6 Basic Woodworking Power Tools

With so many different power tools available, it can seem overwhelming to know what tools you really need when setting up your first shop. Here, I will discuss some of the essential power tools you will want in your shop. Power tools can be expensive, so I'll discuss these in order of importance and some ideas on how to get by until you're able to afford the next tool on your list.

Table Saw

If I had to pick only one power tool to have in my shop, it would have to be a table saw. With a few exceptions, there is very little that cannot be done with a table saw. There are the usual operations you might think of: ripping, cross cutting a mitering boards. The table saw can also be used to cut a variety of joints such as dados, rabbets, and tenons. In a pinch, the table saw can edge joint boards. With a moulding head cutter, you can even cut edge profiles (e.g. quarter rounds, beads, ogees, etc.)

Because the table saw is such an central fixture to most woodworking shops, I'd suggest getting the best table saw you can afford, new or used.


Almost as important as the table saw, the router is one of the most versatile tools you can have in your shop. Used hand-held or in a router table, the list of tasks a router can perform is nearly endless. While you might normally think that a router is mainly used for putting edge treatments on a board (quarter rounds, ogees, etc.), the router is equally capable of cutting mortises, tenons, rabbets, dados, dovetails and just about any other joint you can think of. The router can even be used to surface plane a board or joint an edge, if you don't have a planer or jointer.


If you've ever tried to thickness a board by hand, a power planer will quickly come to the top of your wish list of power tools for your shop. The planer does one thing and does it very well: make one face of a board parallel with the other.

Ideally, you would like to have a jointer and a planer. However, if you can only afford one, I'd suggest a planer. I find that using hand planes to make the face of a board flat is much easier than making it a consistent thickness. Alternately, it is possible to make a carrier sled with wedges, allowing you to use the planer as a make-shift jointer as well.


The first step in preparing wood for use is to get one face of a board flat. This is the job of the power jointer. While it is certainly possible to do this with a hand plane, something I did for many years, the power jointer makes the job go much faster and accurately.

When selecting a jointer, try to get the widest bed you can. Of course, as the width of the bed goes up, so does the price.

Another alternative is to look at one of the European combination machines. These machines may be configured to work as a jointer or a planer, simply by adjusting the position of the tables. While pricey, these machines have the advantage in that your planer is the same width as your jointer. In addition, they don't take up as much floor space in your shop.


There will likely be a time when you will want to cut some curved parts. Or, perhaps, you need to cut an opening into the middle of a board. In these cases, a jigsaw comes in handy.

Jigsaws are available with two different grips: barrel grip and top handle. Which you choose is really just a matter of personal preference. I tend to favor the barrel grip as I feel it has a lower center of gravity and gives me better control.

Cordless Drill

Whether you are drilling pilot holes for screws, through holes for bolts or dowels, or an access hole to start your jigsaw in, a cordless drill is used in almost every project I build.

Add a jig and you can drill holes for dowel joints. Another jig lets you cut the slanted holes necessary for pocket hole joinery. The number of things you can use a cordless drill for is endless. In fact, you'll probably want more than one. Otherwise, it will tend to migrate into the house whenever you need to hang a picture frame!

That's my list of top power tools. What's on your essential power tool list?