Woodworking is a challenging and rewarding way to creatively use your free time.
Your imagination is the only limitation in terms of projects and materials.
We are frequently asked the same question here at Miter Saw Judge…
Every individual has her (mostly “his”, statistically!) reasons to set up a DIY workshop or even buy a scroll saw for small decoration projects. Indeed Gary Booker did a wonderful job of compiling their responses in this article.
What do you really need for a home workshop?
Clearly, not everyone’s needs are the same so we decided to break this guide down into 3 sections:
- Workshop For Beginners
- Workshop For Intermediate Woodworkers
- Workshop For Advanced Woodworkers
We’ll take you through a full list of equipment you need to get started and then advance as a woodworker.
Workshop For Beginners
The basic tool kit below is intended for home woodworkers and furniture makers who are starting with a blank canvas.
If you already have a handful of tools but are looking to get more serious, you can use this list and bolster your supplies.
These tools have been selected for their versatility. You’ll be able to get started making furniture while also having a great tool kit for use in the home.
Some General Pointers on Tools
Make sure you always buy tools from a reputable supplier. Whether you choose to buy them online or in a physical shop, buy from someone you trust.
You should generally buy the best tools you can afford. Consider them an investment rather than an expense. Not only will high quality tools perform better, they’ll last longer too.
Always keep your tools sharp.
Store them in a dry atmosphere. This will help keep rust at bay.
A Basic Toolkit
- Bench with vice
- Portable, cordless electric drill
- Set of twist drills
- Claw hammer
- Pin hammer
- Circular saw
- Jig saw
- Hand compound miter saw
- Hand sander
- Beveled edge chisel set
- Smoothing plane
- Marking knife
- Panel saw
- Tenon saw
- Tape measure
- Sanding block
- Oil can
- Straight edge
The right workbench is the cornerstone of any workshop.
A Black+Decker Workmate makes a superb starter bench. You can hold work steady with the jaws on top or use cramps to hold it across the top.
If you want to undertake larger sheet work, you’ll need a supporting trestle table the same height as your Workmate.
Depending on the space you have in your workshop, a smart option is to make a folding bench that hinges from the wall. It’s a win-win: you’ll get extra stability from the wall while also being able to fold it away when not in use.
You can get freestanding benches as well in a variety of materials.
The 2 most useful hand saws for cutting are:
It’s imperative that you sharpen and set your saws regularly.
The set of the saw refers to the sideways angle of the teeth. The fewer teeth a saw has, the greater the set.
Grip your saw positively but not hard. Don’t force the strokes. Gently draw through.
Use a vice or clamps to grip your work whenever possible. Use trestles to support large workpieces. Make sure that both pieces are supported until the saw cut is complete. If you don’t take this precaution, it will result in splitting.
Always cut on the waste side of your marking line. Allow enough waste so you can finish with a plane.
A jigsaw is an incredibly versatile tool with a broad range of applications.
Hammers and Chisels
A claw hammer is indispensable. You’ll need to drive in and remove plenty of nails.
Make sure you choose a hammer from a reputable brand.
The claw should reduce evenly to a fine point. This will allow you to pull out pins as well as nails.
The head should be domed with a chamfer around it.
Handles are made from steel with rubber grips or timber. This really is down to personal preference. Use what you feel most comfortable with.
Pin hammers have a fine round head with a tapered flat head (cross-pein) to act as a counterbalance. The cross-pein is ideal for starting to drive small pins into place.
Pin hammers with a ball-pein head are designed for riveting.
Always keep the head of your hammers free of dirt. Clean the driving face of the head with a sheet of abrasive paper.
Pin punches come in assorted sizes. You drive these with your hammer to get started so the pin gets below the surface. You fill in the hole with a stopper matching the timber.
If you will regularly be withdrawing nails, pins and tacks, pincers and pliers come into their own. Hammers are awkward to use close to the surface of the wood so you can grip where the hammer would let you down.
A bevel-edge chisel is arguably the most useful. It’s strong enough to withstand rugged use and it can be used in tight corners thanks to the cutaway edges. Don’t use this type of chisel as a lever, though. It’s liable to snap.
An initial set of chisels to build upon should include 3 sizes:
- ¾ inch
- ½ inch
- ¼ inch
With these, you’ll have all immediate bases covered.
Chisels do not come ready for use. They are ground to an edge for sharpening.
Don’t drive chisels with a hammer. Use a mallet instead. If you use a hammer, you risk splitting or denting the handle of your chisel. This renders it extremely uncomfortable to use.
There is a huge variety when it comes to planes. Most are made in more than one width.
This is included in the basic toolkit since it can be used for so many different purposes.
The smoothing plane is suitable for all normal planing jobs including trueing up the end grain of solid timber and sheet materials.
Smoothing planes are fairly short. This limits its ability to get long boards flat. You can still manage with bigger pieces. Just be sure to check your work regularly with a straight edge.
We’ll take a look now at a couple of more advance planes that are not part of an essential kit for beginners but are worth a mention…
This is the smallest and generally cheapest plane.
