Tool Recommendations

I've been a major hand tool and power tool collector ever since I bought my first house back in 2003 and I frequently give my friends and family recommendations for tools, if they're not already borrowing them from me.   This page is a collection of my favorite and most frequently used tools.   Since it's quite comprehensive, I've broken it into 4 major sections:   Tools Everyone Should Own, Tools for Entry Level Woodworkers and DIYers, Tools for Intermediate Level Woodworkers and Tools for Serious or Professional Woodworkers (in development).   I intend to keep this page updated with additions and corrections.

This page does contain affiliate links from Amazon.com and if you purchase an item listed here using one of these links, I get a commission from Amazon at no additional cost to you.  Just because I make some money with these links, doesn't mean you shouldn't look for lower prices elsewhere.  I would encourage you to shop around.   I've also had some success buying used tools on Craigslist and wrote a quick guide to buying power tools on Craigslist and Ebay.  

Tools Everyone Should Own

So these tools are absolutely necessary even if you are not a DIYer.   You'll need these for simple, everyday tasks like assembling Ikea furniture or fixing a squeaky floor board.  I'm not including links to EVERY SINGLE item, by the way, since we all know what a hammer looks like.

  • 1. Screwdrivers, both Phillips and flathead.
  • 2. Hammer
  • 3. Hand Saw
  • 4. Hack Saw
  • 5. Wire Cutters
  • 6. Pliers
  • 7. Super 7's (or 8's)
  • 8. Nail Sinker
  • 9. Cordless Drill

Tools for Entry Level Woodworkers and DIYers

These tools are my recommendations for the novice woodworker or weekend DIYer/warrior.   They're not designed to give you excellent results nor will these tools last a lifetime, but they will get you started.  If your budget allows, you may want to invest your funds in an intermediate level tool.

skil saw

1.  Table Saw:  If you don't already own a table saw, this Skil Table Saw is a fairly decent entry model.  Ditto goes for the Rockwell.   My first table saw was the Delta, which I think is equivalent to the Rockwell.   I used it for smaller DIY projects like ripping hardwood floor boards and trim installation.   These saws have one huge advantage over the more expensive models: they are lightweight and therefore are supremely portable even if you're not a large armed contractor.   They aren't high powered so cutting through thick hardwoods is going to be a problem.   They also can't handle dado blades (maybe just one dado blade, but not the whole pack).   I would not recommend you purchase one of these if you planning on building high quality furniture or cabinets.  However, if you are renovating your home and just need a table saw these saws are fine.

dewalt 2.  Miter Saw.  The miter saw was the first serious wood working power tool I purchased after I bought my home.  If you are planning on installing your own home trim for crown, windows, doors or baseboards, then you'll absolutely need a miter saw.  I would recommend you stick with the 10" models unless you have a specific requirement for a 12" blade.   I'm recommending both the DeWalt 10" Compound Miter Saw and the Hitachi.   Both models offer the compound cut, but only a single bevel.  For more information on what all that means, check out my post on 7 Things you Should Consider When Buying a Miter Saw.  The compound cut and the single bevel is probably all you need for most DIY projects.  If you are going to be installing crown molding on multi-angled walls, then you may want to pop for the Sliding Dual Bevel Compound Miter Saw, which I recommend in the more advanced section.  Before you buy a table saw, you may want to read these post: What You Need to Know About Table Saws.

dewalt drill 3.  Cordless Drill.  Every DIYer and homeowner should own at least one quality cordless drill.   You don't need to go nuts with the power or voltage level.  Something basic will suffice.   I personally own the DeWalt and I'm probably going to stick with them for the long haul.  These drills have been like computers the last few years.  They keep getting smaller and more powerful.  The Porter Cable model also has a pretty good reputation.

kreg jig kit4.  Kreg Pocket Hole Jig.  If you are gearing up for some DIY projects that involve joining wood, the Kreg Pocket Hole kit is a must-own. In addition to the primary kit, you'll need the clamp.  You COULD save some money and buy the mini Kreg Jig Kit instead, but then you'll need the driver bit as well as the clamp.

