Woodworking Tools Overview

Woodworking is a popular hobby. Working with wood not only requires that you have the right skills, you also need some tools. Professional woodworkers have a wide variety of tools, many of them are quite expensive. But the average woodworker doesn’t need many expensive tools. And a beginner can do a lot with just cheap tools.

The first thing a woodworker needs is a good workbench. It is possible to build your own workbench but that project is best to leave until later. You have a lot of workbenches to choose from. Make sure to select one that has tool trays. This helps you to keep your workspace clean. Since you are going to use the workbench for every project, it pays off to take your time and find a workbench that really suits you.

Woodworking is not without its dangers, so a few safety tools are highly recommended. To protect your eyes, use safety glasses. A face shield gives you even more protection. If you are sanding, a dust mask is recommended. If you are using noisy power tools use hearing protection. Also make sure that you have a first aid kit available, just in case something goes badly wrong.

You need some vises and clamps. The most popular are C clamps, bar clamps, hand-screw clamps and pipe clamps. Additionally, a bench vise for your workbench will free up your hands.

Woodworking requires good tools for measuring. The most basic measuring tools are the steel rule, the tape measure and the caliper. Many more measuring tools are available. Fortunately, most of them are cheap.

The saw is maybe the tool that is most often associated with woodworking. You have a large amount of different types of saws. The most important saws for woodworkers are the back saw, the crosscut saw, the coping saw and the rip saw.

A woodworker does not need as many hammers as one could believe. The most important hammer is the claw hammer. It is used not only to drive nails into the wood, it can also be used to extract nails from the wood. A finish hammer, or finishing hammer, is also good to have. To knock wooden pieces together, use a wooden mallet. It is also used to drive dowels and chisels.

Shaping tools are important in woodworking. The most important are the file, the knife and the plane. The most useful planes are the smooth plane and the low-angle block plane. You have a lot of files on the market. The two most important are the mill bastard file and the flat rasp. A good knife belongs in the basic woodworker tool kit. Woodworking requires sanding. Sanders are the best solution but you need to do some sanding manually as well.

You can use manual drills but an electric drill will be much more convenient. For most people, an electric drill is the first power tool they buy. For woodworking, a drill and a router are the two mostly used power tools.

Drill Overview

The drill is the most common of all power tools. Almost every household has an electric drill. They are cheap and can be used for many tasks around the house. But you have two other types of drills that can be useful as well.

Simple drills have been used for thousands of years. The manual drill is quite useful for small jobs. Today, two types of manual drills are still used. The small hand drill is easy to use. Back in the 19th century the geared hand drill was developed and it quickly became popular. The hand drill is only suitable for small holes. Before the electric drill, larger holes were done using a hand brace, also called a chest brace or a carpenter’s brace. The brace has been around for a long time and was used to drill large holes. Of course, an electric drill is much more comfortable but the manual drills are still useful for some specific tasks.

The electric drill has been very popular for quite some time. It is the first power tool people generally buy. Nowadays, the cordless drill has become the first choice for most people. Thanks to improved batteries, cordless drills can be used for all drilling tasks. The modern cordless drill can also be used as a screwdriver. If your drill has a reverse switch, you can use it as a screwdriver. Note that you need to lower the speed as well.

If you are going to use the drill a lot, a corded version may be a better solution anyway. Modern lithium-ion batteries can be charged quickly, so it is possible to use such a drill, with two battery packs, non-stop. A hammer drill is needed if you are going to drill in hard materials. You have both corded and cordless hammer drills. Since the hammering action quickly drains the battery, a corded hammer drill is the best solution if you are going to use the hammering action a lot.

If you are going to do precision-drilling, a drill press is the right tool. Unlike the other drills, the drill press is a stationary tool. Drill presses are large and expensive so unless you really need one, don’t worry about them. Modern drill presses have lasers that make it very easy to drill accurately. You have a few fairly cheap drill presses on the market so if you want one, you don’t need to be a millionaire to be able to afford a drill press at home.

This drill overview would not be complete if we didn’t mention that an electric drill can also be used as a sander. Of course, it will not be as good as a real sander but for basic sanding tasks you can use an electric drill.

