Canadian Woodworking

3 pros suggest how to spend your first $1,000 on woodworking

Author: Rob Brown
Photos: Rob Brown
Published: June July 2022
Rob Brown
Rob Brown

Outfitting a small shop is easy if money’s not an issue. But if your budget is limited, here’s what three experienced woodworkers recommend.

The main challenge to getting into woodworking is the lack of tools you’ll have to build anything. And because you’re not an experienced woodworker you’ll likely not even know what tools and machines to best spend your money on. Everyone has a dif­ferent approach, and what tools and machines you purchase to get started will depend on what you want to make. A turner will need a lathe and a selection of turning tools. Someone making small items like whirligigs and toys will likely need a bandsaw, drill and a few hand tools. If built-ins and storage cabinets are your focus, a table or track saw should be where you start your journey.

Add Some Power
Power tools are fast and can be very accurate when used properly. A router and circular saw will take care of a lot breakout and joinery tasks.

Add some power

Handy Tools to Have Around
Hand tools work best when they’re removing small amounts of material. Fine tuning joints cut by power tools is maybe the best example of this. A sharpening stone and honing guide will keep your hand tools sharp. Remember, a sharp tool is a safe tool.

Handy Tools to Have Around

A Router Is King
According to Brown, a router is likely the most multi-functional tool on his list. From big tasks like levelling slabs to much more refined and accurate jobs like cutting lasting joinery, a router is often the answer in a small shop. Get the best you can afford, though there’s no reason to pay a lot for one early in your woodworking hobby, either.

A Router Is King

Boring Tools
Holes of all types and sizes are a big part of woodworking. Dowels and pocket screws will get you started with joining workpieces together, while a set of spade bits will assist you both in the shop and around the house.

Boring Tools

Clamps Are Crucial
You’ll never have enough clamps. And because they come in so many different sizes and styles, it can be confusing to figure out what to get first. A few small, medium and large clamps is a good place to start. A single-handed trigger clamp will come in handy as you work alone in your shop. Safety gear like a mask, ear plugs and eye protection is even more critical than clamps. Protecting yourself from a serious long-term injury is never a bad thing, though obviously knowledge about how to use power tools, machines and hand tools will go a long way to preventing incidents from happening in the first place.

clamps are crucial

Honourable Mentions
Whether you just don’t need something on Brown’s list, you’re planning into the future or you just came across a few hundred dollars under your mattress, these are the next items on his list. Layout and accuracy will be improved by the squares, a hand plane will allow you to straighten edges of solid wood for gluing up large solid wood panels, and a few longer bar clamps will help you glue up larger panels or cabinets. A random orbital sander will make the important task of sanding easier. An apron will help keep all your most used items nearby while you work; searching for a pencil is a waste of valuable shop time. Trust us, he knows.

Honourable Mentions

The Question of Quality
Tools made with better materials and to higher tolerances are nicer to use and often produce an overall better experience for the woodworker. Having said that, it’s usually not possible to buy the very best every time. Diamond sharpening plates, a Veritas plane and Stanley Sweetheart chisels are quality tools, but you might have to settle for lesser quality at first.

The Question of Quality

Power Tools
You don’t need to break the bank at first. Most medium-level power tools will provide years of service if they’re cared for and used appropriately.

Power Tools

Variety Is Important
You’ll learn to love clamps very quickly. Start off with a few medium-duty clamps and add to your collection as you go. You can also make some tools, jigs or fixtures to further expand on what you can accomplish in your shop. Making clamps is a great project for a beginner.

Variety Is Important

Hand Tool Workhorse
A block plane will do many things in a woodworking shop. From adding chamfers to flushing edges, it will be a main go-to tool in a beginner’s shop.

Hand Tool Workhorse

Flexible, Accurate and Lasting
A quality bandsaw is what Der-Garabedian would recommend spending the bulk of your money on. It’s capable of making a lot of different cuts accurately and will last a lifetime.

Flexible, Accurate and Lasting

For our “First $1,000″ articles in this issue we’re going to assume general woodworking is your goal. We’ll also assume you own a few basic tools that just about everyone has in their homes. A hammer, set of screw drivers, a couple pairs of pliers, drill, tape measure, utility knife, some twist and driver bits, and a few other items won’t be on these lists, even though they come in handy. And we’re assuming you have a basic workbench or work surface already.

