Beginner Power Tools: The Second Round

In my first Beginner Power Tools blog, I described the first three woodworking power tools I believe beginners should purchase. Now I’m on to the next three tools I recommend for beginners to purchase.

Circular Saw

You may think of this as more of a jobsite tool for carpenters framing houses, or weekend warriers building sheds or framing out remodels, but circular saws come in handy expecially with sheet goods (plywood, mdf).

With a straight edge guide, you can do most things that can be done with a table saw, which is why I think it’s a good tool from which to transition to a table saw. However, it’s often intimidating to folks, because of the volume of noise it produces, and because of the exposed blade. Modern circular saws have a blade cover that stays in place if the saw were to be turned on when not cutting. The cover is forced out of the way as a cut is being made (or if the user physically moves it out of the way). It has a spring tensioner, so the cover will swing back in place.

A circular saw will save you some money in the long term, as you begin making projects out of plywood, which is cheaper than solid wood in most cases.

I recommend a quality corded model at first before picking up a cordless option. It’ll be less expensive as well. You’ll find in your research references to the drive system in these saws. No need to pay too much attention to that for your first saw. Just go with a solid mid-range saw in your price range.


Love those detailed edges on table tops and shelves? The mighty router is responsible.

Not only can it give your work an expert-looking detail, it can also help you in your joinery. With a straight cutting bit, you can create grooves and dadoes, which are essentially channels where a mating part meets or rests. Look at a few solid wood bookcases – see any notches where the shelves rest in the side? There’s your dado. There are plenty of other joinery methods as well, including the dovetail, but that’s for another discussion.

With a good range of router bits, you can create tons of distinct profiles and edges to your work, or even mill your own trim and moulding.

A router will take some getting used to – it’s a lot of power in your hands – but with enough practice and attention to safety, you’ll be able to master it in a short time.

If you’re looking to create edge details primarily, then a trim router might be your best bet. It’s smaller and lighter than a standard router and can be slightly cheaper.

Miter Saw

Or chop saw, as many folks refer to this tool. This probably gets more use than any other saw in my shop, as it takes care of most of my cross cutting and miter cuts.

This saw may intimidate more than a circular saw in that the blade is very exposed during the cut. You’re generally safe in keeping your hands at least six inches away from the blade as you hold a board in place while cutting, but every situation varies. That being said, be sure to clamp your work piece in place as you learn to cut on the miter saw. Most models include some sort of clamping mechanism on the saw itself.

The magic is in the miter cuts (angles). Sure, you could use a miter box and hand saw, but you’ll be limited to the angles you cut, and you’ll exhaust yourself cutting anything larger then trim.

You’ll do fine with a 10-inch compound model (cuts angles on two planes). No need to worry with a sliding model for your first one – you can save some money there. Sure, you’d have a wider capacity cut, but you can crosscut wide pieces with a circular saw when you need to.

Before you purchase any tool, make sure you research them thoroughly by looking for reviews and asking user opinions on social networks.

Published in: on February 29, 2012 at 1:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Beginner Power Tools: The First Three

Everybody likes lists and I’m often asked by beginners which power tools they should get first – so here I’ve assembled a rundown of the three power tools I think beginners can start with comfortably and for the least amount of money.


No surprise here. Every house and apartment should at least have a drill, if no other power tool. Most are used for assembly of store-bought pieces of furniture, or various other “some assembly required” household items. Drilling pilot holes for screws is a must-have skill for many beginner-level projects. With additional jigs, such as a pocket hole jig, a drill can help a beginner gain confidence in pursuing more woodworking adventures.

Drills are relatively inexpensive, especially chorded and lower voltage battery models. Just know that the lower the price, the lower the quality. If you’re just getting started, I’d say go for one that’s priced somewhere in the middle of the pack. Be sure to pick up a good bit starter kit, with several drill bit sizes (from 1/16- to 1/2-inch) and driver bits.

Jig Saw

Arguably the first saw most people use learn to use. Of course it gets used most in cutting curves, but with a straightedge guide you can make adequate cross cuts (cutting across a board to length) for most projects. They’re not as powerful or effective as a circular saw for this task, but if you’re planning only to get by with one power saw to start, a jig saw would be it. Some models allow for the base plate to tilt, which would allow you to cut bevels. I don’t recommend jig saws for trying to rip (cutting down the entire length of a board to result in a more narrow piece).

With the right blades, you can cut through metal, plastic, and wood. Make sure you purchase a good assortment of blades.


Sanding is frustrating, especially for beginners when they realize how much time it takes to get a smooth surface. A power sander beats sanding by hand for sure, but it can also help shape a project.

Take corners for example. You could use a power sander to roundover a corner or an edge to add a softer look (and reduce a potentially sharp hazard). It might not be as perfect as using a router with a roundover bit, but you’ll get an adequate job done and not have to use another tool.

Here I’d recommend two types: a detail sander and a random orbit sander (ROS). If you can only get one, go for the detail sander. It will allow you to sand larger surfaces (but will take longer than an ROS), but it will include attachments that will allow you to sand hard to reach and unique surfaces. Be sure to get replacement sanding pads in various grits (roughness), from 60 grit (which will remove wood quickly and will be rough) to 180 or 220 grit (for creating a smooth finish).

Before you purchase a tool, make sure you research them thoroughly by looking for reviews and asking user opinions on social networks.

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