more must-have tools

Marian Parsonswoodworking

Any time you see this logo on a post…

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…it means that the post is written by Jeff and it’s about the behind-the-scenes stuff that happens in our workshop.  We’re talking tools, setting up a workshop, furniture repair, designing & building built-ins and freestanding furniture and all of the other crazy things I ask Jeff to do for me.  I hope you’ll enjoy hearing from my other half on occasion.  He’s been talking tools lately, but I know he has some great tutorial ideas brewing.  In this post, he’s rounding out the top seven most useful tools…

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I thought I’d continue discussing my most indispensable tools by offering numbers four through seven. After recently posting my top three, I felt more needed to be said about some other tools that have been enormously helpful in completing projects.

Because I’m such a swell guy, here is a brief recap of the top three. Keep in mind that drills don’t count.

1. Compound Sliding Miter Saw. So versatile and functional. I wouldn’t say it’s my “favorite” tool, but since I use it on just about every project I do, it has to be numero uno on the “most indispensable” list.
2. Clamps. Perhaps it sounds like a boring pick for the top three, but there it is. Two words: extra hands. Anyone who fixes up old furniture smells what I’m cookin’.
3. Table Saw. Centerpiece of most woodworking shops. Rips, crosscuts, dadoes; it can be used for so much. With a well constructed crosscut/miter sled (a future video tutorial, perhaps?), you can do even more with it. Truly an indispensable tool for me.

So that’s where we left off. Here are numbers four through seven.

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4. Nailers. I tacked an “s” on the end because I generally use two types of nailers. The first is a pneumatic (air) nailer that hooks up to an air compressor. Mine is an 18 gauge brad nailer that hooks up to a small compressor that I got on sale at Lowe’s a long time ago. Mine is a Porter Cable, but there are many good ones out there. I’ll probably look to upgrade when I move into a new shop space. 18 gauge brads are small pin-like nails and run anywhere from 5/8” to 2” long. I use the brad nailer whenever I’m working on more delicate projects such as drawer repairs or attaching a face frame to a cabinet. The brad nailer leaves a much smaller hole than the larger nailers, which makes for easier filling…

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My other nailer, which I use for so many different applications, is a finishing nailer. Mine is a DeWalt 18V cordless electric model and it shoots 16 gauge nails which are larger and stronger than brads. I love this tool! If I was doing a list of top three tools I would hate to part with, this one would definitely be on it. If you have one then you know whereof I speak—this thing is so useful. One of my favorite ways to use it is to pop a nail into a piece of wood to hold it in place and then I come back later and drive the screws—in this way it’s like having an extra person to help you hold something. The uses of this tool are too numerous to list, but it is incredibly convenient and time saving when doing any kind of trim work or finishing (like the planked ceiling in our bedroom or the wainscoting in the family room.) One thing it is not, however, is cheap. Plan on dropping around $300 on a new one. But if you can swing it, then it is, in my humble opinion, money well spent.

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5. Combo Square. Some of you may think that this one shouldn’t count as a tool. To be honest, I’m not sure it should, either. I’ve included it, though, because I do most of my measuring and marking with it. To those of you who are new to building things, especially things with corners and right angles, measuring and marking is fairly important. The combo square is highly functional. It seems like I am always learning something new about it, some new use for it that I had never considered before. I use it for everything from drawing straight lines to setting the height of my table saw blade or the depth of a router bit. So often when I’m working on projects I’ll stop and ask one of three questions: Where did I put my tape measure, where did I leave my pencil, or where did I leave my combo square. It’s on pencil level, people! It’s that important. To prevent losing things, I suppose I could wear an apron. The only problem with that is I’d be wearing an apron.

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6. Kreg Pocket Hole Jig. I think I can safely say that no tool has revolutionized my workflow more than this one. Thanks to the Kreg pocket hole system, I can do now in three or four hours what it used to take me a full day—sometimes two—to accomplish. Building a cabinet face frame, for example, used to look like this: cut pieces to size, lay pieces out on a large work surface, formulate a clamping strategy (no small feat, I assure you), glue up pieces making sure all surfaces are flush and all corners are ninety degrees, clamp it all in place, wipe up the squeeze-out, double check that all surfaces are flush and all corners are ninety degrees, wipe up the sqeeze-out that occurred while I was double-checking the corners, then walk away for 4-6 hours while it dried. Then one day, I watched master craftsman Norm Abram on The New Yankee Workshop (one of my favorite programs of all time) using the new Kreg pocket hole jig on a project. It was love at first sight. I bought one, and that’s when the magic happened. Here’s what my cabinet face frame workflow looks like now: cut pieces to size, lay pieces out on a large work surface, draw marks (with my combo square!) to indicate where pieces are to be joined, drill pilot holes on the jig, screw pieces together, done! No clamping strategies, no glue clean up, no waiting for glue to dry. You end up with flush, tight, strong face frames in a fraction of the time. I spent about $200 getting set up with the jig and plenty of extra screws. So worth it! Sorry this sounds like a commercial, but I mean every word.

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7. Circular Saw. This, too, is incredibly diverse and functional. I have an old Craftsman middle-of-the-road model that has been running strong for years. This is an indispensable tool for those who do not have a dedicated workspace large enough to accommodate a table saw or a sliding miter saw. For those in town homes and apartments, this would probably be your go-to saw since it will make just about all the cuts and stores easily. I use my circular saw quite a bit. My one issue with it is that it creates a lot of dust. Don’t think so? Try cutting a full sheet of MDF in a basement with one, then let’s talk.

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Note: I predict that my next “love at first sight” moment with a tool will be with a track saw. Though I have never used one, I have seen them and they are impressive. I am strongly drawn to the fact that they are built with dust collection in mind. The price tag (over a thousand bucks) is making me hesitate for now, but it won’t be long. Hear that, Marian?

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Jeff, hon.  If you build me things, you can have whatever tools you want.  Amen, ladies?

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