We’ve leaned towards woodworking, as opposed to home improvement, tools though a slight preference will be given to tools that can do double duty. Also, we’re assuming it’s solid wood our readers want to work with, as opposed to sheet goods but, again, preference will be given to those tools that can do both.

Most of these tools can be found second hand, but the prob­lem is most new woodworkers don’t want to risk purchasing a lemon when they don’t know much about these tools or machines to begin with.

And speaking of pricing, even when bought new, many of these tools can vary in price quite a bit. For instance, a brand new basic block plane can be had for under $25, or you could pay well over $500 for a really sleek model that’s a true joy to see and use. Obviously, everyone has their own version of value and can make adjustments as they see fit. We included pricing to give you a sense of what some products can be purchased for, even though some retailers will charge different prices for simi­lar or like products. Although we don’t want to turn this into an exact science, we’ve decided to keep some general pricing in this article, along with some potential sources, even though these products can be found many places. If a source isn’t mentioned it’s because you can get that product from multiple sources, while we’ve included sources for specific items we feel should be on this list.

Rob Brown

Rob Brown is the editor of Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement and has built studio furniture for the past 20 years. He loves machines for their accuracy and repeatability, and hand tools for their flexibility and ability to fine tune a joint. His approach to spending your first $1000 includes a few very hand-held power tools to do a lot of the grunt work, a simple collection of critical hand tools to fine tune joints and a few other accessories to bring it all together.

Rob Brown

Start with a few power tools. A table saw is the central machine in my shop, but not all small shops can fit a machine this large. A table saw would also take up a lot of the budget. A circular saw will be able to trim all sorts of solid wood and sheet goods to size, and even help with very basic joinery from time to time. A circular saw guide will provide the accuracy needed to size material properly, but a shop-made version might be a good place to save north of $100.

A fixed-base router with a 1/2″ collet is a small shop workhorse. It can take care of a lot of joinery options and add decorative details to edges and surfaces. A combo kit with motor, standard and plunge base is a good investment. To make a router cut, bits are next on the list. Although you can purchase single bits as needed, a set of bits is more economical to get you going. The price you pay is going to vary widely according to what type of bits you feel you need and how large the set is. Single bits can come later, as needed.

Add the flexibility of hand tools
The first hand tool I’d recommend is a hand saw; specifically, a Japanese ryoba saw. The double-sided blade on this saw can rip and crosscut, and will be a joy to use if you treat it well. A basic block plane is next on the list and will chamfer edges, remove high spots from a gentle curve and smooth all sorts of edges. A chisel will help you pare inside corners and cut a wide range of joints. A set of three chisels is more economical per item. If you get only one, a 3/4″ wide one should work fine. A half-round file will surely come in handy from time to time.

To up your measuring and layout game, grab a 6″ long metal ruler to make measuring short distances much more accurate. A 4″ engineer’s square will check for right angles during machine setup, dressing stock and much more. A few mechanical pencils will leave you with thin, accurate marks to cut to.

A sharp tool is a safe tool. It’s also the only type that will slice wood properly. A two-sided sharpening stone will assist you in maintaining your plane blades and chisels. Although purists will disagree, I think a honing guide is the best approach to consistently good results, especially for a beginner. There are many options here, but a stone/jig set is a great first step into the world of sharpening.

A random orbital sander will help you smooth surfaces and pre­pare them for finishing coats, but would cost close to $100. Buy some quality sandpaper and make a sanding block instead.

Boring is exciting
Boring holes is common while working wood. Drilling them accurately and cleanly is especially important when drilling dowel holes. Dowels help strengthen and align joints. Diameters of 1/4″, 3/8″ and 1/2″ are common in woodworking. Get a set of dowel centers as well as a quality 1/4″ diameter brad point bit; leave the 3/8″ and 1/2″ bits for now.
Boring other types of holes is going to happen often, so a set of about 10 spade bits will take care of the medium- to large-diameter holes.

While you can’t plug in a pocket hole jig, it works with a corded or cordless drill to create pocket hole joinery. Pocket holes cer­tainly aren’t bomb-proof, though they are an easy and quick way to add strength to many beginner joints. A pocket hole jig will come equipped with the jig, bit and likely a few pocket-hole screws to get you started. Grab some extra screws while you’re at it.

