Essential Woodworking Tools for the Beginner | Power Tools
Updated: May 30, 2022
Woodworking can quickly get expensive, especially for the weekend hobbyist. With thousands of tools, jigs and hardware available, it can be overwhelming to determine what is non-essential verses a must-have item for those just getting started with woodworking. In this article, we'll discuss power tools - which ones are a must and which ones are "nice to have."
I call out the specific tools that I personally use and think highly of, but also include upgraded and more affordable alternatives. If you are planning on purchasing a new tool based on these recommendations, please support this page by using the links within the article. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. By making purchases through these links, you help support free content like this at no additional cost to you!
Many prefer woodworking by hand without the use of power tools. There is an extra sense of accomplishment that comes with building a table or chair - cutting, sanding and finishing all by hand. Most of us don't have the luxury of the additional time this requires. Today, most wood workers rely on power tools to accomplish these same tasks in a fraction of the time. There are hundreds of expensive specialty power tools that are designed for one or two tasks. It can be overwhelming. However, you don't need to purchase every one right away. There are a handful of essential power tools that will help you complete nearly all the tasks that woodworking throws at you without spending hundred (even thousands) on specialty tools.
If you are looking to make your first large item purchase, make it a table saw. This was the first major purchase I made, and the one that escalated my piqued interest into the woodworking world. The versatility is unmatched. There are countless jigs that you can make (using your new table saw) to do just about anything that other specialty tools are made specifically for. Don't have a miter saw? Build and use a simple cross-cut sled! Don't have an expensive jointer? Make a jointer/taper jig! There are free plans and videos to make any table saw jig with a few pieces of wood all over the web. Making jigs helps to hone your craft while creating a handmade tool that you'll use over and over.
You can spend a lot of money on a table saw, but there are affordable options to get you started. Though I'm saving up for an upgraded floor model, I've been using a contractor model similar to this one from Rigid for the last 5 years.
Good balance of affordable and quality
Table is flat and rip fence stays square and true to the blade
Portability - a great feature for the beginner wood hobbyist who need the valuable garage space.
Blade cover and anti-kickback safety features
Table is smaller than floor model (though it does expand a bit)
Can move when cutting large/heavy stock (secure to floor or place against an outfeed table to stabilize it)
With power wood cutting tools, dust collection is necessary to keep your lungs clear of harmful particulate floating in the air. You don't have to have to spend hundreds of dollars to protect yourself. With a cyclone separator, quality filter and a shop vacuum, you can protect yourself. Here's our easy-DIY dust collection setup.
I know this one might get me into trouble in the comments for recommending a circular saw before a miter saw, but hear me out. There are 3 reasons I recommend a circular saw prior to purchasing a miter saw.
Cost - for under $100 you can get a quality hand-held circular saw with all the bells and whistles you'll need.
Functionality - Between a table saw and a circular saw, you can make any cut you'll need: rip cut, crosscut, bevel, miter & compound miter
Necessity - The most cost-effective way to purchase sheet lumber is in 4'x8' dimensions. Cutting a small piece off of a full sheet of plywood is quite cumbersome on a table saw alone. The circular saw allows you to cut down sheets into manageable pieces for your table saw.
There are basically two options: battery powered and corded.
I run with corded only because it was more affordable at the time. I love this skill saw because it allows me to bevel my cuts and includes the laser guide to keep me on the mark.
There is also a smaller 13 amp version that will save you a few bucks. It has the same features with the exception of the laser guide.
If you want to go the battery-powered route (and in hindsight, I would have), there several good options depending on the brand you prefer. Had I known I was going to stick with the DeWalt brand for my other battery-powered tools, I would have purchased something compatible.
Pro Tip: Your local big box store likely offers to make one or two cuts of lumber or sheet wood for free. With that in mind, you may be able to get by without a circular saw for a bit.
Impact Driver/Drill Combo
After using the saws above to cut your lumber, you'll need to join them. For most beginners, this means using screws, pocket holes or dowel pins. In either case, you need a drill to bore and pre-drill holes and an impact driver to join the wood with a screw. Buying these as a kit will almost always save you money, but it ensures the batteries provided are interchangeable. For all your battery-powered tools, pick a brand and stick with it. DeWalt, Makita, Milwaukee and Rigid are solid tool makers. RYOBI is a decent choice if you are looking to save a few bucks.
Stay away from anything less than 18V and don't buy batteries with less than 2.0Ah (amp-hour), and make sure you have at least 2 (preferably 3) batteries. This allows you to use a tool while charging the other battery.
See my DeWalt 20V 2.0Ah (Amazon)
Pros: Lightweight & batteries interchange with other 20V DeWalt tools. Charges quick. Light illuminates work area when trigger depressed. 2 batteries included.
Cons: 2.0Ah means I am always swapping out batteries
Alternate - Makita 18V 4.0Ah (Amazon)
Random Orbital Sander
Speaking of battery-powered DeWalt tools, this random orbital sander has saved me countless hours doing the worst part of any woodworking project: sanding.
The battery life is quite good - I am getting about 20-25 minutes of constant sanding per battery charge with the DeWalt 20V MAX XR orbital sander.
See my DeWalt 20V 5" (Amazon)
Corded Alternative - DeWalt 5" (Amazon)
It has a hook and loop sanding pad to be used with 5" hook and loop sanding paper. It comes with a dust collection pouch that can be removed to hook up dust collection (more on that later).
The only down side is that it only comes with one battery pack. That isn't a problem if you have other tools that use the same battery. All of the major brands like Makita, RYOBI, Rigid, etc. have random orbital sanders, so my recommendation is to stick with the same brand family so you can share batteries among your hand-held power tools.
If you are the one person in the world that loves sanding by hand, this hand contouring Sanding Mouse (Amazon) with hook and loop paper attachment is ideal!
The Jig saw is a great tool that comes in handy for cutting tight corners or patterns, but not one that is absolutely essential when you are just starting out.
You can get a corded version for around $40, but I recommend something more reliable.
See my DeWalt 20V Max XR (Amazon)
Alternate corded Version ~$100 (Amazon)
Miter saws are an essential woodworking tool, but not one of the top several purchases you need to make in order to get your first few projects completed. With that said, after getting a miter saw, you will be so glad you did.
Some things to consider:
Don't waste your money on a simple chop saw. For $250, you can buy a compound miter saw. This allows you to make cross cuts, miter cuts and bevel cuts - all a woodworking necessity.
Don't get any smaller than a 10" and if you are going to be cutting stock a foot or more in width, get a sliding 12".
Sliding miter saws allow the blade to move forward and backward enabling you to cut wider stock.
DeWalt, Rigid and Milwaukee: great choices, but come w/ premium pricing (Amazon)
Don't miss the Essential Woodworking Tools for the Beginner | Hand Tools article to learn more about the can't-live-without hand tools to get started woodworking.
Ready to start your first project? Check out our Lego table walkthrough!
Don't know which hand tools are essential? Essential Woodworking Tools for the Beginner | Hand Tools