Power Tools

This is a gallery of power tools that are used in built-in projects.

Sawing and sanding tools

Portable power tools do basically the same jobs as their hand-tool counterparts, but they do them faster and usually more accurately. For accuracy, power, and durability, buy a name-brand, high-quality model rather than a discount, hobbyist one.

Speedy sawing
One of the handiest tools you can own is a portable circular saw, which cuts lumber as well as plywood, with and across the grain. The gear-driven blades come in diameter sizes from 4 to 10 inches. The 7-1/4-inch size offers many blade options and is the most useful for do-it-yourself work. The better saws have ball bearings rather than sleeve bearings and an arbor lock that holds the blade while you loosen it.

A jigsaw (also called a saber saw) cuts circles and curves as well as straight lines. A variety of blade types allows you to cut materials other than wood, such as metal and plastic. Variable speed control adds versatility; an orbiting feature helps with complicated scrolling but is less steady when making straight cuts.

Smooth sanding
The belt sander's abrasive belt moves across a flat bed to remove wood quickly. Choose a sander with at least a 21-inch belt and a width you feel comfortable with -- the wider the belt, the heavier the sander.

Orbital finishing sanders use an oscillating motion to move a piece of sandpaper in tiny circles over the wood. The 1/4-sheet size, called a palm sander, is popular. A detail sander allows you to smooth hard-to-reach areas, such as inside corners. A random-orbit sander uses a round abrasive disk that moves in a random pattern to remove stock faster than hand sanding and minimize scratch marks. Models take 5- to 12-inch-diameter disks that attach with adhesive or hook-and-loop fasteners. A good choice is a 5- or 6-inch-diameter model with a connection for dust collection.

Edging and versatile drilling tools

Easy edging
A router uses various spinning bits to shape board edges, cut grooves and slots (called dadoes and rabbets), create profile moldings, and much more. Available in horsepower ratings from less than one to three, routers have either a fixed base or are the plunge type (the housing slides up and down for starting and stopping cuts in the middle of a board). Bits come with 1/4- or 1/2-inch-diameter shanks, the thicker being sturdier. Variable speed control isn't essential, but it can come in handy.

Versatile drilling
For drilling holes in wood and other materials, there's nothing handier than a portable electric drill. You'll find many types and styles, ranging from small cordless drill/screwdrivers to heavy-duty borers with a jackhammer action for tackling concrete. Most models can turn in reverse to withdraw screws, and many have torque control clutches that prevent the stripping of screw heads. Cordless models use rechargeable battery packs (up to 24 volts), which add to their convenience and versatility, but add weight.

Electric drills are sold in 1/4-, 3/8-, and 1/2-inch chuck sizes. A 3/8-inch variable speed reversing (VSR) cordless model with torque control is a workhorse tool for the home woodworker, combining high power with moderate price and weight.

Quick cleanup
The shop vacuum is indispensable for maintaining a tidy shop or work space. The largest ones hold about 28 gallons of debris; the smallest, under 5 gallons. Most vacuums handle both dry and wet material; most can connect to power tools to collect dust at the source. Look for a model with high suction, a large-diameter hose that resists clogging, and a low noise level -- a noisy vacuum is not necessarily more powerful.


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