One of the absolute most common questions I get in email and comments is “what tools do I need to get started?” That’s actually not a very easy question to answer, but I’ve tried several times in different places. I figured it was time to put my thoughts down in one place so I can update it as my answer changes and point people here when they ask. So here goes…
- I like power tools. If you’re looking for hand tool recommendations, I’m not your guy. Sorry.
- I’m not sponsored by any tool manufacturers, these are just brands that I’ve had experience with.
- The products linked below are Amazon affiliate links. Purchasing through those links gives me a small commission. (thank you 🙂
Answering that question is not as simple as “get X,Y,Z and you’re good to go” because there are SO many factors at play in the mind of the person asking the question. I can only answer from my own experience and perspective. So, if you’re asking that question, I think you should also ask a couple more questions first.
- How much am I willing to spend to get started?
- What is it I actually want to make to get started?
First the cost issue. Your budget will dictate the priority of what you buy and where you buy it. If your budget is low, start with searching Craigslist and frequent garage sales. You’ll find plenty of tools that are still perfectly useable but may not last as long as a new one. Wear and tear is natural with tools, so getting them used isn’t a big deal as long as they do what they were meant to do. If you go out and buy a ton a brand new tools without answering question #2, you may end up being the person who is selling tools on Craigslist in a few months.
For the second question, you don’t need every tool under the sun to get started so figure out what types of things you want to make, then figure out what tools you need to make those things. Don’t buy things you don’t need. Trust me, buying tools is a rabbit hole that you WILL eventually fall down. You’ll buy things that you rarely (or never) use eventually… don’t start that way.
With that out of the way, here’s what I think just about EVERY person would do good to have, as a start.
A few basics that may be obvious
These are items that help along the way and may just be things that you forget to pick up on your first trip to the hardware store. Especially in the case of these small items, brands don’t matter. Think of these as things that you WILL lose, break, replace.. They’re kind of like a box of screws in my mind.. consumable.
I actually added this to the list after I published this. I just assumed that it would be implied that it was a good tool to have, but realized that I should have called it out. Any hammer will do for most jobs, but be aware that some have wooden, fiberglass, or steel handles and some are different weights. Mostly, you just need something to bang things together and occasionally pry things apart.
Obvious maybe, but also consider getting at least two different lengths. A 25′ tape is nice if you’re measuring a room but bulky and overkill if you’re building a recipe box. I would have a 6′, 12′ and 25′ handy, and multiples of those sizes if you’re prone to forgetting where you put things.
This is great for quickly drawing a perpendicular line on lumber, drawing or finding the angel of something, squaring up two pieces of lumber and even acting as a straight line guide for a circular saw cut. They have plastic ones, but I’d go with metal.
Again, obvious maybe but definitely handy. Great for opening packages, cutting straps but also scoring lines and trimming off splinters without getting too much tear out. Lots of different types, just get extra blades and don’t be afraid to switch to a sharp blade often.
Buying clamps can (and probably will) get out of hand because you can literally never have too many and there are LOTS of different types. To get started, I’d just buy a couple of spring clamps and bar clamps. Go for metal, not plastic. Harbor Freight is a GREAT place to get cheap clamps.
A circular saw is probably one of the cheapest saws that you can buy and also one of the most versatile. It can do most of what a table saw can do with enough patience and attention. You’ll probably also want to get at least two clamps and a long straight edge so you can get long accurate straight cuts.
I’ve had this one for a really long time and it’s always worked well.
You certainly don’t have to get both a drill and a driver to get started, as a drill can do both jobs but once I moved over to having both, I was sold. The driver helps in a lot of cases to not power through and force a screw in causing damage to the work piece, but it also adds the extra strength to get the screw in when it’s fighting back against you. It’s kind of hard to explain why that’s useful without using a driver personally. It’s also really handy to have two tools, one with a drill bit and one with a screw driver bit so that you can switch tools quickly rather than switch bits. If you can swing it, I’d suggest getting the combo, and get at least an 18v set. That seems, in my experience, to be the baseline power package that can get through most anything.
Alternatively, a corded drill is sometimes cheaper and usually runs at a much higher RPM. I had a corded no brand drill for years and it picked up the slack where my old 12v cordless drill couldn’t keep up.
To accompany the tools, you’ll need at least a small set of drill bits and driving bits. These sets can get pretty elaborate and often have a bunch of stuff you don’t need, so stick to the smaller kits to get started.
There are lots of different types of sanders, but I tend to think that the orbital is the most versatile. A belt sander is handy for removing a LOT of material, but you can easily over do it if the grit is too rough. The orbital sander usually have variable speed, so you can lower the speed to more carefully sand in areas. The one I have has a really wide speed range and has lasted a long time. Make sure that you get a range of different grits so you can swap out the paper as needed. I’d start with 80, 150, 220 grits.
I’ve had this one for a really long time and it’s always worked well.
Table Saw (not a NEED, but handy)
A table saw is seen by many new woodworkers as a necessity and while it’s really handy, it’s essentially a circular saw bolted upside down in a table. You can, in theory, use a circ saw to do almost all that you could do with a table saw. Having a table saw does however make a lot of cuts more precise and generally safer. You can more easily cut longer boards, and with the addition of multiple sleds you can cut more complex angles and joinery.
If you do go toward getting a table saw, there is a cost gap that you’ll see and you’ll have to decide which side of that gap you want to be on. As a beginning, my suggestion is to go on the lower cost side as a starting point. What I mean by cost gap is that you’ll see contractor saws (usually sitting on four legs, semi portable) in a lot of different brands in the $200-$500 range. This is usually where you’ll see brands like Dewalt, Ridgid, Ryobi, Bosch, etc. After that there is a gap of around $1000 before the next tier starts. In this group you’ll see brands like Grizzly, Delta, SawStop and more. These brands at this price range are usually getting into cabinet saws (there’s a box to the floor under the surface) that usually have beefier motors and solid table tops.
There are definite advantages to a cabinet saw, but jumping in for your first saw at that price point is NOT necessary. In fact, once you outgrow your contractor saw, you can be the person who is selling a tool on Craigslist to a new woodworker (see above).
Sticking to the contractor group… between those brands, honestly, I doubt there is much of a difference. In fact, there are only three major tool manufacturers that provide tools to stores like Home Depot, so you’re often getting the EXACT same tool in a different color make up. My suggestion is to just find what works in your budget, maybe ask around for first hand experience with brands and just get started. They’ll all cut wood 🙂
What about all of the other tools I see people use??
Well, look back to the beginning of this article. Answer those two questions and see if you really need any of those other tools (yet).
With the three (possibly four) that I’ve listed above, you’ll be WELL on your way to making projects and you can pick up other tools as you find a specific need for them.