Table Saw Guide Part 1

Published on by Mike  (Leave a comment)

Depending on where you are from and the type of woodworking you want to do the table saw is arguably the most important power tool you can have in your garage or shop.  Some alternatives include a good band saw or a track saw, and like the table saw each has its own strengths and weaknesses.  This post will be focusing on the different types of table saws available.

Bench Top / Job Site saws:  This type of saw is the most common saw you will see as you walk through Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Sears.  They are all shapes, sizes, and have a wide range in pricing from around $100 up to $600.  The main characteristics of these saws include plastic bodies, aluminum top (some of the higher end saws have an anodized top to prevent marking up the wood), and a direct drive universal motor.  Because of their light weight, a lot of these saws come with stands that can be collapsed so that they can be stored off in a corner.  The drawback to this saw is that they are light weight which results in a lot of vibration.  The fences are usually not very good, and often the tables are small.  Precision can be achieved with these saws, but I would recommend frequent checking and tweaking of the saw to make sure everything is aligned and square.  These saws work well for doing rough work.

Contractor sawsYou can see a minimal number of these in the box stores, but because of the higher price point, they typically don’t stock a lot of these, if any.  These can priced from $400 (if you find a good sale) to over $1000.  These saws you will see the cast iron top (some brands offer a granite top as well), with a belt driven induction motor, usually external to the saw body.  The motors usually run between 1.5hp to 2hp, and can either be run on 110 or 220 volts, depending on how the owner wants it wired.  The body is typically made from stamped steel.  Like a Bench Top saw these still sit on a stand that saw is bolted on to, but these are heavier stands and will not fold down.  These are heavy enough that vibration is greatly reduced but still can be easily moved around if the stand is on wheels.  The fences that are typically included are step better, but still not great.  The good news is that the fence on these saws can be upgraded, and many manufacturers offer options for better fences.  With a good fence precision can much more easily be attained, and because most of the parts are bigger and made from metals the saw will hold its alignment much better.  Occasional checking is still recommended.

Hybrid saws:  Except for maybe Sears, you won’t see these in box stores.  You will need to look for these at woodworking specialty stores such as Rockler and Woodcraft.  They can be priced anywhere from $700 to nearly $2000.  The motors are configured similar to the contractor saws, except for that they are usually inside the saw.  Amother difference is the body of the saw is one piece and goes all they way to the floor.  The greater weight reduce vibration even further.  I believe some hybrid saws, if not all, the trunnions that hold the motor and blade assembly attach to the body of the saw rather than to the top.  This saw provides a lot of the same features as a cabinet saw, but with a smaller motor and a lower price point for the budget conscious.

Cabinet saws:  This is the type of saw you see Norm use on the New Yankee Workshop.  These are priced from $2000 up to $5000.  The body is bigger than the Hybrid saw, and the trunnions are attached to it.  The motor is also bigger, typically starting out at 3HP.  Also, these must be ran with 220V.  These are typically very heavy tools, and very rarely fall out of alignment.  These are typically the choice of the serious hobbyist and professional woodworker.

My next post of this topic will include my experiences on table saw purchases, and my recommendations for getting started.

A New Chisel Collection

Published on by Mike  (Leave a comment)

For someone who is starting it is very tempting to start buying nothing but power tools, with little regard to hand tools.  A trap that a lot of new woodworkers fall into, including myself, is thinking that these will be enough to make a finished project.   Some of the popular wood working shows give the illusion that hand tools are a small part of the project.  What you don’t see is the many hours that is spent with hand tools perfecting joints, edges, routes, and so on.  Also hand tools do not have the size limitations that most power tools have.  (You are not going to get a 13 inch wide board flattened in a 12 inch planer, but a jack plane will!) 

I actually still have a very small hand tool collection.  One of the most basic hand tools every woodworker should have is a set of chisels.  Just like any other tool,  the rule of you get what you pay for applies to chisels too.  When I bought my first home, I bought a 5 pack of Craftsman chisels, which included 1/4″, 1/2″, 3/4″, 1″, and 1 1/4″  wide chisels.   I don’t recall how much I paid for them, but today they go for about $35.  As chisels go, these are definitely not the best you can buy.  However, they have served me well.  The steel in them isn’t as hard as some of the higher end chisels, which means they won’t keep their edge as long.  I don’t have the best sharpening capabilities, so I typically sharpen them on the bench grinder.  These have also been used for a lot more than just woodworking.   In fact they have been used and abused on many occasions when working on various projects around the house, including two bathroom remodels.  Frankly, these chisels are perfect for that.

