Power Tools for the New Carpenter

So you want to be a carpenter?  Sweet!  Now let’s get you geared up.

Beginners guide to buying power tools

Maybe you don’t want to be a “carpenter” per say, but you want to build something … and just don’t know where to start?  Don’t know what tools you need?  

I get asked for my 2 cents on this subject all the time — so here’s my 2 cents.


What tools do I need to get started in carpentry?

You don’t need EVERYTHING listed below and I’ve tried to indicate how important each item is to me (or would be to me if I didn’t have another tool).  Remember, this is JUST MY OPINION!


Every Carpenter needs:


Cordless Drill/Driver

Beginners guide to buying power tools

Far and away the most used tool in my shop.  I would definitely invest in a good one.  

What I look for. 

  1. high torque.  (at least an 18 Volt motor.)
  2. two lithium-ion batteries.  (One can always be charged when you need it…)
  3. an adjustable clutch
  4. a chuck that will accept round shafts as well as hex shafts.  
  5. 2 speeds
  6. lightweight
  7. work light
  8. fits well in MY hand 


A few buying options:


Circular Saw

Beginners guide to buying power tools


You can do a lot with with a circular saw and a good straight edge or cutting guide.  As long as you plan your cuts out in advance, you can cut pretty much everything you need to build a simple cabinet or built in.  You can NOT do everything with a circular saw, but you can do a lot.  You can even bevel cut your lumber.  Boom!

What I look for:

  1. The correct hand orientation!  Circular saws are oriented for right or left handed people.  Get the right one so that you are safely using your saw. 
  2. wide shoe (base plate)
  3. blade guard
  4. Depth adjustment with easy to read depth setting.
  5. at least 45 degrees
  6. laser guide (I don’t have this and can see where it could be useful)  Not a must though.

A few buying options:


Random Orbital Sander (ROS)

Beginners guide to buying power tools

I use mine on pretty much every single project.  I just wrote a Workshop Fav post all about ROS — so check that out for more info on what I look for and some tips on how to use them.

  •  DeWalt 5″ variable speed 7-12,000 rpm $74
  • Bosch $70 variable speed

Air Compressor and Nail Guns

Beginners guide to buying power tools

I use my 16 ga nail gun when building cabinets and installing large moulding.  My 18 ga when installing small trim and my stapler when installing backs on cabinets.  I use these ALL THE TIME.  They are a definate must have in my book. 

It’s generally the best deal to get everything in a kit.  When you start getting guns separately you end up spending tons more.  I have different brands than these guns but I have an 18 ga nailer, 18 ga stapler and a 16 ga nailer.  I use them all. 


Beginners guide to buying power tools

I don’t use my jigsaw a lot but there are a few times that nothing else will do so it’s something I wouldn’t want to be without.  I need it for curved cuts.  I also use it to cut holes for outlets in cabinet backs.  Stuff like that.


You don’t have to spend a lot here.  The blade you use is probably more important than the saw.  You’ll want a variety of blades for all your cutting needs.  The blade package will tell you what you should use that particular blade on.


Compound Miter Saw

Beginners guide to buying power tools


This is one of my most used tools.  It’s also one of my most expensive tools.  You can buy a miter saw for less than $100.  Mine was about $600.  I’ve had it for over 10 years and I love it.   I have the DeWalt double bevel sliding compound miter saw.

I would buy the best one you can afford.  Maybe that means you get a little one now and in a few years you invest in something more.  I would definitely want one in my arsenal.  Cutting long narrow boards on a table saw can be dangerous and using a circular saw is not recommended for the kind of accurate cuts you need for cabinetry.


What I look for when buying a miter saw:

  • 12″ saw blade.  You’ll only end up with a cut length of about half your blade diameter because the blade doesn’t recess down into the saw when cutting.  You only get a portion of the diameter actually cutting the wood.  The sliding arm allows you to cut longer boards.
  • Sliding arm.  This allows you to get longer cuts.  Not all sliders allow you to get the same length of cut so make sure you look at that in the details.  One might only give you an extra 2″ compared to another saw that gives you an extra 4″.
  • Double bevel.  This allows you to tile the saw to the left OR right in addition to mitering left and right so you can do all your moulding cuts without flipping the piece and reversing your cuts.

Another important piece to the miter saw (as with any saw) is the blade.  You need different blades for different material.  Use the guide on each blade to determine what blade to use for what.  

