woodworking tools needed to set up shop

Setting up Shop: Woodworking tools for a home workshop.

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When I first started woodworking I had a corner in a dark basement that I called my own. I had to wind my way through boxes and old bicycles to find my workbench. In those days, I had a router, an electric drill and a few hand tools in various states of disrepair.

Not a great selection of woodworking tools, but I got things done and had a good time doing it.  Now, I have a much better sense of what tools to use and when.

It's hard to advise people on what tools to get when first starting woodworking, since it depends on what you are going to make. If you are interested in turning you need a lathe, if you want to make Shaker boxes you need a way to steam wood, carvers need a set of carving tools. You get the idea.

However, there are woodworking tools almost everyone will need.

If you are just starting out you don't need to go out and buy the biggest and best. If you have the money and the space, more power to you (excuse the pun), but I actually recommend starting small. Having said that, do buy nice tools. You may not need top of the line, but poorly made tools make accuracy more difficult and they can be dangerous.

Buy woodworking tools as you need them. This spreads out the cost and also gives you a chance to see why you need the tool. For example, do you need a bench chisel for everyday work, a "beater chisel" for everything from scraping glue to prying things open (don't tell anyone I said that) or a mortising chisel for chopping mortises?

Next, learn how to use your tools before you pick them up or plug them in. Take a class, read the manual, ask an expert. This is just as important for hand tools as for power tools. For example, did you know that you need to sharpen the blade on a new hand plane? Knowing that can save you a lot of frustration, just as knowing how to use your table saw can save your fingers.

Don't skimp on hand tools thinking that power tools are easier and faster. Power tools can give a great degree of accuracy and speed. They are useful and I couldn't do my work without them. However, they are loud and hungry, and I have a fondness for hand tools. To my mind hand tools have several advantages:

  • You get a better understanding of wood by using hand tools.
  • You can safely use them on small parts.
  • They tend to be cheaper than power tools, so it's less of a risk if you get all set up then decided you'd rather be gardening.
  • By using hand tools you get a better sense of what to expect from the power tools.
  • They are quiet (an important factor for relationships when the shop is in a basement).
  • Turning off the power tools and settling in at your bench is a relaxing way to end the day.
Now for my list:  The following list of woodworking tools is for someone who wants to set up shop for general woodworking. Your own needs will probably be different in some areas.

woodworking tools: hand tools

Measuring and marking: accuracy starts here, train yourself to be as exact as possible. You will need:

tape measure:

I have both metric and imperial. I'd like to switch to metric entirely, but since I live in the US most people I deal with think in inches.

engineer's square:

It's worth spending some money on a good one. You will want your squares to be square.


this can be a marking knife, a sharp awl or some other tool for marking a clean line.

other hand tools:

Card scraper:

Again, you need to know how to sharpen a scraper, but they are great for cleaning up boards, especially when the grain is chippy. Also good for getting rid of glue. They are inexpensive and handy to have around.

Japanese and/or backsaw: Hand saws are good for fine tuning a cut, making dovetails, cutting small pieces, etc. Decide what you will be doing the most and get the appropriate saw for that purpose.

Files and rasps:

If you are going to be doing any shaping you will need a selection. This is another area where your particular needs determine the tool.

Block plane and/or bench plane:

As with other woodworking tools hand planes have a bit of a learning curve (including sharpening), but it's well worth it. I reach for mine any time I need to trim end grain, clean up an edge, flush up a joint, and for general smoothing.

You can find planes for lots of special operations, but I recommend starting with a general purpose bench plane.

Bench chisels:

A set of 6 from 1/4-3/4 is most useful, but they can also be bought individually.

woodworking tools: power tools

Table saw:

Most people will need a table saw at some point. It is the workhorse of the shop. It excels at ripping wood (cutting the length of the board, with the grain). Using a sled or miter gauge you can easily cross cut (cutting across the board, against the grain) and cut miters. A dado blade allows you to cut dados and rabbits. With a few jigs you can cut raised panels, make tenons, cut cove molding, make box joints, cut tapers and any number of other things.

Don't neglect an assortment of push sticks and other safety devises with any of these tools.


If you are going to be cutting curves, or need to resaw lumber I recommend a band saw. It's not a tool to get right away, however.

Think about why you need it before getting one. If you want to resaw wood you need to consider how big a band saw you need. If you are going to be cutting curves do you need a band saw or is a scroll saw a better choice? 

Band saws are wonderful, flexible woodworking tools <em>if</em> properly set up. Get a saw with guides that are easily adjusted and that allows you to tension the blade properly. You will need to adjust the guides and the blade tension each time you change the blade, so look at how it is done before buying anything.

Sliding miter saw:

If you have a table saw you probably don't need a miter saw unless you are going to be making lots of compound miter cuts. On the other hand, if you don't have a table saw, a miter saw and a bandsaw can do most of what you could do with a table saw.

Either way, a miter saw repeats much of what the table saw does, so you probably don't need both. Having said that, I use mine all the time. It's quick and easy and leaves my table saw free for other operations. A sliding miter saw allows you to cut a larger board than a standard miter saw. I think the extra capacity is worth the price.

All miter saws will allow you to cut single angles, a compound miter saw allows you to cut two angles at the same time. If you think you will need to cut compound miters, then go with the compound miter saw.

A router

is an extremely flexible woodworking tool. Use it for cutting dadoes and rabbits, for making molding, putting profiles on edges. A plunge router allows you to make cuts to the exact same depth. A router table makes many operations easier.


A battery operated drill is sufficient for most operations. The heavier the battery the more powerful it is. Get one that has enough power for your needs. You may find you need a drill press, but that can come later.

  • Belt sanders make quick work of wood removal. I often clamp mine in a vise and use it to shape wood.
  • Pad sanders excel at finish sanding.
  • Sanding block for the final hand sanding (gets rid of the fine swirls left by the pad sander).

This is a short list of woodworking tools, but it gives you an idea where to start. If you're anything like me every woodworking tool you see is a temptation. But, it's possible to get by without a huge shop. The important thing is to get started.

Please work safely.

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