In this article we’re going to talk about the big guns; the tools that you see in all the TV shows and all the pictures of “serious” woodworking shops. I’m going to go though the list of stationary power tools that I think make up a basic shop. Again, if you’re just starting out in woodworking and you’re not sure exactly what kind of woodworking you want to do, don’t go out and empty your savings account buying all these tools. The best advise that I got when I first started woodworking was, “buy tools as you need them”. Tool companies do a great job making you think you couldn’t possibly build anything without their latest and greatest tool. Talk to other woodworkers, join a woodworking guild in your area, visit on-line discussion groups on woodworking, (the best known is rec.woodworking), and see what others are saying about tools you’re considering purchasing.
All the power tools that I’m about to mention have less expenses tools that will do the same job. So why do we even need these bigger more expensive stationary power tools? Speed, durability, and repeatable accuracy. Stationary power tools are built to do certain tasks faster, there built to do that same task over and over again, and they are built to cut wood as accurate on the first piece you send through them as the last piece. Let’s take a look at our list.
Table saws: The first machine you’ll probably want to invest in is a table saw. The table saw is the center piece for most shops. If you plan on building cabinets, furniture, doing home repair and remodeling, instrument building, architectural millwork, boat building, etc, this will be your workhorse. Buy the best you can afford. You need one that’s has a flat table top, has a fence that’s parallel to the blade, can accept a 3/4″ dado blade, and the arbor that the blade goes on needs to be parallel to the miter gage slot (or at least be adjustable). The amount the fence can move away from the blade will determine how big a piece of wood the saw can cut. If you plan on cutting a lot of sheet goods (plywood) get at least a 50″ fence.
There are three major types of table saws: Bench top, Contractor style and Cabinet style. Bench top saws naturally aren’t stationary tools but I wanted to include them in this list because they have come a long way in the past several years. This saws used to be small and somewhat dangerous to use. Several manufactures have put beefier, safer, more portable, with larger cutting capacity than ever before. That being said I would still caution against buying one of this saws as a stationary tool in your shop. However if you need something that you can take with you to a job site, then this is the way to go.
Contractor saws are stationary tools. They typically have an open base with the motor hanging out the back. Unlike bench top saws, contractor saws are belt driven so they’re much quite. The better ones all have the things I mentioned early to look for in a quality table saw. I didn’t mention this in my list of types of table saws early, but some manufactures have developed “hybrid” saws that have attributes of both contractor saws and our next style, the cabinet saw. The price difference between a hybrid saw and a cabinet saw isn’t much, so I would buy a contractor or go ahead and make the jump to a cabinet saw. A cabinet saw is the “Big Daddy” of table saws. They’re heavier, which cuts down on vibration, the trunnions are beefier, they’re wired for 220 volts, the base is enclosed which gives them good dust collection, and they have more powerful motors (usually 3 to 5 horsepower) to slice through thick, tough woods. Most professionals and hobbyist that deal with thick pieces of hardwood opt for the
Thickness Planer: A thickness planer does exactly what its name implies, it cuts down a piece
of lumber to a desired thickness. Most rough cut lumber is right off the sawmill which means the thickness usually varies along it’s entire length. If you buy a 4/4″ (1″) board from the sawmill and you need it’s finished thickness to be 3/4″ you will have to either use a hand plane or the thickness planer to get there. Hand planes will do the job, but if you have several boards to thickness you’ll appreciate how fast and accurate a thickness planes can get the job done. Thickness planers come in portable or stationary machines. Portable may be stretching it for some planers, some are close to a hundred pounds! Most hobbyist and a lot of professionals opt for the portable planers. Most of these planers have a 12″ capacity which is usually enough for most pieces of wood you’ll come across. A good planer will have a flat table that’s adjustable, a easy to read depth scale, easy to get to and change blades, and good dust collection. The
stationary thickness planers offer all these traits while being heavier, beefier, and offering a larger
width capacity, from 15″ on up.
Jointer: Putting pieces of wood together is easier and much more predictable if you are dealing
with straight, flat lumber. Many people assume that they don’t need a jointer if they have a thickness planer. What they don’t understand is that a thickness planer doesn’t flatten a board, it only makes it a uniform thickness. If you put a bowed board through a thickness planer you’ll get a bowed board when it comes out. The jointer first makes the board flat on one side. It does this by having two flat tables one on each side of a spinning blade. The board is pushed over the blade that is set to take off a certain amount, say 1/32″. The other table on the opposite side of the blade is set 1/32″ lower to compensate for the amount of material removed in our example. By doing this you get a flat surface.
