Beginning Woodworking - How to spend a $1000

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Blog entry by Tim Dorcas posted 11-21-2007 02:20 AM 12037 reads 1 time favorited 15 comments Add to Favorites Watch

If you are a beginning wooodworker, it can be tricky to know where to start and what to get. Obviously the biggest thing starts with tools. I think everyone already thinks there is an endless supply of money. Go to any woodworking forum and ask what tablesaw you should get with $300. People will completely bypass your budget and say spend the money on a $600-$1000 tablesaw. What if wanted to purchase a jointer? Everyone will tell you to purchase an 8″ jointer. But what if you only have $300 to spend? This almost instantly makes it near impossible to get an 8″ jointer.

So with the limited budget of a beginner in mind, I thought I would compile a list of tools to get the beginning woodworker.

Ryobi BT3100 Table saw $300
Random Orbital Sander $ 70
Workbench with Vise $150
Measuring Tape $10
12 Inch Square $30
Electric Drill $50
Clamps $100
Router $150
Router Bits Kit $100
Shop Vac $70

Total $1,030

I owned the Ryobi BT3100 and thought for the money it was a great saw. It will not cut 2″ or 3″ hardwood all day but it has a decent fence, a sliding miter table, and comes with a decent blade to get you started.

At this price point you cannot dimension your own lumber which will cost you more when you purchase your wood but you should be able to build the majority of items you see plans for.

Upgrade #1 – Bandsaw

If there is anything I would get next it would be a bandsaw. I use my bandsaw as much as any other tool in my arsenal. A 14″ bandsaw with at least a 3/4 hp motor would be the minimum. If you can afford a riser block, get it. For me, resawing was the biggest reason to get a bandsaw but it can do so much more.

Upgrade #2 – Jointer/Planer

Starting with the bandsaw and moving to the Jointer and Planer, I say start to save up your money to get “the good stuff”. I bought the Ryobi 9″ Bandsaw, a 6″ Benchtop Jointer, and a low end Delta planer. I hated them all. The Ryobi Bandsaw was just too small to do any of the tasks I needed it to do. The Delta TP-305 Planer was a snipe monster. I have a Mastercraft 6″ Jointer which barely does the job. I have since replaced the bandsaw and the planer with equipment that does what I need it to. If I had the money, I would replace the jointer as well.

If you have already spent the $1000 and decided that woodworking was for you, it now starts to make sense to get good equipment that you won’t outgrow immediately and will last as long as you stay with your craft.
This all said, I would get a good jointer and a planer at this point. These tools in combination with the bandsaw allow you dimension rough lumber for your projects. This can save you a ton of money as well as expanding the limits of the 3/4ish material you find at your local building center.

Upgrade #3 – Jigs

There are a lot of contenders here.

Kreg Pocket Hole Jig

The first jig I purchased was a Kreg pocket hole jig. If you are new to
woodworking, you are going to want to start building something quickly but with a sense of quality. The Kreg jig will let you do this. This jig lets you create a strong joint without a lot of clamps. They are very easy to master and do not require the type of precision that dovetails, mortise and tenons, or the rest of the assorted joints require. I can do a lot more now and so I don’t rely on the pocket hole as much as I first did. That said, there is rarely a project that I don’t use this jig on.


Dowelmax is a dowel jig. I consider this a step up from the Kreg Jig. It does require a certain amount of precision but it doesn’t leave holes in your project like pocket holes. It costs about twice as much as a full Kreg kit but it can improve the overall build quality of the projects you produce without that much more complexity.

Biscuit Joiner

I have started to use biscuits a lot lately. They are another joinery method which is easy to use. The biggest negative to using them is the requirement for clamps. However, if you are going to be in woodworking you’re going to need clamps sometime. Typically anything that will get butt jointed has the potential to use biscuits.

After this, you’ll begin to figure out what you need based on the type of projects you enjoy making. If you’re a cabinet maker, maybe you need a dovetail or dado jig. I didn’t mention how useful a router table can be. And there is something incredibly satisfying about using a hand plane to create “shavings”.

PS – I actually wrote this while on vacation in Mazatlan this past March. I believe that Ryobi has since discontinued the BT3100. You can find them used fairly easily but next on the list would be the Ridgid TS3650 10″ Table Saw. This will add a bit more to the overall budget but I think it’s a good saw for the money if not a machine with a lot of power.

-- - A Woodworking & Renovation Blog & - I make. You buy.

