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A Beginner's Tool & Accessory Guide for Building Cabinetry

So, you want to build your own cabinets but you’re not sure which tools you need for the job? I have been working on my own kitchen build for the past 15 months (a long time, I know!) and this is my personal guide on the must-have tools and woodworking accessories I have consistently reached for to get the job done. It’s long, but hopefully informative, and has lots of source links. No affiliate links, no sponsorships, just my real thoughts.


My “must-have” tool list

Altogether, there are eight power tools I think are necessary for cabinet building, as well as eight woodworking accessories that will make your life easier. When buying tools, I pay attention to what professional woodworkers recommend for beginners, which tend to be high performing, high quality tools at a good price point.


First, the tools:


1. Table saw: A table saw is a must for the many lengthwise cuts you’ll make. I bought the Rigid job site table saw ($369) because I like that 1) it’s portable and 2) it has a rip cut capacity of 26” that can accommodate most cabinet depth sizing. It also has the ability to make beveled cuts anywhere between 0° to 45°. I have heard great things about Dewalt’s job site table saw which has a wider rip cut capacity, however Dewalt’s saw is about twice the price of the Rigid at $649. If you buy the Rigid table saw, this YouTube set up tutorial from WorkMateGuy is very helpful – and trust me, you’ll need it because the instruction manual is very confusing.


2. Miter saw: Miter saws are great because they allow you to make cuts on narrow pieces of wood (think long pieces of face framing, toe kicks, shiplap, etc.). While I bought the Rigid miter saw and am very happy with it, if I could buy it again I would buy the Rigid sliding miter saw because it’s a little more versatile (and, currently it is the same price as the non-sliding one!). I chose to buy my saw with the folding/rolling stand, and I stand by that decision because it makes moving and storing very easy. It was a pain in the butt to set up, but this set up tutorial from Married Man Woodworking was very easy to follow (more so than the instruction manual).


3. Power drill: I have been hanging items on my walls for years with some very old, very cheap drills my father-in-law gave us, so I decided to upgrade this tool. Cordless is the only way to go in my opinion, it just makes it more handy for any home project. I ended up buying Makita’s cordless 18-volt drill and driver set, which comes with two batteries. The price was just too good to pass up, knowing that batteries alone cost $89 on the low end, but can range up to $179 on the high end.


4. Circular saw: I buy all of my plywood in 4’ x 8’ sheets from my local plywood supply store because it's much cheaper than the big box stores, meaning I need to cut it down myself at home. Since putting such heavy and large sheets on my job site saw is cumbersome (not to mention dangerous), I bought a Makita 18-volt cordless circular saw to get the job done more safely. I chose Makita because I already had two batteries from my drill/driver set, so I didn’t need to buy additional batteries for this tool (tip: sticking with the same brand for cordless tools helps minimize the number of batteries you need to buy). I mostly use this saw for cutting the large pieces that make up the cabinet “carcasses.” I would love Makita’s “plunge” version of this saw, but at nearly twice the price I will wait on that purchase until I have a proven need for it.


5. Orbit sander: Woodworking comes with a lot of sanding – like, way too much to do it all manually. I originally bought the Dewalt 20-volt cordless orbit sander…and returned it. Mine had a serious battery defect, and upon doing some research post-purchase I found this to be a common issue for Dewalt’s 20-volt line. Dewalt makes some excellent products, but this just didn’t do it for me. I ended up purchasing Makita’s 18-volt cordless orbit sander (again, because I already have batteries that work with it) and have been very happy with it.


6. Brad nailer: I mostly use my nail gun to attach face framing to my cabinets and to reinforce other joints I have connected using screws. There are two types of nail guns: there are those that work in combination with an air compressor (e.g., you need to buy two tools, the nail gun and the air compressor) and there are those that work only using electricity. I bought a nail gun made by Bostitch that requires an air compressor when we lived in Nashville, so that’s what I use. It takes 18-gauge nails between 1” to 2-1/8” long. But, my sister has the Ryobi 18-volt AirStrike brad nailer – cordless and no air compressor needed – and loves it.


7. Jigsaw: I bought a jigsaw so that I could make rounded cuts, like for our arched cabinet, and smaller specialized cut outs in cabinet backs for plumbing/electrical outlets. I would not recommend the Black & Decker jigsaw I have, since it lacks basic safety features. I bought it for less than $40 on Amazon – you get what you pay for sometimes! Whenever I inevitably replace it, I’ll likely purchase the Makita 18-volt cordless jigsaw given I already have batteries that will work with it.


8. Multi-tool (OPTIONAL): Personally, I think you can get away with just having a jigsaw, but a multi-tool has helped me in some instances where my jigsaw and orbit sander couldn't. I thought I’d save myself a few bucks and bought the Ryobi 18-volt cordless oscillating multi-tool: not only can it make certain cuts in place (think of cutting out a small piece of already-installed baseboard), but it also has a sanding attachment that can get into corners my orbit sander can’t get to.




And, the accessories:


1. Shop vac: Saw dust gets everywhere when you cut wood. Professional workshops usually look pristine on YouTube because they have fancy dust traps and air filters. For DIY woodworking, it’s easiest and cheapest to just buy a shop vac that can hook up to your tools when you’re using them. I have the Rigid shop vac which hooks up easily to the attachments on my other Rigid tools. Whatever you do, find a way to contain the sawdust that kicks up while woodworking because it’s not healthy to breathe in those particles.


