There’s nothing more satisfying than building something with your own hands, whether it’s something as simple as a doghouse or as complex as a custom-build shop. But getting there means lots of trial and error and all of us have to start somewhere – right at the very bottom.
However, woodworking can be really intimidating for beginners. Even finding the right tools for the job isn’t always a walk in the park. Luckily, we’re here to help. Here are all the basic woodworking tools you’ll need in your arsenal.
Workbenches and Stations
If you’re someone who grew up in a family of handy people, you probably have strong memories of using everything from cinder blocks to the truck bed as a workstation. Hey – it got the job done. But there’s something to be said for having an actual bench at your disposal. It’s both significantly easier to deal with, especially while woodworking in particular, and far safer than using whatever surface you’ve got on hand.
Quality workbenches should be freestanding, available in a variety of sizes, include built-in storage, and have a vice attached to them, meaning you won’t have to lean awkwardly to work on a project or worry about a piece of wood moving on you, opening you up for injury when cutting, drilling, etcetera. Just be sure to do your research and due diligence prior to building or ordering a bench.
You’ll want one that fits your needs, so carefully consider the typical size of your projects, the size of wherever you want to place it, the amount of storage you’d like, and whether or not you need any additional features.
Also be sure to check out reviews or get recommendations from other woodworkers you know. Not all benches and stations are the same! Quality can vary drastically based on product and brand. Be aware of that and plan accordingly.
Glue, duct tape, and redneck ingenuity or otherwise simple, sheer will can actually get you pretty far as a beginner, although it still leaves a good amount to be desired. Just because you can do a lot of projects with the bare minimum, doesn’t mean you should. Why work harder when you could work smarter? And that means embracing basic woodworking tools – drills being one of the most important in your figurative (or literal) toolbelt.
They’re some of the most versatile tools you can nab and they can allow you to create just about anything from a simple birdhouse to bookshelves, a house frame, and everything in between. Different attachments can take the flexibility and useability further yet.
To take advantage of this, you’ll want to pick up a solid power drill. Corded or cordless is all up to personal preference, but beginner’s might want to choose the former before investing in the latter. Corded versions tend to have a good amount of extra torque behind them that cordless do not, and you’ll never have to worry about your battery running out in the middle of a project. But again – it’s up to you!
Should you value convenience above anything and can’t stand to get anything with a cord attached, check out the voltage before handing over your credit card. You’ll want something hardy and powerful. A 14-volt drill should do you just fine. Have a lot of projects that require drilling? You might want to also invest in a drill driver and impact driver.
Now onto the category that everyone thinks about when you say “woodworking” – saws. They’re an absolute essential regardless of whether you’re a beginner or have been putting stuff together for the last 50 years. As long as you need to cut wood, you’ll need a trusty saw by your side.
Question is, what kind is actually right for you and what you’re trying to do? There’s practically countless saw tools out there, ranging from the ultra-basic and general to the most specific and niche. Well, our advice is to stick with the most typical and multipurpose before spending your hardearned cash on anything else.
Your first purchases should be a circular saw and a jigsaw. A circular saw is the bread and butter of the woodworking world. They’ve got lots of power behind them and are efficient for all cutting purposes thanks to their different blade types. They’re also especially good for large amounts of cutting at a time. Meanwhile, a jigsaw is a little bit more focused, great for detailed, intricate cuts and design work. They’re particularly good for rounding off corners and getting those perfectly straight lines.
After getting these two tools under your belt, a table saw should be a definitely consideration. However, it’s pretty important to recognize that these cost a pretty penny. At least, they do if they’re good quality and you’ll definitely want that here. You can spend anywhere from hundreds to upwards of a thousand. Translation? Don’t get these until you’re very sure about your woodworking and you’ve got plenty of cash to burn.
The mechanics of woodworking are obviously the main focus when you’re marking and checking off that long Lowes list, but they’re not the end all, be all when buying tools. The finishing is also a big deal and should influence how and what accoutrements you purchase out and about. So, want to ensure your projects function as good as they (hopefully) look? You’ll want to stock up on the proper wood finish.
Should you be working on a table, butcherblock counter, cutting boards, serving bowls, or any other surface that may touch whatever it is that you’re eating, this will mean food-safe finishes. The nice thing is that you have quite a few options whether you’d prefer an oil finish, wax, or film. A few of the most common include:
- Mineral oil – Mineral oil, also known as liquid paraffin is an easy go-to. It’s commonly used as finishing for butcher block and is typically regarded as very simple to apply, thus ideal for woodworking beginners. The only downsides are that it’s less resistant to water than some and requires more reapplications.
- Tung oil – Where mineral oil requires several reapplications, tung oil hangs around quite a bit longer. It has both fantastic looks and water resistance, although it takes quite a few coats. Don’t mind the extra up-front effort? This is an awesome finishing choice. It is extracted from nuts, however, making it potentially unsuitable for those with allergies.
- Raw linseed oil – Other oil-based finish, this one is extracted from flax seed and looks good. It’s a good bit more finnicky than other options here, though. Its cure time is long and water resistance is fairly low, meaning more effort all around. It’s still a decent option for beginners, but you might consider sitting this one out still if you lack the patience to handle it.
