Setting up Shop: Knowing What I Know Now - Part 1

This series details the steps I would personally take in setting up a new hobby/enthusiast level shop right now.


So you want to make some stuff.  You aren’t sure you have caught the woodworking bug just yet, but you have a project in mind.  You have a little space to spare in your basement or garage and a shopvac full of gumption.  What are the next steps? How do you turn your idea, plan, or sketch into something tangible; that you made with your own two hands? Turn it into something you can be proud of, learn from and springboard from. But there is an issue… you have no tools.  Well, let’s get that sorted…

Furniture making can be broken down into 5 discrete steps:

1.       Design, Planning & Material Selection

2.       Stock Breakdown and Preparation (aka Milling)

3.       Joinery

4.       Completion

5.       Finishing

This series will focus on steps 2-4.  While I plan to cover my design process and opinions as well as have a full series on finishing your woodworking in the future, they are a little light in the tools department.  Stock breakdown and prep is where you will first start to need a set of tools to make sawdust happen.

When it comes to breaking down stock, I feel that nothing works faster on rough cuts, and can perform repeatable performance on finish cuts like a good quality Power Miter Saw.

I like using the miter saw. I use it to quickly cut out blanks that will eventually become my work pieces as well as cutting things to their final length, nice and square.  When I first started woodworking I purchased a cheap sliding 10” miter saw because it was cheap and could handle a wider piece of material.  It had a laser sight, was double bevel capable, and could cut 12” of material at 90 degrees and was really really cheap. It had ALL THE FEATURES!

When it came to actual use… it had a wobbly blade, the adjustment handle cracked and could not be tightened easily, the laser sight was held on by 1 screw and moved easily (and caked with sawdust) not to mention it was inaccurate on the sliding extension.  It was one of my most regrettable tool purchases.  I disliked it very much, but, while it was cheap for a miter saw, it still cost a few hundred I soldiered on, stubbornly and valiantly, for about a year before replacing it.

When I found a deal that I liked, on a brand that I liked, I jumped in and bought my current saw.  It is a DeWalt, 12” double bevel NON-sliding mitersaw.  I went with the feature poor version to cut costs, but stayed with a trusted brand for quality and accuracy.  I immediately replaced the blade with a 12” Freud Diablo 96 tooth crosscut blade (highly recommended) and dialed in the angle scales with my square.  Once dialed in, this saw has proven to be highly accurate and durable.

I use it to quickly break down rough stock to rough length (final length + 1”).  I also use if for finish cuts when it is finally time to bring my stock to its final size.  This wouldn't be possible without the upgraded blade on it, the stock blade was just too rough.

There are other ways to make accurate finish cuts, namely a tuned up tablesaw crosscut sled, and I also use that (look for the next blog post about tablesaws).  But with a few considerations, I find the miter saw can perform well in the accuracy department too.  I have a non-sliding saw as I didn't believe that I could get the accuracy I desired in my price range.  I don't use a laser sight-line for the same reason.  I drop a square line and line it up by sight to the blade teeth.  I use stop blocks where appropriate for repeatable cuts (Repeatable often trumps accurate measurements in furniture making) and I keep my blade clean.

If I was starting my shop again, from scratch, and on a hobbyist budget, I don't think I would upgrade from the saw I currently use.  Accuracy per dollar, I feel, is very high with my saw, the DeWalt 12" DW715.