The Right Tool for the Job
Students often come to the Studio and ask how do I get started in woodworking? What tools do I need to get? I try to be honest with them. As hobbies go, woodworking is not that expensive. It’s not more expensive than say aviation. Tell your spouse that for starters. It will sound good.
It is however more expensive than kite flying. A lot more. You will need a lot more tools than flying even an attack kite. I think however that that’s the hook for us. It’s the tools. More than anything else, if you get interested in building stuff, you start out being fascinated with tools. More on that in another blog.
For now, the question remains which tools to buy. The first question I ask back is what type of woodworking will you be doing? If you’re just starting out, the answer will be, I don’t know. So it’s hard to know where to start your buying.
Let me offer this advice. I began to get interested in woodworking by finding an old wooden hand plane. It was a beater, a wooden transitional plane, that I found in the bushes which has never worked from the day I found it. It served a purpose though. It made me think that hey this is a woodworking tool and my dad did woodworking and I could do woodworking if I only knew what to do. That hand plane which I still have in place of prominence near my bench, that hand plane inspired me. It’s important to have near my bench. So buy a tool that inspires you to do good work. Even if you don’t know how to use it yet.
The first big tool purchase of mine was a radial arm saw. Perhaps the most misguided purchase ever. It could do just about anything including Julienne french fries but it did none of these jobs well. It could crosscut crookedly, rip with great danger, cut molding, drill, plane a board [supposedly]. It was the Ronco knife of woodworking tools and it did none of these jobs very well. I still have it. It still crosscuts boards crookedly and that’s all I ask of it now. Good purchase. It has one job to do in the shop and it does it just fine.
A starter chisel
Here’s what I think you should buy for starters. The first hand tool you should buy is a chisel. If you want to learn to sharpen it, then buy a cheap one and don’t worry if it gets short over time. I don’t care what kind of woodworking you do, you’ll always need a sharp chisel.
A hefty bandsaw
The first machine I think you should buy is a good band saw. What constitutes a good band saw I leave open to discussion. What do you think is a good band saw? Mine is an old 16″ Yates band saw. When magazines starting writing about blade drift in the ’80’s I kept wondering what they were talking about. I had never adjusted for drift on this saw when resawing. Didn’t need to. It had too much mass keeping things in balance. But those days of cast iron are mostly over. All I know is bigger, when it comes to band saws, is better. Bigger and heavier is better yet. But that’s just my take.
Buy a chisel. Spend a few bucks on it, new or used. Get a good band saw. Spend more than you want to on a good band saw and you’ll only be unhappy once. Then get started on your new hobby. Oh, and buy one tool that inspires you to do good work.
-Gary Rogowski is a Contributing Editor for Fine Woodworking magazine and teaches at The Northwest Woodworking Studio in Portland, Oregon. http://www.northwestwoodworking.com/
What's the first tool you should get for woodworking? Gary Rogowski says "I don’t care what kind of woodworking you do, you’ll always need a sharp chisel."
The first machine you should buy is a good band saw.