Power tools are great time-savers for woodworkers. They remove the need for tedious cutting and shaping with hand tools by performing the same actions with the speed and power of an electric motor. Only a few extremely traditional carpenters use hand tools alone and then usually for reasons of “authenticity”.

However, the mere fact that power tools are time-savers is no reason to buy every power tool available. Woodworker’s machines are often expensive and designed for performing a single function exceptionally well. Choosing them carefully to augment the hand tools you already possess is the key to becoming an efficient wood-worker.

Power Sander

If a professional wood-worker could only have one power-tool, he would probably choose the power sander. Cutting jobs such as cross-cuts and even ripping can be done with hand-saws. A brace and bit do an excellent job of drilling holes and driving screws: In fact, some prefer them to power drills. Sanding, however, is a job that usually requires a great deal of patience.

Even if you enjoy sanding, smoothing a large surface – such as a tabletop – by hand will take far more time than most carpenters have to spare. The same goes for quickly sanding many small parts, such as chair pieces or bed framing.

There is a wide range of power sanders for specific jobs, but most are capable of different uses.

Here are a few of the types available:

  • Belt sanders. These are excellent for fast wood removal and working over large areas quickly.
  • Random-orbit sanders. These sanders work in randomized circles, making them good for extremely fine finishes, particularly on flat surfaces.
  • Drum sanders and disk sanders. These sanders are usually bench-mounted and are often used to shape pieces or to put finishes on them. They are most useful because they are stable, meaning the workpiece moves, rather than the sander.

Circle Saw

Circular Saw

If you already have a power sander, or you don’t mind hand sanding, the next tool to consider is the circle saw. These are small, hand-held power cutters, usually with a blade diameter between six and ten inches. The most common size is the eight inch circle saw. This size is large enough to handle most cutting jobs and small enough to handle safely. Six inch blades are a little too small for most carpentry work, while the ten inch blades are larger and unwieldy, a dangerous combination for hand-held cutting tool.

Circle saws can be put to multiple uses, as well: Cutting boards in half isn’t their only function. With multiple passes – or a single pass with a dado blade – a circle saw can cut slots and laps. One particularly innovative woodworker suspended his circle saw from a pendulum in order cut a slight bowl shape in a chair seat, though this is not a recommended method.

Drill Presses

Drill Press

Any carpenter who makes furniture knows that drilling pilot holes is a key step in driving screws or gluing pegs. Without a pilot hole, a screw can easily split and tear wood, not to mention accidentally shift the joint out of correct placement. A brace and bit can drill holes or drive screws, as can a power drill. However, either tool can shift out of true alignment if the operator can’t keep it straight. In both cases, drilling many holes in a short space of time can be extremely tiring.

A drill press can solve both of these problems. Drill presses, with their fixed angle chuck, will stay true with no angle shift. The work can be clamped to the press table and the hole will turn out perfectly straight. The plunge function makes drilling many holes both easy and accurate, with little stress on the user. As you can see, these benefits make the drill press a ‘must-have’ for any carpenter.

When you’re buying a drill press, look for these qualities:

  • The taller the better. A tall drill press allows for a larger work piece to be placed on it.
  • Minimal axle play. This is particularly important when buying a used drill press. Play in the drill axle will make inaccurate holes.
  • A large chuck. The bigger the chuck, the bigger the tool it can hold.
  • Table Saw

    Table Saw

    Table saws are relatively dangerous tools and their cost is often quite high, but when a carpenter needs to make many extremely accurate cuts, the table saw is the right tool for the job. Most table saws found in the display section at the local home improvement store are both over priced and cheaply built.

    However, a well-designed table saw can be one of the most versatile tools in a woodworker’s shop. Some woodworkers have become virtuosos with table saws, as you can see by these unusual techniques:

    • Finger-joint cutting with homemade jigs.
    • Cutting perfect circles with a table saw.
    • Making wooden gears with a table saw jig.

    In all cases, the primary benefit of a table saw comes from the fact that the blade is extremely stable and can be micro-adjusted for very accurate cutting. With a properly set table fence and correct usage, they can eliminate a great deal of human error.

    Router

    Bosch 1617evspk Router Kit

    The router is a comparatively unknown tool, meaning that those who know nothing about woodworking or who are just beginning carpentry have probably never heard of it. However, the router is highly useful for shaping wood, both decoratively and functionally.

