When given a moment to think about it, every professional woodworker has their own personal list of favorite tools. When it comes to stationary machines, their notes compare in that table saws, planers and jointers are all essential shop staples. But when narrowing down their Top 10 portable tools, such as hand-held and bench-top items, the list varies depending on their niche.
Bob Van Dyke, director of the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking in Manchester, Conn., agrees that a Top 10 list is always subjective.
"It really depends on the type of woodworking that you do. For different types of woodworking you're going to use different tools. I do primarily solid wood furniture making so, for me, stationary tools are of primary importance - a table saw, jointer and planer - but in terms of portable tools for furniture making, my list starts with the router," says Van Dyke.
Van Dyke's full list, in order of importance, includes three types of routers: plunge, fixed-base and trim; drills: cordless and corded models; fastening systems: a brad nailer and headless pinner; a jigsaw, biscuit joiner and miter saw. Below he gives an overview of the benefit he's experienced by having these tools. Listed throughout the categories are examples of current models from popular brands in the woodworking industry.
The router is by far the most important tool because it's the most versatile power tool in the shop.
"You can do mortising with it, which is one of the main things, as well as all sorts of edge details, any sort of dados, rabbits and grooves. It's also an incredibly accurate tool. You can dial in a router to take a fraction of an inch off your workpiece - that's really important," says Van Dyke.
In the fixed-base category, Van Dyke says he prefers the rack-and-pinion-style over a swivel base. For laminate trim routers, he says he's always looking for one with good depth control. He owns about a dozen routers of various brands because of the school.
"I've looked at and used a whole bunch of them. I particularly like the older DeWalt plunge routers because you can hit the mechanism for releasing the plunge with one hand.
"There is usually a lever on the side of the router that you have to push down and release, then you hit the lever again to lock it. It's a little bit cumbersome, especially for beginners. Beginners fumble all of the time because it's a little scary when you adjust the machine and the cutter's running. So most plunge routers have the lever release and you almost have to take your hand off the handle to change it to plunge it, so it's very easy to mess up the workpiece."
Makita (www.makita.com) offers two new 3-1/4-hp plunge routers, model RP1800 and the variable-speed model RP2301FC.
"The new RP1800 and RP2301FC plunge routers deliver power and precision, with an increased plunge capacity for a wide range of applications including fine woodworking, cabinetry, windows, doors and more," says Joe Soto, Makita's product manager.
Both routers feature a 15-amp motor and a 2-3/4" plunge capacity. The RP2301FC also offers a variable speed range of 9,000 to 22,000 rpm and built-in twin LED lights to illuminate the work area.
"I prefer a cordless, but you still need a corded one because sometimes the cordless don't have the power you need, like if you're making a big cut in a piece of maple, for example," says Van Dyke, who added that the chuck is the most important feature he looks at.
"On a corded drill I have always liked a right-angle drill from Sioux (www.siouxtools.com) for years. That tool is really important sometimes for getting into tight corners."
Bosch (www.boschtools.com) has introduced a new 3/8" corded model 1006VSR, featuring a 6.3-amp motor and variable-speed, two-finger trigger (0-2,600 rpm), and tool weight of just 3.4 lbs.
DeWalt's (www.dewalt.com) new line of 1/2" drills, models DWD215G and DWD210G, feature 10-amp motors with a mid-handle or pistol grip.
DeWalt has also introduced two lithium-ion-powered cordless models, a drill driver (DCD760KL) and right-angle drill DCD690KL. The small, lightweight design of these tools is ideal for cabinetmakers who perform overhead drilling and fastening applications, according to the company.
Hitachi Power Tools (www.hitachipower tools.com) is offering a 12-volt lithium-ion series of "micro-size" power tools, including a drill/driver (DS10DFL) and impact driver (WH10DFL) also available in a combo kit (KC10DFL). The main advantage of these tools is their ease of use in tight spaces, such as inside cabinets.
"I use a brad nailer all the time for making jigs. In furniture work, you're making jigs all of the time. It could be something really simple or more elaborate, but you're always making something to make a part. The quickest way to do it is with a brad nailer. I've had the same Duo-Fast for 15 years and it's a fantastic piece of equipment."
He values a headless pinner when doing furniture work.
"The headless pinner shoots a 23-gauge wire that doesn't have a head on it and you can barely see the hole. Ideally, it's for doing a molding or to put a glass stop in making a door with glass panes."
Duo-Fast (www.itwindfast.com) offers many varieties of nailers and pinners, including the Sure Shot 18-gauge industrial brad nailer that holds 1/2" brads. It drives both 18-gauge brads and pins and features an adjustable depth of drive and last nail lockout.
DeWalt offers the cordless 18-gauge XRP brad nailer, model DC608K, with a mechanical flywheel system that enables the nailer to work at a selected rate.
Grex Power Tools (www.grexusa.com) offers a relatively new 23-gauge headless pinner, model P650, capable of driving pins from 3/8" to 2" in length or a total of 14 different sizes. It features a four-point alignment guide that accurately locates position to drive pins and a fastener indicator window that shows when reloading is necessary, according to the company.
"For some people, the jigsaw is incredibly important. To me, it's like small band saw I can use in my hands. It's easier to bring the jigsaw to the work than trying to use routers and drills," says Van Dyke."
Milwaukee (www.milwaukeetool.com) offers the new M18 cordless jigsaw, model 2645-22, which features a five-position orbital setting to select the type of cut and speed for a specific application.
A biscuit joiner gets used only about once a month in Van Dyke's shop. However, he acknowledges that a cabinetmaker might use one every day so it is higher up on the list.
Freud Tools (www.freudtools.com) has introduced the Avanti JS104K biscuit joiner featuring a 6.5-amp motor, fence-mounted handle, rack-and-pinion fence and Perma-Shield coated slider for a smooth plunge action.
The latest entries include Makita's 10" dual-slide compound miter saw, model LS1016L, with a crown cutting capacity of a 12" saw, according to the company. For information, see the story on Page 20 of the March 2010 issue.
Milwaukee has unveiled a 12" dual-bevel compound miter saw, model 6950-20, with a digital readout and a 15-amp, 3.3-hp motor.
For a wider scope of power and hand-held tool solutions, review our online Resource Guide to find manufacturers like Festool and Grizzly Industrial, or retailers like Brian's Tools and Woodcraft, along with some 100 other solution providers at www.woodshopnews.com/rgsignup.
This article originally appeared in the April 2010 issue.