Clamps
Although you’ll literally never have enough of them, that’s no reason to not even try. They come in a fairly wide range of sizes and types, but just a couple of a few styles is a good start­ing point. Although you can (and should) make clamps, you’ll likely want to start with a few purchased clamps. A pair of 4″ C-clamps, a pair of 24″ F-clamps and a 6″ trigger clamp will get you going.

Think safety
Protective eyewear, a small box of disposable ear plugs and a dust respirator are important. New woodworkers should get in the habit of using each when needed. I wear my respirator at least 99% of the time while I’m in my shop. Safety footwear is a good idea if you’re working with even medium-weight material and machines, but I won’t officially add these to my list. It’s always a good idea to protect yourself.

Add it up
This assortment of tools, machines and supplies will get you started. After a while you’ll learn what other tools you need, depending on the style of work you want to do. What’s next on my list? I’m so glad you asked. After grabbing a random orbital sander, coping saw and 3/8″ and 1/2″ brad point bits and dowel centers, I would add a combination square, a framing square, a longer hand plane, a couple of 60″ long bar clamps if larger projects interest you, and a shop apron to keep a few tools within reach, before seri­ously considering a 12″ thickness planer. Then you just need…well, maybe that’s for another article.

Power Tools
Circular saw – $170
1/2″ Fixed-Base Router – $200
Bits – Busy Bee R926, $99

Hand Tools
Hand saw (Japanese ryoba) – $40
Block plane – Stanley, $30
Chisel set (1/2″, 3/4″, 1″) – $35
Half-round file – $15
6″ cabinet makers rule – Lee Valley 06K2006, $4.90
Engineer’s square – Workshop Supply, $12
Mechanical pencil – $3
Sharpening set – Lee Valley 05D0501, $106
Sandpaper – $20

Boring
Dowel centers – Lee Valley, 66J4501, $6.20
1/4″ brad point bit – Lee Valley 07J0216, $8.90
Spade bit set – $25
Pocket hole jig – $50
Pocket hole screws – $25

Clamps
2 × 4″ C – $13 each (Mastercraft)
2 × 24″ F – $30 each (Mastercraft)
1 × 6″ trigger – $20 each (Mastercraft)

Safety
Safety glasses – $5
Ear plugs – $4
Dust respirator N100 Trend – $40

Chris Wong

Chris Wong builds furniture, works around woodworking tools all day and is a large presence in the Canadian woodworking scene. While Chris is fortunate to have a shop full of reliable, high-quality tools, he finds it beneficial to modify most of them to better suit his needs, and design and build custom jigs to expand their capabilities. Here are his thoughts on what’s more impor­tant to a beginner woodworker.

Chris Wong

When deciding on a particular tool purchase for wood­working, think about how it can increase your abilities. Few tools are truly irreplaceable; most simply allow work to be done more efficiently or with greater accuracy. For example, a $30,000 table saw, $200 circular saw and $10 hand saw are all capable of cutting material to size. Each has benefits and weaknesses.

In picking this list of tools for beginner woodworkers, I consid­ered function, alternatives (including possible shop-made ones) and cost. Most woodworking projects, without getting into special areas like carving or turning, can be accomplished with these tools.

How to choose
With so many options to choose from, it can be difficult to make the right decision for your needs and budget even if you know a lot about tools. It helps to be able to get your hands on the tool and operate all the adjustments, or even try it out to see how it per­forms. Many retailers have excellent displays and generous return policies to make it easier to decide.
Working with a $1,000 budget doesn’t allow for many, if any, top-quality tools. It does, however, allow for an assortment of tools that will get you well into woodworking and be dependable for many years to come.

What’s in a price tag?
In choosing which tools to buy, think about this: better tools are usually made from better materials machined to higher tolerances. Some are also designed better.

Tolerances
Higher tolerances result in better accuracy, smoother operation and, ultimately, better results. With patience, the back of an inex­pensive chisel can be lapped flat. With care, the registration points on a combination square can be carefully filed down until the blade locks down at exactly 90° to the body. With a little time, all sharp edges and burrs left from a rushed manufacturing process can be removed. However, it is unreasonable to improve the tolerance of certain things like ball bearings, which can ultimately affect the quality of the cut.

