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Rough Cut Host Tommy MacDonald Shares His Power Tool FavoritesBack to Press Releases
PARKERSBURG, W. VA. (January 2012) – Ever wonder what power tools professional woodworkers like Tommy Mac, host of Rough Cut – Woodworking with Tommy Mac, consider essential for their woodworking? Read on – and view Tommy’s new video at

Major funding for Rough Cut, produced by WGBH Boston and now in its second season, is provided by Woodcraft, and additional funding is provided by Bessey, Easy Wood Tools, General International, Oneida Air Systems, Rikon and Titebond.

In “Tools for the New Year,” Tommy and Rough Cut production assistant Eli Cleveland, both graduates of the renowned North Bennet Street School in Boston, share their top eight power tool choices for the woodshop. Besides their work on Rough Cut, Tommy and Eli both have experience as furnituremakers. Tommy began as a carpenter, a career that ended with an injury while working at Boston’s Big Dig. Then his early interest in woodworking led him to a second career building custom furniture that earned national recognition and has been displayed at prestigious sites like the Massachusetts State House. A Georgia native with a mathematics degree, Eli taught himself woodworking before moving north to study at the North Bennet Street School. After graduation in 2009, he also pursued a furnituremaking career before joining the Rough Cut crew.

So what power tools do these two professionals recommend for woodworkers setting up a shop or upgrading an existing one?

Top Choices: Bandsaw (Eli) and Table Saw (Tommy)

Interested primarily in building furniture, Eli said, “I want some flexibility in my tools.” Although he prefers a 14", he said a 12" with a riser block will work. “It cuts curves but you can also do straight lines and use a hand plane to clean them up.”

“I would definitely go with the table saw,” Tommy said, “because I don’t know if I am going to be doing casework, cabinetry, sheet goods or whatever. I would build my shop around my table saw.” (A 5 HP is his preference, but he said a 3 HP or even a 1 1/2 HP will work.) “For me, the most important thing about saw is the safety mechanism. I cut myself once and that was all it took for me to make sure I have the latest safety technology.”

3. Planer – Eli: “It is hard to flatten a board by hand, but it is harder to thickness it. If I have to I can flatten it with my hand plane, but the planer just makes it easier and saves a ton of time. Tommy: “Depending on your wallet you can get a 13" or a 20", which is what I bought.” (Although the larger planer was more expensive, Tommy said it worth it in the time it saved to do a board once rather than twice with a 13" planer. He also likes the helical cutterhead on the larger machine because it reduces tear-out.)

4. Jointer – Tommy: “I recommend a minimum of 8" wide. If I could get anything it certainly would be a 12", but an 8" will do most of the things you need to do around the shop.”

5. Mortising Machine – Eli: “If you are building furniture using mortise-and-tenon joinery, it saves you a lot of work.” Tommy: “I have saved so much time, energy and effort on that machine. You can get a small benchtop—they make really nice ones these days--or you can get one like we have in the shop that is freestanding.” (Regardless of the size, the two men recommended buying really good bits because they burn through easily.)

6. Lathe – Eli: “I would go next with the lathe because I like to turn. You can go with any size. If I could afford a huge one, I would love it. But they make smaller lathes, and if you get one with a little bed extension that will handle 90 percent of the work around here (legs, columns, spindles, etc.).”

7. Router Table – Tommy: “I would probably invest in two things—that would be a router table and definitely a dust-collection system. A router table for me is pretty versatile. I can do a lot of joinery on it, and I can do an infinite amount of cutting (such as profiles).”

8. Dust-Collection – Tommy: “Dust collection of one of those things that most people skimp on, but I would suggest getting yourself a really great dust-collection system because you only have two lungs, right?” (Tommy notes that dust collection systems are available for any shop size, from the large freestanding versions to the small ones that can be pulled around the shop.)

Watch the video at to hear all the comments from Tommy and Eli. Learn out more about Tommy and Rough Cut at

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