15 comments so far

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 4978 days

#1 posted 11-21-2007 02:47 AM

I think that at all costs get a table saw like the Ridgid 10” TS3650 or a comparable model in Jet, Delta, or the like. I have used the Ridgid on a job and I loved it. My first table saw was the Jet 10” contractor saw and it smooth and powerful. Of course I did upgrade to a 3hp Jet cabinet saw and it suits me better.

Anyway, the $500 – $600 saws like the Rdigid are really good saws and they will serve faithfully for many years without the need to upgrade as a hobbyist. The one thing I like about the Jet unit is that Rockler makes some nice aftermarket add-ons. This is certainly convenient and once again it is a great saw.

I personally outgrew the saw because of business not hobby activity. I also understand the balance of your blog is to introduce beginning woodworkers to what is out there that is not at (for instance) the Festool price point. I thought that you brought up some great points. I do encourage everyone to get a table saw at this level because your shop will revolve around it and they are very good performers for the price.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View Russel's profile


2199 posts in 4817 days

#2 posted 11-21-2007 03:00 AM

I started with a Ryobi table saw and did two kitchens with it. I also had a Ryobi bench top router table/router combo that did everything I knew to do. I’ve since upgraded to a Delta table saw and P/C router with a Rockler table. The Ryobi equipment was a good learning tool and allowed me to realize that I really like this wood working stuff. I’m with Todd in getting the best table saw you can afford because it is the center of things. Yet, like Tim says, if you don’t know whether you really want to get involved, $500+ for a single tool is a bit extravagant.

-- Working at Woodworking

View Brad_Nailor's profile


2545 posts in 4836 days

#3 posted 11-21-2007 05:10 AM

I am currently using the Bosch, and it’s a great saw. The fence is solid and accurate, it has allot of power, and Bosch makes a fantastic mobile platform for it ( I made a custom cabinet for mine due to the fact I don’t take it to job sites). I am getting ready to upgrade to a General International or Steel City 10” hybrid cabinet saw with a 50” fence. The reason being the Bosch has a limited cutting capacity 26” to the right….and if you really wanted to you could probably upgrade the fence. But like any good tool hound I am using that as an excuse to upgrade! But aside from that the Bosch is one of the best “contractor” table saws out there for right around 500$


View Tim Dorcas's profile

Tim Dorcas

188 posts in 4737 days

#4 posted 11-21-2007 05:56 AM

I definitely think if a person really learned to love woodworking that they would stay with the Ryobi but it’s a great saw to get started with without spending a boatload of money. I have since upgraded to a General 50-220 but still would recommend it to a new woodworker.

-- - A Woodworking & Renovation Blog & - I make. You buy.

View Dan'um Style's profile

Dan'um Style

14186 posts in 4861 days

#5 posted 11-21-2007 06:10 AM

my best advice would be to go to Sears and apply for credit. Spend a large pile of plastic cash.

Get the biggest and the best.

You can’t go wrong !

the heck with the spending limit !!!!

-- keeping myself entertained ... Humor and fun lubricate the brain

View shaun's profile


360 posts in 4784 days

#6 posted 11-21-2007 01:40 PM

LOL Dan – get out of my head ;) Love those zero interest credit cards!

-- I've cut that board three times and it's still too short!

View miles125's profile


2180 posts in 4884 days

#7 posted 11-21-2007 02:05 PM

Just buy a homelite chainsaw and cut firewood till you have more money!

-- "The way to make a small fortune in woodworking- start with a large one"

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 4841 days

#8 posted 11-21-2007 02:49 PM

Get on E-Bay, panel saw, rip saw, back saw, set of chisels, #4, #5, #7, and 60 1/2 Stanley planes. Good hammer, squares and a few other things. Way cheap and by the time you get these figured out you will either be in all the way or plumb out forever.

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View rookster's profile


67 posts in 5029 days

#9 posted 11-21-2007 10:42 PM

Great idea for a blog. I agree with many of your suggestions, though I wonder where you are finding the $150 bench and what clamp selection you are getting with your $100.

More detail! The table saw recommendation had a brand and model, but I suspect the rest is too general for that beginning woodworker you are aiming at. Remember: they are going to be more confused than we are by the options and what matters.