Materials
The choice of materials is always a compromise. Harder steels are more brittle, titanium is lighter but more expensive, and proper heat-treating takes time and care. A circular saw with a stamped steel or plastic baseplate may weigh more or flex more than an aluminum or magnesium one. A router bit with a lower grade of carbide can’t be sharpened as finely and won’t retain sharpness as well as a premium one.

Design
Many higher-end tools are full of thoughtful features and conve­niences. However, if you’re clever, shop-made modifications can provide other tools with that missing functionality – at least to a degree. An uncomfortable plastic handle on an otherwise good handsaw can be replaced. Many router accessories can be easily made with scraps of wood and a few pieces of metal hardware. An auxiliary table can significantly improve the safety, convenience and performance of the standard cast-iron drill press table.

Physical stores, customer service and warranty
Online retailers sometimes sell things at lower prices than brick-and-mortar stores but buying from a physical store has some benefits. For example, you can pick up and examine 12 different routers before making a choice and ask the salesperson to walk you through all the features, operations and accessories. And you get your new tools right away without having to think about shipping charges, delays and damages. Personally, I like to know that if I have an issue, I can go back to the store and get help, rather than send a message to a customer service inbox and wait for a reply.

Final thoughts
In making the right decision, it helps to keep all of these things in mind, as well as what your own needs are. Will you be run­ning hundreds of feet of moulding through that ogee router bit, or only eight feet? Do you need a square that is accurate to 0.001″ per inch of length out of the box? Will you be using chisels for two hours a day or only five minutes every other week? Do you have the patience to fiddle with an imprecise mechanism?

Don’t forget, you can save money by making many tools and accessories in your own shop. You can make all sorts of clamps, fences, guides, fixtures and jigs from scraps of wood, grind brad point bits from standard twist bits, and even forge high-quality chis­els from old files.

Making the tools you use can be very satisfying (and challenging at times). However, other tools are very difficult to make yourself – most power tools fall into this category. Decide where you want to invest your money and your time, and you’ll be able to put together a capable set of tools for woodworking while staying on budget. Remember to keep the subscription of your favourite woodworking magazine current, too.

A few details
Get a piece of granite at least 3″ × 9″ from the offcuts bin of a coun­tertop manufacturer and apply wet-dry sandpaper to it so you can sharpen edges. Use wood glue to attach leather, rough side down, to 10″ × 3″ piece of MDF so you can put a very keen edge on tools.

A three-chisel set will go a long way. When buying a used #4 plane make sure nothing is missing, broken or cracked. The clamps you buy can also act as a bench vise to hold workpieces.

Wet-dry sandpaper, $10
Granite offcut, free from countertop store
Veritas honing compound, Lee Valley 05M0801, $18
Shop-made strop, $2
Chisels, 3-pack, $35
Plunge Router, Ryobi, RE180PL1G, $150
1/4″ solid carbide end mill, $10
Jigsaw, Black and Decker, BDEJS600C, $50
Jigsaws blades, $15
12″ combination square, Stanley, $20
Drill press, Ryobi, DP103L, $150
Corded 3/8″ drill, Ryobi D43K, $40
Brad point bit set, Lee Valley, 33J0232, $29
Circular saw, Ryobi, CSB125, $60
7 1/4″ 60T fine crosscut blade, Diablo D0760R, $30
7 1/4″ 24T ripping blade, Diablo, D0724R, $15
#4 hand plane (used), $30
10″ handscrew clamp, #20
2 × 60″ aluminum bar clamps, Magnum, KMS, $25
2 × 24″ aluminum bar clamps, Magnum, KMS, $15
4 × 6″ F-clamps, ROK, $20
Dust collector, Ridgid WD4070, $110
Belt sander, Ryobi, BE319, $70
Japanese handsaw, Lee Valley, 60T5201, $27

Steve Der-Garabedian

Steve Der-Garabedian started woodworking in his early 20s and became serious in 1999 when he started Black Walnut Studio Inc. He loves all aspects of woodworking but delved into fine furniture and veneering. Steve’s recent passion is for detailed smaller projects such as boxes, wall-hung cabinets and tool making. His bandsaw is his go-to machine, and that’s clearly reflected in his ideas for what you should spend your first $1,000 on.