The shallow cutting angle makes it particularly suitable for planing end grain on small sections. It’s of no use for planing flat, wide surfaces.
Look for the adjustable front types for more flexibility.
Longer and heavier than a block plane, the jack plane is ideal for planing long lengths with a high degree of accuracy.
It’s too unwieldy to use on smaller sections.
Jack planes are best left until you’re a bit more proficient.
Some Plane Basics
The blade of a plane is held in place by a cap iron and a wedge iron.
The leading edge of the cap iron is set to about ½ inch behind the blade’s sharpened edge.
The cap iron and blade are gripped nicely with a screw. This needs to be done up tightly.
There’s a knurled knob to control how far the blade sticks out of its slot. This influences the depth of cut of the plane.
Check the alignment of the blade in the slot with the adjustment lever. This will ensure it doesn’t tilt down more to one side than the other.
Always keep your blades sharp. This is a piece of advice that spans across all tools.
When storing your plane, either retract the blade or stand it on its side so you protect the cutting edge.
Never allow the body of the plane to become rusty. Keep it in a dry place.
When you are planing, dust and resin can build up on the bottom of the plane. Use white spirit to clean this away. Don’t scrape it off as you can score the surface.
A portable electric drill is a must for almost all woodworking projects. It really should be right near the top of your shopping list.
There are 3 main factors to consider when choosing a drill:
- Chuck Size
You may also consider using a floor drill press for work that requires more pressure.
Although electric drills might look pretty similar, there’s actually quite a range in their power output.
Since your drill tends to be worked pretty heavily, opt for one with the highest power rating you can afford. Go for something with around 500 watts.
It’s best to avoid heavy-duty industrial drills if you want to take advantage of DIY attachments for woodworking.
Drilling, sawing and sanding should ideally be carried out with a separate power tool since they all require different speeds.
4 speeds are best. 2 is fine.
Chucks span from 3/8 inch up to ½ inch.
Cramps and Clamps
There are 2 main types of cramps:
- G-Cramps and Rack Cramps: For gripping over fairly small distances
- Sash Cramps: For gripping long sections
Both types of cramp come in a variety of sizes.
When you are starting out on your woodworking journey, shoot for G or rack cramps with an opening of 6 inches. They will close fully unlike some larger cramps. They will also hold a sufficiently large workpiece for most normal tasks.
Smaller cramps like this are mainly used to hold the width and thickness of things.
Sash cramps are expressly designed to hold long work like doors or cabinet sides. These can easily be rented if you don’t want to invest in a set straight out the gate.
You can get sets of sash cramp heads. Fit these to hardwood bars for a cheap and effective alternative when you are just beginning.
Cramping and Gluing Methods
Don’t overtighten cramps. All you need is the joints to be pushed together and held there. Go gently.
If you find the work doesn’t come together after reasonable tightening, the problem is usually with the connecting surfaces.
It’s a wise idea to cramp up first without glue. This will also allow you test out the placement of cramps and let you work quickly when the glue has been applied.
Gluing and cramping should be done in stages. If, for example, you are gluing some narrow boards to make one wider board, glue 2 boards and leave to dry. Add another and continue…
Squares and Bevels
Get yourself a try square with a blade from 7-10 inches long.
Plastic stock is better than wooden. Wooden squares will expand and contract with humidity levels. This leads to diminished accuracy.
Shoot for a smaller all-steel try square as an extra but this is not essential.
Testing a try square is a breeze…
- Choose some timber with an extremely straight edge
- Place square on timber with stock firmly pressed against edge
- Draw a line along the top edge
- Reverse square stock and compare line of blade with marked line
- If they don’t match, the square is out of true by half distance of gap
If you want to test the square of one edge compared to another, place the stock firmly against the face side. Sight the adjacent edge under the blade of the square. You shouldn’t see any light under it. If you do see a wedge of light, this means the edge is out of square. Plane off the highest part.
Use your square for marking out, checking for square as you plane and also afterward. Use it to check work during and after assembly.
You need a sharp marking knife or fine-pointed pencil for marking.
This tool works alongside the try square.
You can adjust the blade to any angle and length thanks to a fixing screw at one end of the stock. Tighten the blade using a screw or a wing nut. The screw variety is better since the wing nut has a tendency to get in the way.
Sliding bevels allow you to mark out and test a broader range of angles. They are not graduated so you need to use a protractor when tweaking the blade before use.
A combination square performs both roles.
With that comprehensive set of tools up your sleeve, you’ve got everything you need for a starter workshop.
Assuming that you have this as a baseline and your skills are growing, what do you need to add when you hit intermediate level?
Workshop For Intermediate Woodworkers
Why Use a Pillar Drill?
Drill stands are essential for squareness and accuracy.
All stands have a lever arm action. Depth stops allow you to drilling depths to be made within the tiniest of tolerances.
A block or jig is secured to the drill stand table. This guarantees that every hold drilled in wood pressed against it will be exactly the same distance from the edge.
For holes at angles other than 90 degrees, make a wedge-shaped base block. Place it between the work and the drill table.
When you are drilling through a piece of wood, get some flat scrap material and place it over the drill stand table. This prevents the drill and stand from coming into contact. It also ensures clean drilling on the underside of the workpiece.
