These expensive woodworking tools pay for themselves in accuracy and efficiency. I’ve been building custom furniture for many years and, like most of you, I’ve acquired my woodworking tools as I can afford them. The tools in this list might seem expensive, quirky, and even redundant, but stay with me and I’ll prove their worth. Believe me, now that these woodworking tools are in my shop, I wish I’d invested in them earlier. So don’t wait until you’re setting up your ‘retirement dream shop’ before filling your toolbox with my “Top 5.”
1. 6″ Starrett Square ($75):This combination square rests in the middle pocket of my shop apron, and I probably use it sixty times a day. Why do I love it so much? First and foremost, it is square. Folks, there is no such thing as ‘almost square’ and Starrett understands this. I trust this small tool to check for perfect 90-degree alignment on my stationary tools, like the table saw, jointer, and band saw. Its cast iron head adjusts along the blade, which has measurements machined to 64th‘s of an inch, and locks firmly with the twist of your fingers. It is perfect for checking the depth of dados, grooves and mortises, etc. and to set depth on router bits… anything that requires a small measurement. Rather than use my tape to measure small dimensions, I slide the head to a setting and then easily make multiple, precise measurements. I also use this tool to check if my small cabinets and drawers are square. (Starrett Tools)
2. 12″ Starrett Combination Square with Protractor Head and Center Head ($190): Once you own the 6″, you’ll understand why I recommend the 12″. It does everything that the 6″ does, and more! I mainly use it to check large cabinets for square and to measure multiples greater than 6″ (don’t tell, but for squaring, I trust it so much, sometimes I’ll forgo measuring cabinets diagonally, shhh!) Replace the square head with the protractor head and it sets angles on my sliding miter saw, angles on the table saw, and can easily measure any unknown angle down to the half-degree! The center head is perfect for centering blanks for turning on the lathe and defining the angles for halving or quartering posts. One last endorsement: Starrett Tools are superbly made, finely calibrated and I love how they feel; perfectly weighted in my hand.
3. Lie-Neilsen Pocket Block Plane ($95): This tool is a unique little gem. First, the fit and finish are perfect. It is super-light, and designed to be used with one hand. With the blade set at 12 degrees, it’s ideal for working figured wood, but I use it for chamfering, trimming edge banding, and fine-tuning the fit of cabinet doors. I frequently remove thin ribbons off over sized doors and then take three light passes at an angle to chamfer the edges. Furthermore, this little plane is the perfect introduction to the value of hand planes. (Lie-Nielsen Toolworks)
4. Palm Router ($100): Originally called a laminate trimmer, this mini-router is a great addition to any tool shelf. Although it has less power than a regular router, it is also less expensive and less cumbersome. I like this tool because I can use it with one hand and it is plenty powerful for most trimming and chamfering operations. It is perfect for mortising hinges on jewelry boxes, too. If my fixed base router is set up with a fence, or the depth is set perfectly, I leave that alone and just use my perfectly sized palm router. (Ridgid)
5. Dozuki and Ryoba Saws ($45 each): These Japanese saws might seem like a luxury at around $90 for the two saws, but I now consider them a necessity. First, they have very thin blades, so they cut easily and efficiently. They also cut on the pull-stroke, which I find is a more natural way to start a cut. The Dozuki has a rib that stiffens the blade, so it excels at cutting dovetails and other precise joinery. The Ryoba usually has two different sets of teeth, one fine for crosscutting, and one coarse, for ripping. It does everything from trimming protruding dowels to finishing stopped cuts on the table saw. Because these saws are ‘un-plugged,’ they’re faster than setting up a corded saw for the small cuts that happen so frequently in my shop! (Available at Rockler, Woodcraft and other woodworking stores).
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