Note: 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.