jet jointer5.  Bench Top Jointer.  Jointers aren't tools you typically see in your average DIYers collection.  BUT, if you want to build tables or get tight seams in your wood joints, then you'll need a jointer.  After you rip a board on the table saw, the fresh cut edge often contains defects from simple things like blade movement or an imperfectly set fence.  The jointer will fix those freshly cut edges and give you a new, better than factory quality edge on your work pieces.  A friend of mine uses a Delta model and he's a fan.  I'd also consider the Jet model.  Jointers tend to go up quite a bit in price from the entry level bench top models to the more robust free standing units.

jig saw6.  Jig Saw.  If you need to make short, hand held cuts either straight or curved, then you need a jig saw.  I have the Black and Decker model and it's not perfect, but it's highly reviewed, inexpensive and gets the job done.  The pricier units are heavier, more powerful and do a better job of keeping the blade straight.  Also consider the Porter Cable model, which is twice the price, but it's higher powered.

router7.  Router.  The Porter Cable 690LR is the universal entry router.  I owned one and it was a very useful tool.  Routers have so many uses especially for cabinet building.  If you want to save money on your cabinet building by buying a lower end table saw, then you can still achieve grooves and dados with a router.  The DeWalt is also a great router and it has more power, but it's also more expensive.

sander8.  Random Orbital Sander.  If you are doing any sort of woodworking, you always need to sand your work before you finish it.  A random orbital sander makes that job considerably easier than doing it by hand.  I own the Porter Cable model and I'm pretty happy with it.  It has a hook and loop pad (aka velcro) for attaching disposable sand paper, which is super easy.  They're not too expensive either so it's worth the investment to save both your arms and your time.

circular saw9.  Circular Saw.  You absolutely need a circular saw.  It's a must own tool for DIYers and woodworkers alike.  You don't need a top of the line unit for great results.  The worm drive models are mighty expensive and I wouldn't recommend one of those unless you are considering becoming a contractor.  The basic Porter Cable or DeWalt models are perfect for most people.  I would also skip the battery powered units and stick with the corded options.  The corded units aren't as convenient as the battery powered models, but I hate having to worry about the batteries being charged or the saw not cutting as well as the battery charge winds down.

Tools for Intermediate Level Woodworkers

bosch table saw1.  Table Saw. When you are ready to make the transition from an entry level table saw to a better unit, you're most likely looking at the following characteristics: power, table top size, dado capacity.  In this category, we're generally looking at contractor table saws.  More power literally means more horsepower and that translates into cleaner, smoother cuts in thicker pieces of hardwood.  The table tops can be a little larger than what you'd see in the entry level units.  The larger table tops allow you to more safely cut larger pieces of sheet goods like plywood.  Some, but not all contractor grade table saws allow dado blades.  The contractor grade saws also tend to be heavier, but still portable.  Most are designed to be taken to a job site and used on the back of a truck's tailgate, for example.  I'm recommending the Bosch unit for a few reasons.  It allows up to 13/16" thick dado blades (I typically wouldn't use anything thicker than 12/16" aka 3/4").  It makes 4 HP at full speed and it comes with a stand.  The DeWalt is also an excellent contractor grade saw, but you have to buy the stand separately and it doesn't accommodate dado blades, which means you have to use a router for those.  The DeWalt actually makes a great entry level saw if you don't mind paying a little more money for it.

sliding saw2.  Miter Saw.  I own this DeWalt sliding compound miter saw and it's probably going to be the last miter saw I'll ever own.  I love it.  It's a dual bevel and miters from 0 to 60 degrees on one side and 0 to 52 on the other.  The slide feature means you can cut wider boards than the non-sliding versions.  These saws are a bit more expensive than the entry level models, but aren't nearly as costly as the really good table saws.  The dual bevel feature is perfect for crown molding work and trim installation in general.  This DeWalt is heavy enough that it's stable when making cuts, but not so heavy that it can't be moved around with some effort.  I use a Delta miter saw stand for it, which makes using it comfortable, but you can also pickup the DeWalt stand.  You may also want to consider the Bosch version.  It's nearly identical in terms of capacity and is highly rated on Amazon.  Both of these saws use 10" blades, which is the same size blade as most of the table saws out there.  One size blade means you can swap them from one tool to another.

jointer 23.  Free Standing Jointer.  This is the Jet jointer I own.  Mine is an older model.  It's large and monstrously heavy.  The blade is 6" wide, which is all you'll probably need unless you're a professional carpenter or doing a ton of millwork.  There is an 8" wide version, but it's another $1000 on top of the price of this unit.  Add another $500 on top of that for the 12" version.  If you plan on regularly working with hardwoods and building professional quality furniture like tables and chairs, you need a jointer.  If this larger unit is in your budget, then I suggest you pop for it.  You can always try to find a used one as well.  Also check out the Powermatic and Grizzly versions.

