As the commercial furniture market becomes saturated with mass-produced pedestrian objects, more and more people are exploring the option of designing and making their own unique pieces. The first question that is often asked is, “what tools do I need?”.
As a power tool trainer and specialist tool salesman for over ten years, my advice is to buy the tools as you need them for a particular project and when you decide on a plan, look at the tools you will need to perform each of the stages of the build. Generally, there are five stages of any project, and you need to have one or two tools from each group to make the piece. The stages are: dimensioning, cutting, joining, detailing, and finishing. Let’s look at each step individually.
*Dimensioning *: The first part of this stage involves transitioning the timber from the milled slab or board size to the size you need for the project. Power tools for this stage include both table saws and handheld electric saws, as well as band saws. Traditional tools for this stage include panel or carpenters saws as well as bow saws.
The second part of dimensioning involves dressing the timber to ensure a flat smooth and most importantly square surface so you can accurately cut and join the various components of the workpiece. Power tools for this stage include thicknessers, jointers, and drum sanders, while a variety of hand planes are generally used to complete this stage in a traditional build.
*Cutting:* When cutting board stock rather than sheet material, the most commonly used power tool to achieve this stage is the slide compound mitre saw. While you can complete this stage with a handheld circular saw it is a lot easier and safer to use a mitre saw. If your project contains sheet material components such as plywood or particle board, you’ll need to use either a circular saw or a table saw. If you’re following the traditional path, then a right quality panel saw and tenon saw would be your preferred tools.
*Joining:* The joinery stage involves the assembly of the various components of the project to achieve its close to finished form. If you want to use power tools at this stage you’ll need a cordless or corded drill, which will enable you to use things like pocket hole jigs or dowelling jigs; otherwise, tools such as biscuit or domino joiners allow you to complete a successful joint. The hand tool path is more complicated at this stage and calls for the use of hand saws and chisels to cut mortice and tenon or dovetail joints. While more complex this is a technique that is well and truly worth learning as it will raise the overall standard of our pieces to a much higher level.
*Detailing:* The detailing stage of the build is where you add ornamentation such as round overs, bevels or inlays to the edges of the piece to enhance the overall design. If you’re building using power tools the primary tool you’ll need is a router which, with the correct cutters will enable you to create a variety of decorative treatments. In the traditional build, you’ll need a router plane or a selection of moulding planes as well as a variety of chisels and scrapers.
*Finishing:* The finishing stage is the final part of the build where the surfaces are fully sanded before the application of the lacquer or varnish. The most commonly used power tool for this stage is the random orbital sander. Often available in either 4 inches, (125mm) or 6 inches, (150mm), a variable speed random orbital sander will become one of the most regularly used tools in your workshop. If you’re following a traditional build, you’ll need a sanding block and a range of sanding sheets ranging from 80 grit to 1000g grit to hand sand the surface to a satisfactory finish.
When you’re buying tools, either power or hand, always try to get the best tool you can for the budget you have. If you need to get some savings somewhere, I would forgo purchasing a thicknesser initially as most timber yards will cut timber and dress it to size for you for a minimal cost.
As usual your questions and comments are appreciated