These are what I have found to be the best bang-for-your buck, high quality, tools and equipment that I use or recommend for furniture making and woodworking.
Table Saw: Delta 36-725T2 Contractor Table Saw
Why I like it: This saw more than exceeds my needs for basic stock prep / milling of lumber in preparation for bench work. It easily handles rough rip and cross cuts in 8/4 hardwoods. The fence is easily adjustable to make parallel to the blade and locks firmly in place. It was easy to assemble, the mobile base works well, and I believe this is the best value table saw in the price range.
Areas of improvement: For a professional shop, running the saw non-stop for several hours per day, or woodworkers that live on the table saw, this saw is likely too light duty. Also, If the blade is not aligned to the miter slot, it can be adjusted, but this is not the most intuitive task.
Circular Saw: Skilsaw Worm Drive
Why I like it: The circular saw is too often thought of as only a carpenters tool and not a woodworkers. This circular saw is adjustable, powerful, and versatile. From breaking down sheet goods, batching out dados, trimming tables, you name it, this saw does it with ease. This Skilsaw is corded and will never have loss of power in the middle of an important cut.
Compared to the competition: Prior to owning this tool, I used a battery powered Dewalt. The Dewalt was a decent tool -- when the battery was fully charged. The circular saw is one tool where I won't go back to battery powered. The first time you make a cut with this worm drive saw, you will feel the pure power that just cant be matched by the sidewinders.
Planer: Dewalt DW735X
Why I like it: A heavy duty 13" width capacity planer with two speed options and the ability to upgrade to a helical cutter head in the future. This is a very high quality planer that can handle just about any reasonable planer task I can think of. A planer is only half the battle - one side needs to be flat already which can be done by hand planes, a jointer, or a planer sled.
Areas of improvement: This is a heavy planer. Too heavy to hoist on to the bench from the floor each time you want to use it. You will need to build a base or have a dedicated spot for it. Its also quite loud.
Drill / Driver: Dewalt 20v Brushless Combo
Why I like it: the 20v combo set has been a staple for me since the 20v option became available. These tools reliably do the job. Its nice to be able to swap the batteries with the other battery powered tools in the 20v line.
What could be better: Dewalt offers a lot of combo kits that have a higher value than buying tools individually. Unfortunately most kits include tools I don't need. My wish would be for a kit with the drill, impact driver, 18g nailer, and possibly random orbital sander.
Nailer: Dewalt 20v 18g Brad Nailer
Why I like it: Such a useful tool! Small parts slipping around while being clamped due to wet glue? No more! I use this for tacking on glue blocks, drawer runners, or just sticking things together during a glue up. It's light weight, battery powered, and is compatible with a nice range of 18g brad lengths.
What could be better: It's really hard to complain here but I'll just say body size is bigger than the pneumatic options and the flywheel noise can be little annoying.
Dovetail Saw: Lie-Nielsen Dovetail Saw
Why I like it: This saw is an absolute dream to use and the price is surprisingly low considering the very high quality. It has a great weight, hand feel, and cuts beautifully. I consider this a top tier dovetail saw. I personally think more money spent doesn't get much return on investment from here.
Compared to the competition: The only dovetail saw I own that is more expensive than this is the Pax 1776, which is also a dream to use, and wins slightly on weight, but loses on hand-feel. Out of the box, I'd say the LN edges out the 1776 (which came with a bit too much set for my preference).
Dovetail Saw: Crown 10" Gents Saw
Why I like it: Probably the best of the low-cost dovetail saws available. Most dovetail saws in this price range have thick saw plate and no matter how well you sharpen just are not capable of making nice thin, laser-like cuts. This saw has a thin plate and although it is light weight, the weight isn't missed too much thanks to the gents saw design where the push is more in line with the cut.
What could be better: This saw does not come ready to use out of the box. The set is too heavy, the teeth are dull, and of the two I purchased, both had a slight bend where the brass back connects to the handle. If you are willing and able to correct these flaws, its a decent saw capable of doing good work.
