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  • Writer's pictureScot Finnie

The 30 best, most indispensable woodworking tools

Updated: Nov 24, 2021

From SawStop's cabinet saw to Mitsubishi's Nichigo G-Tape, here's the ultimate guide to some of the finest gotta-have-em woodworking tools available.

30 or so tools that I wouldn't do without.
30 or so tools that I couldn't do without. Plus, in pictures that follow, the table saw and miter saw.

As every woodworker knows, tools are expensive. It's all too easy to get sucked into buying a "deal" or shelling out for a down-market tool from a name-brand manufacturer. Or worse, falling for cheapo tools designed to last no longer than their one-year warranties in the name of saving money. And if you're not careful, you could wind up buying the same tool again and again and paying more than you would have if you had just bought the best of breed to begin with.

My advice is to buy tools that suit you, that fit your hand and that you feel comfortable working with, regardless of whether they're considered to be the very best tool in that category. Buy good quality tools from the brands you've come to trust. And buy the best tools you can afford. If you buy well, your tools will one day be old friends, perhaps friends for life. You'll get your money's worth.

For this story I walked around my well equipped workshop with these thoughts in mind: What tools are absolutely indispensable? What's exceptionally well designed for woodworkers? What do I use all the time? What do I take the greatest satisfaction in owning? I left my finishing tools out of the running because that could be a whole other story.

Some of the tools that cost dearly

It's good news, I guess, that the most expensive tool in my shop is tops on my list for being accurate, versatile and possessing an awesome split-second blade-stopping safety feature. SawStop's Professional Cabinet Saw 3HP 1PH 230V PCS3123 became the fifth table saw I've owned, and the only one that was reliably accurate. Being able to trust your table saw is a game changer. Add a crosscut sled and your saw becomes incredibly versatile and easy to use. SawStop isn't the only table saw that's truly accurate. Powermatic has been building great table saws for decades, and there have been several others. The table saw is the most important tool in most woodworking shops. Be sure you get a good one.

SawStop's 3hp PCS table saw set up to do crosscuts with my diy crosscut sled..
SawStop's 3hp PCS table saw set up to do crosscuts with my diy crosscut sled..

What the table saw can't cut easily, a track saw can often handle. In recent years, several companies have released new track saws that compete with the Festool models, but I bought Festool and I recommend the cordless model, TSC-55 K, which was recently improved. To make the track saw a bit more accurate, place the track so that it lays on the piece you're keeping and line up the track's edge so that it just reveals the edge of the pencil line to the outside at both ends. Another aid to accuracy is TSO Products' GRS-16 PE Parallel Edge Guide Rail Square.

Festool's Kapex is more accurate than other miter saws. But it costs about $1,000 more than other miter saws. Is it worth it? For me it was.
Festool's Kapex is more accurate than other miter saws. But it costs about $1,000 more than other miter saws. Is it worth it? For me it was.

The third product I couldn't part with is Festool's Kapex KS 120 REB10" dual-bevel sliding compound miter saw. It costs 2.5 to 3 times as much as the next best miter saws from Bosch and DeWalt. For innovative design, dust collection and especially for accuracy, the price may be worthwhile for some of us.

The Kapex has a dual-laser cut-line system that is superb. This isn't an add-on; the saw and laser system are made for each other and the lines directly define the kerf (or width of the cut) when you're using Festool or identical width blades. DeWalt offers a fuzzy-edged shadow cut line and Bosch has nothing. Properly designed and manufactured, 10" saws are inherently more accurate, that's why Festool went 10 inch. This level of accuracy is needed for fine furniture making and possibly trim work. For wood framing, DeWalt is the better choice.

Bread and butter hand tools

When it comes to hand planes and chisels, I like the no-nonsense tools made by Lie-Nielsen Toolworks of Warren, Maine. Unlike some chisels, the Lie-Nielsen are thick A2 steel that fits well in most honing guides. Lee Valley's Veritas brand makes an advanced line of chisels that purportedly stay sharp twice as long as A2 steel. That's very attractive, but they are quite expensive too. I might have bought them anyway, but the Veritas chisels also taper as they approach the tips and have narrowing bevels on the sides. I had already done a honing guide bake off and vastly preferred the pricey Lie-Nielsen guide, which is designed to handle chisels that remain the same thickness through the guide's clamps. (I have yet to find a honing guide that does a great job on tapering chisels.) I sold my Lee Valley honing guide and accessories happily. Two years later, I finally bought a set of Lie-Nielsen bevel-edged chisels.

The Lie-Nielsen No. 62 Low-Angle Jack Plane is a superb and highly versatile hand plane.
The Lie-Nielsen No. 62 Low-Angle Jack Plane is a superb, highly versatile hand plane.

