A DIY woodshop: the six tools you need
The Scene: our house. A weekend.
I turn to Dave and say, apropos of nothing much said, “I think I should write a post about tools: about how to choose the key tools you need to be able to build furniture. The Top Five Tools! I mean, we’re trying to get the shed set up so we can build the furniture we want…lots of other people would probably like to be able to do that too!”
To Dave’s credit, he really only sputters a little. Then one eyebrow raises, archly.
“We’re doing it?”
Fair enough. I, for the record, use a hammer real good. Except when I hit my thumb. I can also use a drill without causing anyone imminent danger. Beyond that, I really don’t know a table saw from a jigsaw and have a healthy fear of both.
If we were really reliant on my furniture-building skills to finish decking out this half-empty house, we’d be sitting on milkcrates well into retirement.
I don’t want to sit on milkcrates. I want to sit on these kinda babies and their Frank Lloyd Wright-designed brethren.
Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/designministry/83699766/
So I try again. In the interest of not taking false ownership of tools, skills, research, or sourcing my hands have actually had no part in, I hand the entire laptop over to Dave.
“Fearless Home Furniture Maker,” I said, “What are the Top Five Tools a person needs to get started in his or her own woodshop?”
(Note: in the wisdom handed back, there are six Top Five tools. Somebody doesn’t like having structure imposed on him anymore than he likes my misuse of the word “we.” 😉
Five Six Tools You Need for an Effective Home Woodshop*
– by Dave Cormier, NOT Bonnie Stewart
I’m not what you would call a carpenter. That is, unless you have a very broad minded feeling about the word. I do like to build things in wood, and have been working my way up to furniture by doing a few new projects every year for the last few. My dad gave me a hand-me-down mitre saw five years ago, when he bought himself a new one. I started with a picture frame, and built some steps for our old house.
Then a playhouse, for our kids. Still practical stuff, mostly. Built of particleboard, fir, and cedar, without a lot of fancy detailing.
When we started talking about moving into the new house, though, I had certain feelings about the furniture that would go into it. I wanted it to be furnished with things that were solid, that would last, that wouldn’t get thrown in the dump five years from now and replaced by other things equally flimsy and disposable.
Bon found this chair on UsedPEI a few weeks back: while not exactly what I’m hoping to make, it sort of exemplifies what I’m going for. Here it is, long after its maker probably ever intended, about to be recovered and given a place of honour in the house.
It’s made of quartersawn oak, the wood of choice for Arts and Crafts furniture. It is the drunken uncle to the furniture that I hope to build, not ‘quite’ in the style that it seems that it is supposed to be. But it’s made of the right stuff, it’s sturdy, and, most important of all, it’s terribly comfortable.
So with this new dedication to making ‘real’ furniture, I am realizing that some of the tools that I have are not sturdy enough to deal with the harder wood and the lower margin of error. A margin of error, I should add, that includes the extra special margin that comes from my general level of incompetence. That’s two errors. One error too many. So I’m upgrading. Step by step, I’m making myself a real, semi-serious, woodshop.
I’ve spent months wandering through discussion forums and trying to figure out the absolute basics I need to get started. Without further adieu, the five (okay, six) basic tools I need in order to build cool furniture:
1. The table saw
The table saw is the heart of any woodshop. It allows you to make the big cuts, straight. Straight seems to be the magic word in woodworking. I’m saving up for a cabinet saw.
2. The jointer
This is a funny little tool. All it seems designed to do is make a board straight. Seems simple enough right? Don’t they come straight when you get them? Well… that depends. It seems all the cool people get wood unfinished from the lumber store. It costs a lot less and gives you a bit more control. The big choice in jointers seems to be 6” or 8”. The smaller one is much cheaper and will fit into my little shop. The 8 inch, however, allows you to make the edge of a board straight, but also the flat of it as well. If I had the space…
3. The planer
The planer is a simple tool. Also called a ‘thickness planer,’ it allows you to get your board to the needed, uh, thickness. Simple, but absolutely necessary as – see above – not all boards are actually created equal.
4. The mitre saw
This makes very precise cuts across a board. I actually have one of these already, which is handy. It’s a ‘compound sliding mitre saw’, which essentially means that i can cut across a 10” board and do it on an angle. That’s cool.
5. The band saw
This saw is critical for any curved cuts you might want to make. Need to make a rounded swirl or a curvy bit? The band saw is perfect. It can also be useful if you’re trying to split a large board in half.
…And one extra tool, for good measure:
6. The mortiser
This is only necessary if you’re interested in making Arts & Crafts furniture, like I am. But that stuff is gorgeous, and my life is going to be alot easier with one of these. Essentially it makes square holes for the pegs that join most Arts& Crafts pieces together. It’s a signature design element in that kind of furniture, and makes what you build solid as a rock. Sounds easy enough…but it’s a lot more complicated than it sounds unless you have one of these little beauties.
When looking for tools, I try to follow my father’s rule of thumb: buy it once. In other words, the cheapest version may not be your wisest investment.
But neither do you need to spend a fortune. In this age of irons and microwaves that only last a year, it seems that many of the tools created for woodworking are still made of sturdy stuff. In my research for the woodshop, I’ve come across any number of tools that seem to suggest they weigh over 500lbs. While delivery might make sense if you’re breaking out these big guns, the truth is, the majority of the tools on my list can be found gently used and still in excellent shape: check your local listings.
Basically: take your time gathering your woodshop necessities. Do your research, know what you want to build, and be careful to keep your fingers when learning! If you’re patient and lucky, you may be able to build a lifetime of tools and skills and great furniture for less than the investment in one single signature pre-built piece.