I am well aware that basic measuring tools are not what most people would consider sexy tools, rest assured that there the most important tools youll use. The rest of your woodshop is useless without the basics, Measuring tape, speed square and pencil. With that topic sufficiently beaten to death we can move now to the realm of the giggle inducing testosterone boosting potentially dismembering tools. Power tools that is.
Not “scotty beam me up space” but the physically defined area necessary for most power tools. Until we purchased our first house I had the basic power tools, drill (indespensible, you cannot do any thing with out it, its kinda like a pocket knife if you don’t have one already find a chalk board and write “I am a home improvement failure” 100 times and then go buy one.) Once we had the house a realization hit me like a sock filled with nickels, a two car garage is GREAT for parking two cars. It Is not however 400 square foot of shop space, in fact in the winter Im lucky if its 100 sq ft of slime covered frigid concrete. My wife has developed this annoying proclivity of parking her CAR in the garage (sheesh spoiled right) as such, I have to ensure that there is the requisite space for her little red Yaris to hole up, thus severely limiting the amount of space I have at my disposal (in the interest of full disclosure I too park my car in the garage during long Minnesota winters, call it soft, I dare you, seriously ill staple your eyelids shut, seriously, ill do it, scraping windows sucks).
As noted I have to keep in mind my space constraints when I shop for power tools. My list of have to haves Is as follows:
-Circular Saw: I use mine for a lot of projects, lately most as a panel saw. Its nothing fancy just your basic circular saw. You can find an inexpensive one that will do a good job for you. Splurging on this is just not necessary
-8’ clamp on Fence (technically not a power tool, but cutting 4’x8’ sheets of plywood free hand is just not my cup o tea)
-Compound Miter saw: I hate my compound miter saw, I really do, it’s a massive pile of crap. The blade wobbles, it has an entirely useless laser (more on that later). Its handy, but I resist the urge to chuck it across the garge and attack it with an oxy acetelne torch almost every time I use it. This is one of those tools that requires some fore thought prior to purchase, or you could just say screw it and buy a compound sliding miter saw from a reputable manufacturer. This is not a tool to scrimp on if youre buying it and you cheap out it will piss you off, BAD. (on a related note, I hate watching ham fisted morons use these tools, slamming them back and forth from measurement to measurement, these are fine woodworking tools. Fine angle adjustments require fine hand movements, not bashing and smashing something into place. If that concept is forgein too you for the sake of your projects, and your fingers, stop, now.)
-Router and Router table: I hate to say it but this is another tool that will require a financial investment up front. A cheap router may be the most dangerous tool known to man. Think about it, a razor sharp bit up to ¾” of an inch wide spinning at 23,000rpms. Do you want to have any doubt about that tool going exactly where you want it to when you want it to? No, no you don’t. A good router will have at least a good fixed base that is capable of accommodating bits with a ½” shank (1/2” collet). This is an incredibly handy tool, that you probably don’t need unless you plan on doing a lot of finnish carpentry around the house. If you don’t plan on doing anything like making your own mill work, doors, face frames, picture frames skip it.
-Portable Table saw (This is NOT a “contractor/bench top saw there is a distinct difference i.e. contractor/bench top saws are by and large cheap pieces of garbage unfit for even the most mundane birdhousing projects) A table saw is another "wood working" power tool, as such it may not be a neccessity in every garage. It is defiently a neccesity in ours. There are alot of cheap table saws out there, and they are at best needlessly complex finger removal tools. Cheap table saws have cheap beds and fences. Cheap beds and fences don't facilitate smooth accurate material movement over the blade, making the work peice and by proxy the saw junk.
-Air compressor (huh huh huh, buy one youll never run out of uses for one of these, seriously you wont). This will help you out either by blowing crap out of your shop vac to powering your air nailer. I NEVER would have bought one, my buddy matt worked pretty hard on me to pick one up and it gets used more than almost anything else. I bought a larger stand up model, i tend to over buy when i buy tools, meaning i set my bare minimum standard then purchase something roughly 3 steps higher. With an air compressor that was the right choice.
These are the basics for us, and they take up A LOT of space. More than youd really be prepared to admit, so its critically important that you take into account how much space you have before you begin outfitting your shop, theres nothing worse than getting ready to go to work on a long over due project only to find that you don’t have the space to properly use a tool.
What to Look for in tools
There are a whole bunch of tool manufactures out there. There are cheap tools, there are expensive tools. My rules when buying tools are:
1) Be paitent youd be shocked what you can find on sale or used if you take your time and shop around its crazy.
2) Stay away from cheap tools. DON’T DO IT you will get what you pay for. Cheap tools are great if you don’t care about accuracy reliability and safety (in that order, I think there are a lot of lawyer driven safety features on tools that make them harder to use, less accurate, and more expensive, that’s a whole nother topic)
3) Fads are temporary. Lasers, fiber optics, super duper special hyper neat features, are all just really good ways for you to blow a budget on something that’s irritating. For example, laser beams on Radial arm/Compound miter saws they get in the way of my freaking pencil line I cant just bring the blade down once to check where it will land, I have to look around/under/next to a freaking LASER BEAM. Seriously? A freaking Laser? That’s moronic unless you're severely myopic, you have tunnel vision, or you just prefer to guess where you'll be cutting. If you're honest if you're any of the above listed, should you really be operating a large saw? No. You shouldn’t be.
4) Keep things simple, make sure tools have the power necessary to get the job done and the adjustments points on the tool are capable of holding the positions you put them in. Then keep your fingers out of the way and have fun