My beginner’s tool list:
- Panel cross-cut saw
- Two back saws, one rip, one cross-cut
- Stanley No. 5 Jack plane, or non-Stanley equivalent
- One 3/4″ chisel
- One 1/4″ mortise chisel [edit: go with a 3/8″ not 1/4″]
- A Mallet
- Two holdfasts
- Two to four wooden handscrew clamps
- Two to four 4 foot long bar clamps
- One pint wood glue
- Cut nails, 1″ long
- Cut nails, 1 1/4″ long
- Flat head screws, 1 1/4″
- Sandpaper in grits 100, 160, 180, 220
- Sharpening stones in rough, medium, and fine grits
- Knock off of an eclipse sharpening jig
- 12″ Combination Square
- Marking Gauge
- Marking Knife
- 24″ Straightedge
- Tape measure
- 16 oz claw hammer
- Set of screwdrivers
- Drill with common bits in common sizes
This post got away from me. Here’s what I hope to get out of it: a conversation. Do you think someone could get started with what I’ve listed above? Can something be removed from that list?
I go into more detail and rationales below, but the gist of what I’m hoping for is captured above.
I’m not the least bit an expert. The idea that I can tell people what tools they need to do woodworking is on the one hand absurd. There is however one perspective I do have that the experts don’t: since I am still a beginner I’m very much in touch with what it’s like to attempt to do wood work without a full set of tools, and I’m in touch with the challenge of collecting the tools folks say you do need.
That challenge comes in more than one form, the most obvious being financial. Finding and reading through the lists of what tools people think you need results in some lists that will cost several thousands of dollars (that number is generally closer to ten thousand than it is to one thousand).
The other challenge is actually finding said tools in the first place. Luckily, sorta, there are some excellent tool manufacturers today, and if money is no object you can get most of what you need quickly by being willing to spend a lot.
I don’t know anyone actually like that, though. No one that I’m aware of goes out and purchases all the tools they need before they start woodworking.
Thinking about how I felt getting started, that last statement is a very key point to understand: no matter what else you read out there, you do not have to have all “essential” tools to begin woodworking.
There is an argument to be made that you will need a particular list of tools, eventually, and that is what these lists you find aim to tell you, I think.
The other challenge to these lists is that the type of woodworking you find yourself enjoying will dictate what your final list looks like.
Does near every project you make include dado’s? If so a router plane will be a huge help. If more than half of the projects you do include dovetails, you’ll probably want a dovetail saw. If on the other hand dovetails appear only occasionally in your work, you might get by with the same tenon saw you use for other tasks.
Were I to possess enough arrogance to believe with my lack of experience I could make a list of tools a woodworker needs, I’d try to make more than one list: one for when you’re just starting out, and then additional lists that expand upon what your tools allow you to do, ultimately adding specialized tools depending on the type of woodworking you end up doing.
Come to think of it, I am rather arrogant, hence this blog post.
These would be the tools I think you should get if you want to START woodworking.
This is my attempt at a revision of the list of tools I am trying to own myself, which is what a famous contemporary woodworker wrote that people should aim to have. It’s how I would write his list differently.
Item number one: A bench. You’ve got to have a surface to work on. This surface is more than just a table: it’s a work holding tool.
That said, don’t get paralyzed by thinking you need the very best, perfectly designed bench to get started. You’ll never get started. An old door over two sawhorses *will* be enough to start out with, despite all it’s faults. By all means, do better than this if you can. Just don’t never start this work for lack of a 500 lb Roubo.
Next, three saws: A panel cross-cut saw; might I recommend the $15 Stanley SharpTooth 20″ Crosscut? At this point you don’t know anything about rake, set, and teeth per inch, so just grab this cheap plastic handled thing. It cuts fast, and will get you started.
Two back saws. I’m not even going to distinguish between carcass, tenon, or sash saws at this point. What I got, and they’ve served me quite well, are this pair from Lee Valley:
One plane. A Stanley No. 5 Jack plane, or non-Stanley equivalent.
There are hundreds of thousands of these on the used tool market. There’s a good and interesting case to be made that, if you have the money, you purchase this plane brand new from either Lie-Nielsen or Lee Valley. This will cost you around $325. The argument goes that this plane will be in perfect shape, and so you’ll learn what a well made, finely tuned plane is supposed to be like. Still, that’s a lot of cash! I think most people start with an old used Stanley. Some of those folks go on to be master woodworkers.
There’s a fair argument that a No. 4 would be a better choice. With dimensional lumber available the need for rough work can be avoided. I think the extra length of a No. 5 is helpful when beginning. I also think a No. 5 is very versatile, and can be put into service as a smoother. They call it a Jack for a reason.
One 3/4″ chisel. Since you’re being saved from a common error and not buying a “full set” of chisels containing sizes you don’t need, you might as well make it a good one. I haven’t tried many, but I like Lie-Nielsen’s bevel edge chisels. One ¾” costs $55.
One 1/4″ mortise chisel. Since you’re starting out and don’t know much yet, trust the brands. I’d recommend going for a Lie-Nielsen or one from Tools For Working Wood. There are predominantly two styles of mortise chisels out there. Either will work. If you’re buying new and spending less than $40, be careful, it might be a piece of junk.
A wooden mallet to strike your chisels with.
Two to four wooden handscrew clamps
Two to four 4 foot long bar clamps
One pint wood glue
A box/bag of cut nails, either 6d or 4d, or better yet both.
A box/bag of 1 1/4″ long flat head screws that aren’t ugly.
A selection of sandpaper in grits 100, 160, 180, 220.
A fair quality sharpening stone selection; either water, oil, or diamond stone. I won’t get into grits, but you need something coarse, something fine, and something in between. If you’re just starting out don’t worry about buying top-of-the-line (that can cost over $100 per stone). Your sharpening philosophy will evolve (in other words, change) over time.
A knock off of an eclipse sharpening jig.
Marking & Measuring stuff:
A 12″ combination square.
A marking gauge. Don’t break the bank here. There’s really nice ones, but you can start with anything.
A marking knife. This doesn’t have to be expensive either. Some people use their chisel.
A straight edge; something at least 24″ is nice. Personally, I think it’s worth owning a Carpenter’s Square. Even though you aren’t building houses this thing will still come in handy, and double as a straightedge.
Other stuff you probably already have, and if not should get regardless:
a 16 oz claw hammer
a set of screwdrivers
a tape measure; for woodworking it doesn’t need to be any longer than 12 feet.
These are the first things I’d buy or find in order to get started. I think you can make a lot of things with just these tools. Those things can be made better, and more easily, with additional tools. Add some others and you can do more complex things.
This though is an effort to create a list to start with. Work with these tools for a while, and a you’ll know what you need next, and not have to rely on what someone else wrote down.