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Best Bang-For-The-Buck Tools

These woodworking products outperform their price tags.
Skilsaw on board.

According to the old adage, “When you buy an expensive tool, you only cry once, but a cheap tool will make you cry every time you use it.” Well, whoever first uttered that axiom never got their hands on these top-value tools and accessories—hand-picked by the WOOD® magazine editors—that perform so well you’ll do far more buying than crying.

Skil Sidewinder 7¼" circular saw (shown above)


no. SPT67WM-22, $90
Where to buy: Acme Tools, 877-345-2263, acmetools.com

Priced in the middle of the pack for corded sidewinder-style circular saws, this saw cuts with impressive power, provides great sightlines whether used right- or left-handed, and handles and adjusts well despite its nearly 11-pound weight.

Portable and prudent

DeWalt 5" random orbit sander

DeWalt 5" Sander.

no. DWE6423K, $70
Where to buy: Lowes, 800-445-6937, lowes.com

Sanding aggressiveness can often be the enemy of a high-quality final finish, which is usually more important. This dependable sander might not be as aggressive as some, but it delivers smooth, scratch-free surfaces without excessive vibration. It’s good at collecting dust, especially when connected to a shop vacuum—its port provides mounts for two common sizes of vacuum hoses, a feature not found on most sanders.

Ryobi 18-volt drill/driver

Ryobi drill/driver.

no. P215K, $79
Where to buy: Home Depot, 800-466-3337, homedepot.com

It many not have the bells and whistles of costlier cordless drills, but the P215K simply gets the job done with enough torque and runtime to handle almost any workshop task. To keep this drill affordable, Ryobi sells it with only one 1.5-amp-hour battery pack and a basic charger (no storage case or bag). But, any Ryobi 18-volt battery pack will work with this drill; you can add one for as little as $50. And even at this price, you still get a 3-year warranty.

Metabo HPT midsize router combo kit

Metabo HPT router kit.

no. KM12VC, $200
Where to buy: Acme Tools, 877-345-2263, acmetools.com

For about what you’d spend on a typical midsize fixed- and plunge-base 2 1/4-hp router combo, this kit—a good all-around performer, with 14 " and 12 " collets—also comes with three interchangeable subbases, a guide-bushing adapter, seven guide bushings, a centering pin, and a plastic case that holds it all. Need a little peace of mind? The 5-year warranty ranks best among routers.

Modest-priced machines

Ridgid benchtop belt/spindle sander

Sanding different circular surfaces.

no. EB4424, $300
Ridgid, 866-539-1710, ridgidpowertools.com

Most combination tools compromise performance for mutifunctionality, but the EB4424 combo sander defies that axiom by excelling as both a spindle sander and belt sander. It comes with a 4×24" 100-grit belt and spindles in 12 ", 34 ", 1", 112 ", and 2" diameters with 80-grit abrasive sleeves. Changing from one mode to the other takes less than a minute.

Delta contractor tablesaw

A Delta contractor tablesaw.

no. 36-725T2, $649
Where to buy: Lowes, 800-445-6937, lowes.com

Affordable enough to be your first floor-standing tablesaw, the 36-725T2 packs enough power and precision to be your last. With a respectable-power induction motor, cast-iron top, reliable rip fence, quality miter gauge, good dust collection, and built-in casters for easy mobility, the 5-year warranty is just icing on the cake.

Grizzly 14" bandsaw

Grizzly 14" bandsaw.

no. G0555, $700
Where to buy: Grizzly Industrial, 800-523-4777, grizzly.com

This saw, though priced near the bottom of the 14" bandsaw category, routinely outperforms models selling for higher prices. Its ball-bearing blade guides hold blades steady for excellent curve cutting, and the 1-hp motor provides sufficient power. It comes with a rip fence and miter gauge. An optional riser block kit (no. H3051, $111) extends its resaw capacity from 6" to 12".

Grizzly 1-hp dust collector

Grizzle dust collector.

no. G8027, $280
Where to buy: Grizzly Industrial, 800-523-4777, grizzly.com

We may all dream of a ducted dust-collection system, but in reality, most of us really only need a more affordable portable single-stage collector we can wheel from machine to machine as needed. The G8027 produces sufficient airflow to suck dust and chips effectively from almost any machine when connected with 10' or less of flexible hose. And its 2.5-micron filter bag traps nearly all dust, even the fine stuff. At this price, you can buy a second one to minimize hooking and unhooking a single one, and you still won’t break your tool fund.

Benchwork on a budget

Irwin Marples bench chisel set

Irwin Marples bench chisel set, shows six chisels.

no. M444SB6N, $70
Where to buy: Lowes, 800-445-6937, lowes.com

You could save money by buying chisels one at a time as you need them. Or you could pick up this boxed six-piece Irwin kit with widths of 14 ", 38 ", 12 ", 58 ", 34 ", and 1" and be done with it. The carbon-steel blades sharpen easily, and the plastic handles grip well enough you’ll get along nicely.

Veritas gent’s saws, $107

Showing a number of cuts made by a Veritas saw.

pair of gent’s saws, no. 05T1008
rip saw, 20 tpi, no. 05T1001
crosscut saw, 22 tpi, no. 05T1005

Where to buy: Lee Vallley, 800-871-8158, leevalley.com

For quick, clean, and quiet cuts, these affordable, sharp saws work great for cutting joinery and other precision cutting tasks. Each is a steal at $59, but save even more buying them by the pair.

