Woodworking is a blast. It’s deeply therapeutic and satisfying to start out with some pieces of wood and turn them into something, whether it’s a baseball bat, a piece of furniture, a picture frame, or a cornhole board. But starting out can be daunting. There’s a lot of equipment to choose from, and it can get expensive. It seems that everybody is trying to sell you something, especially something you don’t need.

You’ve come to the right place. Based on our testing, these are the best user-friendly and most essential hand and power tools, plus some basic machines, to get you up and running in woodworking.

4 Essential Woodworking Machines

Woodworking consists of processing pieces of wood so that they all have a straight edge, a flat face, a uniform thickness, width, and length. With some materials, like plywood, most of that work is already done for you. With other materials, like rough wood from a saw mill, you have to do most of the work yourself. The wood is dry, but that’s about all it is (in some cases, it may not even be dry).

From that semi-finished raw material, you make consistently sized parts. When you join those parts, you have a subassembly (such as two table legs joined by one apron). The subassemblies are joined into a finished piece, such as a table, chair, bed, dresser, or tool chest.

To that end, here are four machines that form the foundation of every well-equipped wood shop. Starting out, you can easily get by with just a miter saw and a table saw. As you develop more skill and ambition, you can add the planer and jointer.

Craftsman Tape Measure

CMHT37212S Tape Measure
Craftsman amazon.com

  • Slim, light

Woodworking requires that you measure and mark accurately. As they say, measure twice, cut once. You don’t need a construction-size 25-foot tape measure; a simple 12-footer is enough to get the job done, and it slides easily into the pocket of any shop apron. This Craftsman is an auto-locking type, meaning that the blade stays in position when you pull it out until you press the retract button.

Empire Combination Square

E280 Combination Square
Empire Levels amazon.com

  • Accurate
  • Durable

It’s almost hard to believe that you can get a 16-inch square with a stainless-steel blade, etched dimensions, and an accurately machined head at this price, especially given the fact that it’s made in the U.S. We own one and find it meets every requirement for a shop square: accurate, durable, and with an easy-to-read blade.

Craftsman Screwdrivers

9-47136 Screwdriver Set
Craftsman amazon.com
$28.95 (13% off)

  • Durable
  • Affordable

We drive our share of screws with cordless drills and impact drivers, but sometimes a hand tool is better and even faster in a tight spot or for just a couple of screws. Enter this Craftsman set: nice, big acetate handles, high-carbon steel blades with a satin nickel finish and precisely machined tips. They’re beautiful and don’t cost a fortune.

Buck Bros. Chisels

Wood Chisels
Buck Bros. homedepot.com

  • Durable
  • Take a razor-sharp edge

  • Unattractive

Sometimes, even precisely made parts need a little bit of a tune up with a chisel in order to fit properly. Or occasionally you have to cut a hinge mortise. It’s a lot of work to set up machines for something like a single small notch. Better to chisel it out. These U.S.-made tools aren’t much to look at, with their plastic handles and chunky geometry. But they hone to a wickedly sharp edge and are incredibly durable, complete with a metal end cap that allows you to hit them with a hammer instead of a mallet.

Stanley Block Plane

STA512060 Block Plane
Stanley Tools amazon.com

  • Versatile
  • Precise

New woodworkers and pros appreciate this indispensable hand tool, Stanley’s low-angle block plane. Its cutter is seated at 13.5 degrees to shave end grain, face, and edge grain, leaving a silky smooth surface in its wake. Its mouth is adjustable, just like the ones of old. Use it to skim saw blade marks off of a freshly sawed edge on, say, a shelf. And with enough practice, you can use it to fine tune the fit of two pieces of wood so they look like they came out of the tree fitting together.

Ryobi Bench Grinder

BG612G Grinder
Ryobi homedepot.com

  • Inexpensive
  • Great for beginners

  • Not suited for heavy grinding

Dull chisels or a dull plane iron are ridiculously frustrating to use. You need two things to keep them sharp: a small bench grinder and a set of water stones. First, the grinder. Ryobi’s is small but feisty. And it’s remarkably smooth running, especially for such an inexpensive machine. It has two 6-inch wheels, one 60-grit and the other 36-grit. That may sound a bit too coarse, but trust us, it isn’t. Coarse wheels are less likely to burn the steel you’re grinding, especially when it’s hard, heat-treated tool steel, which is what chisels and plane irons are made from.