Manufactured Woods

Plywood and particleboard don’t have the same reputation as hardwoods and softwoods. But both plywood and particleboard are very useful. And they are much cheaper than most solid woods.

Plywood offers a number of advantages for woodworkers. It is available in wide range of thicknesses and sizes. You can get plywood with any common veneer. Plywood is easy to cut, the only thing it is not suitable for is complicated joinery. Plywood is very stable, cracking, warping and twisting are very uncommon. And yes, plywood is cheap.

Plywood as we know it is a fairly new product, it was introduced in the middle of the 19th century. Plywood is made up of thin sheets of wood veneer. So it is possible to say that plywood is really old, going back to the ancient Egypt. But the modern plywood is as mentioned, much newer, it was invented by Immanuel Nobel. Plywood is made up of wooden layers that are glued together. By making sure that adjacent layers have their grain at right angles to each other, plywood becomes very strong. By using an odd number of layers, the sheet becomes very balanced. The end result is that plywood is stronger than a single piece of wood of the same size.

Like solid woods, plywood is available in both softwood and hardwood varieties. But in the case of plywood, the terms refer only to the face and back layer. Plywood is grouped according to strength and durability. The strongest plywood is called Group 1 for softwood and Category A for hardwood plywood. Group 4 (softwood) and Category D (hardwood) are the poorest grades.

Note that some plywood panels are waterproof, suitable for outdoor weather. Interior grade plywood is able to withstand some moisture.

Plywood has one major shortcoming, the veneer sheets are clearly visible. Fortunately, you have a number of ways of concealing the multi-ply composition.

Particleboard was developed in the 1930s. It was one way of recycling sawmill waste. Particle board is made of a mix of wood particles and synthetic adhesive bonded together under heat and pressure. The cheap price and versatility of particleboard has made it very popular. A lot of sawmills main activity is the production of particleboard. But for many woodworking purposes, particleboard has one problem, it is difficult to work with. Except for multi-layer particleboard, particleboard is not suitable for painting or finishing.

Note that fiberboard, sometimes called hardboard is not the same as particleboard. Fiberboard is made up of wood particles reduced to individual fibers. Fiberboard is much easier to work with than particleboard.

Veneer Overview

The use of veneer is much older than most people think. A lot of people associate veneers with elegant rococo furniture from the time of Louis XV, in the mid of the 18th century. But veneer was used already in the ancient Egypt, 2000 BC.

Veneering can transform a simple cabinet door into a glamorous piece of furniture, sometimes even turning it into a piece of art. Veneering declined in the 19th century, when it became possible to produce good furniture with help of machines, far cheaper and faster than had been previously possible. But veneering has recovered, thanks to improved technology. Furniture that would be extremely expensive if made of exotic woods, can be made of cheaper wood and then veneered with the expensive wood, saving a lot of money.

Veneering is a little bit like woodworking in reverse. You don’t really need any power tools. But you need a couple of special tools. A veneer press is used to press the veneer sheet down on a panel. A veneer hammer can also be used to press the veneer sheet down onto the panel. A veneer saw is used for trimming and cutting veneer. It has a curved blade to ensure clean cuts.

Ironically, using good quality particleboard is often the best choice for veneering. Particleboard does not have any grain so you can arrange the veneer on the particleboard panel any way you want. If you are using a hardwood base, you need to lay the veneer parallel to the grain.

Nowadays you have more than 200 different veneers to choose from. Some types of veneers are only available in small sizes. This means that you often need to join several small pieces. This can be tricky, rightly done the result is often eye-catching and impressive. But you see at once if it has been done badly.

Veneer sheets that are going to be matched should be cut from the same log. This gives you a set of sheets that are virtually identical. If you join sheets that have different grain patterns, the end result will seldom be good. Picking suitable grain patterns for decorative matching comes with experience. But by using mirrors you can get a reasonable preview of how the end result will look like. If you want to get an idea how a diamond match will look like, you need two mirrors. Place one mirror at a right angle to the veneer sheet and set the other mirror 90 degrees to the first mirror.