What size jointer is the biggest question to answer when deciding which one to buy. A 6″ jointer is the smallest jointer size that would probably be of any use if you plan on building furniture. The thing to consider is what is the width of the boards that I normally deal with when building projects. If you’re like most 6″ to 10″ is normal. So lets go out and buy a 10″ jointer, right? If you have the money the answer is YES! Just realize that for each 2″ you go up in
capacity above 6″ you increase the price of the jointer roughly by (you may want to get a paper bag to breath in before you read on) $1000.00!
So, buy the biggest one you can afford, 6 to 8″ is what most end up going with just because of price. A good jointer will have a dead flat table top, a fence that slides easily and have stops at 90 and 45 degrees, and have good dust control.
Drill Press: Sure a hand drill can bore a hole but a drill press can do it so that it’s square to an edge or surface or at precise angles. Larger bits are better used in a drill press as well because you can change the speed to a lower setting. You can also use a wider variety of accessories on a drill press like a hollow-chisel mortiser, a biscuit cutter, and even sand curved edges. Drill presses come in bench top models and floor models. Floor models will have a lot more capacity, but you may not need that. Even if you don’t need the extra capacity, the versatility of the floor models make them attractive to many woodworkers. A good drill press will have a table that’s flat and square to the chuck and be able to tilt to 45 degrees. It should have variable speed and be able to accept 1/2″ size drill bits.
Compound Miter Saw: A compound miter saw excels at cross cutting boards to length. Yes, a
table saw can also do this but is difficult with long boards. Also, with a fence setup on either side of a miter saw you can quickly, easily, and precisely cut boards to different lengths all without a tape measurer. A miter saw also excels at mitering boards up to 45 degrees, and beveling boards. A Sliding compound miter saws can also increase the cutting capacity of a miter saw by several inches, so if you cut a lot of wide boards over 8″ you may want to look into one of these. Compound miter saws usually come in 8″, 10″, and 12″ sizes which refers
to the size blade it uses. Naturally the bigger the blade the wider boards it can cut.
A good compound miter saw will have a flat table that is perpendicular to the blade when set to 90 degrees and be adjustable for the times it might get out of square. It should have a degree scale that’s easy to read and have stops at 90, 45, and 22.5 degrees. It should also be able to tilt to 45 degrees for cutting bevels and compound cuts.
Band saw: The band saw is arguably only second in versatility to the router in the woodshop. Here are just some of the things that the band saw can do: cut curves and circular parts, cut small logs into lumber, cut out round blanks for turning on the lathe, resaw thick planks into thinner book matched boards, and cut thin slices into veneers. In my opinion (and it’s worth what you’re paying for it) with this much versatility you want to buy a good saw, much like with the table saw, don’t skimp here. Band saws are sized by the capacity between the blade and the back of the saw (refer to as the “throat”). So if a band saw is said to be 14″ that means it can cut a board that’s 14″ without hitting the back of the saw. How thick a board you can cut is determined by the space between the table and the upper blade guide. If you plan on using your saw to resaw lumber then you need a larger capacity between the table and the upper guide. Some saws are able to have a “riser” added to them which can increase their resaw capacity from 6 to 12″.
There are so many different shapes and sizes out on the market now that it can be overwhelming in deciding which band saw to buy. My advise is not to jump in and just buy one if you’re new to
woodworking. Decide what you like to build first. This will determine more than anything what size saw to buy. If general furniture is in your future my suggestion is to buy a 14″ band saw. You can go back and add a 6″ riser latter if you find you need the extra capacity. As I stated earlier, ask other woodworkers what they use, what do they like about it, what they don’t, search the archives of rec.woodworking to see what others say about a saw you’re looking at buying. By doing some research up front you’re more likely to have buyers remorse.
That’s my list of essential stationary power tools. This is by no means an exhaustive list. But starting out with these tools, along with our list of hand tools, and power hand tools, you’re setting yourself up to be able to build almost anything you like.