There is no denying that power tools will help you complete tasks faster and with more strength compared to most manual tools. They will often also do a more accurate job. If you are new to power tools, a good deal would be to find a cordless set, that shares batteries and charger, rather than buying all the pieces individually. A Basic set of Drill and Impact driver can also be a good base to add a Jig Saw or Planer (Without the battery and charger). There is a range of prices and qualities, and you don’t necessarily need the most expensive one. Something in the mid- price range will be fine.
Whether you are just starting your journey into DIY or any type of carpentry or a veteran, power tools will be the cornerstone of your shop. I have been using power tools for over 30 years and although they are constantly improving and evolving, the principals and the basic functions they need to perform remain pretty much the same.
Budget vs. Quality.
Having always been on a budget when it comes to tools, I do believe that tools are one of those places where the high-quality stuff will rightfully cost more. You can always find bargains, but as a rule of thumb, if you want to invest in tools that will last a lifetime, they will cost you a hefty bundle, and they will be worth it.
Personally, I am a big fan of finding the middle ground and also testing cheap tools. My first electric screwdriver was a ‘no name’ 20$ Chinese model that served me for over 10 years of home projects. I have also had a cheap drill bit set that just did not drill metal (and it was supposed to). If you are on a budget, you have to pick and choose.
When it comes to drills there are two main options: A handheld drill (re-chargable or not) or press drill.
A Handheld Drill
One of the staples of any DIY project. Unless you are working with particularly hard materials, any drill with a decent drill bit will do the job. Cordless are more convenient (if you didn’t forget to charge) and you can find good quality drills with enough ‘umpf’ at very reasonable prices.
A Drill Press Stand
A great solution if you have a hand held drill but still need the occasional 90 degree/ more accurate hole. Fits most drills, and might even warrant getting a cheap or old cord drill so you don’t have to bother mounting it and dismounting it every time.
I have an old one with an old drill firmly attached to it, and it does the job. Not as sturdy as a real press drill, but doesn’t cost as much.
A Press Drill.
A Press drill is preferable in to a handheld drill especially when you want precise 90-degree holes (such as machine heads’ holes). They are a bit pricier but if you have the space and budget, they can make a great addition to any shop. Pay attention to the length between the drill and the metal column as that will determine the size/ width of the material you can use.
Routers are some of the more versatile tools you can have, and when it comes to electric guitar building, they are a gift from heaven and with the right bits and jigs can perform many tasks. The y come in a a few shapes and sizes: Small, large and table mounted.
Routers are also probably the fastest spinning tool you will have in your shop and with their sharp bits, they demand caution and respect. There is a slight learning curve to working with a router so it’s a good idea to experiment and get your bearings on some scraps first.
The Palm Router
These start at around 40$ and can go up 150$ for the major brands. Great for first time users and safely do a lot of the smaller tasks. You may need to work slower and take smaller ‘bites’ at a time, but that may turn out to be a good thing. Emptying out the cavities for pick-ups will be much easier for first timers.
The greatest benefit is the fact they fit in one hand (although it’s always recommended to get a good two hand grip) and are not as strong and dangerous as their large counterparts. Strength is
A couple of steps up from the Palm Router are the family of Plunge Routers. Not only are they bigger and stronger, they also offer the ease of ‘entering’ the material and avoiding the ‘kick’ you often get on first contact with the timber.
You can also find combinations of static base and replaceable plunging base. With the right attachments and bits, you can get away with one of these for all your guitar building need but do keep in mind that most routers in this category are fast, furious and sharp.
Table routers are exceptional for routing with templates and for rounding corners. Because they are stationary, they are also relatively safe to use, although they can send a piece of timber flying pretty fast. The bigger ones may also require larger bits. . The downsides are the price and the space you need, although they are not as expensive as you might think.
As with drills you can also improvise a table router from a static (the plunger is not very useful here) router mounted upside-down under a table with the bit sticking out. I have a 30 year old Makita designated for just that.
If you are planning to build a guitar (or more), you are going to be doing a lot of sanding. There is going to sanding for shaping, for smoothing, between coats of paint and other finishing. There is probably no getting around to some manual sanding with a goo old fashion sanding block, but most of us would prefer to cut corners (Pun intended) as much as we can.
Random Orbital Sander
These are the do it all tool for sanding. There are a few sizes which can all fit in one hand. The larger ones are on the heavy side for one hand operation. With a good combination of sanding paper grits (more in the sanding paper section) you can do the majority of your sanding with this one. The downside: doesn’t fit in tight turns, but exactly for that you need the spindle.
Table Spindle Sander
The spindle sander is designed to sand at 90-degrees to the table, which is very convenient for smoothing the edge around circumference of the guitar body and all the sharp turns where the orbital sander cannot reach. Some of them are round and some have a flat area as well as a round edge.
At some point you are going to have to cut the wood to its shape. Whether it is the body, the neck or any other variation.
A Band Saw
They come in different shapes and sizes but they all have the same goal: creating a clean cut of 90 degrees with a straight or curved line. Perfect for accurately shaping your guitar body and neck if you are not using a template. As with all static/ table tools, space is one of the concerns.
Manual planers are the bread and butter of classic Luthiers. The electric ones are not as versatile because of their size, but have the advantage of power and accuracy.
Benchtop Planer and Jointer
The main use for the planer/ jointer is to prepare timber to the right thickness and to achieve a straight angle on the edge of wood planks before gluing them together to form a solid guitar body. The bottom planer will also enable planing several planks to the exact same thickness. The top part will help with the straight angle. Special care should be taken when dealing with the exposed blade.