Beginner Tools

I just made my first cut with my Xcarver. I am not a normal wood worker and I have no tools. Can someone assist this newbie on what tools i should buy?

Thanks for any help!

That is a very open ended question. What kind of projects do you plan on making? I always recommend that you let the things you make determine what tools you buy. You could go as small as one of those battery powered combo tool kits all the way to a full woodworking shop.

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Budget also plays a big part in that decision. You could spend anywhere from a couple hundred for some basic tools up to several thousand for some hardcore stuff that you may or may not need. Mike is right though. Let us know what you are looking to make and we will be more than happy to offer tool recommendations.

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You guys are awesome for responding so quickly. I guess I am curious about like how to get rid of the tabs? Like what files or sanders I should look at. I am going to be working on wood and on 1/16 aluminum. I need to know what mill bits work best for aluminum. Sorry I am pretty green.

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For the tabs really any file will be ok. You can hand sand but a good orbital sander is a very valuable tool. I have this one and love it for both taking material away and fine surface finishing.

For milling aluminum you cant beat the Destiny Viper end mills. They can be found on ebay for a reasonable price.

DrillMan 1 on ebay seems to be most peoples go to source for end mills including me.

I use a bench top belt sander I got from harbor freight years ago.
It works great on tab removal

I use a traditional hand sander for finish sanding

I prefer the oil based stains but they can stain your hands, especially around the nails. (and Tung Oil Finish, I LOVE that stuff!) So got a big box of food handling disposable gloves (the plastic bag kind) from smart and final to wear when I am staining.
I find them much easier to pull on and off than latex gloves.

A chop saw for cutting planks down to fit on the XC
(A good hand saw and miter box will work for smaller stuff)

Hand drill to make screw down holes
(For precision drilling I prefer a drill press)

Eventually you will want a table saw and a router.
And the list goes on but those are the basics

Don’t forget to add some type of dust collection system.

We’ve got a list of tools on the Shapeoko wiki which may be of interest:

Where possible we have plans for using the machine to make your own.

The most important thing for tool purchases is to know why you’re buying the tool, and to have an understanding of what it’s used for, how it will save you time and effort or afford better working abilities so that it justifies the purchase and will get used. Nothing sadder than never-used tools w/ dust on them.

“What tools should I have” is really tricky. The rule of thumb I’ve always followed, at least for smaller electric \ hand tools, is to buy from Harbor Freight or used first, find out if that’s the tool for me, or if it just doesn’t meet my needs. If I use the heck out of it, when time to upgrade comes, I buy the best one I can find that meets all the needs I identified when using the cheap version (eg. change this, remove that, make it X inches longer etc…) and then just keep repeating.

For larger tools, like table saws, planers, jointers, bandsaws, you really have to evaluate what you plan to do with them and how frequently you will use them. I have no issues spending $3000 on a tablesaw, because that is my go-to tool for everything, however I’d never spend more than $30 on a jigsaw because I never use them. Band saw is another high-use item, same for jointer and planer. Drill press, not so much. lathe, all the time … and so on and so on.

In the context of working with XCarve output, I’d recommend starting with Harbor Freight, and thinking about chisels, small fine-cut saws, clamps (you can ALWAYS use more clamps) and small sanders.

It’s a lot about personal preference, but I like to be able to use HF for the cheap stuff, then use it till it breaks and then buy something more mainstream and reputable.

Just my $.02

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The most important tool next to my X-Carve is my digital caliper. You will need it for every cut you make, since the actual thickness of your material and the actual diameter of your bits is super important to know.


The basic items i use most with the xcarve
allen wrench set
few small wrenches
dremel with sanding drums
palm sander
assorted router and milling bits
sand paper
Those are the items i use almost daily.

