Woodworking Part-1 – Power Tools

imageNote: If you follow this blog, you are in for a bit of unusual activity. The next subject is spread over six posts, and I am going to upload them over the course of the next six days. If you like woodworking, it’s a great chance to express your opinions in the comments. If you don’t like woodworking, hang on until next week – thanks for following!

The thing I love about writing this blog is that I am free to bounce around a lot. While I was working on my next post, I received a question via Twitter that is sending me off on a tangent.

Mr. Woodworker, what would you recommend to a weekend warrior looking for a good table saw, miter saw and drill press? P.S. I’m cheap..ish

That is a very hard question to answer, but I tried. Then I decided that 3 or 4 DM’s weren’t really enough, so here’s my attempt at a better answer. Just so you know, I have been a woodworker for almost 50 years, I once owned and operated a cabinet shop and my opinions are no better than those of any other woodworker on the planet.

A Table Saw is an item where you can try to save money, but cheap is not a good idea. This is perhaps the most versatile tool you will ever own, and certainly one you will use at some point on every project. If you want to start at the low-end of the price scale, look for a good quality contractor’s saw, but not one of the portable deals. Get something with some weight; preferably with some portion of the table made from cast iron. I would want a saw with a 10” blade and a 5/8” arbor that can accept a dado head. I would also want a saw that came with or could support a good rip fence. Pick a saw with a guard system you can work with because a) you will never want to spend money to upgrade the blade guard and b) you should work with a blade guard whenever you can. I can say that with authority, having run my left index finger through the blade of my table saw. I can still count to 10, but there was some fancy sewing involved.

My advice on the Miter Saw was to “buy the best one you can possibly afford” and I can’t emphasize that enough. If you are going to be doing woodworking, you are going to want to be able to cut perfect 90°, 45° and 22 ½° joints. You are going to want to be able to mount a stop or a stop system so that you can make repetitive cuts and you are going to want to switch the setup on that saw quickly, knowing that when you switch back, you are good to go. I have a very early entrant into this market, a 9” Delta miter box that cuts through a 1 ¼” MDF “table.” The saw dates back to my cabinet shop in 1984. It was an expensive saw back then, but it is still accurate. I have a lessor quality Delta miter box that I use mainly for home improvement construction, but I wouldn’t try to make a picture frame with it. I also own a Bosch 10” sliding head compound miter box (older version of this saw) and it is an amazing machine.

As for a drill press, I’m not sure what to recommend. The first one I owned was inexpensive, and I quickly realized that the ½” chuck and quill assembly wouldn’t support a mortising kit. It drilled accurate holes when properly set up, but setting it up was a chore. Drill presses are actually more versatile machines than I like mine to be. You can drill, sand, polish, etc. with a drill press, but I don’t like operations that put sideways pressure on the quill. I figure that sooner or later, that will work to make the movement a little sloppy. Get one that will handle the stock you plan to drill, that has a good speed selection and a good depth-stop mechanism. Check the vertical movement of the table and make sure you can get the table locked down solid. Whatever machine you get, bolt it to the floor or bench before using it even one time.

If I were working with a limited budget, the tool I would buy before buying a drill press is a reasonably powerful router. Then I would either buy or build a good router table. Like most long-time woodworkers, I have several routers now, but for the longest time, I ran with a 1 ½ HP Rockwell (now Porter Cable) router that my father gave me almost 40 years ago and that machine is still going strong. I’ll bring this up again when I talk about power hand tools. Stay tuned.

6 thoughts on “Woodworking Part-1 – Power Tools

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  1. Having a grandfather that lost one of his arms in a bicycle accident just before university, I can wholly vouch (with his support I’m sure) that a good table saw will save you time, money and appendages.

    He had less to loose as I was easily reminded.

    Little in the way of DIY tables made it to New Zealand in the late 70’s so his equivalent was to mount a skill saw (well thats what we called it, a spinning electric saw blade) to the underneath of our solid steel bench and protrude the blade. Mounted correctly with a quarter of a steel protractor in front of it for sighting, we could easily angle it for make 45 and 22.5 degree cuts. A quick measuring stick would give us depth and a sawn off broom handle was his trusty push stick for the end of the run, or for off cuts wedged nearby.

    It wasn’t the easiest to set up so you cut in batches of angles and depths. But man did we have the best custom kitchen and bookshelves in our town.

    Dan, it’s neat to hear you’re a carpenter, it’s something I need to do more of and will when I get home next month.

    I was reading (perhaps in an unhealthy dose of marketing spiel) a magazine called Success.
    Turns out Harrison Ford supported his early career as a carpenter http://www.success.com/articles/2254-just-a-lucky-guy

    We can be stars yet! :-)


    1. That’s a great story Nick. My current table saw (scheduled for replacement this year) is a 1930’s era Sears ‘100’ with a new motor, after market fence and large right table extension. I made a nice blade guard for it, but not until after slicing my finger.

      The good news is that we’ll have woodworking long after SharePoint and content publishing :)


      1. Word!

        Yes, even as I toy with KimDotCom and improving broadband connections in NZ, I can comfortably say that table saw is in my dads garage waiting to make our kitchen, shelves and anything else I can call on over the weekend!

        I still have a lot of Tim Allen spirit and Al skills in me and a drive to create our cabin on the shore in the coming years.


  2. Why a router first? I was actually thinking of getting the drill press first since I always seem to have a need (or just a desire) to put holes in things and make them adapt to other things. I’m currently trying to make my own custom sized, and holed, pegboard and I’ve learned a few colorful swears along the way doing it with my hand drill. Would I find more uses for a router than a press for around the home?


    1. I would definitely want both, but for woodworking, I use a router way more often than I do a drill press. I know that I bought my router before I bought a drill press. Also, there are tons of drill guides that can be used with a portable drill, including ones for spacing and drilling shelf-support holes. Some things, perhaps the pegboard, are harder to deal with on a drill press than while using a handheld drill. Before I had a drill press, I used something like this http://www.woodcraft.com/PRODUCT/2003121/11022/PRECISION-DRILL-GUIDE.ASPX?refcode=10INGOPB&gclid=CN2C68ammLcCFQVU4AodCGAAZA for getting the holes straight. You can also make a custom base for somthing like that to help evenly space holes (by using pins that go into the first and subsequent holes).

      Thanks for following.


  3. Picture reference – This is the place to check the drill press you plan to buy. Make sure the quill moves solidly as you advance it toward its target. Also, make sure the depth stop is reliable. There should be no sloppiness or play in either of these mechanisms.


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