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.
Five expensive woodworking tools that pay for themselves in accuracy and efficiency —
1. 6″ Starrett Square ($107):
This combination square rests in the middle pocket of my shop apron, and I 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, mortises, etc., and for setting the 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 easily make multiple, precise measurements. I also use this tool to check if my small cabinets and drawers are square. (Starrett Tools)
Related videos: Saddle Square, and Why George Loves Combination Squares
2. 12″ Starrett Combination Square with Protractor Head and Center Head ($296):
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 squares 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!) Could you replace the square head with the protractor head? It sets angles on my sliding miter saw and 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 ($160):
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 oversized 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)
Related video: Standard and Low Angle Block Plane
4. Palm Router ($90):
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 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 use my perfectly sized palm router. (Bosch Router)
Related video: Plunge vs. Fixed Base Routers
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 that cut easily and efficiently. They also cut on the pull-stroke, 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).
Related video: Advantages of Using a Japanese Pull Saw
What is your favorite tool and why? Email us at email@example.com
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As a retired employee of the Starrett Company, I was very pleased to see your review of their squares.
Only Starrett. World class and accurate throughout their lifetime. Have never failed me.
Excellent choice of tools. When it comes to “Expensive”, I’m reminded of the old Union 76 commercial” You can pay me now, or you can pay me later”. In other words, you can buy a quality tool once and, if you take care of them, they will far outlast any cheap junk you “Saved Money On” that never is as accurate and you have to keep replacing. For example, I still have my father’s Lufkin Rule Co. Rules; 12″ rule No. C-2116-R and his 18″ Lufkin Square No. 2516R. Both in 32nd’s & 64th’s on one side, and 50th’s & 100th’s of an inch on the other. As a machinist, he bought them in 1955. Both are still just as accurate as the day he bought them.
It would be great if I could see pics of what you are talking about and demonstrations of use
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The newly tweaked Bosch Colt is amazing. At 1 1/2 to 13/4 ho it packs quite a punch. Also Im not into any distinct product line so my opinion is based on the tool.
Above all are the Starrett squares. These are the tools that are in my hands during any woodworking procedure. Accuracy begins with the square and Starrett continues to be the gold standard. See their plant tour on YouTube to convince yourself.
Retired cabinet/furniture maker, 45 years on the job
Router Porter Cable Model 100M! One hand control and more powerful then trim router.
Starrett is good but some of the Japanese are as good but 1/2 the price.
Older Blue grass chisels. Garage sale finds.
13oz Plumb hammer is still hammer . None balance as well
Good trammel points.
Electric pencil sharpeners.
last but not least is a good cross section of stones.
The Ridgid cordless router can’t be beat when it comes to a compact trim router. My two cents…
What would be a good bandsaw to buy? Something in the middle to high range. thanks
Hi Steve. Here is the one thatGeorge uses: http://amzn.to/2ynH4VH.
Anotheroption that is similar but slightly cheaper is this one: https://amzn.to/2CR3scd.
We have a review on the1412 here: https://www.wwgoa.com/article/laguna-1412-bandsaw-a-cut-above/
I’ve also owned a Jet14″ bandsaw, kinda like this one: https://amzn.to/2q0exzl. I liked it, but I upgraded to the Laguna for more resaw capabilities.
I also have looked at this newer Jet model several times and it looks very impressive: https://amzn.to/2VsETZa. I haven’t used it personally, but it generally gets good reviews.
I looked at 14 ” band saws and bought the HF one and added the riser and a quality blade for around 350 total. The jet uses the same frame (made in Taiwan) that costs 900. the only difference I could find was the color and maybe the wheel pads. It’s worth a look.
I use my lie-neilson 102 black plane on a daily basis…its small enough to fit comfortably in my apron and its low-profile iron is excellent on endgrain. I might add a router plane, which is extremely useful when doing cabinet work.
Model # PS10-2A
Bosch 12-Volt 1/4-in Cordless Drill
80 in-lbs of torque – drives 100 3-in screws per battery charge
Ultra-compact head length, only 3.5-in in total head length
90° articulating head – rotates and locks into 5 positions for increased versatility.
I have 3 Dewalt 18 v. drills and this Bosch. I always reach for the Bosch first. Light weight and flexible and enough power for most jobs.
LN 102 block plane is a good choice. It uses a low profile iron which is excellent on endgrain.