Marking Knife: Swann Morton SM00
Why I like it: Super thin, stiff blade. The blade is double beveled, which works effortlessly and naturally. The blade lasts a long time and is very easily replaceable if it becomes damaged.
Compared to the competition: The blade is held in place more firmly than any other similar style marking knife that I have tried. Also, it has a more thin blade than many competitors which can help when marking dovetails with small pins.
Combination Square: Starrett 12" Combination Square
Why I like it: I consider the Starrett to be the gold standard of squares. It is dead accurate, and extremely versatile. This square is completely unlike the cheap combination squares from the retail home centers.... it is accurate and stays accurate. Available with various graduations, mine is the 4R which has 1/8ths and 16ths on one side and 32nds and 64ths on the other.
Compared to the competition: Inexpensive combo squares from the retail home centers can't hold a candle to the Starrett. The only inexpensive squares that are worth consideration are fixed blade squares which lack the versatility of a sliding combo square.
Bench Chisels: Narex Richter Bevel Edge
Why I like it: If I were buying a set of chisels today, these would be my choice. I think they are some of the highest quality chisels available with every aspect of chisel design and function fully thought out and implemented to perfection. High quality materials, a tang design with leather washer, thin side bevel, these are a lifetime quality tool.
Compared to the competition: The entry level, beech handle Narex chisels have served me well for years but lack some important qualities of the Richter. Most important to me is that the side bevels are too thick making it difficult to use in tight angles such as cleaning out dovetails. Thin side bevels were a primary reason I moved to Ashley Iles chisels (this was before Richter was an option). A drawback to Ashley Iles compared to Richter is the Ferrule on the Ashley Iles lacks the leather washer and is prone to falling off occasionally when being hit with a mallet.
Hand Saws - Flinn-Garlick Rip and Crosscut
Why I like it: Flinn-Garlick make the Pax, Dorchester, and Lynx line of hand saws, all similar with a few slight differences. I've purchased several new hand saws in a wide range of prices and think these are the best bang-for-your-buck. These days, buying a decent vintage saw costs just as much, or more, than buying one of these brand new. Vintage saws often come with problems that new users may not want to or know how to diagnose and correct. My hand saw preference are:
Rip saw - ~22" long and 4.5 TPI
Crosscut saw - ~22" long and 10 TPI
Compared to the competition: While these saws come with too much set, mine came razor sharp. The Spear and Jackson also represents a great value, but would need a new handle made if it is to be the main user. While the S&J handle could be reshaped, any handle reshaping will only make the overlarge hole even larger. The only saws that beat the Lynx or Dorchester are one of the boutique makers - and those come at a steep price. Choosing a boutique maker will be a choice made by want rather than need and of course the budget.
Mallet: Thorex 712 Soft/Hard Face Hammer
Why I like it: I believe this mallet was popularized by Paul Sellers, and for good reasons. The handle is contoured for taking power whacks or gentle taps. The hard face is perfect for striking a chisel, while the soft face is used during assembly/disassembly to minimize damage to the wood. The hammer's weight and balance are just right.
Compared to the competition: I can think of no significant areas of improvement for the Thorex 712. Prior to this mallet I used a standard red/yellow soft/hard face hammer which worked OK, but was not as expertly designed as the Thorex.
Tape Measure: Stanley 175th Anniversary Tape
Why I like it: A tool used for every project. This is the best tape I have ever used for bench work. The size and form are very handy. 10ft length is perfect for most woodworking and furniture making, and also helps keep it compact. The tip has the sliding movement required to accurately measure from in between parts and also while hooked on an outer edge.
What could be better: I used a keychain tape on the bench prior to getting this one, which was not as natural a fit in the palm. For longer needs I use a 25ft Stanley -- these are good for their purpose but not so great for furniture making. The long tape measures have more curve to the tape which helps the tape "stand" out while unsupported - useful for framing, but increases the difficulty for marking exact measurements on smaller components.
Coping Saw: Eclipse Coping Saw
Why I like it: Everyone's got to use a coping saw at some point. It's actually become my preferred method of removing dovetail waste. This one has a super simple and effective design. This one works well and is extremely affordable.
