So, you finally did it. You bought a place that has room for your very own personal woodshop. Now what?
You already have some basic hand tools like a drill, random orbital sander, and tape measures. What should you buy next? Some people will tell you that what you need is The Big Three—a table saw, miter saw, and bandsaw. This is a great place to start, but what if you only have the money to buy one of these tools right now? What tool is going to be the most useful? That depends on the type of projects you want to make. Let’s go over the pros and cons of the big three saws that you find in most shops and how they can be used.
First, the Table Saw.
The table saw is made for cutting straight lines—and straight lines only. That doesn’t mean you can only cut with the grain. Making a sled will give you the ability to cut across the grain and it’s fairly easy to do. Watch this video by “Make Something” on YouTube to learn how.
Once you have the hang of making sleds, you can start making other sleds and jigs dedicated to making picture frames, tapered cuts, and spline cuts. The table saw, in my opinion, is the most versatile tool in the shop and should be your first major purchase.
Next up is the Miter Saw.
The miter saw does one thing but it does it really well. The Miter saw will cross cut wood better and faster than pretty much any other tool. Most miter saws come with a standard feature allowing you to make rabbit cuts in wood. If you are careful when setting up your saw, you can also use it to make perfect 45 degree angles for picture frames or a variety of other projects.
You can make a stop block to make multiple cuts at the same length as well. If you are willing to spend a little extra, get a compound miter saw that can tilt it to the side instead of just up or down. Now you can make compound mitered cuts. The miter saw is my recommended second big purchase.
Third Up, the Bandsaw.
The bandsaw can do many different cuts but is primarily used to make curved cuts. While the Table Saw and the Miter Saw both have a solid round blade, the Bandsaw has a band of metal with sharp teeth on one side of it as a blade. This blade will cut by going around the top and bottom wheels, normally hidden by the cover, and where you cut at the blade is coming straight down. This allows you to move your piece around and change the angle that the blade is hitting the wood.
This can all be done with a jigsaw, but a bansaw excels at resawing wood. That’s where a jigsaw fails. Resawing wood, on a basic level, if taking a thick board and making it into two thinner pieces. Sure you can do this to some boards on a table saw, but what about when the board you are cutting is taller than the blade on your table saw? You can just flip the wood over and cut it from the other side but this isn’t exactly safe, nor will it always work. You might be left with a small piece of material holding the wood together in the middle or your fence may shift just a little, causing the cuts to not line up.
That’s where a properly tuned bandsaw works amazingly well. Since the blade is at a perfect 90-degree angle to the table, your piece of wood should cut perfectly, as long as it fits. There are several videos on how to tune your bandsaw, but this is one of my favorites.
So, there you go. There’s my top three BIG tools to have in my shop. Of course, this is all project-dependant and there are many other tools that can be super helpful to have in your shop.
What tools do you think are most important for your shop?
Adam Kittrell is the Wood and Metal Shop Foreman at the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub. He has been working in and around shops since middle school and has only cut his fingers on a saw once. His shop teachers would be proud.