Woodworking Tools for
the Do-It-Yourselfer

by Louis Lung

Introduction

For the beginner, obtaining the proper woodworking tools can therefore be as daunting a task as driver selection. This article will attempt to shed some light on basic woodworking tools. Each tool will be viewed primarily from a home theater building perspective, although any do-it-yourself project may be substituted. I will try to look at:

Of course woodworking tools are not limited to speaker building. These same tools can be used to build speaker stands, stereo cabinets, room treatments and traps, even complete sound rooms. For simplicity, however, the term "speaker building" will be used throughout this article to denote all of the above possible uses.

This article will not attempt to cover all aspects of tool usage or woodworking in general; nor will it address tools and techniques necessary for building exotic shapes and compositions. It is an article geared toward the beginner, and basic rectangular boxes are the assumed goals.

Since I'll be merely scratching the surface on tool usage, it's essential that readers take the time to read and understand each tool's user's manual. Taking the time to understanding the fundamentals of each tool, how it works, what its limitations are, and most important of all, how to use the tool safely, is the first step to building a successful project.

There is no way for me to cover all details of each tool. Manufacturers are constantly upgrading their wares with better features and innovations. My goal is, therefore, to cover most of the important points that I consider relevant to speaker building. As always, there will be exceptions to every rule, so keep that in mind.

Tool prices provided are approximate and reflect the market as of this writing. Prices are intended to give readers a feel for the relative and absolute costs of the tools. Some brands and models may cost significantly more or less than others. All prices are in US Dollars and do not include any taxes, shipping or handling charges.

I've tried to avoid using brand names except in the URL section. The intent is to concentrate on the characteristics of the tool, not the actual commercial offerings. Woodworking magazines regularly review tools and are the best source for up-to-date side-by-side comparisons.

A Note on Safety and Maintenance

All tools are potentially dangerous. They should be treated with a healthy dose of respect and care. Always read and understand the manufacturer's directions on both safety and usage before using a tool. Always use appropriate safety equipment including eye (safety glasses), respiratory (mask), and hearing protection (earplugs). Always maintain the proper work environment, and give your tool and work your undivided attention. Remember - safety first !

Proper care and maintenance is required on all tools. Refer to the manufacturer's directions for such information. Keeping tools in tip-top shape not only maintains tool life and maximizes performance, it also helps prevent accidents and potentially dangerous operating conditions.

Motors & Horsepower

This section is a very simple look at power tool motors. I won't go into great details - just enough to guide you through some of the numbers you'll likely see when shopping for power tools.

There are two basic types of power tool motors: induction motors and universal motors. The induction motor is typically found on large tools and can deliver fairly consistent and reliable power. It is characterized by its single speed and large cylindrical case. Induction motors are usually used on drill presses, table saws, jointers, and other floor standing machinery. Changing speed, when allowed, usually means moving belts between pulleys of varying sizes. By comparison, the universal motor is small and loud. Its size and weight makes it ideal for handheld tools like portable drills and routers. With no load, the universal motor usually spins at a rather high rate. Under load this rate drops dramatically, and the motor heats up quickly.

Both types of motors are rated in horsepower, but the actual numbers can be deceiving. For example, a typical 115 VAC induction motor in a contractor table saw drawing 14 amps may be rated at 1.5 Hp. The same 14 amp in a router with a universal motor might be rated at 3 Hp. Suffice it say that universal and induction motors should not be compared with each other. When comparisons of any sort must be made, make them when they are of the same type, and use the motor's current draw for comparison, not the horsepower rating. Avoid making judgements based on small differences in current or horsepower draw. Large differences in horsepower or current rating are more likely to be accurate on a relative basis. For example, a 3 Hp router is likely to be more powerful than a 1.5 Hp router, though not necessarily twice as powerful.

Induction motors come in various flavors. The best are Totally Enclosed Fan Cooled (TEFC) motors. Most large power tools from respectable companies come with such motors. Less expensive tools often come with Drip-Proof motors. These offer less protection from the environment than TEFC motors. In some applications, explosion-proof motors are required. Typical uses include exhaust fans used in handling combustible gases.

