Sawing boards sans garage
January 22, 2008 1:52 PM   Subscribe

What set of power tools can I assemble that will allow me to build things out of wood and will store in a closet?

I bought an apartment recently and I really want to put in some shelves, build a simple platform bed, modify a kitchen counter, etc. I am a woodworking novice but I have a lot of need and enthusiasm.

I have access to a relatively calm street for cutting but everything has to fit in my closet-sized storage area. A full-sized table saw is most definitely out. What sort of tools should I get to cut things like a large sheet of plywood? Anyone who has lived in an apartment but figured out how to build stuff, I would love to hear your solution.
posted by Foam Pants to Home & Garden (23 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Festo tools: Swiss, expensive, beautiful, compact.
Otherwise, it's gonna be a bit of a mix -n -match. Go cruise Home Depot or Loews or other DIY store with big tools area.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:58 PM on January 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

The two most essential things are a hand-held circular saw and a drill. If you wanted to add a third, you'd go with a sabre saw.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 2:05 PM on January 22, 2008

Sounds more like a fancy (tall) storage system will be more the problem than anything else. The footprint of almost any power tool (even including a table saw) is smaller than closet's floor space. So if you can STACK, you'll be golden.

If the closet is ground floor, consider buying or building* a rolling toolbox so that you can move everything at once outside to your work area and back in later. Maybe something modular, or just large sturdy bins with casters on the bottom.

* yes I realize there is a logic problem there.
posted by rokusan at 2:07 PM on January 22, 2008

Circular saw, jigsaw, drill, circular sander, all heavy duty cordless of the same make so you can switch battery packs.
Battery charger.
Two fold away cheap plastic sawhorses.
Speed square and long straightedge level.
Assorted screwdrivers, hammer, wood glue, bullnose pliers, some chisels and nails/screws/hardware.
A big gym bag to keep all but the sawhorses in.

This worked for me for years.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 2:07 PM on January 22, 2008 [3 favorites]

A Workmate! I have a 20-year-old version, and it serves me well. A big bonus is that you can easily mount a table saw, band saw, router table, what have you, on it.
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:09 PM on January 22, 2008

Get yourself a circular saw. This can be used for cross-cutting (i.e. boards to length) and ripping sheet goods (like a long strip off of a piece of plywood). (in fact, the page I snagged that image from has a decent PDF explaining how to do so).

You may also want a mitre saw. These things get expensive, complicated and heavy/bulky very quickly. I don't think that you need a sliding mitre saw (they're really big). I'd start out with a simple fixed 10" model. The more you pay, the smoother the motor and more accurate the fence will be, which will help when doing precision work such as trim.

Some sort of cordless drill is nice, I'd recommend an impact driver as they are much easier to drive screws with - most beginners tend to strip out screw heads quickly when using standard cordless drills.

Next I would try to add in a small compressor and a brad nailer. You can slap together painted furniture using MDF, glue and a brad nailer incredibly quickly.
posted by davey_darling at 2:14 PM on January 22, 2008

A "circular saw guide" is indispensable for cutting down sheets of plywood. You can use several 2x4 studs laying on the ground instead of sawhorses. Do get a very good blade for your circular saw.
posted by Fins at 2:19 PM on January 22, 2008

Wow, that Festool stuff, especially the table, looks great. I have been wanting to do more woodworking, and the hand held circular saw is just not cutting it, literally. It is too hard to get perfectly square cuts. It has become time for a table saw, and perhaps a radial arm saw, but the Festool table might work better and it stores more easily. It's expensive, but perhaps cheaper in the long run due to saving space etc.
posted by caddis at 2:21 PM on January 22, 2008

posted by caddis at 2:22 PM on January 22, 2008

It depends on what you want to build and how nice you want it to be. If money is an issue and you're not doing massive amounts of cutting, a saber saw can do the work of a circular saw as long as you have a good straight edge. A power drill with a good drill index (box of different sized drills). A sander is useful. Don't forget non-power tools, which are so much friendlier anyway: hammer, tape measure, hand planes, nail set, etc.
Avoid gimmicky stuff. Here's my rule for life, which for some bizarre reason seems to work: in the kitchen, avoid anything designed to do only one thing. In the woodshop, avoid anything designed to do more than one thing.
Spend the money for some GOOD EAR PROTECTION. Tinitis sucks. And good safety glasses. Blindness sucks too.
posted by arcadia at 2:27 PM on January 22, 2008

Festool is so goddamn expensive, unless you want to kit out your full shop with $50K worth of tools with matching paint schemes you can throw that out the window.

I think MrMoonPie is on the right track here. If you have no shop, you have no work bench, you have no tables, you have no place for clamps and other fixtures. If you have no table saw you have no fence, and if you have no fence you again have no place for jigs and fixtures to help move work material across a machining vector.

I would get something along those lines as a carryall and temp platform when you are outside, then I'd snag a circular saw, a router and a power drill. You can build a router table and drill holes to mount your motor underneath, which allows you to do all sorts of amazing and productive things with or without a fence. You can then mount this on the stand you have. You'll want a cheap circular saw to work with a length of scrap and some clamps, acting as a cheap rip fence when you need it because you don't have a tablesaw. You can do a lot more with a decent compound miter saw but those get expensive fast, even without lazers and all the other worthless crap they tack onto them these days.

