The Best Power Tools for Woodworking Projects
Power tools are an excellent way to speed up your work and improve accuracy. Even if you like the idea of working entirely with hand tools, it’s worth thinking about investing in a few decent woodworking power tools at least – we promise it’s not cheating!
By choosing a selection of really useful woodworking tools, you’ll be able to get a lot more done. But, with so many power tools for woodworking on the market, it can be a little overwhelming trying to figure out which are the right tools for your projects.
In this chapter, we’ll cover the best woodworking power tools for different projects. For those looking to step up a gear, we’ll also take a look at a few larger woodworking machines. Along the way, we’ll be dropping a number of handy tips that can keep you safe and efficient while working with woodworking power tools.
Essential Power Saws for Woodworking
The romance of hand sawing your lumber to size is likely to wear off after you’ve given it a few attempts! Fortunately, there are plenty of electric saws that can make short work of everything from ripping logs to cutting intricate shapes into boards.
An electric saw is one of the most useful woodworking power tools, but which type should you get?
If you plan to do various different types of projects, you’ll need some all-purpose power saws that are versatile and multi-functional. Here are our top choices for all-around woodworking:
Best Saw for Making Straight Cuts in Rough Lumber
A circular saw is extremely versatile, although it takes some skill to use. Since a circular saw is handheld, it takes a lot of control to get precise cuts compared to a table saw.
Having said that, they are perhaps the best tool for cutting planks to length, ripping lumber and boards to width, and even trimming large joints without relying on machines. They are also great for working on-site to cut old structures down to size.
Here’s what to look for in a circular saw
- Base plate material: A flimsy stamped metal plate is heavy and easily bends. Instead, find a circular saw with an aircraft aluminum or magnesium base plate with a rolled edge.
- Blade Size: The most common size is 7-1/4” which will allow you to cut 3-inch thickness with ease. If you have an especially large cabinet or furniture piece, you can also get specialist larger blades, but these usually need a specialist saw to fit.
- Power: Circular saw power is measured in Amperage. The standard is 15 amp, which is sufficient for building cabinets regularly. However, if you are more of a weekend DIYer, 10 to 12 amp is cheaper and plenty powerful.
Tip: you can ensure a straight cut with a circular saw even along long lengths of timber. Simply secure a straight jig to the plank you wish to rip. This will act as a fence, keeping your cut perfectly straight.
Best Saw for Cutting Angles and Bevels
A miter saw is an important power saw for various aspects of woodwork. Rather than bringing the wood to the blade, the miter saw is lowered onto the material to give a precise square cut.
This is a must-have tool for creating angles or miters, which are needed for seamless cabinet joins, crown molding, door frames, and decorative trim. They’re also the best tool for cutting floorboards to length.
Compound & Sliding Miter Saws
A compound miter saw blade pivots both left and right to give angled cuts as well as tilting in one direction for beveled cuts. You can cut at pretty much any angle, with the blade locking into place while in operation. This is ideal for everything from cutting different angles for baseboards, picture frames, and edge beading.
A sliding miter saw has all the same functions, but also slides forwards, allowing for longer cuts. This is a really useful feature if you’re planning to cut a lot of wider boards or planks to length. Look for adjustable depth control, a useful feature for cutting tenon shoulders and lap joints with ease.
Although these are both more expensive than a regular miter saw (with or without a stand), they give the added functionality of cutting in two planes for dual angles. If you only require straight cuts, a standard miter saw should serve you well. However, a sliding or compound miter saw can be a great investment for the future.
Best All-around Power Saws for Woodworking
If you’re a weekend DIY warrior, you’ve probably run into issues using hand saws for your projects. From creating feature batten walls to building a coffee table or a built-in window box, your weekend projects can go a little quicker and smoother with some key saws.
- Mini saw: A mini saw is a smaller version of a circular saw. They are easier to control and maneuver and are cheaper to buy. They’re great for small projects like cutting trim for doorways, baseboards, wooden stair treads, and other small projects.
- Jigsaw: If you have any decorative DIY projects like creating a round coffee table or wood ornaments, a jigsaw is a must-have tool. These allow you to easily make curved cuts and shapes on your workpiece. They’re also great for DIY projects such as cutting holes for sinks and taps in countertops and even trimming floorboards to width.
- Reciprocating saw: If you’re taking down a wall in your home or doing any other renovations, a reciprocating saw is a great tool for cutting through studs, pipes, and tile. Just be careful you don’t hit a live wire – a metal detector can save you from any trouble.
Do You Need a Router for Woodwork Projects?