WoodRiver 7" bench vise

WoodRiver bench vise.

no. 162794, $155
Where to buy: Woodcraft, 800-225-1153, woodcraft.com

Rather than spend hundreds on a fancy vise that takes hours (or days!) to install, this WoodRiver vise simply bolts to your workbench and should handle 80 percent of your workholding chores without breaking your budget. It opens to 734 ", and with quick-release jaws, you won’t have to spin the handle all the way; you add the wood jaw faces.

Lie-Nielsen low-angle block plane

Lie-Nielsen planer.

no. 1-102, $140
Where to buy: Lie-Nielsen, 800-327-2520, lie-nielsen.com

You can’t beat a low-angle block plane when you need to trim or shave a little off a workpiece, and this U.S.-made model performs so well you’ll kick yourself for not getting one sooner. Yes, you will find cheaper block planes, but you won’t find one that performs as well or needs as little setup work to use, and a fussy plane might make you want to give up hand-tool work. The hardened-steel blade stays sharp for a long time, and the adjuster helps you easily fine-tune the cutting depth.

Affordable accessories

Incra miter gauge

Incra miter gauge.

no. V120, $90
Where to buy: Incra Precision Tools, 972-242-9975, incra.com

Some tablesaw blades cost more than this miter gauge, but even the best blade can’t produce accurate crosscuts unless you hold workpieces at precise angles. Replace your underperforming miter gauge with this Incra model that features 120 laser-cut notches for precise angles in 1° increments plus a 22.5° setting on each side. The miter-bar adjusters let you tweak the fit in your saw’s miter slot, and you can easily attach an auxiliary fence for better workpiece support and tear-out protection.

Oshlun stacked dado set

Oshlun dado set.

6", no. SDS-0630, $91; 8", no. SDS-0842, $120
Where to buy: Rockler, 800-279-4441, rockler.com

For a little more than the cost of a low-end dado set, Oshlun’s 6" 30-tooth outer blades and five-tooth full-body chippers (four 18 ", one 332 ", and one 1/16") deliver perfect smooth-bottom dadoes, grooves, and rabbets with no tear-out. It even comes with eight shims to help you dial in precise widths easily. The 8" set features 42-tooth outer blades and six-tooth chippers.

Nova Pro-Tek G3 4-jaw lathe chuck

Showing a bowl being attached to a lathe chuck.

direct-thread chuck, no. 48291, $150
spindle adapters $40
insert chuck, no. 48290, $140
all inserts $29

Where to buy: Rockler, 800-279-4441, rockler.com

Recommended for lathes with 10–16" of swing, the G3 chuck comes with one set of 50mm jaws, a screw center for mounting workpieces, and a T-handle wrench, with the ability to add different-size jaws (sold separately). The G3 sells in two versions. Although the direct-thread version fits 1" spindles (or a 114 " or M33 spindle with the optional adapter), we recommend the insert version that requires you to buy a threaded insert to fit your lathe. With this one, you can upgrade to a larger lathe in the future without having to buy a new chuck. The 6-year warranty sweetens the deal even more.

Kreg pocket-hole jig

Showing Kreg pocket-hole jig in use.

no. 320, $40
Where to buy: Kreg Tool, 800-447-8638, kregtool.com

Pocket-hole joinery adds mechanical strength to simple butt joints, without adding much time. This jig enables you to drill pockets in stock from 12 " to 112 " thick with a positive stop for each thickness. Simple, accurate, and low out-of-pocket cost—that’s hard to beat.

Norton waterstone sharpening kit

Sharpening a tool with the Norton waterstone kit.

no. 298, $165
Where to buy: Peachtree Woodworking, 888-512-9069, ptreeusa.com

Hand tools need regular sharpening to maximize their usefulness. But most sharpening stones and machines can be as pricey as they are mysterious. We like this value-priced set of stones because it sharpens any chisel or plane iron to an ultrafine edge using two 3×8" double-sided stones (220/1,000 and 4,000/8,000). Plus, it comes with a flattening stone to true up the waterstones after they become dished from use. Each stone comes in a rugged plastic storage case.

Bench Dog Ultra Push Bloc

Showing push bloc's on tablesaw.

no. 42790, $10 each
Where to buy: Rockler, 800-279-4441, rockler.com

Better and safer than scrapwood blocks (and costing little more), these blocks have curiously strong-gripping rubber pads that seem impervious to dust. And the large handle makes them easy to grip for use on a jointer, bandsaw, or tablesaw.

Pittsburgh aluminum bar clamps 

Pittsburgh aluminum bar clamp.

24" no. 60541, 38183, $11
36" no. 60539, 38184, $12
48" no. 60540, 38185, $15
60" no. 60594, 38225, $17

Where to buy: Harbor Freight, 800-444-3353, harborfreight.com

We’d all like more clamps, if we could afford them. With these low-cost models (priced less than half the cost of most other brands), you can afford to fill up a wall with clamps that will handle almost any assembly. 

Skilsaw on board.
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