Now for my modification: Beginning woodworker with no shop space (an apartment dweller, for example). I think the tool list changes a little bit:

Circular Saw $55
Workmate $80 (or two $160)
Measuring Tape $10
12 Inch Square $30
Electric Drill $50
Clamps $100
Router $150
Router Bits Kit $100

Hammer $21
Drill bits $25

That’s $701 if you get two Workmates, leaving room to figure out what else you need or buy materials for your first project. If you need to limit your purchases to $500, just buy the items I have in bold. With a very similar kit (actually much less) I built bookshelves for my apartment living room. They have rabbited tops and dadoed shelves and are held together with counter sunk screws: this type of project can be assembled with the under $500 kit and a little ingenuity.

-- Rookster, (

View Olaf Gradin's profile

Olaf Gradin

73 posts in 4718 days

#10 posted 11-21-2007 11:57 PM

I’m in a similar boat. I already have many of the power tools, so I’m trying to buy into the hand tool thing. I had thought, rather naïvely, that hand tools were going to be cheaper than their power counterparts. At any rate, I’ve learned that there are very few avenues to acquire a full set of tools that will accomplish the varied tasks of a woodworker. Frustration and errors are abound when we buy cheap tools, though quality tools will not do the work without their master. Turns out, you have to learn some things too – and money can’t buy that, per se. I am discovering that you simply have to “build” your shop out as you go. I only recently purchased my first table saw from CraigsList. It was a $350.00 Ridgid portable with carrier. Clever saw, but certainly not the stability needed for good cabinetry work. Alas, I’m not doing good cabinetry work anyway!

-- It takes a viking to raze a village. &mdash Blog'r:

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 4978 days

#11 posted 11-22-2007 01:31 AM

Many people do have the misconception that traditional hand tools are cheaper than power tools. I also know of a couple of guys that have become very discouraged from trying to use the hand tools. They don’t see results fast enough and now their money is really wasted from not using them.

The hand tool gig takes more skill to use quickly and efficiently than most realize. I am not a power tool versus hand tool guy, but most beginning woodworkers see faster results with power tools and continue to grow their tool collection as they mature with the craft and stick with it.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View Olaf Gradin's profile

Olaf Gradin

73 posts in 4718 days

#12 posted 11-22-2007 08:51 AM

Hey – let your friends know that I’ll take those troublesome hand tools off their hands for them!

-- It takes a viking to raze a village. &mdash Blog'r:

View shaun's profile


360 posts in 4784 days

#13 posted 11-22-2007 02:06 PM

All kidding aside, this is a really good topic. A fact of life is you get what you pay for. The challenge lies in deciding what you need and balancing that with how much $ you are willing to part with in order to have it. From my perspective the trade off in tool quality vs cost is a double edge sword particularly for someone making their first purchase.

For the most part I think it’s pretty safe to say that lower quality tools will produce lower quality results which could easily translate into quite a bit of frustration and ultimatley cause someone to throw in the towel early. I think back to some of my first tool purchases and remember the router table with the wings that sagged about 5 degrees and the top that flexed if you looked at it the wrong way, the fence was even a bigger joke, the collet in my first router wouldn’t hold a bit unless you superglued it in place, which was a problem because the bits I bought were junk after the first couple feet of board ran across them, and the table saw I bought had it’s own littany of issues. The project I built with these was a night stand for my daughter and she still has it 10 years later but man that thing was tougher to build than it needed to be! If it weren’t for the friends that brought me to their shops and showed me the difference a quaity tool can make I would have given up. Incidentily, these were the same guys that warned me about buying cheap tools in the first place.

My personal advice is buy what you can with what you can afford to spend. Don’t let the performace of entry level tools turn you off, but do use them to get your foot in the door.

-- I've cut that board three times and it's still too short!

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 4978 days

#14 posted 11-22-2007 03:54 PM

Shaun – I second the comments of “you get what you pay for.” I bought very few cheap tools because I caught on very quickly.

Olaf – Yeah I already tried. I think they don’t want to see someone else succeed with a tool that they could not.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View mrtrim's profile


1696 posts in 4759 days

#15 posted 11-22-2007 05:27 PM

im compelled to stick my nose in this one ! im all about what shaun and todd are saying . i think especially your bigger and most used tools should be at least middle of the road . you cant make chicken salad out of chicken crap ! your table saw is quite an important tool the ones mentioned by todd are affordable and good enough to take you from your first day to becoming a succsesful wood worker. personally id suggest waiting to own some things untill you can afford a tool that will do a decent job. id rather not own a jointer than own one that dosent make things straight and square just one humble opinion .

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