I have two Lie-Nielsen planes, the low-angle No. 60-1/2 Adjustable Mouth Block Plane (every woodworker needs a block plane; this is a great one) and a tool I adore: the No. 62 Low Angle Jack Plane. Everything about the No. 62 exudes quality. I prefer no-tool adjustable mouth planes, which are more common among low-angle planes. Low angle isn't always better, but It is perfect in this plane. It does everything well and can even stand in for a #4 smoothing plane.

Most Lie-Nielsen high-angle bevel-down planes have a rear-mounted mouth adjustment feature too. With most other planes of this type, adjusting the mouth means loosening the frog and using a screwdriver to adjust the mouth opening, then you have to readjust the blade, test, repeat until you get it right for the wood you are working.

Less Well Known

With many of today's finishes, you can't use old fashioned tack cloths. To get your wood projects dust and lint free before and between coats, you can blow them off, vacuum them or wash them down with clean water and a damp rag -- but each of those methods has a downside. Vacuuming doesn't work; washing leaves lint and blowing puts dust in the air before it settles back on your work piece. It took me a while to find it, but the answer is Gerson's synthetic tack cloth model 20008G Ultra Prep, which come 10 to a box, each sheet folded into three rows by six 6" x 3" panels. There work really well with no wax and little residue left behind. For a great price, grab them at

Think of Nichigo G-Tape, manufactured by Mitsubishi Chemical of USA, as a sort of new-age

Mitsubishi Chemical's Nichigo G-Tape leaves no residue on wood -- or anything else.
Mitsubishi Chemical's Nichigo G-Tape leaves no residue on wood -- or anything else.

duct tape. Two immediately evident advantages are that it readily rips in a straight line starting with a thumb nail, so no need of a blade of any type. Yet it's quite strong. The second benefit is that it leaves behind no residue and usually comes up in one piece. It's easy to seal it very flat too. It was originally marketed to the construction industry but is now being used in a wide variety of applications. I bought G-Tape at Amazon.

I hated "trigger clamps" before I tried DeWalt's clamp with its 600 lbs of clamping force, 3-3/4" throat depth and quick change button for easy conversion to a spreader. The best thing about this clamp is that its jaws stay straight like a parallel clamp's jaws do. Irwin and Jorgensen offer very similar lines of clamps, but their jaws are loose and can't be trusted in a glue-up. When I run out of Bessey K Body Revo parallel clamps, these are a fine fall back. They come in sizes of 12", 24", 36" and 50". I use the 12" model DWHT83185 all the time. Home Depot is a good place to buy them.

The Dylos DC1100 Pro showing a very high level of particulates in the air.
The Dylos DC1100 Pro showing a very high level of particulates in the air.

Attention woodworkers! Ours is a dusty business. Air quality is a concern. The Dylos DC1100 Pro air quality monitor provides constant real-time readings in two particle size ranges, extremely fine particles on the left and larger particles on the right. You need powerful dust extraction and high-speed air filters (or colloquially "air scrubbers"), like this Supermax SUPMX-810650 air filtration system, to take advantage of the information the Dylos gives you. The Dylos shows that products like the Supermax air-filtration blower really clean up the air.

In the picture, the air quality meter is showing a very high level of particulates in the air. It was later determined that I somehow borked the meter and it went back to Dylos for repair.

Woodpeckers! I have so many of their tools I don't know where to start. I like their straight edges and measuring tools, like their T-squares and stainless steel woodworking squares.

I have also fully equipped my shop with iVac switches, sensors and powered blast gates for my two Oneida dust collectors. I no longer forget to pull a blast gate or to turn on the dust collector because iVac handles all that automatically when you turn on your tools. I can concentrate on safety and making the right cuts the right way. The iVac system is pricey, but it makes you much more productive.

And the rest

Rounding out the list are the FastCap Lefty/Righty Flatback ProCarpenter tape measure, FastCap polycarbonate safety glasses, 3M Peltor X5A headphone ear protection, the igaging OriginCal digital micrometer, the Milwaukee foldable measuring stick and finger-stop tape measures, Amana 55225 and 55227 countersink bits, DeWalt DCF801 12v impact driver, Festool TID-18 18v impact driver, Makita XFD12 18v drill/driver, Senco FN65DA 15ga cordless battery-powered finish nailer and Titebond III wood glue.

There it is, roughly 30 fine tools that won't let you down and that I couldn't do without. I hope you find at least one or two gems here that make woodworking better for you. There are plenty of other tools that are deserving. Let me know your favorites in the comments.


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