I’ve been passionate about my woodworking and woodcraft hobby for more than a decade now. In that time, thanks to my employer, I’ve had to move around quite a bit and live in a variety of places. I have been fortunate enough to acquire lots of woodworking tools along the way, but one thing I have not been able to get more of is space. Though I did get lucky once – my wife allowed me to share the garage with her car in one house we lived in. I could only dream of having a setup like Norm Abrams’ New Yankee Workshop, complete with top-of-the-line tools and the talent to make professional grade furniture pieces. Then reality sinks in and off I go, down the stairs to pursue my hobby in the confines of my small ten foot by twelve foot basement shop like so many other part-time woodworkers. With shop space being such a luxury for most woodcrafters, the question often comes up, “What are the most essential tools for a woodshop?” So, I want to give you my perspective on which tools are absolutely necessary for a small woodworking shop.
A table saw is the catalyst for any woodshop regardless of size. The great thing is that table saws are available in a variety of configurations and it is easy to find one that will suit even the smallest shop like mine. About 80 percent of all cutting you will do as a woodworker will be done using a table saw. A table saw is the most precise tool for cutting wood to the dimensions needed for your woodworking projects. Besides cutting, a table saw is also useful for forming beveled edges and slots for assembling wooden panels. In the small woodshop, the saw’s table is perfect for providing additional workbench space when not used for cutting. A decent bench top table saw will run between $200 and $500, but will make your projects easier and much more accurate.
A router is probably the most versatile woodworking tool in any shop. It is mainly used for creating decorative edges on work pieces, but are also good for creating joints and dadoes (grooves). Routers can be used as a regular hand-tool, or they can be mounted underneath a routing table. Though free-hand routing is sometimes required, mounting the router to a router table is the preferred method for using this tool. It provides an extra measure of stability, as well as a smoother, more professional result. A router, along with a table and a variety of bits, can quickly become one of the priciest tools for a woodshop, but none-the-less very essential.
Jigsaws are great power tools for cutting irregular shapes in wood. A band saw is another woodworking tool capable of the same type of cuts, but because of its size and space requirements, is not recommended for the smaller woodshops. A jigsaw is more efficient because it takes up considerably less space and can easily be moved around as needed. Jigsaws are also much cheaper and easier to maintain than a band saw. Blade changes are accomplished in a matter of seconds, which is nearly impossible with most band saws.