Once you decide that you have an interest in getting started into woodworking, the next step can be quite overwhelming. The types of woodworking that you can do today is huge. On top of that, the number of tools available in the marketplace can be overwhelming and get expensive. In this article, I’ll tell you the first tools you should acquire when you decide you want to get started in woodworking as well as a couple good beginner projects.
The first section that I’ll cover is your general tools. You may find that you already have these laying around your house. If so, you are already ahead of the game. If you don’t have any of these tools, you will find that you can pick them up for a very reasonable price.
I would recommend not going overboard on the cost of tools in this first section if you are just starting out. A basic $5 hammer is going to do everything you need it to do, for several years. There’s no reason to buy a $50 hammer when you are just starting out.
I’ve written a list of some of the specific tools that I’ve used and recommend on this page that goes along with the items listed below. Those tools are listed here.
High Priority Tool List
- Hammer – Any basic hammer will do. Should cost less than $10.
- Tape Measure – You don’t need a fancy tape measure. Just one that’s strong and easy to read. This should cost you less than $10-15.
- Screwdriver set – You can get a set of about 8 different sizes for about $25. These will be useful to have around the house even if you decide woodworking isn’t for you. Don’t get the super cheap versions that can be found for under $10 as they tend to break easily.
- Rafter Angle – These can also be called a “Johnny Angle.” They are in the shape of a triangle. These allow you to draw straight lines on your wood. Very handy to have and you can probably find one for under $10.
- Levels – I’d recommend 2 different sized levels. You can pick up a 24” model for around $20, and a 9” version for about $10. If you only have the budget for one, get the 9” version and pick the other one up at a later time.
- Safety equipment – Definitely pick up a pair of safety glasses, ear plugs and possibility a small respirator if you are cutting wood indoors.
- Drill – When purchasing a drill, you have two options. You can pick up a cordless drill or an electric drill. One really isn’t better than the other as they both have their own advantages. A cordless drill will cost a bit more than a corded version. I’d recommend getting a good brand such as Bosch, Dewalt, etc.
- Cordless Drills – The primary advantage to these is not having to search for an electrical outlet near where you are working. Cordless drills also tend to be lighter in weight. A couple of disadvantages are that they have less power and you’ll need to replace the battery every few years. Replacement batteries can be a little pricey depending on the model you need. You can pick up a good brand for around $100.
- Electrical Drills – These will need an electrical power source nearby. If you purchase one of these, I’d highly recommend picking up an extension cord as well. These drills have much more power than their counterpart. These sell for around $75.
If you are buying lumber from a big box home improvement store, you may be able to push the purchase of a saw to the bottom of your shopping list. Most home improvement stores will cut your lumber for you. Typically, their store policy is that the first 5 or 10 cuts are free. After that, it’s 25 cents per cut. There’s been many times where I’ve taken my cut list with me to a store. Marked my cuts and had a store associate cut them for me.
A couple tips if you go this route – don’t go into the store during peak times and expect them to make 20 or 30 cuts. If you have several cuts that are needed, go early in morning when the store just opens and workers aren’t at the end of a long shift.
Also, make sure you have your stuff organized, marked and ready. Nothing will test the patience more of an associate with a line of customers behind you than someone fumbling through papers and their wood trying to figure out what they need cut.
As you start doing more and more projects, it will be impossible to have all of your cuts completed in the store. Below, I have listed the saws in order of importance for a new woodworker.
- Circular Saw – These are versatile saws that will allow you to do basic cross cuts as well as ripping a piece of plywood. Corded saws can be found for around $60. Circular saws are now available in cordless versions as well. It is possible to pick up starter tool packages that will contain all cordless tools that allow the battery to be interchanged among the tools. These sets can cost at least $250 for a good brand.
Lower Priority Tool List
The following tools are not needed as you just start out. However, once you decide you want to improve upon your woodworking skills, they are tools that you will want to pick up over time.
- Orbital Sander – If you do a lot of work that needs some sanding, I’d recommend picking up an orbital sander. You can find some for as low as $30. These will save you time and muscle fatigue should you have a large piece that needs sanded.
