Want to build furniture or tackle other home improvement projects like accent walls and built-ins, but don’t know what tools you need to get started? In this post we’re breaking down the essential beginner woodworking tools to consider.
Though I say “essential,” please note that you do not need to buy them all at once. Building a tool collection can take time and there are plenty of projects you can tackle with just a few tools.
I’m a firm believer that you really only need 3 power tools to get started with DIY and beginner woodworking. Near the end of this post, we’ll share which 3 tools we recommend you start with based on project goals. We’ll also cover which brands to buy and where you might be able to score some tools for a great price.
You’ll walk away from this post feeling confident in which tools you need to begin woodworking and DIY.
- Non-Power Tool Essentials
- Saws for Beginner Woodworkers
- Joinery Tools for Beginner Woodworking
- Sanding Tools for Beginner Woodworking
- Which Tools Should You Get First for DIY and Woodworking?
- Tool Brands
- Corded vs Non-Corded Power Tools
- Where to Buy Power Tools for Less
- Beginner Woodworking Tools Summary
Non-Power Tool Essentials
Working with power tools and woodworking comes with inherent risks, so it’s important to protect yourself.
Protect your ears any time you use power tools. Even a few seconds can cause long-term damage to your hearing.
What we use: WorkTunes – these are super comfy and hook up to Bluetooth, so you can listen to music or podcasts. It really helps sanding go by quicker!
Protect your eyes when cutting, sanding, and using a nail gun. You never know when a nail or small piece of wood might fly up.
What we use: Anti-fog safety glasses with side shields
Protect your lungs when cutting, sanding, staining, and painting. People have different levels of comfort with how intense of a mask they should use. I’m not a doctor, so I can’t tell you what type offers “good enough” protection against sawdust.
Options: See all the options
Every single woodworker needs a few simple things to get going. You don’t need a big space or a permanent workshop, but you do need a couple key tools for pretty much every project.
A measuring tape is an absolute essential tool for any woodworking or DIY project. Out of all of the tools we discuss today, it’ll likely be your most used one. A tape measure is used to find measurements and to mark wood prior to cutting at a specific measurement.
If you’re new to using tape measures, be sure to check out our post on how to read a tape measure. It also includes a few tips for accurate measuring!
What we use: Lufkin tape measure or this easy read tape measure with labels!
A speed square, also known as a carpenter’s square, is great to use when marking where to cut boards and to check that your project is staying nice and square during assembly. It can also be used to mark angles.
What we use: Speed square
Say it with me: you can never have enough clamps.
Clamps are a DIYers best friend. They are your second (and third) set of hands and can help straighten out warped boards and minimize gaps. You’ll use them on pretty much every project. Having a variety of different sizes is also helpful.
The more clamps you have, the more you’re going to be able to line up boards and work on multiple things at once. I prefer the Irwin Quick-Grip line of clamps because they are so easy to use.
If you want something heavy-duty, Jorgensen clamps are also a great choice. They’re a little more complicated to use, but they can apply a lot of pressure to the wood to fix larger mistakes or warped boards.
And please don’t try to cheap out on clamps! We tried a lot of different clamp brands and they were all awful to use compared to the Irwin Quick Grip Clamps and the Jorgensen clamps. These brands are a little more expensive, but worth every penny.
There are also specialty clamps that you can get, but the quick-grip clamps are the perfect place to start since they are so versatile. Personally, I haven’t found most of the specialty clamps to be worth the price and always end up back with my quick-grip clamps.
What we use: Irwin Quick Grip Clamps – I’d recommend getting (2-4) 12-18” clamps to start. You might also want to grab a 24” or two!
Saws for Beginner Woodworkers
This is the tool I recommend most for beginners, especially those who are afraid to use power tools. It’s a stationary saw so all you have to do is hold your wood in place and move the saw blade up and down. You don’t have to worry about trying to follow a line or keep things straight. It’s really as simple as it gets.
And you can safely keep your hands very far from the saw blade while cutting. This was the tool that helped me overcome my fear of power tools.