2. Dado stack and dado throat plate (OPTIONAL): You’ll notice I don’t recommend getting a hand router. I have one, but honestly I haven’t used it since buying a dado stack – and that’s because the dado stack is just easier for me to use and gives me more consistent cuts. The Freud 6” dado stack and this dado throat plate (you must use the throat plate for safety reasons!) work great with the Rigid table saw I linked above. I marked this accessory as optional, because the “beginner” method of building cabinets does not require any dados. But, if you want to use an intermediate or more advanced cabinet-building method, you’ll definitely want tools that can make these types of cuts – plus, it's far easier than making a zillion passes on a single blade to achieve the same outcome.


3. Pocket hole jig: You can make cabinets with nail and glue construction alone…but using screws will help them hold up far better over time and pocket screws offer reasonably strong joinery. Most jigs are easy enough to DIY at home using scrap pieces of plywood, but this is one jig that is just better to buy ready-made. Kreg's pocket hole jig is the one I’d recommend here.


4. Clamps: You’ll need at least several clamps, all different lengths. Professional woodworkers have a zillion clamps and that’s because nails alone don’t hold wood correctly while glue dries. I don’t have nearly enough clamps, but the ones I’ve used for the kitchen include: 2” metal spring clamps, some 6” and 12” bar clamps, a 36” trigger clamp, and a 50” trigger clamp. In my opinion, it’s better to opt for trigger clamps when buying longer clamps because they are easier to use, especially if you don’t have an extra pair of hands to help you. I really should have more of the larger clamps, but clamps get exponentially more expensive with length, and I’ve gotten by with just one 36” and one 50” so far.


5. Levels: No one wants crooked cabinets, so you’ll want a few levels, including: a self-leveling laser level (this can attach to a tripod, sold separately), a large level for leveling wider surfaces (like cabinets once installed), and a smaller level for smaller leveling checks.


6. Saw horses: I don’t have a fancy work table and because of space constraints in my garage, I need a solution that can fold away easily. So, I bought two Toughbuilt sawhorses. I like these because they are collapsible, have telescopic legs for uneven terrain (if you’re using them outside), and they have notches on the ends that can fit a 2x4 perfectly. I was able to build a simple 2x4 frame that sits in these notches, and that gives me a more stable surface on which to lay a 4’ x 8’ piece of plywood, giving me a very large work surface.


7. Good tape measure: Crappy measuring tapes are a dime a dozen. Buy yourself a good one. I ordered the same one Bourbon Moth Woodworking recommends from FastCap. I bought mine on Amazon, which was much cheaper than at Home Depot!


8. Speed square: Speed squares are very versatile. In a pinch you can draw a perfectly square or 90° line with them. You can use them as 90° guides for assembling square corners if you don’t have corner clamps. You can measure angles with them. There’s a lot you can do. I have an Empire speed square, but any brand will likely do the trick.



Don't forget safety equipment

It’s really important that you protect your ears, eyes, nose, and hands while woodworking. Power tools are very loud and ear protection like this will help prevent against hearing damage. However, I would not wear noise canceling ones because in my opinion it’s important to retain some hearing ability in the event something happens and you need to react quickly.


Buy yourself a nice pair of safety glasses because wood particles will always find a way to fly into your eyes and no one wants a scratched cornea. My favorite pair is one my husband found made by Pyramex because they have a cushy band around the eyes that prevents wood flakes from blowing behind my safety glasses (which happens a lot, too!).


A respirator that can filter dust particles is critical because sawdust and formaldehyde (which is used to manufacture many plywoods) are classified as Group 1 carcinogens. Inhaling these particles consistently can raise your risk for certain types of cancer, including cancers of the paranasal sinuses and nasal cavities. Protect yourself and mask up!


And, use gloves while you’re working to give yourself a better grip when handling clunky pieces of wood and to help protect against splinters. I still get the occasional splinter though, despite wearing gloves!




What brand(s) should you buy?

Even though you may choose to DIY cabinets as a way to save money, the goal should not be to buy the cheapest tools as part of those cost savings. Simply put, everything is easier and your end product will look better when you use the right tools.


Sometimes the “right” tools are among the more affordable ones, but sometimes they are not. You don’t need Festool products unless you’re a professional (although I do dream about their tools!), however some tools are worth spending a little more money on for performance reasons. Tool snobs like to knock Ryobi because of its attractive price point, but their tools are affordable and handle well enough. And, you’ll also find many a brand loyalist who will tell you to only to buy Makita, Dewalt, Milwaukee, or [insert name of any other brand here]. Each has their own pros and cons, as with any brand.


My best piece of advice is to read reviews and find a brand or brands YOU like in terms of how they perform for YOUR needs and buy those. Maybe those are different tools then I recommend, maybe they are the same.


I also highly recommend buying from a store that has a good return policy so in the event you buy a tool that you don’t like you can return it and buy a different one.


How much should you spend on tools?

Tools can easily get expensive, especially if you are building an at-home workshop from the ground up. To help with costs, try to buy tools during big promotions or holiday sale events. I bought many of mine last summer around July 4th weekend and some of the discounts were pretty steep.


Realistically, to set up your own at-home workshop, you'll probably need to spend somewhere between $2k-$3k between tools and accessories. Some beginner tool guides claim it's possible to set up a workshop for far less than this, but I find those to be misleading because often they leave out the accessories that I would argue are also necessary to get the job done.


The following "shopping" list isn't comprehensive by any means, and likely you'll buy other tools along the way, but these are the "bare minimum" items I've needed to build my own cabinets, with prices as of July 2, 2023.



And, if you’d like a tool guide from a professional woodworker, I highly recommend checking out Bourbon Moth’s “Tools every woodworker needs” guide on YouTube. Just keep in mind, I don't think it's possible anymore to buy all of his recommendations for under $1,000 as his pricing is based on pre-inflation prices from three years ago. ;)


Happy nesting!

Christine

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