Starting Woodworking

To further increase the diversity of topics on this blog, I’m going to talk about woodworking. I’ve been eager to try my hand at it for several years and I wasn’t able to find the space until recently when we moved out of our two bedroom apartment and into a home with a garage.

I have a tendency to over-commit when it comes to hobbies and so I’ve been purposefully trying to narrow my tooling focus to projects immediately in front of me. The first project I had in mind was a built-in bookshelf in our living room and I’ll write more about that project later. This post is more of a quick summary of how I navigated my initial burst of tooling up as a novice woodworker trying to adhere to a budget of less than $1000 over several months.

Circular Saw

I bought a Makita circular saw and have been very happy. The only complaint I’ve had applies to most circular saws on the market – zero dust and chip collection. There are kits you can buy to add a port for that and that’s something I’d like to look into later. I use this exclusively to break down plywood.

I’m going to make a custom guide very soon. Until recently I’ve been clamping down scrap pieces and accounting for the added width of the saw base manually and that’s getting old. I should have done this sooner.

Table Saw

This was one area where I wish I would have spent more money. I didn’t know how much deeper into the hobby I’d get after the first few projects and so I was wary of buying more than I needed. I ended up picking up a Ridgid R4510 portable table saw from HD using a HF coupon (only got 10% off though) If I could travel back in time, I’d tell myself to pay the extra few hundred for the R4512. Right now, I’m torn between making that upgrade immediately or waiting until I possibly can’t avoid the upgrade (something breaks?) or can justify spending the big dollars on professional table saw.

Some accessories that I’ve purchased are:

  • Bench Dog Push-Loc Push Stick – I really like this push stick. The only complaint I have is that the heel portion is a little shallow, though it’s never slipped off on me.
  • Gripper – I don’t use this as often as I thought I would. I’ve managed to keep my guard on for nearly all of my through cuts. I have never had to rip so narrow that I can’t get the push stick between the guard and the fence (<1.5″ on my saw). I do use this when making dados or rabbets, so it’s getting used and I’ve liked having it then.
  • Olshun Dado Stack + ZCI – I went with a 6″ stack instead of the 8″ and haven’t regretted the choice, yet. The stack came with a great case and I’ve not had a problem configuring it to get the width I need. The ZCI works good too, though now that I own a router I’ll probably make my own.
  • Fence Clamps – I’ve used these a few times on my sacrificial fence for making rabbets and been happy with them. They clamp.
  • Featherboard – This has worked ok, it’s too big though and the extra size isn’t that functional. I’d like a smaller one or one that’s length facilitates clamping.
  • 3M TEKK WorkTunes Hearing Protector – I should have bought these sooner, I’ve been wearing them more and more away from the saw and always when using the saw.

There have been other more random purchases but those are the things I use often enough or are non-standard enough that people may be considering them and aren’t sure.

Router

A router was my first major tool purchase after the table saw. I didn’t stress too much over the first buy, especially having heard that it’s common once you get deeper to own more than one. I knew I wanted to get a fixed base and a plunge base in one go and that I wanted variable speed. For me, it came down to either a Porter Cable or a DeWalt. I went with the DeWalt because it was cheaper. I also picked up a few other things:

  • Edge Guide – I’ve used this a little, mainly experimented with using it to make some dados on some boards I had lying around. It seems to work good and I like that it has a micro-adjustment as that’s something I overlooked when buying. 
  • Set of Router Bits – A controversial choice, I think. I wasn’t sure which bits would get used initially and this seemed like an effective way to establish a baseline that I could use to determine where to focus my money. So far I’ve been happy and can see which are getting used more than others. So far my 1/4″ straight bit has gotten used the most. I’ve also used the 3/4″ rabbet’ing bit and the flush cutting bit.
  • Guide Bushings – Also happy with this purchase, though I wish they came with a case of some kind. I ended up just drilling some holes in a board with forstner bits and keeping them on that in a drawer.

I’ve used the router on a few things, mostly for dados and for routing some handles in some cases using a template. I’m very happy with the router so far.

Dust Collection

A more serious form of dust collection has been my latest endeavor. I got the HF 2-HP system because many people seemed satisfied with the value. It went together fine and seems to be doing a good job collecting. I still usually use my shop vac for the router, where having a high static pressure is nice. My table saw only has a 2 1/2″ port, so I made a cabinet with a hole in the top that it sits on and put a 4″ port in that. I then use a Y joint to pull from the bottom 4″ port and the built-in port. This is working nice, and the cabinet is much more convenient than the mobile stand I was using because it’s got some bottom storage and I can mount things on the sides.

What’s Next

I’m constantly researching for a table saw upgrade and for my first band saw. Craigslist hasn’t been too fruitful for me so far, at least for tools in my price and quality range. Right now for my first band saw I’ve got the Craftsman 14″ in my sights. Seems to be a good start and is in a price range I can justify. Also, I keep postponing buying an air compressor and brad nailer, despite having wished I had one at least twice.

So there you have it, that’s been the gist of my experience so far with choosing tools and accessories. I wanted to capture this, just in case there’s anyone else who’s thinking of going the same way I did.

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