thickness planer4.  Thickness Planer.  Want to know how to really save money on lumber? Buy rough cut stock from your local lumber yard instead of the Sanded 4 Sides (S4S) wood that you find at your local big hardware store.  If you buy hardwood like pine, poplar or oak (not talking 2x4s here) at Lowe's or Home Depot you are buying wood that has already been planed down to the final thickness, the width has already been cut to standard dimensions and the edges are typically crisp from a jointer.  That wood is referred to as S4S and you are paying a premium for it since it's ready to use.  S4S makes a lot of sense if you are using it for smaller projects because it's not worth the effort of planing and jointing a small amount.  On the other hand, if you are building an entire kitchens worth of cabinets, you may be able to save a good amount of cash by buying rough cut lumber and then planing and jointing it yourself.  Rough cut lumber needs to be planed down to a thinner stock and you accomplish that with a thickness planer.  I own this DeWalt model and although I don't use it often, it's easily paid for itself.  Planers typically come in 12" to 15" widths, with the 15" widths costing well over $1000.  I recommend this DeWalt model and you may want to check out the Steel City version as well.

band saw5.  Bandsaw.  If you want to cut curves in wood with higher precision than a hand held jig saw, then you need to invest in a bandsaw.  Bandsaws can cut straight or curved and you can use blades with various widths for an array of tasks.  A lot of woodworkers will use bandsaws to "resaw" thick boards into thinner stock, which then needs to be run through a thickness planer.  If you often wondered how trees and logs became thin boards, it's from a bandsaw.  This is one of those tools that you don't need until you're working on a project that requires a curved cut.  I owned a Delta bandsaw for several years and ended up selling it when we moved to our current home.  I'm looking forward to buying a new one, but I'll wait until I have a project that needs it.  Some carpenters will actually use their bandsaw as the center of their workshop while most base their shop around the table saw.  As far as models go, this Grizzly is highly rated as well as the Jet model.  You can't go wrong with either.  I'd particularly avoid Craftsman bandsaw models since they have their own unique blades that can't be used on any other bandsaw.

router plunge base6.  Better Router.  When I was working on our dining room wainscoting, my Porter Cable router broke and I needed an upgrade.  It wasn't really the Porter Cable router's fault.  I was using a huge raised panel bit that requires very slow rotational speeds when cutting.  The Porter Cable only has one speed: fast.  Consequently, I burned it out.  In need of a better router with a speed controller, I popped for the Bosch.  Big fan so far.  Big fan.  The Bosch is a 2 1/4 horse power unit, so it's plenty powerful and it has that all important speed control.  This particular package comes with a plunge base and the fixed base.  The plunge base is awesome and more useful than just having the fixed base.  I don't think you'll need a better router than this one.  DeWalt also has a similar package of fixed base and plunge.

biscuit joiner7.  Biscuit Joiner.  These hand held tools are useful for projects where you're joining two boards together like for a table top or butcher block counter.  The tool cuts a small groove in the edge of a board for a dried wooden biscuit.  That groove can be cut into the sides of two boards you want to join.  When the biscuit is inserted into the groove with some wood glue it expands and permanently bonds the two boards together.  I own one and have used it for a number of projects, most recently my large built-in cabinet and the TV stand.  This DeWalt unit is highly rated and it's actually significantly lower in price on Amazon compared to Lowe's website.  You may also want to check out the Porter Cable model.

nailers8.  Compressor and Nail Guns.  If you want quality results with your woodworking or DIY projects like trim work, you need to use a brad and finish nailer.  You'll also need a small compressor to power them.  If you've been using a hammer and nail for your projects, this equipment is a major game changer.  Porter Cable offers packages where you can purchase the pancake compressor and a couple guns for a reasonable price.  You may also want to look into a framing nailer if you are planning on finishing your basement or build a deck or a shed, although you wouldn't want to use it for furniture construction.  Brad nailers typically shoot 18 gauge nails up to 1.25" in length and finish nailers shoot thicker 16 gauge nails up to 2.5" long.  I use my brad nailer ALL THE TIME and highly recommend the Porter Cable kit.