Does the tool make the man, or does the man make the tool? Like most things in life, the answer is somewhere in the middle. You need to know how to properly operate and care for your tools, but the right tool/jig can make or break your project.
Of course, I'm just an active hobbyist, and my tools reflect that, BUT every single one has a time and place to be used, and we've formed a deep bond over the years. Some are used a lot more frequently than others, and so here is a list of most used tools that I have in my shop...which my wife lovingly refers to as “just the garage."
1. Miter saw:
This 10" Craftsman is a hand-me-down from my dad. I know there are bigger and better miter saws out there, and I would love a 12" slider, but this saw has held up so well over the last 15+ years that I can’t bare to get rid of it. I never have to move it and I always know it’s going to work. This is certainly the "old reliable" in my shop.
If you don't have a dad who can pass down the classics and are starting from scratch, we really like the 10" chop saw from Makita.
2. Fixed base/plunge router combo:
I love the versatility of having both a fixed base and plunge router. It has the ability to make precision edges and the power to smooth out any wood. I use my router for rounding table tops, rounding small box lids, making box joints and dovetails (the most beautiful joint in woodworking in my opinion).
3. Air compressor:
I also included the 18-gauge nail gun in the picture because they came in a combo package. I like nail gun as a quick pin nailer, but the 18-gauge leaves too large of a pin hole for fine wood working projects. There are so many other attachments that I could get for the air compressor, but I mainly use it for cleaning off sawdust from the workbench and pumping up my car tires. Pumping up your car tires might not seem like a big deal until your car sits outside during a Minnesota winter. Tire pressure will fluctuate with the temperature and if I didn’t have this bad boy in my shop, I would have to drive to the gas station or auto shop every time I needed air in my tires.
4. Rolling work bench: The work bench is used in every project in the shop but rarely gets the love it deserves. This is one of two workbenches in my shop that I built, and I love this one because of the industrial casters and scrap wood storage. With casters, I have the ability to easily maneuver my workbench anywhere throughout the
garage workshop with ease. Also, since it’s custom built, I was able to make it 44” inches tall instead of the standard 33-36” inches, which really saves a lot of stress on my back.
5. Basic tools: Much like the air compressor, these tools probably don’t get the love they deserve, but good luck doing any project without them. They are essential to every job and are usually within arms reach when you need them.
You can’t ever have too many clamps. As a weekend warrior craftsman, I don’t typically have someone around to help me hold things in place while I’m working. That’s where clamps come in. I have a variety of 1-2’ clamps and several longer 3-4’ clamps that I couldn’t live without. When I find a good deal, I usually stock up as you can see by the 8 clamps that are still unopened. If you take one thing away from this article, it should be that you can’t have enough clamps and it’s worth it to invest in decent clamps.
7. Electric finish sander: This is a very standard Porter Cable sander. It certainly meets expectations, but it will never wow you. What really makes a big difference is the sandpaper that you use. This is my go-to sandpaper. It will last much longer than cheaper sandpaper and you will see much better results.
8. Circular saw: I love my circular saw because it’s the most versatile power tool I own. It can function as a miter saw or table saw and it can be carried anywhere. Also, I think Ridgid makes a great tool and comes with an incredible warranty. I think it has the quality that Craftsman used to have and an equal warranty. I am moving more and more towards Ridgid tools because of that.
9. Oscillating Tool: My Dremel Multi-Max is great for doing specialized work in tight spaces. You have to know its limits though. It's certainly not the most power tool and I think discs get worn down too easily, but it’s a terrific tool for those awkward jobs in a confined area.
10. Cordless drill and impact driver: For so many years I only used a standard drill. When I finally bought an impact driver I couldn’t believe what I had been missing all those years. They really should be used separately to maximize their ability. Make sure that you have at least two batteries for working on a big project. The last thing you want near the end of building a deck is to wait for your batteries to charge.
11. Pull saw: Unlike a traditional hand saw, these saws are made to cut while you pull rather than on the push stroke. This allows for a thinner blade, which removes less material. This makes sawing easier, faster and more accurate. Also, they usually have a long blade so you can cover more surface area in less time.
12. Pocket hole jig: This handy little jig can fit in your back pocket but adds so much strength and stability to your project. This Kreg jig is easy to use and comes with a great carrying case. You will easy get the $40 that you spend out of this jig.
13. Jigsaw: When it comes time for a little creative cutting, the jigsaw is the most versatile. I love making straight, clean cut lines with my table saw or miter saw, but every once in a while, you have to get curvy. This is the tool for that job. Plus, you can easily change the blades to cut a wide range of materials. I’ve used my jigsaw to cut wood, PVC, plywood, metal, and laminate.
14. Shop vacuum: I didn’t realize how necessary a good shop vac was until I decided to remodel our entire house while my wife was pregnant (not my best idea). At the end of the day, we still had to live in our house and we couldn’t do that will saw dust and small pieces of sheet rock everywhere. The same goes for your shop. A clean and organized shop is a happy workplace. Unless you have an expensive dust collection system, you need to invest in a quality wet/dry shop vacuum.
15. Reciprocating saw: Whoever branded this the Sawzall is a pure genius. The name says everything you need to know and it makes the tool sound tough as nails. The reciprocating saw is great for rough construction and can cut through any material. If you’re into fine wood working, you won’t be using this very often. If you dabble in a little home remodeling, you’re selling yourself short not having this in the tool bag
16. Table saw: I saved the best for last. If I were stranded on a deserted island with only one tool for the rest of my life, I would pick a table saw. I love the raw power of a table saw with a sharp blade on it. I love making straight cuts the first time that look great. In my opinion, this is an absolute staple for any woodworker and probably the first bigger tool purchase many of us make when we decide to make this our hobby. Treat your table saw right, and it will return the favor for years to come.
That’s it. Those are my most used and favorite tools. I would guess that many hobby woodworkers have most of these tools on their list, but everyone has a different style. What’s your desert island tool and why? Let me know in the comment box below.