- Shellac – Tired of all the oils? Shellac is a food-safe film alternative that’s super water resistant and easy to use. However, be aware that it comes in two forms: liquid and flakes. The latter must be dissolved in ethanol before you apply it.
- Polyurethane – Similar to Shellac, polyurethane is a finish that leaves a nice coat behind on the wood, although this one is more shiny than it is matte. That makes it particularly handy for dining tables. The fumes and cure-time make it lean a little more advanced. Offset this by simply applying it in a well-ventilated area and carefully following all instructions. No skimming!
- Beeswax – Like the ease of waxes? Beeswax actually serves as a wonderful food-safe finish or all-around protective topcoat. It’s another option commonly used for butcher block.
- Carnauba wax – Carnauba wax is a little more difficult to track down than beeswax, but it’s awesome to have on hand. It can work as either a solo finish or a topcoat for another, and is significantly heartier than its mentioned alternative.
Not super familiar with planes? That’s okay, a lot of newbies aren’t particularly well-versed in them. These tools are used to help smooth out woods in ways that just sanding can’t, ensuring your material ends up a perfectly flat plane (thus the name). It does this by cutting away fibers with a fixed blade, rather than by sanding away tiny shavings off the top. As you could imagine, this is wonderfully handy whenever you’re using untouched, natural wood. In fact, it’s pretty much an essential in these situations.
So, if you’re the type who’d rather chop down your own trees or take whatever untreated lumber you can get your hands on? This is the tool for you, one which you can find in a variety of forms including rabbet planes, block planes, and more, all of which suit different smoothing needs. Perfectly happy using treated wood, though? You can probably pass here and focus more on finding a good sander.
Sanders and Files
Not to be confused with the politician nor the colonel, sanders are woodworking tools that focus on refinement over initial shaping. They’re the front-line workers protecting you from getting a million splinters or cuts all over your hands every time you touch your project. And for that, you should be infinitely grateful.
Sanding tools and files are also drastically important in the final look and general feel of whatever it is you’re working on. Skipping out on these tools makes for a major misstep, one that instantly makes your creations appear more unfinished and amateur. Don’t let this happen. Always have some kind of sander on hand and be sure to use it.
What about sandpaper? That obviously counts, although it isn’t always the best choice for larger areas or woods that need a significant amount of smoothening. Electric options such as belt sanders or orbital ones are a better buy, although you might still need sanding blocks for tighter corners or situations that require more attention to detail.
Hammers and Mallets
When you think of basic tools, what immediately comes to mind? If your answer is “hammers,” you’ve hit the nail right on the head. Sorry – we had to. Horrible albeit topic-appropriate puns aside, having a good hammer on hand is a non-negotiable for proper woodworking.
That’s likely not very surprising to you. Everyone knows you need it to drive in nails or pry pieces of wood apart safely. However, you might not have realized that mallets are equally as necessary to have in your toolbox. Made with wooden, leather, or sometimes even rubber heads, they allow for soft blows that leave minimal impact marks, great for tapping wood joints together, using for chisels, or other similar applications.
Unsure what you should look for when buying either of these striking tools? Don't worry about it too much. Since they’re both relatively straightforward, you don’t have to consider much beyond weight. Look for something that’s easy enough for you to swing and control, but also heavy enough to be effective without too much force on your part. You’ll be able to then work both quickly and efficiently with less effort: a win-win overall.
Are you the type who insists on measuring twice and cutting once? Or do you unfortunately fall into the camp who ends up doing the complete opposite? For the latter, we beg of you. Please try to be better. Measuring is one of the most crucial steps of any woodworking project. Get lazy with it and you’ll stay a beginner rather than advance. You’ll probably also lose quite a few projects along the way. Let’s avoid that, shall we?
To do that, you’ll want all the basic measuring tools at your disposal. A tape measure and level will become your best friends. If you don’t have ‘em, pick them up ASAP. They’re also super cheap and pretty much universal. Any kind will do, although retractable steel tapes are typically more appropriate than flexible reel ones.
Once you’ve got these two, we’d also recommend a square to measure angles and a yardstick, which works great for measuring but also as a good straight edge.
Last but certainly not least, your agenda should include picking up some safety gear. We know it might seem kind of lame or like an unnecessary step but trust us. The extra few seconds and iota of effort are worth it to avoid a completely unnecessary, painful (and totally awkward) trip to the emergency room.
Safety goggles, woodworking gloves and a pair of steel-toed boots will go a long way to keeping you safe, protecting against flying wood chips, irritating sawdust, and any pieces of wood that inevitably fall onto your feet throughout the day. These are the bare minimums, though. Some kind of hearing protection and face masks should be worn for extended use of loud tools or anything with fumes.
And while it’s not an actual piece of gear, don’t leave your common sense at home when you’re working. Sawing, drilling, sanding, all of those can get incredibly dangerous. Sharp, powerful objects and carelessness don’t mix well. Always stay alert when woodworking and know what you’re doing. Don’t know how to do something? Ask someone who does and learn before putting yourself in harm’s way.
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