The miter saw is used to cut longer pieces of wood, that are generally between 1-8” wide, into smaller pieces. You can cut straight through the board or you can cut across it at an angle or you can cut through the board at an angle.
When you’re picking out a miter saw, I’d recommend a single bevel compound miter saw. This will allow you to make cross-cuts, miter cuts, and bevel cuts.
You might notice some saws mention “dual” or “double bevel” in the name. This means that you can tilt your saw to either side. Personally, I don’t think it’s a necessity for beginner woodworking, especially for the added cost. If you are planning to add crown moulding to an entire house, it might then be worth it.
If you are willing to spend a bit more money, you can also get a miter saw with the sliding option. This will allow you to cut through wider boards.
When it comes to blade size, I’d recommend getting either a 12” blade or a 10” sliding. These options should allow you to cut through a 1×8 piece of wood. I wouldn’t recommend getting a miter saw with a smaller blade if you’re planning to use it to build furniture.
After you get a miter saw, you might be wondering where to put it. The great thing about a miter saw is that you can use it directly on the ground. Yes, a miter saw stand will reduce the need to cut on your knees, but it’s not required to make accurate cuts.
What we use: DEWALT 12” compound miter saw (note: this model is often on sale is actually cheaper than the Ryobi option when on sale!!)
Miter saw with all the bells and whistles: DEWALT 12” sliding double-bevel miter saw
Cost effective option: Ryobi 10” sliding miter saw
A circular saw is the most inexpensive saw on this list and is very versatile, but for most people, I wouldn’t recommend it as your first power tool. You can make most of the same cuts as you can with a compound miter saw, but it’s not as quick or as accurate, especially when cutting angles. It can also be a lot more intimidating to use.
That being said, the circular saw can do a lot of things. In addition to making any cut that a compound miter saw can, it can also cut very large pieces of wood. It’s great for cutting huge pieces of plywood into smaller strips and pieces and that’s something you can’t do with a miter saw.
What we use: DEWALT circular saw
Cost effective option: Skil saw
A jigsaw is used for cutting shapes and curves. It also allows you to cut out shapes in the middle of a project for outlets or other obstacles. This is most commonly something you’d run into when making an accent wall and need to cut out for an outlet.
A jigsaw can technically make long, straight cuts and can be used to cut down plywood, but it
won’t cut as quickly as a circular saw. Because the blade is so thin, there’s also a chance that your cut will not be perfectly perpendicular. Applying angled pressure to the jigsaw can cause it to slant and cut your pieces at a slight angle.
What we use: DEWALT top handle jig saw
Cost effective option: Black and Decker jig saw
A Note About Table Saws
A table saw does not make our list of beginner woodworking tools. Despite seemingly everyone using them on Instagram, you absolutely do not need a table saw to DIY furniture or tackle beginner woodworking projects.
Table saws have the highest likelihood of injury which is why we don’t recommend starting with them.
They also are not necessary for the vast majority of projects. In fact, we actually prefer using our circular saw to cut down large pieces of plywood. Trying to navigate a big piece of plywood through a table saw is very heavy and difficult to maneuver.
That said, there are a few instances where we do use a table saw:
- Square off edges of 2x lumber (like in this DIY dining table)
- Tapering legs all the way up (but for small tapers, we just use our miter saw taper leg jig)
- Cutting grooves to create shaker style doors
- Cutting larger wood to custom sizes (like creating slats that are 1” wide)
Most plans can work by skipping these steps or making a few simple modifications, so again, I don’t necessarily recommend a table saw for beginner DIYers and woodworkers.
If you are insistent that you do want a table saw, we have this DEWALT 8.25” compact table saw. Just remember, a table saw is not necessary. We did not have one for years and we still don’t use it on the majority of our projects.
Joinery Tools for Beginner Woodworking
Joinery is just a fancy term for “putting two pieces of wood together.” Here at Pine and Poplar, we focus on simple joinery methods that don’t require a lot of time to make or take years to master. Though there are a lot of different joinery methods out there, we primarily stick with screws and nails.