Grades of Tools

What differentiates a consumer grade tool from a professional grade tool aside from price? Are these differences worth the extra cost? Let's take the easy question first and identify some differences between consumer and professional tools. Typically, professional tools:


Should the hobbyist invest in costlier tools? This is a personal question, and the answer will vary with each individual. Variables to consider include the predicted amount of actual tool usage, the care one puts into proper maintenance, the desired accuracy from each tool, the desired work efficiency, and of course cash flow, to name but a few. Consider such variables before spending any money. In many instances, a pro-sumer or consumer level tool is all that's needed. In other instances, professional tools are a worthwhile investment.

Note: In the various tools discussed below, my comments assume a "decent" level of tool quality. Poor quality tools usually lead to poor results no matter how hard one tries. This does not imply top-notch tools, but rather, just good enough, relative to the user's expectation. This is obviously a tricky statement to make, and impossible to quantify in a general sense.

Table Saw

It's easy to understand why so many consider the table saw to be the indispensable saw in the shop. With a table saw, one can make an abundant number of cuts, most with a high degree of precision. Jigs and accessories can make the table saw invaluable.

Features and Functions

I group table saws into three categories: the bench saw, the contractor saw, and the cabinet saw. The cabinet saw is the largest and most accurate. It usually comes with a full-size polished cast iron top, a totally enclosed base, a large and accurate fence, a large 230 or 460 VAC single or three phase TEFC motor, a 10 to 12 inch blade capacity, and plenty of working surface. It is used primarily by professionals, and by hobbyist standards, is quite costly.

On the other extreme is the bench table saw. This is usually a small device designed to be clamped onto a benchtop or mounted onto an optional floor stand. It operates off a regular outlet (~115 VAC in North America) and consequently is limited in motor size. The blade is usually 8 to 10 inches in diameter, and the fence may need some tweaking to get that great cut. Bench saws are great for the hobbyist with limited space or needs. Because of their portability, bench saws are also a great professional job-site saw.

Between the cabinet saw and the bench saw is the contractor's saw. Like the bench saw, these saws usually operate from regular household outlets. They also offer some of the added size, weight, and stability of the cabinet saw. The contractor's saw typically has a cast iron surface with an open frame. The typical blade size is 10 inches. Fence quality varies, though after-market fences are usually available as upgrades.

There are many qualities that makes one saw better than another. Here are a few in no implied order:

Speaker Building Uses

Table saw uses should be fairly obvious. Some typical uses are:

Add-Ons

Here are some useful accessories:

Usage Tips

Many of the items listed below are usually mentioned in the user's manual:

Cost

Router

The router is a portable, multi-purpose power tool. Functionally, it's a very simple device, but with the proper jigs and/or attachments, a router can perform a variety of tasks. For example, routers can cut dadoes, mill moldings, cut biscuit slots, create dovetails, drill holes, join edges, and even plane surfaces flat.

Features and Functions

There are fundamentally three types of routers - fixed base, plunge base, and D-handle:

Routers fall into two groups based on their power. Low power units range from just under 1 Hp to about 2 Hp. High power routers range from 2.5 Hp to about 3.5 Hp. From a current draw basis, all routers typically draw from 10 to 15 amps. High power routers tend to be bigger and heavier. From a capability standpoint, the rated power of a router does not, by itself, define what it can do, or how quickly it can do the job. However, advanced features, options, and accessories are more likely to be available on larger, pricier, and more powerful models.

Some features that differentiate routers from one another include:

Speaker Building Uses

There are many important uses for a router. Some typical ones are:

Add-Ons

Because the router is so versatile, there are many accessories available. Many can be made in the shop.

Usage Tips

Here are some tips for using a router:

Never try to remove too much material at once. It's better to use multiple passes, each removing a little more material. How much is too much? This is partly a matter of experience and partly a matter of common sense. If the stock offers a lot of resistance, or if your bit clogs up with sawdust forcing you to stop, you may be trying to remove too much stock at once. Also, check the grain of the stock and see if it's likely to tear with the bit rotation. You can minimize tearout by removing less stock per pass. As a rule, I like to make at least two passes on each cut, with the last one removing a minimal amount of material to clean up any aberrations left over from previous cuts.

