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- Choosing Essential Tools for Woodworking
Choosing Essential Tools for Woodworking
Having these 10 favorites on hand will make any future project a breeze.
- Photo: craftstudio.missouri.edu
Whether starting a workshop from scratch or enhancing an existing one, few woodworkers will come up with the same workshop tools wish lists. Most often the first priority is either a table saw, band saw, or radial arm saw, followed by equipment to dress up lumber, such as a planer, lathe, and drill press. From there on, the equipment you’ll want will depend to a large degree on the projects you end up building most often.
Many shop projects can be built with just a major workshop saw, a drill press, and a good router with accessories, along with an assortment of hand tools. Priority hand tools for woodworking include a good set of chisels and a good plane. Consider the workshop tools listed below as investments. Evaluate your goals, and choose the workshop tools that best suits your needs. There is no need to buy them all at once, but as your skills improve and your projects grow more complex add the tools that will give you the right results: straight cuts, square corners, and strong joints.
Whether it's a heavy-duty model that stays in a workshop or a portable bench saw, the table saw is an amazingly adaptable tool.
Formally known as a “tilting arbor saw,” this tool is just an upside-down electric handsaw that’s been mounted to the underside of a steel table top, with the circular saw blade protruding through a slot. The “arbor” is the shaft on which the blade spins. It’s an axle that can be tilted with respect to the horizontal table top for cutting angles; it’s raised or lowered to adjust cutting depth. A miter gauge enables the sawyer to push stock at angles or perpendicular to the blade (“cross-cutting”). A fence can be fixed parallel to the blade for cutting along the length of a workpiece (“rip-sawing”).
When buying a table saw, two factors determine both price and the flexibility of the machine. The larger the blade, the larger the stock that can be cut; a 10-inch saw is probably the most common size. The dimension of the table top is the other criteria: bigger is better for cutting large stock like plywood; but bigger is also less portable and more expensive.
In this age of air-powered nailers, drills, sanders, impact wrenches, grinders, saws, spray guns, washers, and other pneumatic tools, the compressor has become a virtual necessity. The compressor consists of a motorized pump; a tank for storing the compressed air; an on/off control (governor) that tells the pump when to start and stop in order to keep the pressure within preset limits; and a regulator to control the pressure at which the air escapes the tank to suit the needs of the tools being used. There’s a metal frame on which all the parts are mounted, usually with a carrying handle and sometimes wheels.
There are many and varied compressors on the market. Important considerations in choosing one are portability (if the tool is to be hauled to a worksite, how heavy and awkward is it?); output (do the standard cubic feet per minute and pounds per square inch produced match the equivalent of the tools to be used?); and, of course, price.
Compound Miter Saw
In recent years, this versatile and accurate tool has become a fixture in the work shop and at the work site. Also called a “chop box,” the miter saw consists of a powerful circular saw mounted on an arm that hinges at the rear of the tool. When the blade is lowered in a chopping motion, it cuts through the workpiece, passing through a slot in the base. The motor and blade can be pivoted with respect to the base for miter cuts. Another adjustment makes it possible to tilt the blade, too, allowing for compound miter cuts, handy for jobs like cutting crown moldings, which are set at a pitched angle and that must also turn around corners. The diameter of the blade determines the maximum cut width, with standard sizes ranging from 8-inch blades up to 15 inches. A 10- or 12-inch saw is sufficient for most jobs.
A drill press is nothing more than a fixed-in-place version of the hand drill — a simple arrangement that does wonders for precise work. With an adjustable table beneath the chuck with a hole in its center, a spinning drill bit passes cleanly through a workpiece.
Drill presses are available as both freestanding floor models and in benchtop designs. The drill press is powered by an electric motor, driving it via a system of pulleys or gears. The drill bit is locked into the chuck, then is driven down using a hand-powered lever system. A spring pushes it back up when pressure on the lever is released. The size of a drill press is determined by the throat, the distance between the supporting column at the rear and the axis on which the spindle of the drill turns; thus, a 15-inch model will cut to the center of a 15-inch workpiece. A number of adjustments including a movable table depth, a depth gauge to set the distance the spindle travels and pulley adjustments to change speeds increase the tool’s functionality. The drill press can be used not only to drill round holes of all kinds but also for sanding, grooving, and even mortising jobs with the addition of specialized attachments.
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