A drill allows you to drill holes and drive screws. It’s also essential in making pocket holes, which is a common way to join two boards together in DIY. I’ll talk a little bit more about pocket holes when we get to the Kreg Jig.
What we use: DEWALT compact drill
Cost effective option: Ryobi drill
When I saw Kreg Jig, I’m really referring to a pocket hole jig. There are other brands out there, but Kreg Tool is a reliable brand that dominates the pocket hole market.
A pocket hole jig is going to be your #1 secret weapon to building impressive furniture without thousands of dollars worth of tools or years and years of woodworking expertise.
A pocket hole allows you to join two boards together without being able to see the screw head. The Kreg Jig allows you to quickly and accurately drill pocket holes.
There are a lot of different models available and any Kreg pocket hole jig would work just fine. The different models all make the same holes, but they vary in terms of ease of use.
What we use: Kreg 720*
Cost effective option: Kreg 310
Note: though I said we use the 720, we also use and recommend the Kreg 310. We use the 720 on the majority of projects, but there are a few instances where the only pocket hole jig that will work is the Kreg 310. These instances are rare, but since they do happen, I recommend everyone have a Kreg 310. You can also get another jig, but everyone should have the 310 as well.
Learn more in Pocket Holes: Explained or check out our cheatsheet on which Kreg jig is right for you.
A nail gun is great for securing materials like trim or thin plywood. It’s especially handy for accent walls or wood wall art.
Though I have it on the essential tool list, it’s not technically essential. Anytime you see “use a nail gun” in a project plan, you can technically be old-school and use a hammer to secure your nails. The nail gun will help you nail more precisely and quicker.
There are a lot of different nail guns available on the market and it can be difficult to understand which size you need. For DIYer’s, I’d recommend getting an 18 gauge brad nailer to start. This is going to be one of the most versatile nail guns for beginner woodworking projects.
What we use: DEWALT cordless brad nailer
Cost effective option: Ryobi Airstrike
Sanding Tools for Beginner Woodworking
Sanding will make a huge difference in your projects. Sanding can take your projects from looking like a DIY to looking and feeling professional if done correctly.
When starting out sanding might not feel like that important of a step, especially when your wood doesn’t have any splinters and feels smooth to the touch.
Take it from me, do not skip the sanding. Whether you hand sand or use an electric sander, sanding can affect stain finish and save you from frustration in the future. If you don’t sand your piece, it can be really difficult to dust in the future. Just take my word for it and save yourself the trouble!
Random Orbital Sander
A random orbital sander is going to be one of the most versatile sanders out there. You can use it to smooth out some pretty big imperfections and also to get a piece super smooth. Because of its random orbital pattern, you also don’t need to worry about sanding with or against the grain.
What we use: DEWALT random orbital sander
Cost-effective option: Bauer random orbital sander
Once you have your sander picked out, you’ll want to get some sanding discs that fit your sander. I’d recommend getting 60, 80, 120, 180, and 220 grit sandpaper. For more information on sandpaper grits, check out this post on how to sand wood for the best finish.
What we use: WORKPRO sanding discs
More expensive + high quality option: Gator sanding discs
Because random orbital sanders cannot get into corners, you’ll also want to get a few hand sanding blocks. These are great for small spacers, sanding between coats of polyurethane, or when only a quick sand is needed.
What we use: Gator zip sander
Cost effective option: Boshcraft sanding sponges
Which Tools Should You Get First for DIY and Woodworking?
I said it earlier and I will say it again, you do not need to get all of the tools upfront to get started with DIY. In fact, you only need a few tools to get started. Here are my recommendations on which tools to get first based on what projects you want to tackle:
DIY Furniture: miter saw, drill, Kreg pocket holes jig
Accent Walls: miter saw, nail gun, jigsaw
Built-Ins: miter saw or circular saw, drill, nail gun
If you’re planning to primarily use plywood on furniture projects or built-ins, you’ll need a circular saw instead of a miter saw. Check out this post to determine whether a circular saw or miter saw is best for you to start with.