Overview of woodworking router bits

The woodworking router is a simple tool, consisting of two main parts, a base plate and a motor that spins a bit. But despite the simplicity, the router is a very versatile tool. Unlike most other portable power tools, the router has no stationary counterpart that outperforms it. The first routers were developed during the First World War. It quickly became popular. It is the easiest and fastest way of shaping the edge of a workpiece.

Due to the high speed of the routers, you need good well balanced bits. The more bits you have, the more different jobs you can do with your router. For every new bit you expand the capabilities of your router.

Most router bits are carbide-tipped. Carbide is an extremely hard material and is relatively insensitive to heat. But carbide has two main weaknesses, it is brittle and fairly expensive. That’s why most bits have a carbide tip. Most of the bit is made of steel. The thickness of the carbide suggests the life span of the bit. A thin strip of carbide will disappear after a couple of sharpenings. Often the carbide used for router bits is graded into a four–level hardness scale, from the soft C1 to the hard C4. Soft carbide dulls quicker and will not last as long. But the grading is only part of the story, even the hardest carbide bit can be poorly made.

Router bits used to be made of steel, high-speed steel. But they are not as durable as carbide and carbide-tipped bits. HSS bits are cheap but seldom used today. HSS bits can be made razor-sharp but they dull quickly. Generally carbide-tipped bits will last at least ten times longer than HSS bits.

Most routers have either quarter-inch or half-inch shanks. Many routers accept both sizes. But you also have a third size, 3/8 inch. The half-inch shank size means less vibration and the bits are stronger. The price difference between ¼-inch and ½ inch bits is small. So in most cases, you want a router that accepts ½-inch bits and you stick to ½-inch bits.

You have an enormous amount of bits on the market, many of them cheap but some of them are very expensive. The ½-inch straight bit is very popular, generally the most used bit. But the 1/4-inch and 3/4 –inch straight bits are very useful as well. The3/8 inch rabbit bit is another bit you should buy early. The ¼ round-over bit is also worth considering.

Always use the bit with the shortest cutting edge that will do the job. The longer the bit, the greater the risk of it breaking.

Wood Type Basics

Wood is generally divided into softwoods and hardwoods. The names are a little bit unfortunate, if wood is hardwood or softwood has nothing to do with how hard or soft the wood is. Some hardwoods, like aspen, are softer than many softwoods. Neither are all evergreens hardwood. And broad-leaved deciduous (leaf-shedding) trees are not always softwood. Instead it is how a tree reproduces that determines if it is hardwood or softwood. Softwoods are gymnosperms while hardwood comes from angiosperm trees.

About 80% of the timber produced is softwood. As rule of thumb, cheap timber is softwood but that does not mean that all softwoods are cheap. The cell structure of softwoods is much simpler than that of hardwoods. Hardwoods have vessels.

Two terms that are often misunderstood are grain and texture. They are two distinct features. Grain describes the direction and regularity of the wood fibers relative to the tree trunk. A wood’s texture depends on the size and distribution of its cells.

Both hardwoods and softwoods are graded. The grading ensures that you get what you pay for. Note that the grading is different for hardwoods and softwoods. Hardwood grades are mainly based on appearance, high grades means smaller defects. The top grade is FAS, First and Seconds. In most cases, the higher grades of lumber are generally cut from the outer parts of the log, near the bark. The closer to the middle of the log, the poorer the grade becomes.

Unlike hardwoods, softwood lumber is graded differently depending on the species. This means that it takes much more time to understand the softwood grades. The most common grades are Select, Finish and Common. Select and Finish softwoods are not allowed to have any defects.

Generally defects make the wood worse. But in a few cases, defects may actually give the piece of wood character, making it more attractive. Lumber defects may be natural or manmade. Some defects are easy to deal with while others force you to discard the whole piece of wood.

Blue stains are a common defect. The discoloration is caused by molds that flourish when the wood is stored in poor conditions. The blue stains are easy to conceal by using a dark stain.

Generally, hardwood is the best wood for most projects. But the cheaper and ready available softwood is often good enough. Plywood does not have a glamorous reputation as the solid wood types. But for some tasks, plywood is a very good solution. First, it is available in a wide range of sizes and thicknesses. And it is easy to work with. Like hardwood and softwood, plywood is graded. Since plywood can be softwood or hardwood plywood, you have several different grades.