After drilling each hole, move the waste along. This gives you a clean surface under the drill and minimizes the chance of breakthrough on the underside of a hole.
Expand Your Power Saws
When you start getting a bit more experience under your belt and want to undertake a greater scope of projects, it’s worth investing in a couple of new power saws:
- Band Saw
- Compound Miter Saw
Band saws are great for various applications.
Whether you want to make straight cuts or curves, a band saw delivers.
Check out our great band saw guide.
Compound Miter Saw
Another power tool well worth having in your collection is a compound miter saw.
For cross-cuts and miter cuts, a miter saw will give you precision and power in one great package.
We go into detail about compound miter saws here.
A basic router is a simple but ingenious piece of kit.
Thinking in general terms, it’s a motor with several vital controls…
There are 3 main parts:
A rotary cutter is fitted into the collet on the lower end of the motor. This is the purest form of direct drive.
What you can do with your router is largely determined by the cutters.
The motor is the universal type found in portable power tools. Power ratings go from ¾ HP up to around 3 ½ HP. The more powerful the motor, the bigger the router.
The collet is a basic but precise chuck. It’s attached to the end of the motor armature and holds the bit so the motor can make it spin.
The base holds the motor and positions it relative to the work. There are usually handles so you can control the tool. The most crucial part of the base is the depth-of-cut adjustment mechanism. You can get a fixed base or plunge base.
A small consumer-grade router is perfectly adequate for most needs at this stage.
For accurate cutting on length or cross-cuts, guide bars come into their own.
You can keep the tool on line and cut precisely every single time.
If you’ve got all of the above tools and you are becoming an adept, advanced woodworker, think about…
Workshop For Advanced Woodworkers
If you’ve really honed your skills and want to crack on with some rather more ambitious projects, it’s time to further extend your toolkit…
- Table saw
- Larger router
- Scroll saw
- Biscuit jointer
- Thickness planer
- Cabinet sander
- Portable generator (you can find the best portable generator reviews here)
A table saw is a highly adaptable addition to your workshop.
For miters and bevels, compound cuts and rips, a multi-functional table saw is something no advanced woodworker should be without.
We walk you through the best table saws here.
Upgrade Your Router
At the advanced level, you might want to think about upgrading your router. This will help you to increase scope of work.
You’ll be able to work with full-sized pieces like doors and window frames.
You’ll need to spend a bit more to get a professional router rather than a consumer version.
With long running times, the ability to cycle on-off incessantly and heavy cuts with large bits, a bigger router should keep running all day without causing you any problems.
A more substantial router will help you to up your productivity and it’ll broaden the type of project you can undertake.
Biscuit Plate Joiner
If you’re looking to step up your furniture making, a biscuit plate joiner is well worth picking up.
This small, portable tool is great for panel construction cabinets.
It will make quick, accurate joints that are much stronger than dowel joints.
The biscuit joiner has a 4-inch saw blade that’s safely plunged into the wood at a pre-set distance from the fence through to a depth that fits the biscuit dowels.
The dowel is made from compressed beech. It’s glued into the slot and the matching panel joined into it.
Depending on the configuration, joints may or may not need clamping.
When the joint is fixed, the glue makes the dowel biscuits swell. This makes for an extremely strong joint. Due to this strength, biscuits on the corners make a great substitute for mortise and tenon joints. These can be mitered or straight rectangular joints.
If you are looking for a superior doweling jig, treat yourself to a biscuit joiner.
With a thickness planer, you can create square, flat or beveled timber to a precise size with repeatable precision.
Tables and a tilting fence give you a winning combination of accuracy and stability.
Thickness Planer are rated by the number of cuts per meter of travel. To arrive at this figure is straightforward:
Multiply speed of cutter block (RPM) by the number of blades divided by the feed speed.
Switching from surface planing to thicknessing is a simple no-tool job you can carry in seconds flat.
Be sure to use this machine in tandem with a proper dust collector or extractor.
Do You Want To Sand Better?
If you need to sand very large pieces of material at full clip, a cabinet sander makes a sound investment.
These beasts are fit for commercial or large-scale DIY projects.
Invest in a Lathe
For pro-grade woodworkers, a lathe is a wonderful addition to the workshop.
You need to think carefully about the size of lathe you intend to buy. While you can turn smaller pieces on a large lathe, the reverse doesn’t necessarily hold good.
A lathe needs mass. Cast iron offers a solid and strong platform from which you can turn.
Cast iron stands help to dampen vibration. Concave legs mean access won’t be restricted.
The diameter of the spindle should be as big as possible.
Choose a motor with enough power for your needs. Variable control motors are best.
Wood turning is incredibly enjoyable and buying yourself a lathe will translate to many hours of pleasure.
We trust you’ve found this comprehensive guide to DIY workshop essentials useful and informative.
If you are struggling to assemble a toolkit, following the above advice will give you all the equipment you need to get off to a flying start woodworking.
Feel free to get in touch any time with feedback or questions. We’re here to help in any way we can.
Now go and get started on that workshop…