What tools would I need if I wanted to start building cabinets? (Part 1)
I asked that question to myself about 40 years ago and I realized then, as I do now, it’s not a question with a simple answer. Practically all woodworking tools can be used in cabinetmaking to one degree or another. The problem lies in choosing the right tools that will help you produce a well built cabinet easier and as accurately as possible. To that end, I have comprised a short list of categories that I believe you need to look at before you consider buying any tool for the purposes of cabinet making. You will need several tools from each to even begin to feel capable of doing quality cabinetmaking.
All the tools listed in the categories below are what I consider essential for producing custom cabinets. But, the question is: “What type of cabinets do you plan to make?” Are you building as a hobby or do you plan on making it a living? Are you just looking to buy a gift or just want to add to your tool inventory? If your going to get serious about it make sure you plan on spending lots of time, have the space to build in, and of course, “Deep Pockets!”
Cutting/Sizing: The mainstay of any cabinet shop has to be table saw. A good quality table saw will allow you to cut and size your cabinet parts accurately. If you plan on building kitchen style cabinets you’ll be working with large sheet good material. A sturdy, heavy duty cabinet saw with at least 2+ horsepower, 10 inch blade, and a good rip fence is a must. Finally,add an out feed table to support longer runs plus some quality rip, cross-cut, and plywood carbide blades. Add a 10″ or 12″ compound miter saw for cutting your smaller pieces, face-frame materials, and moldings. Put the miter saw on a bench or fixed stand and add out-wings or roller stands to support longer pieces.
Back to the table saw for just a moment. Now, some cabinet makers may disagree with me here, but I believe the table saw is taking a back seat to automated machinery. Not the smaller ones, but the midsized shops. With the development of Computer Numerically Controlled ( CNC ) machines it has become much more efficient and cost effective to phase out the manual cutting of cabinet parts and convert to using automated machining. When you start designing cabinets using CAD/Cam software and generating code to these machines which then calculates the best usage of your material. There is no longer the need to manually develop cut-lists and try to figure out the best way to cut your sheet goods. Having CAD/CAM software will enable the CNC to cut all cabinet parts, drill shelf holes, dado, and rabbit, giving you the best yield out of you material. You must train yourself on design software and it’s a big learning curve, but, this is the future of cabinetmaking for companies expecting to grow and be competitive in today’s market. Obviously, these statements are geared to those planning on developing a cabinet making business.
My suggestion for someone starting out would be to get a Delta Cabinet Saw
with a Beismeyer 50″ fence system, cost around $1400-$1800 dollars or so. If that’s to high try a Jet, Grizzly, Craftsman, or similar stationary type. Remember though, “you get what you pay for!” Don’t skimp on your saw or you will surely regret it! For a miter box I’d suggest a good quality 10″ or 12″ compound like those made by Dewalt or Makita. Bosch and Hatachi are also good machines as well. $200-$500 dollar range. Look for sales at the big box stores.
To complete your cutting list you should have a good Sabre Saw for cutting curves, cutouts, and off cuts. Also a Circular Saw for general rough cutting and for use in field installations. A Band Saw or Scroll Saw are “nice to have” stationary saws for scroll type work or re-sawing.
I hope these suggestions, and my comments, will be helpful in allowing you to make a good decision when selection tools to acquire for cabinetmaking. Your comments and question are welcome!
Future posts will cover the following topics:
Shaping, Profiling, and Assembling ( Part 2 )
Finishing and Installation ( Part 3 )