The router (with router table) is possibly our favorite woodworking power tool, since it’s really useful for making different types of joints quickly and easily. For most beginner projects, it’s not strictly necessary, but it can take your work to the next level.
A wood router works in a similar way to a drill, but it carries out a much wider range of tasks. Like a drill, there are router bits with sharpened edges. These spin around at high speed, cutting into the wood.
The cutting edge comes in an array of profiles that will cut different shapes and patterns. Some router bits come with pilot bearings, which allow you to cut rabbets and other moldings at different depths, depending on the bearing used. Here are some of the different uses for this handy tool.
- Dado joints – A three-sided channel that another piece slots into to form a strong joint. Perfect for cabinet making and shelves.
- Dovetail joints – with a router, a dovetail jig, and a router table, you can make perfect dovetail joints in no time.
- Rabbets – a small recess carved into the edge of the wood, used on cabinets, bookcases, windows, and door jambs.
- Shaping decorative molding – by switching out the router bit, you can create a huge range of different moldings, perfect for edge-beading, baseboards, and even picture frames.
What To Look For in a Router
Routers come in many shapes and sizes and you can check out our comprehensive buying guides right here. For now, let’s go over the basics;
- Base type: choose between fixed and plunge type routers. The former is simpler and can only cut on the edge, while the latter enables you to cut into the middle of your workpiece.
- Speed: routers have either fixed or variable speed settings. Fixed options are more affordable but slightly more limited. Different router bits and functions require different speeds. As such, a variable speed setting is ideal if you plan to use your router for numerous different tasks.
- Power: routers tend to fall into two categories; low horsepower (1 – 3HP) and high horsepower (3+ HP). Most beginners will be fine with anything between 1.5 and 2.5 HP for their projects.
- Size: you’ll find three sizes; small palm or trim routers, mid-size, and large. Palm routers are great for beginners and can tackle the majority of tasks you can throw at them. Mid-size routers are a little more versatile and beginner woodworkers looking to advance might consider using one. Large routers typically require a router table and are only really used by professionals who will use them regularly.
- Router bits: these are available in two shank sizes, quarter-inch and half-inch, with half-inch being more sturdy and giving a better cut. However, not all routers can fit them so be sure to check. Carbide bits tend to last longer than steel ones.
Power Tools You Need for Drilling Wood
Drilling and boring holes in your wood is going to be an essential part of many projects. From hanging a door to a piece of furniture to adding legs to a tabletop, there are countless uses for drills.
Let’s take a look at some of the most useful.
Invest in a good cordless drill for your workshop and you’ll be forever grateful that you did. Although corded tools are more powerful, they are frustratingly restrictive at times because of the cord. A cordless power drill is easy to move around and a high-quality one will have plenty of power for most wood types.
Not only are cordless power drills great for drilling holes, but they also double up as a screwdriver, an invaluable tool for home DIY and projects alike. It should offer reverse rotation for removing screws, as well as adjustable torque settings.
The only time a corded power drill might serve you better is when you’re using extremely hard types of wood, such as Brazilian Ebony or African Pearwood. For dense wood, you’ll need all the power you can muster, and sometimes even the most powerful cordless drills will struggle. In addition, if you plan to use your drill extensively, a corded option is a better choice, as you won’t have to worry about running out of battery power.
Some woodworkers invest in a drill press, though it’s not a necessity, especially if you have a good power drill. However, if you’re planning to drill a lot of holes or mortise and tenon joints, it can be a real time-saver.
A drill press is a stationary power tool on which your workpiece sits on a flat table. The drill bit itself is fixed in place but can be lowered into the wood to bore perfectly straight holes. With a mortise bit, you can cut square holes for mortise and tenon joints.
You can find table-top models or larger free-standing pillar drills. Some can also drill at an angle and most will allow you to set the depth at which you wish to drill.
The Best Sanders for Woodworking Projects
The final process of any woodwork project is sanding to give a beautiful, smooth finish.
The best sander for you will depend on the projects you’re doing. Let’s look at some of the most common types and what they are for:
- Belt sanders: These have a loop of sandpaper that spins around a continuous belt. They’re one of the more heavy-duty options for removing old paint and smoothing down rough lumber.
- Random orbital sanders: These move forward, back, and in a circular motion to give an ultra-fine finish. They reduce swirl marks and are a popular choice for refinishing wood flooring.
- Disc sanders: Disc sanders have a wheel of sandpaper that spins to give a powerful sanding. This can be used for rough or fine sanding, depending on the grit of sandpaper attached.