Now, I have recently decided that it was time to get a set of chisels that are dedicated to woodworking, leaving my craftsman chisels for the ‘dirty work.’  You wont see these chisels breaking out drywall or floor tile!  Last month, I spent at least a good hour in the hand chisel aisle at Woodcraft looking at the three brands of chisels they had available.  The first brand is the Irwin Marples.  I quickly put these aside, as these are about the same quality as the craftsman chisels.  The other two options were the Crowns and the Pfeils (they are labeled as Swiss Made in the store).  I will admit, based on recommendations I had received, I was already leaning towards the Pfeils.  Both brands of chisels are good chisels.  They both have a harder steel, which means that they will hold their edge longer, and sharpen up better.  At first look in the store, the Crowns look very elegant, with the handles having a nice finish.  The handles on the Pfeils are wood, but the finish is basic.  In fact you can still see the marks from the lathe  tail stock in the back of the chisel.  However, the handle isn’t the only part of the chisel, as we still have the steel to consider.  The steel on the Pfeils, well, they had a better feel to them, as they felt like they were more refined.  As I was looking through the chisels, I noticed that a couple of the Crowns bevels were not square, which I found to be unacceptable.  The one drawback on the Pfeils is that they are metric, when the rest of my tools are standard.  Since they are sized to match the standard sizes (though not exact) I decided that it was not a deal breaker.    In the end, I decided on the Pfeils, as these felt the best overall in my hands.


Now, while these chisels are not the most expensive chisels available, they still are not cheap.  Each chisel by itself cost as much or more than 5 pack of Craftsman chisels!  It would have been a budget buster to by them all at once (I am saving up for a band saw!).  Therefore I have been buying them 1 at a time.  The drawbacks are that I have to wait longer to get a complete set (not a big deal, my shop is not heated, and it is COLD outside) and that it will cost me a little more in the long run.  However, this gives me the opportunity to hand select each chisel that goes into my collection.  Also, I can get the sizes I know I will use.  (I don’t think I have ever used the 1 1/4″ chisel in for a woodworking project)  I currently have 3 Pfeils now (6mm, 12mm, 19mm or roughly 1/4″, 1/2″, 3/4″ respectively).  I have used one to finish off a project I was working.  The first few cuts I made with it, I realized I made the correct choice.  They truly are finely made chisels that will last at least a lifetime.

*Note, I did not spend much time looking at chisels available online.  I felt being able to hold them in my hand to make sure they would feel right was too important to risk  buying something unknown.

Getting Started

Published on by Mike  (Leave a comment)

One of my goals with this blog is to share my experiences and my goofs to help others who are just getting started avoid frustration.  There is absolutely a ton to talk about and write on this subject.  In fact this is my second attempt at writing this.  My first attempt was getting so long it became unmanageable, and I think most readers would have gotten board reading before getting to the end of the post.  Therefore, I am going to break this out into multiple posts.

Band SawObvisouly, in order to make stuff out of wood, we are going to need tools.  A couple quotes come to mind here.  “Don’t blame your tools” and “Use the right tool for the right job.”  I do believe that these two go hand in hand.  That said when making a tool purchase, we all need to ask ourselves if the tool will successfully accomplish what we intended for it.  I think one of the biggest mistakes I have made in the past is buying cheap tools expecting them to work and last like higher end tools.  I know for most woodworkers starting out, including myself, cannot afford a nice new shiny Delta Unisaw.  However, there are many options that can be explored.  There are tools that you can most definitely get away with buying low-end, and successfully use, as long as you know and understand the limitations.  For example a $100 9′ Band Saw will do well with cutting a pinewood derby car or cutting curves into 3/4″ stock.  It will have difficulty ripping, and I wouldn’t even dare to attempt to resaw a board.

I do know that the level of frustration caused by expecting more than a tool is capable of delivering has scared many away from a very rewarding hobby.  One of my future topics, for getting started will be on my table saw frustrations and what I have done to over come them.