Whenever possible, move the router in the direction such that the bit's rotation is against the direction of motion. This forces the bit into the wood instead of allowing the bit to pull the router along. The user's manual should diagram this since it's one of the most important points to remember when using a router. Make sure you understand this.

For our uses, this translates to the following:

Cost

Portable Circular Saw

The circular saw is probably one of the two most basic and common power tools around (the other being the drill). It is the ultimate fast cutting tool - portable, capable, flexible and affordable. It can be used in the shop or on a job site, and may be used for rough as well as highly accurate cuts.

Features and Functions

Circular saws tend to look more or less the same. Yet there are differences in their designs.

Speaker Building Uses

For serious DIYers, the circular saw can be seen as a poor man's table saw. But like its bigger and more expensive brother, this saw can make excellent cuts with the right jigs. Even dadoes are possible, though they require much more care in setting up the cuts. Cutting small stock is difficult with this saw, so use a hand saw for safety.

Add-Ons

I tend to think of the circular saw as a straight cutting tool without a fence. The flat blade of this saw dictates a straight cutting path, yet the saw is really free to go anywhere, thereby risking binding and kickback. So, the most important accessory to this saw is a straight edge. A straight edge can be anything from a pre-made commercial unit with built-in clamps, to a piece of plywood with a factory edge. The important thing is that the saw has a surface to ride against, thus keeping it in a straight path.

Usage Tips

One notable difference between a table saw and a circular saw is the direction of the blade's rotation. As mentioned earlier, the table saw blade rotates down into the stock. The blade on a hand-held circular saw rotates up from the bottom and through the stock. This means that tearout occurs on the top side of the stock. You should, therefore, cut your stock with the good side down. To avoid tearout on the top side, use masking tape along the cut line (assuming the material will not be damaged by tape). Adding a second layer of scrap stock on the top side may be done if the layers are properly supported and secured.

To cut a straight line, use the aforementioned straight edge. Clamp the straight edge down as solidly as possible. Some saws have accessories that make ripping parallel sides easy. Check the manufacturer's catalog for these accessories.

Cost

Jig Saw

Functionally, the jig saw is very similar to the circular saw except that it cuts much more slowly and can cut curves. This saw is sometimes referred to as a sabre saw. Jig saws are very portable, relatively quiet compared to their larger circular bladed cousins (important to apartment dwellers !), and safer in many respects. What they lack in cutting speed, they make up in flexibility.

Features and Functions

Speaker Building Uses

There are several ways to think of the jig saw. For someone on a limited budget, it can be the one and only power tool. With care, it can cut holes, curves, straight lines, and even bevels. Its accuracy is almost entirely a function of the user; and any resulting ragged edges can often be sanded down.

Where one's budget is not an issue, the jig saw is more useful supplementing other power tools. Its ability to cut curves and bevels make it ideal for roughing out holes for surface-mounted drivers, especially those requiring odd shapes.

Add-Ons

Jig saw accessories are few, and tend to be very manufacturer specific. Below are some possible accessories. If any of these are important to you, be sure to check with the manufacturer or dealer before you buy:

Usage Tips

Cost

Drill

The other highly popular home power tool, the drill, is an incredibly simple tool that should require little explanation to anyone interested in DIY.

Features and Functions

Speaker Building Uses

The obvious use in speaker building is drilling holes (pre-drilling is a good idea to avoid splitting stock), and driving screws. Do not use portable drills with bits intended for the drill press. For example, it's possible to mill very accurate circles with an adjustable one-armed T-shaped circle cutter. However, this is strictly a drill press tool and using it on a hand held drill is very dangerous.

Add-Ons

Usage Tips

Cost

Saw Blades

I've decided to place saw blades in its own category in order to highlight the possible choices. The simplest shop can get by with a single all-purpose combination blade. On the other extreme, the professional shop might have many highly specialized bladed in addition to the general purpose ones. For the speaker builder, it's possible to get by with one blade, but having one or two special blades can be very handy.