I agree with the Lie-Nielsen block planes. I have their saws, chisels, shoulder plane, etc. Starret squares are very nice and a classic old school tool maker. My father and grandfather used Starret tools. I have a couple of Starret dividers for laying out dovetails. Both companies have great fit & finish. Another tool company worth mentioning is Woodpeckers. Their squares are excellent too. I have their 641, 851 and 1281. An excellent tool maker that guarantee accuracy. They’ll repair or replace when not in square. First hand experience on their good customer service. I Agree on the palm router too. I have a Bosch Colt and use it frequently. A cordless trim router will be on my holiday gift list this year. Nice article and well done. Thanks!
I’m trained in patternmaking, was a special effects modelmaker for 25 years, and have always been a maker. I rely on my Starret tools. Anyone who claims otherwise is flat wrong. One test doesn’t make the brand. Another tool I rely on is my dial caliper. Four-way measuring with 1/1000” resolution.
Can you clarify which Lie-Neilsen Pocket Block Plane you are using. There’s the 101-Violin, that runs $95 and looks like the perfect fit, but there’s also the 102, which is a small block plane…at $115.
Hi Paul. This refers to the 102, which was $95 at the time the article was written. I love this plane and use mine to some degree on nearly every project. It produces great results and is so satisfying to use.
2 additions: 1) my Estwing 16oz hammer – 45 years old and going great; 2) my Bosch PSB 1880 Li2 – it drills, drives screws and even has a hammer-action so you can wall-mount whatever you build, all with one tool!
B@D radial arm saw. Has agustable rear fence for ripping wide boards up to 24 inches. cross cut and miters perfect. but needs lazor line. Perfect to molding and mop boards.
For me I use a Digital Micrometer continually. so I add it your all needed tools as well . Your right on about at least having one of the saws.
Expensive? None of those tools are expensive.
My Favorite tool and I call it a tool is my CNC. With my hands I can still make and do things with it without too much work with my hands.
Over priced toys, 40 years old wood & metal working, without these tools. You need good tools, but as good or better are cheaper or should I say lower cost with better return.
I agree with “almost square” being a horrible statement. I bought a good digital 12″ angle locator tool. This is perfect for making sure the other tools are exactly square or 45 or whatever angle you need. It turned out the cheap speed square I already had was dead-on 90 degrees. I was shocked, but happy to save the money on a more expensive square. Tune in the miter saw to insure the detent is right before making a cut. It’s fast and easy to use.
Ticket 22067 What is a digital 12” angle locator?
Thank you for your patience. In response to your question-
It’s a tool for measuring angles. Here’s an example: https://amzn.to/2VTCh68
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I like you list very much and have all those tools. I might exchange a No. 4 plane for the Laminate Router, though, as I reach for it all the time. That being said, I use a laminate trimmer on practically every project, as well. I may add a sanding block to the list, as I’m always grabbing mine, as well.
Love to own these saws!!
Looking forward to gaining woodworking knowledge!
Add Buck Bros. To your list for chisels. I agree with the rest. Old Pattern Maker.
I’m a retired wood pattern maker. I still have and use my Buck Bros. Chisels that I bought from an old pattern maker 50 years ago. Talk about quality!
My Grandfather was a Pattern Maker for the Lackawanna Railroad and I still use his Buck Brothers Chisels and Starrett square. They must be going on 75-80 years old. They just don’t make stuff like this anymore.
They certainly don’t make them like that now.
What about a shoulder plane? Which compact trim router do you recommend?
I love my Lie Nielsen shoulder plan and use it all the time. I have the small one. I use a DeWalt compact router and really like it. Quiet, low vibration, nice plunge base.
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I like my Bosch trim router. Can’t beat the Starrett tools. Great choices. Add a good marking knife and quality mechanical pencil ( I like the .5mm Pentel)
My favorite marking knife is Stanley 10-049 Pocket Knife with Rotating Blade.
Double bevel, cheap blades, either resharpen or eventually replace. sometimes cheaper is better, saving $ for really nice chisels, planes and hardwood material.
Mechanical pencils are so good to extend lead to get in tight or deep places also erasers are handy,they are cheap and come with extra lead in case you break one or run out
I found starrett to over priced and over rated
I agree. Watched a demo where they compared a Starrett to a Home Depot special. The Home Depot was square and the red faced Starrett rep was trying to explain why his was not.