A lot the posts I write have a great big long list of equipment required at the bottom. The only reasons that I have accumulated a fair bit of kit since we moved in is that A) it turns out that I love DIY (particularly woodwork) and B) it’s almost always cheaper to buy the kit and DIY than to pay someone else to do it.
The truth is, there’s only a very small amount of kit that you need to complete 95% of woodwork projects so I’ve put together a list of the essential equipment you’ll want to get hold of if you’re keen to get into working with wood. You can get all the gear I’ve linked to for around £250 so you needn’t break the bank and you can make that back in one or two projects.
#1 Circular saw
This is first on the list because there is no bit of kit as versatile as a circular saw. Sure, you can make basic cuts with a plain old hand saw, but it takes ages, is far from accurate and is hard work.
With a circular saw you can make just about any cut, including…
Basic cross cut.
Half lap joints.
And probably a huge number of other types of cut I don’t know of!
They do most stuff that you can achieve with a mitre saw or table saw and another big plus is that they’re portable. So yeah, circular saw HAS to be top of the list.
My circular saw gets used almost daily in projects like our fitted wardrobes.
If budget is your absolute priority, this circular saw will get you up and running.
#2 A square
Might seem a bit of a basic thing to be second on the list, but you’ll need some sort of square for every wood project. Without a square, your circular saw cross cuts and mitre cuts will be crap. Plus, when assembling stuff, a square is vital to make sure your assembly is, well, square.
My go-to square is my speed square (also called a rafter square) but a combination square does the same job. I rely on this baby for so many projects, but one example is the gate I made for our driveway.
This combination & speed square set from Screwfix was one of my first DIY purchases and definitely one of the most used.
#3 Measuring tape
You won’t get very far without a measuring tape. My tape is metric only which I find makes it easier to use.
Here’s a super cheap tape that, let’s be honest, does exactly the same job as any other measuring tape.
#4 Combi drill
You’ve now got the gear you need to measure up and make accurate cuts. Next up, you’ll need gear that allows you to actually fix bits of timber together. First in this line-up is the combi drill.
You could probably get away without a combi drill, but I wouldn’t recommend trying. This power tool allows you to pre-drill holes (pilot holes) in wood before driving screws in. In some cases, this isn’t necessary, but it’s usually wise to pre-drill to avoid causing the wood to split.
Combi drills also have lots of other uses in woodwork, including drilling large holes with hole saws/spade bits, countersinking to give screw heads somewhere to sit, and drilling pocket holes.
Obviously, there are also loads of applications outside of woodwork too like drilling holes in your house to put up shelves/mirrors etc., so you get a lot of bang for your buck.
Our decking with built-in storage required at least couple of thousand screws, many of which were near the edge of the wood. Pilot holes are particularly important when screwing close to the edge so I got a shed load of use out of my combi drill on this project.
This Mac Allister combi drill will get you going and is about half the price of the next cheapest drill. While you’re down at your local Screwfix, this set of brad point drill bits will get you going.
#5 Impact driver
With pilot holes drilled, you’re going to want an impact driver to drive screws home. An impact driver is basically a screwdriver on steroids. It does the same job in a fraction of the time.
If you are on a really tight budget, you could probably get away with not buying an impact driver. A combi drill can be used instead if needs be, but it won’t do as good a job as driver and changing out the drill bits every few seconds would be a faff. Alternatively, if you really are a glutton for punishment, you could use a screwdriver.
The workshop that my Dad and I built relied very heavily on my impact driver as pretty much the whole thing is held up by screws.
There’s a bewildering choice of screws on the market, many of which I don’t understand the point of. A great starting point is a trade pack of woodscrews with various different lengths and diameters of screw.
If you need screws for outdoor projects, you’ll want to avoid using standard woodscrews as these will rust and potentially stain the wood. To get around this, you can buy decking screws or stainless steel screws.
#7 Wood glue
You can get away with using just screws as fixings in most projects but ‘gluing and screwing’ is the safe bet. That’s because while screwing or nailing are effective methods of connecting two bits of timber together, they actually compromise the structure. Glue, on the other hand, does not do this and a lot of brands actually claim that their glue is stronger than wood itself.
In a lot of projects, the main purpose of nails/screws is actually just to pin wood together while the glue dries (cures if you’re feeling fancy).
Glue comes into it’s own when you’re joining boards together, like I did for our dining table and bench.
To keep things simple, I tend to use an exterior grade glue like this one for all my gluing jobs.
#8 Power sander
Depending on the type of wood you’re working with, it may need sanding. If you’ve ever sanded something by hand you’ll know that it is the most thankless task of all time. So, if you have any amount of sanding to do, please buy a power sander.
My power sander made light work of sanding the feather edge boards that we used to make our pug ugly garage look a handsome shed.
#9 Spirit level
You probably know what a spirit level does. But in case not, it makes sure stuff is level and I’d be lost without mine. For jobs like fitting our wardrobe shelves, there’s no substitute (well, you could get a laser level, but a spirit level is the best place to start).
Spirit levels aren’t just about getting stuff level, though. They’re brilliant for providing a ‘straight edge’ which is often needed when making long cuts. I use my 180cm spirit level along with my circular saw to make long, straight cuts all the time.
Spirit levels come in a massive variety of sizes, from a few cm long to 180cm plus. They all have their own merits, but I’d say the most versatile length is 60cm long like this baby.
You won’t get very far without clamps. Whether using them to clamp to a workbench while you’re sanding, or to squeeze two bits of timber together while gluing or screwing them, they’re really, really useful.
I used several clamps to keep the sections of our picture ledge in place while the glue cured.
Similarly to spirit levels, clamps come in loads of different sizes and also styles. I’d recommend getting a couple of these quick-grip clamps as a starting point.
To my mind, those 10 are the absolute essentials. You can get so much done with them. However, if you do fancy extending your woodworking kit a bit wider, here are a few bonus bits.
- Workbench – you don’t need a workbench, but they make life a lot easier. I made one similar to this one really cheaply.
- Jigsaw – circular saws are great for straight cuts, but if you need to cut any curves then you’ll need a jigsaw. This budget jigsaw will stand up to most jobs.
- Mitre saw – a circular saw can do almost everything a mitre saw will do, but a mitre saw is required to get truly accurate mitre cuts and if you need to compound cuts like I needed to on our decking seats. Here’s the one that I use.
- Table saw – similarly, a circular saw will sort you out, but table saws allow you to get really accurate, repeatable cuts done really quickly. Mine is super cheap and does a decent job, but I ain’t going to be doing any fine cabinet-making with it.
- Router – routers open up a lot more options when it comes to woodwork projects. Whether rounding off the edges of a table, cutting a dado (essentially a recess) to help assemble a cabinet, or even cutting a perfect circle for a stool, routers are awesome. You can get wee palm routers for smaller & more intricate jobs, big ol’ half inch routers for chunky work, or a quarter inch router like mine which is a good compromise.
If you do buy a few of these bits and find yourself enjoying woodwork, the chances are that you’ll get addicted and within a few months you’ll be buying tools that you didn’t know existed!