Power Tools for a Hand Tool Shop

Article - May 31, 2010

Josh, an experienced hand tool guy wants a recommendation for a good “first power tool”.

I am new to The Guild, but looking forward to the upcoming builds. I am a hand tool guy and have everything I need to complete a project with hand tools. However, after attending classes at Kelly Mehler’s, I see how machines can really help (dimensioning stock). I am beginning to look at a more blended approach. I was wondering what you might recommend. I often hear a bandsaw referred to as the Neanderthal’s Apprentice and was thinking that it might make a good first power tool. I don’t have 220v if that makes a difference. Also are there any other tools that I should be considering?

Hey Josh. A bandsaw is indeed a great tool to have in the shop. But its hard for me to say if this is the right “first tool” for you without more information. When considering which power tools to add to your arsenal, I recommend looking for the one that will open the most doors for you. In other words, the best multi-tasker for the type of work you do. As you can imagine, your woodworking style, focus, habits, and tastes will all play a role in dictating the direction you need to go. But I can give you a few things to consider based on my personal opinions and experience with power tools. Here are some of the tools I think you might want to consider:

The Tablesaw – I think its safe to say that the tablesaw would be a “first tool” for many people. You can cut pieces down to size, rip, crosscut, establish a straight edge, and make all kinds of critical joinery with speed and accuracy. In my opinion, it truly is the heart of the workshop.

The Router – Never underestimate the versatility of a router. It will open up a whole world of edge treatments and joinery. Coupled with a flush trim bit/pattern bit, you have an incredibly powerful duplication tool. Furthermore, you can use the router for various flattening and jointing operations. Although this tool is second on my list, I don’t think I would want to work in a shop without one!

The Bandsaw – If you are looking to cut curves only, then you might be able to get away with the much cheaper jigsaw. But if you plan on resawing stock, a bandsaw is the logical way to go. You also might consider that the bandsaw is only part of the resawing equation. Your stock should be at least partially milled flat and square before resawing, and you’ll need to dress the stock afterward as well. Now if you plan on using your hand tools for these tasks, you are good to go. But if you are also looking for a power tool solution for milling, you will definitely want to consider a jointer and a planer.

Jointer/Planer – I tend to lump these two together since they make a very powerful milling team. But these will not be inexpensive by any means. And if your primary goal with your new power tools is to mill your own stock, I would actually put the jointer and planer before the bandsaw.

As a bit of a disclaimer, I came from a power tool background and worked my way into hand tools. As a result, my perspective may be skewed. I am anxious to hear what some of you hand tool woodworkers think about this. What power tools do you find the most useful in your hand tool shop??

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