Blades come in various sizes. The two most common sizes are 10 inches for table saws, and 7-1/4 inches for hand held circular saws. Both are typically made for a 5/8 inch arbor thus the smaller 7-1/4 inch blade can be used in a 10 inch table saw though the reverse does not apply.

Features and Functions

Speaker Building Uses

The better the blade, the better the cut. Dado blades are very useful for milling rabbets or grooves. A shelf brace inside a speaker or stand could easily be made to fit snugly by milling a dado on all side panels in which the shelf sits.

Add-Ons

Blade stabilizers - The typical table saw clamps the blade on either side of the blade, near the center spindle. A blade stabilizer consists of two round metal plates that clamp the blade further away from the center of the blade thus reducing blade chatter. There are three major side affects to be aware of when using such a stabilizer:

Dado blade shims - Shims may be plastic or metal, and come in various thicknesses. They are inserted between dado head chippers to fine tune the cutting width.

Usage Tips

Cost

Other Saws

Before we continue through other essential tools, let's take a brief side trip to visit other saws. Depending on your interest, skill, and resources, some of these saws might serve you very well in many uses. Needless to say, this list could easily get as large as the rest of this article, so I am only listing a few select items:

Soldering Iron

While this article is about woodworking tools for the DIYer, the soldering iron is a necessary tool when considering soldering your own crossovers and performing mods to your existing equipment.

Features and Functions

Speaker Building Uses

The soldering iron is used in building crossovers and other electrical assemblies.

Add-Ons

Usage Tips

Cost

Other Tools

Here's a small list of other tools, both large and small, some essential, others optional. Much can and has been written about each, and readers are encouraged to further research tools that interest them:

Buying Tools

Here are some beginner's tips to buying tools:

Before buying any particular class of tool (router, drill, etc), make sure you need this tool. Budget your purchase and return on investment with other possible tools that may perform the same function. Do a little research on each tool in your price range. This article should provide you with some basic points of interest, but ultimately, each model will have its own features and functions to consider.

Like all things, it often makes good financial sense to buy things on sale. Aside from the year-end holidays, tool sales can often be found around Father's Day. Many regional or national chains also have frequent sales. Mail order suppliers are common in this business, and many offer very competitive prices. Be sure to check their return policies and shipping charges. Buying from a local dealer may appeal to those looking for more personal service. Many mail order and retail outlets have web sites and advertise in leading woodworking publications.

Other factors that often affect a purchase include brand loyalty, product quality, and availability of replacement parts and accessories. Do some research on the manufacturer, their service department, dealers, and repair history if these items are important to you.

Recently, refurbished tools have become increasingly popular. These tools are usually sold by the manufacturer through outlet stores or through dealer special purchases. Such tools usually have a manufacturers' warranty, but be sure to check the warranty duration.

Internet Resources and Links

Here are some URLs relating to tools:

(Disclaimer: this information is provided as a service to the reader, and does not represent an endorsement of any kind of the companies represented by the URLs.)

Tool manufacturers

Mail order tool sources

Publications

Closing Thoughts

I've tried to keep the focus of this article in the speaker building domain. The experienced hobbyist will no doubt notice the vast amount of missing information. It's possible to write an entire book on each tool, and many such books already exist. Readers wanting to know more are encouraged to visit their local library, bookstore, or Internet sites.

As a woodworker, I feel obligated to mention that power tools are not absolutely necessary for speaker building (or most other DIY projects). Craftsmen with hand tools have practiced the art of fine woodworking long before the advent of power tools. Some of the finest furniture made today is still made with hand tools. Hand tools are capable of performing the same cutting, shaping and drilling operations with no electrons present. And like all tools, the only limitation is one's experience, patience and imagination.

Hand tools offer some significant advantages over their powered counterparts. Outfitting a beginner's shop is usually cheaper than with power tools. Other benefits are the lower dust levels, the absence of loud motors, the smaller floor and bench space for tools, and more "feel" for the material. While this article was not intended to cover hand tools, many resources exist for those interested in learning more. Readers are encouraged to consider hand tools in their woodworking craft.

Thanks To Secrets of Home Theater and Hi-Fi and Louis Lung llung@ma.ultranet.com