Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Best Tool for your Shop

What's the best tool?
There is no single end all, be all tool. It comes down to the best tool for the job or the best tool for your area of focus.

I can't tell you the one tool you need, but I will tell you about the power tools I've used and the power tools I absolutely need on certain projects. Though, if you want to be philosophical, I suppose you are the best tool.

The Cabinet Door
I started with a Porter Cable jig saw, and a Craftsman cordless drill much like these, just a few models older. These served me well for making more than a few speaker boxes as a teen. When I got a house and needed to raise a wall cabinet, I used the same tools.

A jig saw is imprecise. It is difficult to get straight lines. It's best for quick rough cuts, while it can achieve longer cuts, they will need just need a bit of finishing. A jig saw can create circular cuts, where a table saw cannot.

A drill is a necessity because a cabinet door needs a handle.

I did purchase a Bosch router since the cabinet door had a recessed design and rounded corners.

The router added a degree of finishing that makes a simple project look much nicer than it is. This is one instance where cutting corners takes more time and provides a better finished project. I add a round-over or ogee to all furniture edges.

I also got an Dewalt electric hand sander.  Sanding by hand just takes too long! This is great at finishing, though I still use a sanding block for fine finishing.

I wish I had a circular saw for the project, it would have made cutting the cabinet doors quicker, and required less clean up. A circular saw is not as portable, so I would have still needed a jig saw to cut the cabinet still attached to the wall.

TV Stand and Built-in Cabinets
A Porter Cable circular saw allowed me to make furniture. I made a trash receptacle, a television stand, and various shelving. Of course drills were a necessity. By this time I had added a second drill. It's much easier when I don't have to swap drill bits.

Along the way I acquired an older Craftsman table saw. If I were looking today, I'd consider this Craftsman table saw. This made furniture making much quicker. Instead of marking and clamping a guide to each board, I had a table and fence that made multiple cuts much quicker. I've made many pieces with a circular saw, but it takes longer. The table saw was the primary tool for my mantle and bathroom vanity. All corners of the vanity were cut at forty-five degree angles to hide edge grain.

I still use the circular saw to cut down 4'x8' sheets as sheets that size become unwieldy on a table.

Bathroom Trim
I attempted making trim with just my Bosch router. It was hard to maintain straight cuts on a piece that small. The router bit relies on using the piece of wood as a guide. Luckily I was painting it, so I could fill in the divots. I added a smaller Porter Cable router (much older than this one and it's still going), and I used my larger router in a router table I built. A router table adds precision and control. I've got the table and a fence to serve as a guide allowing me to route much smaller pieces.

A router table doesn't work for large pieces, which is why a hand held is necessary. My original router was large and heavy, my next one was quite a bit smaller which meant my arm/hand didn't get tired as quickly.

Props - Ghost Trap, Proton Pack
For props and general use, a band saw is great. I use a very old Craftsman, but if I were purchasing I like the Shop Fox band saw though may opt for the Jet band saw due to price. Either way I would get a stand or floor model. A band saw is more precise than a jig saw because the blade doesn't flex, since tension is constant. I wish I had a band saw when making the ghost traps. They were done with a table saw and jig saw (and additional sanding).

It's great for cutting curves, and the table and fence add precision and control.

A drill press is great for drilling lots of holes and depth control. When building two ghost traps, it saved a ton of time. While I have a Central Machinery bench top drill press, I wouldn't recommend it. On a budget, I like the Skil bench top drill press.

A Central Machinery belt and disc sander has been an amazing addition. While it is a bottom tier brand, I've been happy with it. They are versatile, but remove material quickly. They are not for finishing, but shaping a piece. I still use the hand held sander and sanding block for final finishing.

Conclusion
What you need depends on what you want to make. Hand held power tools are a great introduction that give you a lot of versatility and are lower priced. Bench and table variants provide more control, precision, and power, provided you have the space. Hand helds can tackle a wide range of products, but take longer for setup and execution.

My band saw handles all my general cuts and curves. It's one of my more recent additions and is becoming one of the most used.
With long straight cuts, I go to the table saw. If I'm cutting down a 4'x8' I use a circular saw.

The drill press generally handles anything I can fit on it. If it doesn't fit, I use a hand held.

With any kind of finishing, I use a router and sander. I use the belt sander more for props and small items. It's great for knocking off an edge or burr.
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