Table Saw (a woodworking staple but also something you might not invest in right away)

Beginners guide to buying power tools

This is one of the big ones.  It can do a lot.  It can be dangerous.  I love mine and use it all the time.   Just like a miter saw, they come in all shapes and sizes (which translates into $$)  


I get asked about this one ALL the time and it would take a BOOK to cover this tool.  

I was going to write it all out … but found this guide from Home Depot that covers it pretty well.



Beginners guide to buying power tools

The BLADE is so important.  If you are crosscutting (cutting across the grain), you need a different blade than if you are ripping (cutting with the grain).  2x’s, MDF, Particle Board, Melamine, Cabinet grade plywood…will all cut better with different blades. 

Rockler has a really good saw blade selection guide that spells it out much better than I could (or want to).  :-)


These are the staple power tools that I use on a regular basis.  You don’t need everything on the list all at once.  I’d have a hard time choosing if I had to pick and choose.  Each up and coming carpenter has to decide what THEY would use, how often and what for — to determine if and how much they want to invest in their power tools.


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  1. I have all the tools above except for a circular saw or table saw. I am wanting to just build basic cabinets and bookshelves. If choosing between a circular saw and a table saw if I can only get one would you recommend the circular saw?

  2. Shavonda@AHomeFullOfColor says:

    Thank you for this post. I just purchased my first mitre saw and I’m excited to get in and start cutting. Ill def be picking up a circular and jigsaw soon as well.

  3. Well, after the last time I had “Blue and White” make two simple cuts on a sheet of hardboard (and they were WAY off!! One cut by over an inch!), I decided I could no longer resist buying a table saw. I didn’t put off buying one just for price, or for space requirements, but because sometimes I don’t think I have any business handling cutlery in the kitchen!! ; ) There are no courses available here, and I guess there is just too much liability involved for the big box home improvement stores to offer them. But, I bought a couple books on table saws a couple of months ago, and knowledge is certainly confidence-building. Around that time, I bought a Grizzly Tenon Jig (thought it was neat and useful, and purchasing that would sort of commit me to buying a table saw). In the mean time, I ran across Micro Jig’s Grr-Ripper system. I was so impressed by the videos and reviews, I bought the Deluxe Supreme System. But, no table saw. I had been “eyeing” two saws for many months, and one of them happens to be the PC you have. The other was the Bosch portable saw for the same price. Of course, I won’t be taking my saw to a worksite (Ha!), but I love Bosch products (esp. my super-silent dishwasher!). Last night, I went to get more wood glue at Lowes before it closed, and when I made my customary visit to the table saw section, I discovered the Bosch was on sale: $569 instead of $599. PC was not. The price where the boxed saws were located had been mislabeled as $549 (I had noticed this for months). So, that is what I ended up paying for it. The assembly instructions were HORRIBLE (typical, but really surprising for Bosch!). So, I’m all set to HOPEFULLY get more accurate and precise cuts on my own, and to no longer be dependent upon panel-cuts by someone who just completed an orientation on the saw, and/or isn’t so concerned about these things! Can’t wait until about 9 (it’s just 8:20 a.m., and I don’t want to disturb my neighbor, who has three little ones, so early)) so I can work on a new, simple project that will put the saw and Grr-Rippers to the test! Note: I am not a “shill” for any of these products. But, for people like me (and Gretchen), Youtube is amazing for almost anything these days, and there are tons of vids on table saws, including table saw safety. That’s where I learned you should NEVER wear gloves when using power tools. I am the “Queen of Non-Fiction Books,” so I appreciate them for self-instruction. Since I haven’t used the Grr-Rippers yet, I cannot give an opinion, but if they work as designed, I think, like knowledge and safety glasses, anything that adds another element of safety is worth its weight in gold (or fingers!).

  4. Gretchen says:

    Hi, do you have tutorials on how to use the tools and things can be done with them? I took one of the little seminars that Lowes and Home Depot offer …. but it was extremely basic. I will love to learn how to use them or best of all what I can do with them. Tried to check in a technical college to find out if they offer a course but it has to be 2 years and full time. Any suggestions will be appreciated… by the way I found your site through pinterest… just in case. :-)

  5. Okay this is just what I was looking for! I am definitely a beginner and have been trying to decide what tools to buy! Or do you have any suggestions of places to buy them?

    • Well I put links to purchasing options on some of the tools but I suggest doing some research and pricing them out.

    • Hi there, one of the best and most reasonable priced tool shops all us in the carpentry trade use is ITS excellent place

  6. What’s the best ga when using a compressor for spray painting?

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