The next tool I’d recommend for any of these project categories is an orbital sander. Sanding can really take your project to the next level. Though it’s possible to sand by hand (we did for years), it’s quite an arm workout and can be time consuming when you have some imperfections to sand away.
Personally we use DEWALT tools, so we often get asked “is DEWALT really that much better? Can I use something cheaper?”
Honestly, I’ve never really used anything other than DEWALT, so I can’t give a personal answer on whether or not it really is that much better. We chose DEWALT because it’s the option that professionals use and they are built to last a lifetime. We didn’t want to worry about needing to replace our tools or having them give out in the long run.
That said, I know a lot of people that use Ryobi and say they are great. If you aren’t planning to use your tools 24/7, Ryobi is probably just fine if you want to save some money.
I’ve also heard amazing things about Milwaukee brand nail guns. Again, I haven’t tried them out, but they definitely have a cult following.
Here’s what I want to say about tool brands: don’t get caught up in them. I’d highly recommend finding a brand and sticking with it for all of your battery operated tools. It’s nice to be able to interchange the batteries when needed.
Aside from that, just pick whatever brand fits your budget and needs. Power tools are tools and will get the job done regardless of if it’s Ryobi or DEWALT or something else.
Corded vs Non-Corded Power Tools
When it comes to deciding between corded or non-corded power tools, think where you want to use the tools most often. Will you have an outlet available nearby?
For us, we opted for the corded version for all of our saws and our orbital sander. Those are tools that I want to have the max power available, so we chose corded.
We have cordless drills and nail guns because we’re often using those throughout the house and don’t want to worry about finding an outlet nearby.
Pro tip: always have two batteries: one should be one the charger and one should be on the tool. That way you always have a charged battery ready to go.
Where to Buy Power Tools for Less
Buying power tools requires an upfront investment. They are tools that you’ll use on countless projects moving forward and allow you to create custom furniture and projects for a fraction of retail prices. I’ve personally found them to be an incredible investment, but they still require that initial payment which can be rough.
If you want to try to save some money on power tools, consider purchasing second-hand. Many power tools can work for decades and there is minimal major innovation in the tool market, so even old tools can more than likely get the job done.
Estate sales, Craigslists, and Facebook Marketplace are all great places to look for used tools.
You may also consider renting tools if you aren’t sure if you want to go all-in on DIY. Many Lowe’s and Home Depot locations offer tool rentals. It’s not an economic decision for long-term use, but great for trying out different tools or if you need something for just one project.
Your local library might also offer free power tool rentals with proof of a library card!
Borrowing tools from friends and family is also a great way to dip your toes in. That’s exactly what we did for our first handful of projects.
The last potential money-saving tip for you is to compare prices before buying. Type in the exact model number for a tool and look at the Google Shopping tab on your browser. You’ll be able to see if the particular tool you want is on sale anywhere else. You can either head over to the cheaper store or ask for a price match. We once scored a miter saw for $200 off by asking for a price match!
Beginner Woodworking Tools Summary
If you’re just getting started with woodworking and DIY furniture, there are a few key tools that will get you through the majority of projects. You’ll want to get:
- Miter Saw
- Circular Saw
- Jig Saw
- Orbital Sander
- Kreg Pocket Hole Jig
- Nail Gun
Be sure to also add the following workshop staples to your list:
- Measuring Tape
- Speed Square
- Hearing Protection
- Dust Protection
- Eye Protection
For DIY furniture, I’d highly recommend starting with a miter saw, drill, and pocket hole jig. There are so many projects you can make with just these few tools! If you are planning to use a lot of plywood, add a circular saw to that list as well.
Overall, you don’t need to spend tens of thousands of dollars on tools to build furniture and tackle beginner woodworking projects. A few key tools will see you through the majority of projects.
If you’re just getting started with DIY, you’ll want to grab our Beginner’s Guide to DIY. It’s the guide created to shorten your DIY learning curve so you can build more impressive things with less frustration.
It’s everything we wish we knew when we were just getting started: from lumber to tools, to making projects look more professional, we’ve got you covered. You can grab your Beginner’s Guide to DIY HERE.