Compared to the Competition: I prefer the eclipse to my other coping saw - the Olson coping saw. The eclipse is tensioned by tightening the handle. The Olson is tensioned by turning the handle or by turning knob on the other end of the frame. This just makes more moving parts and a coping saw is a tool where less is more. There is a Knew Concepts coping saw which looks like an incredible design. I have not tried it, and I'm sure it is a superior tool, but it is also over 10x the price of a tool that already works very well. So this choice would be a matter of budget rather than need.
Sharpening Stones: DMT Diamond Stone Set
Why I like it: I bought a set of these diamond stones to try and think they offer some great advantages (and some disadvantages) to my oil stones. They are flat and stay flat, and they remove metal very quickly. I use a set of three for sharpening. Course (300) for removing the secondary bevel from my previous sharpening. Medium (600) to decrease the course scratch pattern and introduce a slight camber to plane irons. Extra fine (1200) for creating a secondary bevel.
I used to think diamond stones were too expensive, but a translucent Arkansas stone is very difficult to come by these days and one that is a decent size for a bench stone will cost an arm and a leg.
What could be better: Does not finish highly polished off of the extra fine (1200) stone. I have to strop with green honing compound at least twice as much as compared to when I finish an iron on my translucent Arkansas stone. When brand new these stones remove metal so fast, that you can easily significantly skew an iron if you are not careful!
Parallel Clamps: Bessey K Body REVO
Why I like it: Parallel clamps are a real step up in quality (and price!) compared to bar clamps, pipe clamps, and F-style clamps. These do not slip, are capable of extremely high clamping forces, and offer a large clamping surface.
Compared to the competition: When I researched which parallel clamps to go with, these were one the ones to get. So I will not compare to other parallel clamps on the market. I will point out that the problem I had with bar-style clamps is that due to their smaller clamping surface, they will often close a joint on the clamp side, while opening it on the opposite side -- a problem with making tables and other furniture pieces.
Pencil Sharpener - SharpTank Sharpener
Why I like it: I found it surprisingly challenging to find a pencil sharpener that sharpens pencils to a perfect point. This pencil sharpener does it consistently each and every time. I have tried more pencil sharpeners than I'd like to admit and think this may be the best out there. Others than could match the sharpness did so with a very long point which was too fragile. This one produces a standard taper to a fine point.
What could be better: The mechanism which holds the pencil locked in place during sharpening is some sort of toothed aluminum which mars the pencil shank. I think this design would be improved with a rubberized grabber that wouldn't chew up the pencil body.
Joinery Glue - Old Brown Glue Liquid Hide Glue
Why I like it: This is my go-to glue for all joinery. The most commonly touted benefit is reversibility for restoration/repair, but my favorite feature is that joints slip together with ease in comparison to standard PVA glues which can "seize" and then require heavy malleting, clamping, and even a curse word or two. Hide glue is very strong. I don't know where I came up with this misconception- but I used to wrongly think it was some sort of inferior glue, almost like a rubber cement. It certainly is not. It cures very hard and strong and I have full confidence that when you glue two pieces of wood together with hide glue - the bond is as good as if it were one piece of wood.
What could be better: Part of what goes along with using hide glue is that it needs to be used hot (or at least very warm). If you are in a cold shop, this will decrease the open time. I prefer a mix of my own which has either less water, less urea, or perhaps less of each. But this OBG one is probably more consumer friendly to most buyers for a wide range shop environments.
General Finish - Tried and True Varnish Oil
Why I like it: I'm a big fan of this stuff! This is a nice linseed oil finish that works wonderfully for hardwood projects where you are looking for a very traditional, non-building finish.
What could be better: Although its practically impossible to screw this finish up - it does take a little practice to really get it right. Surface preparation is a must, applying the right amount, and removing as much as possible to enable a reasonable cure time. Because it is not a "building" finish, if your wood has reversing grain (end grain fibers coming out the face of wood) dry spots will appear - this can be avoided with meticulous surface prep via burnishing the surface of your project with wood shavings or a very fine grit sand paper prior to applying finish.
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