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Which Tools Should You Buy First?
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So many tools, so little time.  When you're first setting up shop, there seems to be an almost overwhelming number of possible tool investments. It's not always easy to figure out the best sequence of tool and equipment purchases.  Below, John Brock and John Swanson offer a little advice on the best next move after laying your hands on a table saw.

Q: I'm a beginner woodworker and I recently bought my first tool: a table saw. Now I need to do something about leveling the stock. What should be my next purchase? A large bed jointer, a planer, or a drum sander? The drum sander seems ideal, but I haven't heard of anyone else recommending the drum sander for finishing and thicknessing.

A: John Brock: Since your first purchase was a table saw, I hope you sprung for an excellent fence and a high quality blade. Then you can make yourself an accurate crosscut sled. If not, I'd recommend those upgrades before anything else.

You can make a lot of projects by buying S4S stock (Surfaced 4 Sides), though it is limited in size and is the most expensive way to buy wood. The reason is that someone else has gone to the trouble and expense of making the four surfaces flat, smooth, and parallel. Many species of wood are not even available in S4S. Similarly, S2S lumber, which is available in nearly all commercial species, has two sides parallel. Unfortunately, parallel does not necessarily mean flat and parallel.

A jointer is used to make stock flat, and to make an adjacent edge at right angles. A planer is used to make the face being cut, parallel to the one on the opposite side.

I think the next tool should be a jointer, followed closely by a planer.

Ideally, you want to joint one face to make it flat, then run it through a planer to make it parallel to the already flat side. With a table saw, jointer, and planer, you can buy the least expensive grade of stock, called "rough.” You will make a lot of shavings turning it into flat, smooth, parallel stock, but the savings can be substantial.

A: John Swanson: You have two distinct requirements. The first is to plane one side flat, and the second is to get uniform thickness. The tool of choice for getting a flat surface is a jointer. For this operation, a 6" or 8" width with a long bed is best. For thickness, the tool of choice is a thickness planer. I would encourage you to look at the tool reviews in woodworking magazines.

From the Woodworker's Journal eZine 2004 archives

A band saw is another popular follow-up to a table saw, as is a miter saw.  It really depends on the type of work you'll be doing.  If you are interested in using a lot of exotic hardwoods, which are difficult to find already surfaced and straight-lined (run through a jointer on one edge) then you might want to go with a planer and a jointer as your shop's major tools number two and three. On the other hand, if plan on using materials that are commonly available surfaced on two sides and straight on one or more edges - such as plywood and common domestic hardwoods and softwoods - then you may be happier with a band saw or a good quality miter saw.   Whichever way you go, you'll find nothing but the best power tools and power tool accessories at Rockler.

posted on August 8, 2006 by Rockler
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