Between Aaron Matthews and @AllenMassey, 's lists you’ll be a happy camper. My bench top belt sander was revolutionary to me. Quick work of tabs on wood, aluminum and brass and I am still on the same belt it came with. I actually prefer a cheap electric palm sander for finish work. Random orbital works better on larger surfaces, but for small stuff, I can hold my cheap palm sander in one hand and touch up small pieces with the other. The random orbital is a bit more difficult to handle. The caliper - per Allen is CRITICAL. Get this stuff on Amazon - dirt cheap. Chop saw and drill are the two tools I use every day, several times a day. The chop saw cuts aluminum, brass, wood, etc. I have one 80 tooth blade, carbide tippped, for metal and one for wood. Changes are quick. I screw my work down to the wasteboard with my drill. I might add one tool for you: A Dremel. I use sanding and buffing and tools but most important to me is tab cutting. They make a little saw wheel that cuts wood tabs perfectly. They also make a little metal cut off wheel for metal, grinding down or cutting off screws, nails, etc. There are also 20 packs of scotchright wheels and make quick work of rough edges and scallops and put a nice shine on metal. That Dremel is SO handy. Have fun.


The few things I cannot live without:

  • Jigsaw for cutting the tabs.
  • Work Gloves.
  • Digital Callipers.
  • PVA Glue to harden the pockets in MDF.

General stuff to just have around.

  • 80 Grit Sandpaper and 200 Grit Sandpaper just a roll of each for those times where you want to take a little of and not a lot.

Things I love but could do without:

  • Desktop Belt Sander its easier than using a orbital sander for sanding down the edges of the work piece. However an orbital sander is better if you have a large object and want to sand the top of it down.
  • Ear Muffs With Built In Bluetooth
  • Dremel The woodworking cutting bit is a tad bit scary that I don’t really end up using it for cutting the tabs however if your game you could use this instead of a jigsaw and have the advantage of the sanding bits and plastic cutting bits. I had it from before and is a nice thing to have but it is not perfect for everything.
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@GeoffEvans makes great points - some of these tools can be scary when you first start out. I was very comfortable with these pre-x-carve. (The Dremel however, is NOT scary - way less scary than a jigsaw - if you are just starting out, opt for the dremel and hold it slightly tighter than you would an electric toothbrush and you will be good). But I remember that getting comfortable with the larger, more powerful tools (chop saw, table saw, belt sander, drill press, router table, and yes, jigsaw) was definitely a process. It is a process that should not be taken for granted nor taken lightly (again - except for the Dremel).

I’m talking more about this blade for the Dremel.

The fibreglass disks tend to cut MDF ok but they end up burning out quickly. And its hard at least in NZ to find the other types of cutting blades here anyway.

I think the Dremel is a wonderful tool. But there are better tools for cutting out the tabs.

My personal feeling is that jigsaw ends up raising your hands out of the way due to the distance from the blade from the trigger and relatively little of the blade is left on the top half of the surface unlike the Dremel. Yes you can still do some damage if your not thinking but you can also do that with the Dremel.

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Ahhh the band saw i still remember losing a job while using a band saw. A coworker thought it would be funny to scare me while operating a band saw not one finger was lost but i did break the blade in my startled moment sending it completely through my hand and out the palm about a inch and a half. Not one thought of the repercussions of my immediate reaction crossed my mind as i spun around and with a firm swing broke his nose. And we will save the story of the neighbour using a skill saw to cut up a car body for another day.

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Those Demel blades scare the crap out of me, Not so much because of accidentally bringing it into contact with flesh. But because they are spinning at something like 20,000 to 30,000 rpm and at those speeds they can shatter and fly apart like a bomb. Always wear really good eye protection when using the Dremel.

the worst thing they make for a dremel are the red cutting disc. Never not had one fly apart.

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depending on what material you are using; some putty knifes or old credit/gift cards for applying a coat of acrylic paste or joint compound. works well with mdf so it won’t suck up your paint.

sand paper with a few radius tools and sanding block (scrap pieces of mdf work well, round out the edges for a nice feathering). sponge also works well with sand paper for matching contours.

pull saws… very useful since they are flexible and can be pressed against surfaces for flush cuts.

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Thank you for this list.