    Here are just few of the uses for routers:

    • Routing moulding and edges. Fancy designs can be easily cut with the right bit.
    • Cutting slots, finger-joints, dove-tails, and laps. All of these cuts are essential in furniture joinery.
    • An experienced user can cut detailed designs into the wood-face with a router.

    Obviously, there are few tools as useful for fine woodworking as routers.

    Power Drills

    Power Drill

    The hand-held power drill’s biggest advantage is speed. While power drills don’t have the power or control that a brace and bit provide, they cut down on the time spent at each task. A power drill can cut a hole or run a screw into a board in seconds. If you use a lot of screws or need to drill holes in places a drill press can’t reach, a power drill is the perfect tool for the job.

    However, when you’re buying a power drill, keep these points in mind:

    • Battery drills are highly portable, with no clumsy cord. However, they run out of energy and are often have less torque than corded drills.
    • The average corded drill is not designed for heavy use. Long periods of use without rest or very high-torque loads can melt down the coils and ruin the drill.
    • Drills designed for high-torque loads or non-stop use will be heavy. A hefty drill is tiring to hold and use, especially if the woodworker is lightly built.

    Band Saw

    Bandsaw

    Many long-time woodworkers own one of these power tools and there is a very good reason for it. The band saw is a powerful cutter, capable of re-sawing even the thickest lumber. The blades on the band saw differ with the job to be done, ranging from a small number of large teeth for sawing thick stock to many tiny teeth for cutting metal and thin wood. With the right blade, a band saw can even be used to cut small, fancy patterns.

    Some of the uses for band saws include:

    • Fancy pattern cutting. Some really amazing designs have been done with band saws.
    • Re-sawing over-sized lumber. If you just like to buy in bulk, or can’t find lumber in a specific size, you can saw lumber to the right dimensions with a band saw.
    • Logging. One woodworker even sawed up his own small logs into lumber with a band saw!

    Bench Grinder

    Bench Grinder

    Most people wouldn’t consider the bench grinder a woodworker’s tool, but experienced carpenters know better. Dull gear makes for miserable woodworking, whether you’re talking power tools or hand tools. A good bench grinder helps keep tools sharp, with a minimum of fuss. Knowing a few tips and tricks can extend the life of your blades, bits, and cutting heads, too.

    While most people just throw away a blade or drill bit when it doesn’t cut properly anymore, you can pass them over the bench grinder a few times to put a new edge on them. With the cost of new cutting tools, this isn’t an advantage to take lightly! The ability to sharpen saw blades, drill bits, router bits, plane irons, and chisels in your own shop is well worth the cost of a bench grinder.

    Planers

    Dewalt dw734 Benchtop Planer

    Any carpenter who makes a great deal of fine furniture probably needs a power plane. Power planers work on the same principle as hand planers, except with rotating blades. Planers are used to flatten boards, to even out board thickness, and to resurface boards.

    Lumber usually comes from the yard in rough condition and needs to be planed before it can be used. A worse problem is that lumber from less-than-exacting yards can often have bad warping that has to be worked around. Power planers can put smooth surfaces on rough boards and make short work of planing warped boards to a usable state.

    Vacuum System

    Dust Collector

    True, a good vacuum and filtration system probably isn’t the first thing that most people think of when they imagine a woodworker’s shop. However, it is an invaluable tool for any carpenter. Sawdust can easily become a problem, in multiple ways.

    Shops that see a lot of use often have mounds of sawdust on the floor bigger than the trash bin. Sanders and planers can put out more dust and shavings than expected, while saws and routers make astonishing amounts of chips. A good vacuum can make cleaning up afterwards much easier and much safer for the lungs.

    Going a little farther and connecting vacuum filtration to your stationary tools will be even better. Catching the sawdust before it even hits the floor is just good sense.

    Your Tools: Your Friends

    Power tools have the capacity to be a woodworker’s best friends. They cut down on time, handle tasks that are difficult or impossible with hand tools, and make the shop a more efficient place to work. However, as with all tools and machines, caution and care are necessary to get the most out of power tools safely.

    No amount of speed is worth a hospital trip and getting lazy on maintenance is a recipe for a ruined tool. Take care of your power tools and they’ll take care of you. Woodworking should be enjoyable and productive: With the right tools and the right attitude, it will be!