Shop tools

Thinking back to when I started out, I was thrilled for any tools my family and friends were able to give me. (Although I remember there was a table saw that I swear was out to test my patience.) Chances are, however, you’re going to need to spend some money and buy a few tools.

It can be difficult to pick out the right tools. There are different brands and prices for what I’m suggesting below; some cheaper, some more expensive. I’d like to add my two cents to your $1,000 and give you some hard-learned advice. If you have to wait a bit longer and drop some more toonies into a piggy bank to buy better quality, then do so. Some of the tools I bought were cheap because it was a way to quickly equip my shop with as many tools as possible. Some either failed or frustrated me enough so I didn’t use them.

Why should you buy the particular tools I’m recommending? The scraper, for one, is the cheapest, best tool you can buy. It can do rough work like scraping glue off your workbench or smooth a sur­face no matter the grain direction. There are different thicknesses of scrapers, but starting off with a medium one seems right. The file, burnisher and water stones will help you tune it up. You’ll end up buying more.

The file is going to come in handy for more than just the scraper. Files do an excellent job of shaping wood, and while there are all sorts of sizes and shapes, I reach for my mill bastard quite often.

While it’s nice to have a variety of planes such as a jack or smoother, a block plane is one of the handiest. There are a lot of choices and prices from less than $50 to upwards of $300. The Veritas apron plane is a great starter, but you’ll also have it around for a long time. I bought mine years ago and haven’t regretted it. This is where buying quality pays off. You can use it to free up sticky doors, put a smooth edge on a box or just take a little off a piece of wood. This always works better with a block plane rather than a power tool.

One of the facts of woodworking is that you need to sharpen your tools. Even your power tools need sharp blades. While the packaging on planes and chisels suggests they’re sharp, they really aren’t where we need them to be. I use three different courses of stones: 1000x, 4000x and 8000x. This combination stone will get your tools sharper and more usable than what the factory provides. Keep in mind that you’ll need to keep these flat. A piece of marble or float glass with 120x wet/dry sandpaper will allow you to do this. Down the road, a diamond plate will also work but these can be pricey.

While sharpening by hand is possible, it also takes a bit of skill. A sharpening jig will give you consistent results and let you do it efficiently. If you do a search on sharpening jigs you’ll find many choices. Some are good, others not so much. It reminds me of a saying about fishing lures. Some are meant to catch fishermen and not fish. When it comes to sharpening, as well as other aspects of woodworking, find a sharpening method that’s not a chore. You’ll need to do it regularly.

A bandsaw should be the first stationary power tool you buy. This and my router are what I alluded to when I said that I initially bought cheap and paid the price. The 10″ Rikon bandsaw is a good tool. You can set it up to accurately rip, cut curves, shapes, circles, re-saw and cross cut, among other things. It’s also a safer tool as all the pressure is against the table and kickbacks don’t happen.

The saying goes that you can never have enough clamps. It’s true and I still add to my collection. I’ve added a set here that includes four one-handed and two ratcheting-style clamps. When it comes to gluing up your work the last thing you want is the added pressure of your clamps not working properly. Start saving again because you’re going to buy more.
The last item on the shopping list is a butt chisel. I bought my first from Canadian Tire and I still have it today. It takes a good edge and I’ve used it for all sorts of work. I’ve relegated it to more rough work these days. There are lots of other chisels to think about down the road, but never for opening paint cans.

No matter your choices, the key is to use these tools. Take lessons and learn to use what you bought. Use them on scrap wood and learn how to best use them. Talk to other woodworkers and see what they like and recommend. When buying tools, put your hands on them to see how they feel.

Card scraper, 0.032″ – $10
Veritas burnisher – Lee Valley, 05K2040, $15.50
Mill bastard file, 8″ – $10
Veritas apron plane with O1 blade – Lee Valley, 05P2701, $132
King combination sharpening stones, 1000x/4000x – Lee Valley, 60M5004, $53.50
Veritas sharpening jig – Lee Valley, 05M0940, $49.50
Rikon 10″ bandsaw – $680
Bessey 6-pack clamp set – $40
Butt chisel, 1″ – $12


Rob Brown - [email protected]

Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.

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