George’s Top 5 Must-Have Stationary Woodworking Tools for Your Workshop

georgevondriska-top5musthavetoolslist I’m asked all the time, “What’s the first tool I should get?” My tongue-in-cheek answer is, “A credit card with a high limit.” But since people really do want advice on stationary tool purchases, I’ve developed “George’s Top 5 List.” It’s important to understand that this is my list of preferred tools and there will be no shortage of woodworkers who will disagree with my choices. Cool. This is America. Freedom of choice and all that. Let’s not get into an argument over it. The Guild is all about passing along information, so feel free to submit your Top 5 list. Can’t wait to see it.

1. Table saw: I don’t think there will be much argument here. A table saw is at the heart of most shops, and can’t be beat for ripping, crosscutting, and a gazillion types of joinery. The only real question is what type of saw is best for you. In large part, that’s a question only your checkbook can answer.

2. Router table: This might be where the fist-to-cuffs start. Why a router table as my second choice? It’s so versatile. With the right fence set up, I can edge joint boards, like I could on a jointer. (No, you can’t face joint, but I’ll live with that for now.) I can make any number of joints, create doors, and profile edges. I can remove the router and use it hand-held for work at my bench. A good router table simply provides lots of bang for the buck.

3. Surface sander: This boils down to a question of sander versus planer. If I can only have one, I’d rather have the sander. With an aggressive abrasive I can plane wood, although it will be slower than a planer. The real pay off is when I put a fine abrasive on the machine and finish sand pieces before assembling projects. I love being able to send large slabs of wood through the sander, pieces that wouldn’t fit in a planer. Early on in my professional cabinetmaking days, I saw the benefit of putting assembled face frames and doors through a sander. What a time saver!

4. Band Saw: I use my band saw a lot. I’ve got a sled I use for crosscutting tiny pieces, like I’d use for pen turning. Big blades go on when I’m cutting fireplace logs into usable lumber for my woodworking. The band saw is a great way to cut tenons, and I’ve even mastered cutting through dovetails on the band saw. Another extremely versatile tool.

5. Lathe: This choice may raise some eyebrows. I’m just preaching the turning gospel here. I love working on the lathe. From pens to green-wood-natural-rim bowls, I can’t get enough. You can take a lathe project from start to finish in an evening, which isn’t possible with most “flat” woodworking. My kids all started turning at a very young age. With the right project selection, the lathe is a great way to introduce kids to woodworking. The lathe is my opportunity to depart from “standard” woodworking, and have some fun in the shop.

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32 Responses to “George’s Top 5 Must-Have Stationary Woodworking Tools for Your Workshop”

  1. robert "toolnut"

    I work in a 1.5 garadge I bought a festool table and saw, iam hopeing i can get rid of my compound miter and table i made,got most of tools all but sander,ive got a bunch of power sanders but no drum sanders,as far as a lathe the guys i know who have one get so wraped up in it they do little wood working .sooooo i got to many irons in fire now. good reports and reviews. ps. jest finished the little cabinate on first video..

  2. kfbessel

    Posted September 24, 2009 // 10:12 AM I would like the surface sander, but I consider the the type of work one does would dictate what tools a shop should have in it. I do smaller items and fell that a good stationary belt sander w/a 10" inch disc with table,a planner and good orbital sander is more applicable to the type of projects I work on: all hooked up to dust collection. I enjoy the WWGOA. Thank you.

  3. Plains Craftsman

    Posted August 30, 2009 // 8:04 PM Just signed up today. I agree with your choices. But, a drill press has been an extremely important tool in my shop. I haven't done any turning, but am waiting and watching for a lathe to turn up that will get me going. WWGOA looks like a great place to share working knowledge and for beginners to get some primers.

  4. dave11

    Posted August 26, 2009 // 7:38 PM A GREAT DEAL OF INFO ITS A BIG HELP THANKS DAVE11


    Posted May 11, 2009 // 10:18 PM I would definitely include a drill press in the mix. When I was getting my shop together, one of my friends said "How much do you actually use a drill press?". Answer: A LOT! Beyond just drilling, I use it for countersinking, sanding, and precise, repetitive hole location. I built a nice table with an adjustable fence to go with it so I can put the hole right where I want it. I use a hold-down device to keep the work on the table. Plus, I have a variety of bits for various applications. I'm still building my shop and I am drawing up plans for a 350 sq. ft. building in my back yard. The roof is sloped in such a way that I will have a storage area above the shop. I think my next tool will be a band saw. My Dad left all of his tools to me and, unfortunately, I had to give some of them away. I am kicking myself for it now but I just don't have the room in my house. I sold the ones that I would use the least at the time and that I could easily replace. That helped a little. I am new to the Woodworker's Guild web site and, so far, it looks great. Keep up the good work. Oh yeah, I use an Empire speed square (technically, a rafter square) a lot. I didn't realize the capability of this little gem until I saw a guy frame a house with it. Good little tool. I even use it to line up my combination square. Takes a second and it's perfectly square.

  6. kwc

    Posted April 15, 2009 // 9:22 AM as a new person to woodworking the choices were giving me nightmares. So I basically went and bought what I could with money I had. I bought the most table saw I could buy with money I had. I did alot of research on the net and visited pawn shops and local selling clubs, this landed me 2 routers, orbital sander, drill press, 42 inch lathe, band saw, and numerous hand tools. Believe it or not the orbital sander is my most favorite tool, mainly because I absolutely love silky smooth wood and this sander does just that with the right pads.

  7. Larry1

    Posted March 02, 2009 // 11:45 AM For three years I have delayed the purchase of a jointer because many woodworkers have advised me to spend my money on other must have items. So I have all the tools mentioned except the sander. After countless projects I can state that I am very sorry I did not buy a jointer as soon as I could afford one. Many hours have been spent trying to work -around its absence in my shop. Also, jointers cost more now than they did 3 years ago and I have spent more for lumber because I could not surface it myself. For that same reason my choice of lumber was limited. A jointer will be my next purchase. A wide mouth sander and a vertical panel saw are luxuries I hope to have someday. Oh, yes, a sanding table and gluing/framing table would be nice to have also.

  8. hodgehj

    Posted February 20, 2009 // 3:43 PM Interesting choices. I appreciate the article and insights as to why you choose those tools. I opted for the planner vs the sander. The difference is probably due to different types of projects. I am much more often dimensioning wood than finishing panels so in the interest of time saved it makes better sense. I can see where a the sander would be more beneficial than if I were doing a lot of cabinets. Thanks again and HWW (Happy Wood Working)

  9. smittygd57

    Posted December 17, 2008 // 6:23 PM I have a Shopsmith, but I also have some of the other machines too, But which one is used the most, And in which order shoukd they be place in 28'WX30'L Garage?

  10. Don L.

    Posted November 30, 2008 // 7:12 PM I like my Scroll Saw. I spend a lot of time on it. I like making small things.