- Finishing sanders: These are square, handheld tools used for light sanding. They can remove light paintwork but are best for giving a smooth surface on finished pieces to prepare for staining or painting.
There are also some specialist sanders that are needed for specific projects:
The drum spins and moves back and forth giving a rotating motion
Creating a swirl-free, super smooth finish on wood and metal, polishing, smoothing
Small, triangle sander for small jobs
Light sanding and finishing, removing chipped paint
A loop of sandpaper continuously moves around a drum
Sanding down and refinishing hardwood flooring
Top Tips for Using Power Tools for Woodworking Projects
Whether you’re new to using woodworking power tools for projects or you’re a seasoned pro, here are some of our top tips to make the process smoother:
1. Buying All Your Tools From the Same Brand
Whatever woodworking tools you plan to buy, it is handy to buy most of your power tools from the same brand. This will allow you to use the battery packs interchangeably and brands usually make their tools to complement each other well.
2. Start With a Basic Set of Tools
If you currently don’t have any tools, start by building up a basic kit that will get you through most standard projects:
- Circular saw – a versatile tool that is good for most cuts
- Jigsaw – for cutting curves, tight corners, and irregular shapes
- Router – for hollowing out space for hinges and creating joints
- Palm sander – for giving a good finish on your wood surface
- Electric drill – for driving in screws and boring holes
3. Invest in Power Tool Safety Gear
The last thing you want is a nasty injury when you’re getting to grips with new tools. Keep yourself safe with some basic safety equipment:
- Safety goggles: When ripping lumber, chances are you’ll get chips and splintering wood flying up. When this happens, you’ll be glad you’re wearing goggles.
- P100 mask: These are oilproof and filter 100% of dust and fumes.
- Earplugs: Your table saw, wood router, and corded power drill can all be pretty loud!
- Kevlar gloves: These are cut-resistant and will reduce the risk of injury.
What Are the Best Woodworking Machines for Beginners?
Many beginning woodworkers will not need to worry about investing in machines for their woodworking shop. Lumber and planks can be cut and planed to the size you want at most large hardware stores, while smaller pieces can normally be adjusted by hand.
However, it’s not too unusual for beginners to upgrade and hobbies can become small businesses in time. With that in mind, we’ll take a quick look at some of the most useful woodworking machine tools.
A table saw is going to be your best friend when building cabinetry or other furniture pieces. It gives you the ability to perform ripping, cross-cutting, and sheet material preparation.
Key features of a table saw you should look out for:
- Weight: The heavier the table saw, the more stable it becomes. This gives a solid work surface with minimal vibrations.
- Rip fence: Make sure the fence is adjustable and ends just past the center position of the blade. This will stop any kickback from the timber as it’s passed through.
- Miter fence: Although most table saws come with a miter fence, some are flimsy and not very accurate. Look for a table saw with a high-quality miter fence or upgrade to a separately bought one for the best accuracy of cuts.
The Best Planers and Jointers for Woodwork Projects
So you’ve cut all your pieces of lumber ready to begin building, but you’re going to need each piece to be uniform and flat. That’s where planers and jointers come in.
Planers are needed to turn rough lumber and sheet wood into boards with a consistent thickness throughout. This is vital for cabinet doors, tabletops, chopping boards, and any other flat piece of wood.
Jointers, on the other hand, make flat edges. This is crucial when building cabinetry, bookcases, or boxes because you’ll need all edges to be totally flush.
Jointer Planers: The Best Option for Large Projects
If you do a lot of large projects that require uniform, flat boards (such as building boxes, cabinets, bookcases, chests, etc.), a jointer planer is a great option. This is a large combination machine that boards are fed through. The result is parallel boards with completely flat edges that are ready for building work.
Jointer planers are an investment, but if you’re doing regular projects, it will pay for itself in the time and energy you’ll save using separate planers and jointers. Be advised, you’ll need a dust collector if you plan to add machines to your woodworking shop.
Tip: if you’d rather not invest in a full on jointer planer, but also don’t want to rely solely on hand planes, a handheld power plane is an excellent middle-ground and can carry out a huge array of tasks.
Putting Your Power Tools To Use
If you’re looking to start stocking up already, it’s worth checking out our power tool reviews. We offer recommendations for everything from the best value table saw to the ideal tool for each task.
Now that you’ve got a good idea of which woodworking power tools you should consider investing in, it’s worth taking a closer look at the raw material you’ll be using them on. There are countless types of wood you can use for your projects, so in chapter five, we’ll take a look at how to select the right type for your needs.