will come with their owner’s manuals and instructions for use safely. Be sure to read the manuals and pay attention to the safety rules.
What Are The Basic Skills a Woodworker Should Have?
A woodworker should have certain basic skills that will serve him/her well in the home shop. They include:
- Cutting wood
- Drilling holes
- Understanding wood
- Choosing screws
A power tool’s owner’s manual will instruct on the safe operation of the tool. Be sure to read manuals carefully, especially tools like the saws we mentioned, since you could lose a finger if not careful.
Measuring accurately is not necessarily a woodworking skill but is nonetheless vital to any project. Measure twice, cut once, as we said.
Understanding wood will require both research and experience. Never be afraid to ask someone at the lumber yard or the larger DIY stores about wood if you are not sure. They are there to help.
Choosing the fastening hardware is important to the lasting strength of whatever you are building. Knowing the correct screws to use in assembling a piece is important.
This, too, will require both research and experience, and staff at both the larger stores and the local hardware stores can help you gather a good assortment of screws you are likely to use in your shop.
Sanding is also an essential skill because a lousy finish is highly visible. Learning how to use your random orbital sander, and choosing the right grit paper, are necessary for that proper finished look.
If you measure well, cut well, and finished well, your project will turn out as well as you hoped it would. But remember, too, that you’re a beginner. Be patient, study hard, learn from mistakes, and you’ll quickly advance your skills.