Personally, it's kind of a holy unity between the table saw, the router, drill press and bandsaw. I consider everything else more portable, job site equipment that fills in. In your case, we have to think backwards and make those tools act in a more traditional capacity where applicable.

Accurate miter work is going to be difficult without a table saw or a router you can set to the correct angle, but you should be able to handle most every day projects rather well.
posted by prostyle at 2:32 PM on January 22, 2008

The shelves and platform bed you can build with a circular saw, a cordless drill, a tape measure, a speed square and some saw horses. The saw horses can be readily disassembled and stored away; everything else should fit in a milk crate.

Those few bits will get you started. In the future, add more tools as projects dictate.

Re: Festool. I've done a lot of sanding with the Festool Orbital Sander and been happy with the results and especially the machine's durability and reliability. I've been ogling the Festool Domino Joiner, but I don't make enough mortises and tenons to justify the purchase. If I had one, I'd probably make a lot more.

On preview: prostyle's right about miters, but an old fashioned hand miter saw and box will work for most small jobs (moldings, especially).
posted by notyou at 2:59 PM on January 22, 2008

One thing I got recently that I like is an All in One Clamp. It clamps to the ends of a board to give you a secure guide to cut along. The edge you clamp to needs to be square for it to really work.

It's no table saw, but for straight cuts for the various little shelves and stuff that I make it's pretty handy. The top has a track that can accept a plate that attaches to the base of a circular saw or router (and make the cut that much straighter) but I don't own that.
posted by JulianDay at 3:13 PM on January 22, 2008

Festool is way expensive, but their circular saw, with the guide rail could probably replace the need for a table saw.

Their brushless drill is also amazing.

Lee Valley, has tons of traditional hand tools, in all price ranges.
posted by Max Power at 3:22 PM on January 22, 2008

I don't know how this slipped my mind, but it is also right up your alley! Kreg Tools makes jigs for pocket hole joinery, which has become increasingly popular versus more time intensive and craftsman oriented methods like biscuits, miters, dovetails, etc. They have recently started to really flood consumer brick and mortar stores with their molded carry all kits, so it should be readily available in your local area in some fashion.

Also I didn't really mean to trash Festool, they are fantastic tools and I have heard nothing but glowing reviews. It's just way out of your budget and space constraints at the moment.
posted by prostyle at 3:27 PM on January 22, 2008

You might consider taking a woodworking class at a community college mainly to get access to their workshop.
posted by O9scar at 3:52 PM on January 22, 2008

Plenty of good advice above. I would just add that after you get the basics, don't keep buying tools to build up your shop, buy them as you actually need them for a project.
posted by LarryC at 5:30 PM on January 22, 2008

I was doing carpentry before most Mefites, even those crazy Festool guys, were knee high to a saw horse... and I’m sick of it. Don’t even think about trying it. On second thought, it was pretty sweet doing maxed-out interior trim for the rich and shamelessly self-indulgent... and we treated them like swine. That's why I'm in another line of work now.

OK here’s what you need:

1 A pair of "steel" fold-up sawhorses from your local Lows or Home Despot, and one 2x4 stud to cut in half and screw on top of aforementioned cheesy Chinese sawhorses with your...
2 Brand new Makita 12 volt cordless drill, using square-drive 1 and 3/8 screws from the bottom.
3 I suspect you cut those studs in half with a corded skillsaw. No one knows who made that, but you zipped right thru it with a heavy duty drop cord and a speed square for a saw guide.
4 On second thought, you could just as well have used a framing square and a Makita jigsaw with Bosch Blades.

Good advice from a lot of people here.

For what it's worth, the Ryobi table saw on wheels is just great.
posted by Huplescat at 5:47 PM on January 22, 2008

Sorry... I was too busy being clever and I forgot to tell you to get a 12 foot 2x6 and have it cut in half at the store. You need that across the sawhorses to suport long stock and plywood when you cut it.
posted by Huplescat at 5:57 PM on January 22, 2008

arcadia writes "Spend the money for some GOOD EAR PROTECTION. Tinitis sucks."

Hearing protection isn't expensive, 33db foam plugs are like $0.29 a pair if you buy a hundred at a time.
posted by Mitheral at 6:06 PM on January 22, 2008

Response by poster: I just want to thank everyone for the solid advice. Ever answer is awesome! I had wanted to take a community course to get me started but they have discontinued that class and I want a desk and shelves now, damnit. I have a lot of research to do to figure out what configuration of the above advice is going to work best for me. Thanks again!
posted by Foam Pants at 8:09 PM on January 22, 2008

Good advice from above, you should also hang out at great bunch of people who are all only too willing to give a newbie all the advice they could need and then some :)
posted by zeoslap at 10:00 PM on January 22, 2008

On last thing - (on ripping plywood)
I have had luck (though you have to watch them like a hawk) getting plywood ripped at big-box lumber/hardware stores. The manageable pieces are then brought to the site, and assembled.

-and -
The furniture designs of Donald Judd are a particularly good inspiration for the buncha-plywood-scraps school of furniture design. (Google will call up lots of other designs/images)
posted by From Bklyn at 1:09 AM on January 23, 2008

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