The Essential Power Tools

There are few things that feel more empowering for the do-it-yourselfer than power tools. Following is a list of useful power tools to consider when outfitting a workshop.
cordless circular saw is handy for tight places

cordless circular saw is handy for tight places

Figure A

A cordless circular saw is a handy variation on the ordinary circular saw. It's easier to use in tight or awkward situations than its corded counterpart. In addition, there's no cord getting in your way or potentially throwing your cut out of line.

The cordless version, however, tend to be less powerful than the standard corded circular saw, so for tough jobs and heavier lumber, go with the old standby -- a good quality corded circular saw.

A power hand-plane is a great tool for taking off varying depths of wood. The depth of the cut is adjustable, and a pass over the wood surface will result in a smooth, clean edge with good corners on either side. This tool serves the same basic function as a regular block-plane, but gets the job done much faster and with much less effort.

Every serious workshop needs a scroll saw, a versatile tool for making exacting, delicate cuts with its narrow blade. To use the scroll saw, the wood being cut is moved in relation to the blade, not vice versa. The wood rests on a flat table which helps in making precise cuts, and the table can be tilted for making beveled or angled cuts. A tension-footer holds the wood steady, and prevents bouncing that might be caused by the vibration of the tool. Some are also equipped with a blower that keeps the cutting line free of sawdust.

One of the most time-saving, versatile and frequently used tools found in nearly every workshop is the cordless drill. Not only is it used for drilling holes in wood, masonry, drywall or other materials using a variety of bits, it can also be outfitted with a number adapters such as screwdriver attachments, hole saws and steel-brush paint removers.

Some cordless drills have a removable chuck that, when removed, reveals a quarter-inch driver that can accept sockets. In our demonstration, a universal socket was used to tighten down a bolt to secure the scroll-saw base to the work surface.

A jigsaw is a great power tool for making custom cuts in plywood or other thin materials. Some convert to a powered hand-saw for cutting heavier pieces of lumber.

Routers are used to remove wood from specific areas of wood stock, and are one of the staples of fine woodwork. Two of the basic varieties are the standard router and the plunge router. A standard router is typically used to remove wood from around the edges of a piece of wood. A plunge-router can do that as well, but it can also be pushed directly into the wood to precisely remove material from the middle of a piece.

Rotary tools are an extremely versatile tool that can be used for detail work in a variety of applications and on a number of different materials. They utilize interchangeable heads and blades for such things as cutting, sanding, polishing, engraving and removing rust. A flex-arm is a valuable accessory that's especially useful for engraving since it lets the user hold the rotary tool much like a writing instrument.

A number of power devices are available for sanding. Here are some of the recommended ones:

Palm sanders are ideal for sanding flat surfaces in a small amount of time.

Random orbital sanders are used for some of the same jobs as palm sanders. The spinning surface will slow down as increasing pressure is applied to the sander, which helps reduce the chances of over-sanding more delicate pieces.

Detail sanders are useful for getting into tight, hard-to-reach places.

Belt sanders are suited for heavier jobs, and should be used with caution as they will remove a lot of wood in a hurry. A belt sander is not recommended for use for more delicate jobs such as when restoring or refinishing fine furniture or antiques.

A cordless drill is fine for everyday use, but a drill press is far better suited to jobs that require precise drilling. The drill is mounted to a stationary base and is limited to straight, precisely aligned movement.

A rotary saw is a relatively recent addition to the power-tools arsenal. It is able to drill directly into material such as wood, laminate or drywall, and make free-form cuts in any direction. With the right bit, it can even be used to cut through marble.

The owner's manuals for power tools can come in handy even after becoming familiar with the basic operation of tools. But like most owner's manuals, they tend to become lost and scattered over time. Consider keeping all of the owner's manuals for the power tools in a shop in a single three-ring binder. In that way, the manuals are more likely to stay clean, flat, readable and easy to locate than they would if crammed into the bottom of a drawer.

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