If the table saw is the first woodworking tool you buy, what comes after that? It’s an obvious question with a very broad answer. It all boils down to what you make.
If you are cutting out letters for signs you might want a scroll saw. Like the table saw there is a wide variety of choices both with respect to size as well as cutting options.
There are smaller units with 4” bladed. Dremel makes a nice one. There are some larger units with 6” blades for a more powerful cut through thicker material. But they are also larger and heavier. And for cutting there are different tooth-count blades as well as a spiral blade that allows you to make a cut turn without creating a curve. (Nice.)
A drill press comes in quite handy. There are hobby grade presses that do the job for periodic work. Then there are production-grade presses that are bench-top models. They’ll drill through most anything as long as it’s not too thick. And finally there are the floor-mount models that will seemingly do it all, with more power on thicker and heftier stock.
Of course there are hand tools. A hand drill will get the job done. Today people are gravitating toward the Lithium-Ion based cordless drills. I’ve got a set and they do a really nice job. But there are times when I need even more torque and still have to pull out the corded drill.
Hand planes are useful even for beginners. But beware: There is a cult that has grown up around these things. There are high-quality planes which are priced like high-quality planes. There are even some boutique planes – high quality and with styling to match. There are older planes that are very well-built and go for quite reasonable prices.
But using hand planes takes practice and that means time. Along with this, the various types of planes have their specific applications. You may not need some of them but, if the cult grabs you, you may for some reason *think* you need them. Be careful. These are tools first. If you want to collect, that’s ok. Just don’t confuse collecting with woodworking is all I’m saying.
One popular hand plane is the jointer. It’s a long plane that is used to make straight the long side edge of a board so that it might be joined to the edge of another board. Then glue them together. Some people use these regularly. Others depend upon their jointer, a machine with a multitude of blades that will smooth the edge (or face) of a board.
Then there’s the miter saw. They come in a variety of forms, from hand-powered mechanical machines to hefty sliding compound miter saws (SCMS) that cut with ease. The SCMS takes the place of both the hand style miter and the general-purpose chop saw.
The one consideration on the miter saw that I recommend is this: Get one that is adjustable. Most of them allow you to adjust the fence. That works on most. But on the DeWalt and the Festool you can loosen the indexed register (the plate with the angles on it) and adjust the saw to the fence. It’s like you would do with your table saw.
The reason that I would rather not adjust the fence is because of its length. Long pieces can tend to flex when you tighten down the fence. That can make one side accurate and the other side inaccurate. That’s what was happening to me on my first SCMS, a Craftsman. But with my DeWalt (an older DW708) I have the fence perfectly straight. Then I adjust the blade just like on the table saw. Loosen the screws, make cuts for measurement. Adjust accordingly. Tighten it down. Done. Works for me, but as always your mileage may vary.
After all of that …
Probably the second tool that you’ll purchase is a router. With a router you’ll be able to easily round the corners of an edge, add a shape to an edge, trim laminate edges, and even make panel doors with ease. If you get a router with two bases – a fixed base and a plunge base – and a table for attaching it to work with long boards, then you’ll be able to do all of those things listed. And more.
Pick a good router table, if you would. Most don’t need the expensive ones, but those less-expensive stamped steel & aluminum ones can be used as starters. The next step up will be a floor-standing table that may have a T track. Use the T track for adding a feather board or other accessories, both for convenience and safety. You can spend as little as about $200 for a better bench table to about $800 for a floor-standing solution. I’ll repeat this advice: Don’t get in a rush. Get a starter table, learn with it and learn what you need, then upgrade as time allows and need demands.