I know it seems obvious but it has to be said: Begin by knowing how much space you have to work in. It can make all the difference as to how much you spend (or misspend) in the long run. If you are working out of your garage the space is at a premium; so small and compact is the way to go. Actually measure the available space (don’t forget to leave room for the car) of your garage then plan where you are going to work in relation to the available electrical outlets.
A word here about some of the multi-tasking workstations like the Shopsmith system: These are specially made for those with limited space but they can be pricey for the beginner. Consider how much use you will actually get from such systems before you make the investment.
Try to start with the basics; table saw, a drill, and two handsaws. Why two hand saws? Of all the power tools in the beginner’s workshop a handsaw is one of the least expensive items to buy, will get the most use, and is time consuming when you have to switch blades! I suggest two: on with the standard multipurpose blade, the other with a specialty blade (for tile or pressboard, etc.).
Table saws. Table saw models range from the inexpensive occasional job to the very expensive professional grade models. One rule: Make sure it will fit into the space you want to use it. Try to get the largest table saw that will fit your budget because, unless you have a great deal of space, it will be the one that you will use for a long time, and as your projects grow you will want a table saw that is large enough to handle the larger projects.
Drills. Again I suggest two different types of drills. One corded the other cordless. For the cordless finding a model with a detachable, rechargeable power pack is a must (make sure you buy an extra power pack and keep it in the charger, fully charged). For everyday work a self adjusting hand chuck is sufficient.
A word here about the difference between “household’ tools and “work tools’. There are certain brands and models that are for the causal household jobs that crop up from time to time. These are not meant to be used on a continual bases and will wear out quickly with excessive use. Talk to the salesperson before you buy and tell them how you plan on using the particular tool you are going to buy. They can direct you to the brand and model best suited for your needs.
A workbench. If you are pressed for space, a collapsible portable workbench is adequate, but very limited as to the size of the project you can work on. If you are somewhat familiar with using a workshop then one of your first projects should be to build a “fold away’ work bench that is attached to one of the walls of your work area and will fold back against the wall when not in use.
Your workshop will grow with time and then you will be ready for drill presses, planers and lathes. For now though, this is enough to start a basic workshop.