Norton Waterstones

Waterstone Kit
Norton Abrasives amazon.com

  • Hones a razor edge on hard steel

Years of using our Norton Abrasives water stones have made it clear that they’re a lot of sharpening value for the money. This kit contains two stones, both combination types: 220-1,000 grit and a 4,000-8,000 grit. The odd-looking gray stone is an extremely coarse, quick-cutting block used to clean and flatten the surfaces of the two stones. When your chisels get beat up (and they will get beat up) or when the plane iron gets dull, grind a fresh edge on the tool using the Ryobi grinder above, then hone that edge to shaving sharpness using this water stone kit.

Kreg Pocket Screw Jig

Jig Pocket Hole System
Kreg homedepot.com

  • Compact
  • Inexpensive
  • Great starter jig

There will be plenty of time later to learn how to cut complex woodworking joints like mortise and tenons and dovetails. But in the beginning, attach pieces of the project you’re building using butt joints and pocket screws (special screws driven at a shallow angle through the two pieces). And the best way to get started in pocket screw joinery is with Kreg jigs. They’re inexpensive, extremely fast to set up, and easy to use. So long as the pieces of wood you’re joining have a square end and a straight edge, you’ll find the jig delivers a joint with a professional-looking smooth surface and, most importantly, strength. You don’t even need glue. We use this Kreg jig in our shop to join face frames and furniture parts. It’s a marvel of accuracy, simplicity, and compactness.

Kreg Pocket Screw Starter Kit

SK03 Screw Starter Kit
Kreg amazon.com

  • Wide selection of screws

While we’re on this topic of pocket screw joinery, you need the right screws. Kreg pocket screws drive smoothly and hold tenaciously. This 675-piece kit contains fasteners in sizes six through eight and in 1-inch and 1.25-inch lengths.

Skil Router

RT1322-00 Router Kit

  • A lot of machine for the money

The Skil is a particularly good buy that’s well-priced for beginner woodworkers. For your money, you get a router with two bases: a fixed base and a plunge base that is particularly useful for cutting deep joinery mortises, shallow hinge mortises, and making stopped grooves with the grain and across the grain (otherwise known as a dado). Its soft start and LCD readout are not only convenient, they increase its safety, particularly in the hands of a beginner woodworker. Soft start brings the motor up to speed gently, and the LCD speed readout gives you an easily decipherable measurement; when coupled with the machine’s speed control, it ensures the router’s speed is set appropriate to bit diameter and the type of operation you’re performing.

Ridgid Sander

2501 Sander
Ridgid homedepot.com

  • Fast
  • Smooth

  • Hand position can block vents

Ridgid’s quarter sheet sander has been a standout performer through our testing, and we continue to appreciate how stout the little 2.4-amp power tool is. It weighs about 3.5 pounds and punches above its weight class, thanks to a permanent magnet motor that maintains a steady field and speed under load. This is exactly what you need when you’re smoothing out rough old paint or a piece of hardwood for a cabinet.

Craftsman Drill Driver

CMCD711C2 Hammer Drill Driver Kit
Craftsman amazon.com

  • Hammer without the bulk

  • Battery latch is a bit stiff

You need a drill driver to bore holes for joining parts with pocket screws and to make the pilot holes for standard wood screws. You also need it to drive those screws. This 20-volt Craftsman was the top pick in a recent drill driver shoot out, and you get a hammer function thrown in for the money. That won’t help you with furniture and woodworking, but it’s a great feature when you take the drill out of the shop to work on construction projects. Hammer drills tend to be bulky and a little bit heavy at the nose. Not the Craftsman, which is surprisingly compact (7.75 inches, front to back) and well balanced. It’s also powerful enough that you can drill large-diameter holes with confidence. The drill is equipped with a half-inch chuck, allowing you to bore with large-shank twist drills, hole saws, and big step drills.

Irwin Clamp

Quick-Grip Bar Clamp
Irwin amazon.com

  • Fast and easy to use

The Irwin Quick-Grip is a thing of beauty for its speed and ease of use. The 6-inch size is particularly useful for small clamping jobs around the shop–just slide the jaw into position and squeeze the handle to produce up to 140 pounds of force. They’re great for gluing and clamping together small blocks of wood or holding down a work piece so you can route the edge of it.

Wilton Vise

78A Pivot Jaw Vise
Wilton Tools amazon.com

  • Durable

  • Expensive

The first order of business for a beginning woodworker is to build a decent workbench and put a woodworking vise on it. Consider the Wilton 78A, a fast-acting vise (you can slide its jaws then tighten). And you can equip it with hard maple jaw inserts (a $31 accessory) that are held with magnetic backing pads. The outside jaw can pivot 10 degrees to permit holding a tapered object, like a leg for a table or chair.