- Jig Saw – these handy little saws allow you to make cuts that turn and twist. If you get into decorative cuts, it will be nice to have one of these in your collection. You can pick one up for as little as $40.
- Miter Saw – A miter saw with a good study base will have you on your way to make quick and accurate end cuts in no time. These are sometime referred to as “Chop saws” because the user is pulling the blade down in a chopping motion. One feature I would recommend is one with a laser beam that shows you where you are about to cut. Even though I have a laser, I still double check before cutting. The last does help me get everything lined up.
- Not a requirement, but I would also recommend picking up a miter saw stand with extensions if you plan to use it often. The stands are portable and allow you to secure your saw to a base. It also have extension legs on both sides to hold your longer boards in place during cuts.
- Table Saw – The next saw to add to your collection should be a table saw. Once you get a table saw, you will probably become less dependent upon your circular saw. A table saw is one of the most versatile tools in the shop and expands the types of cuts you can do in your shop. For a complete guide on what features you should consider when buying a new table saw, please check out my article here.
- Table saws come in 3 categories: Benchtop, Contractor and Stationary.
- Benchtop as smaller units that set on your workbench. The positive is they are smaller and take up less space, however they will take up space on your workbench unless you build a separate table for it
- Contractor bases are built connected to legs that have wheels. They are built to be portable and moved around on a jobsite with ease.
- Stationary – Just as the name states, they are constructed to remain in one spot. These units are much heavier, stronger and can have very large tables built around them for individuals who normally cut large sheets of wood.
- IMPORTANT – Table saws are responsible for the most emergency room visits of any tool in a woodworker’s shop. I’ve written an article on the importance of tool safety that discusses some of the ways you can protect yourself.
- Table saws come in 3 categories: Benchtop, Contractor and Stationary.
In my opinion, the best first project for a new woodworker is – a workbench! All woodworkers need a table to work on. Even if you already have an old table that you are already using, building a new one is highly recommended. Building one will allow you to practice using several of your newly purchased tools.
Another benefit is that it doesn’t have to be perfect! Yes, it’s important to make sure it’s sturdy and square, but you don’t have to worry about the insignificant things. If you drill a hole in the wrong spot, it doesn’t matter on a bench. Over time, a workbench will take a beating. A misplaced drill hole will go unnoticeable.
A great set of DIY plans on a workbench can be found here. The plans in the link do assume you have several tools already in your collection. Below I will list all tools needed to build this table.
Recommended Tools for this project
- A level (9” or 24” will work)
- Tape Measure
- If you cut your pieces instead of having the store do it:
- Miter or Circular Saw
- Rafter Angle
Additional Beginner Projects
After you have your workbench, there are numerous other possibilities for projects that you can do. Projects that won’t require tools outside of what we listed above in the high priority tools are bookcases and various pieces of wall art. Take a look at Pinterest and you are sure to find an endless supply of projects to keep you busy and grow your skills!
I want to pass along a couple pieces of advice that I wish someone had told me when I was just starting out. Don’t get too hung up on the tools that you have or don’t have. Perhaps you find yourself needing a 2×4 cut but don’t have a miter or circular saw to do it because of budget constraints. Don’t worry about! Go buy a handsaw for $20 and do it by hand. Sure it may take longer, but you’ll still get the same result.
Don’t tell yourself you can’t get into woodworking because you don’t have a large workshop. Most of us starting out didn’t have the space for a shop. And if we had a large shop, we probably didn’t have the money to fill it with the tools we were lusting after. Make the most of what you have. In a separate article I discussed some options available to new woodworkers that had space limitations.
Local Woodworking Clubs
I would also encourage beginners to check for local woodworking clubs to join in their area. This can be a great resource for those just starting out. These clubs will have individuals that are more than happy to pass on their tips and advice. Some clubs may even have access to machinery for you to use and test.
If you are interested in taking the next step and become a professional woodworker, take a look at this article that I wrote that details what skills you need to learn.