Carpentry 101 for the Ultimate Newbie – My Toolbox

As you may have noticed, I’m a little carpentry happy these days.  With every pregnancy I come up with a new hobby to keep me rational and emotionally stable (some work better than others).  Woodworking is my current hobby and now that I’ve actually finished a project I feel perfectly qualified to give you advice!

I’m hoping that in the process of documenting my progress (and many mistakes) I may have inspired some of you to branch out into previously unknown and unattainable territories of achievement.  I know that my making furniture for our family isn’t going to change the world, but for me it is productive, enjoyable and helps our checkbook.  If, at five months pregnant with my fifth child, I can learn to build furniture then you can do something that you have wanted to try.

This brings me to the point of my thoughts today.  If, by chance the thing you have been wanting to try is woodworking, then I thought it might be helpful to show you what is in my toolbox.

First of all, I am fortunate enough that I have a very handy husband.  We have been collecting these tools over the last ten years, just picking them up as needed for projects that he was working on; so when I started building things I had to buy very little in order to get started.

First things first. You will need something to cut up all of that wood.

12 Inch Miter Saw

This is the saw that I use the most.  With this saw you can adjust the angle on the base to cut at an angle and you can also adjust the angle of the blade.  They have some miter saws where the blade slide in and out for longer cuts.  They are several hundred dollars more and the only project when we have needed it was when Matt was building stairs up to our attic (he ended up using a hand saw to compensate).  They also make 10 inch miter saws.  In my limited experience, unless you are working with extra wide boards or plywood, a miter saw will get you very far.

Table Saw

A table saw is another useful tool.  This is not the one that I use, but it comes well recommended.  Our table saw was Matt’s grandpa’s and it is still going strong!  One reason I like older tools is because they last for so long!  All we needed was a new blade.  A table saw is very helpful if you are going to be working with plywood, and absolutely necessary if you are making shallow cuts (cuts that don’t go all the way through the wood).

Circular Saw


Again, this is not our specific circular saw (though the reviews are good on  Matt picked up our circular saw for free (I’m pretty sure I broke it last time I used it though so we may be getting a new one soon).  If you have a limited budget and are only making straight cuts, this is the saw to get.  The up side is that a circular saw is inexpensive.  The down side is that it is not as easy to use as a miter saw, nor can you make shallow cuts.  Of the three saws I have used so far, I am the least comfortable using this one (to be fair, it’s also the one I’ve had to use the least).


I don’t know if this is the one we use… it looks about right though ;)  If you are a woman, a power drill is an absolute necessity, even for common household fixes.  We have several antique hand drills of various sizes but beautiful as they are, I don’t like using them.  I don’t have the strength nor do I have the patience to drill a pilot hole or drive in a screw by hand.  I don’t even bother with a screwdriver in most cases, even while installing curtain rods or key ring holders into my walls.  Some people swear by the cordless drills and I’m sure that in some ways it’s easier, but we have a corded drill and I’ve been perfectly happy with it.  Corded drills are also less expensive.  If you are set on a cordless drill, I would suggest that you buy a spare battery so that if the battery runs down while you are in the middle of a project, you can keep working while it charges.  The upside of a corded drill is that the battery never runs out, down side is you need an extension cord most of the time and you may find a cord in the way annoying.  If I wear this one out then I may replace it with a heavy duty cordless drill.

Drill/Driver Set


No point in having a drill if you don’t have the drill bits and driver bits to go with it.  For serious newbies, drill bits are the long skinny swirly things you use to drill pilot holes.  Pilot holes are holes that you drill before you drive a screw into it.  Drilling pilot holes makes your life so much easier when you are using screws.  I can work a screw into sheetrock without too much trouble, but wood is a lot harder and so a lot more difficult to drive a screw into.  I’m sure there is a more precise and proper way to do it using fancy guides and the like, but I usually just eyeball the screw I’m going to use and pick a bit that looks just a bit thinner than the screw.  The pilot hole needs to be big enough for the screw to go down into, but small enough that the threads of the screw will still be able to catch and hold onto the wood.

Driver bits are what you would normally associate with a screwdriver (screwdriver get it?)

Bit Extenders

I just ordered these the other day.  I tried to drive some deck screws into the pocket holes but I couldn’t get the drill bit down into the skinny pocket.

Kreg Jig

I have already mentioned the virtues of this bad boy.  It’s a must have!

Palm Sander

Trust me, you do not want to sand by hand.  You may seem that this is an unnecessary expense, but like the power drill, your life will be so much easier.  A nice thing about a sander is that you won’t just use it for building.  Say you find a great coffee table at a garage sale.  Give it a little sanding and a splash of paint and you’ve got your self a custom table to stick next to your couch.

Basic Hand Tool Set

You can pick one up at Walmart that will come with all the hand tools you would need (hammer, level, driver bits, tape measure, etc.)  Mine is pink (from Walmart) :)  Not only will this come in handy for building things from scratch, but every woman should be able to tackle some basic household fixes and this will get you well on your way.  A hand tool set will also help you in assembling furniture that comes in boxes if you aren’t ready to build it yourself.

You will also need a nice big work space and table, a pencil, a straight edge (a plain ruler with a metal edge will work fine), speed squareclampssafety glassesear protection and a camera (to take pictures of your awesome project!)

This is hardly a comprehensive list and I’m sure I’m missing a lot of basic things, but I’ll try to add to it as time goes on.

Like I said, we have taken over ten years to collect all of this equipment.  Check out ebay, garage sales, used tool stores or even your dad’s garage if you need to.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Great tips! I need ALL of these! ;) Hope you’re having a great weekend! XO


  2. Heather B says:

    Informative post! Thanks!


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