What tools does a beginning woodworker need, and how should he or she acquire them?
As you read the list, you'll notice we don't mention stationary power tools: the tablesaws, drill presses, bandsaws, and jointers that professional woodworkers and serious amateurs depend on. We left them out because this is a basic tool kit. You will add them as your needs and skills develop.
Equip your shop a few tools at a time. As your skills improve, so will your tool inventory. In the basic kit, we list the tools that we find indispensable in bold-face type. They're the items you're likely to find most useful and use most often, so think about purchasing them first.
Can you sidestep any processes for which you're not well equipped? Some retail wood outlets will joint, rip, plane, and crosscut lumber to requested dimensions. You pay for this service, of course, but in the short run its less expensive than buying tools you'd need to do the work yourself.
As you budget each project, figure in the purchase of one new and necessary tool. You'll spread out the cost of equipment, and you'll be able to enjoy a new tool with each project you undertake.
Finally, remember that there are woodworkers who make exceptional pieces with hand tools only (and a little perspiration). We are addicted to the power tools in our shop, but we know that life can go on without them.
When you're ready to buy tools, shop carefully. Check more than one store, read all the catalogs you can obtain (the information in them will save you substantially more than the few dollars they may cost), and always look for sales and specials. Don't rush yourself.
Many manufacturers offer at least two product lines: inexpensive tools for "hobbyists," and more heavy-duty models for commercial/industrial and professional use. Which type do you need?
In general, it makes sense to buy the best equipment you can afford, particularly when you're purchasing hand tools. Its unlikely that a good saw or plane will become obsolete, and with basic maintenance, there's no reason why these tools can't last a lifetime. The thought that a great-grandchild might one day enjoy using your combination square could make spending extra dollars seem like a wise investment.
When it comes to power tools, however, it gets easier to fall into the "overkill" trap. If a 1-hp router will be entirely adequate for your needs, don't buy a 3-hp model.
Good tools don't go out of style. A 100-year-old chisel looks much the same as a new one, and some woodworkers insist that the older tool has higher quality, In fact, some old tools can be more expensive than new ones.
A Basic, Commonsense Tool Kit
- Combination square
- Sliding bevel
- Marking gauge
- Framing square
- Steel tape (10' or 12')
- Folding rule
- Scratch awl
- Crosscut saw (12 pt.)
- Rip saw (6 1⁄2 or 7 1⁄2 pt.)
- Backsaw or dovetail saw (15 tpi)
- Coping saw
- Slip-joint pliers
- Needle-nose pliers
- Diagonal cutters
- Smooth plane
- Low-angle block plane
- Wood chisels (1⁄4 ", 1⁄2 ", 3⁄4 ", 1")
- Single-cut mill bastard file
- Round rasp
- Flat rasp
- Cabinet scraper and hand scrapers
- Utility knife
- Claw hammer (16 oz.)
- Finish hammer (8 oz.)
- Nail set
- Wooden mallet
- Screwdrivers (straight, Phillips)
- Doweling jig
- Bench vise or clamping system
- Bar or pipe clamps (2-3' and 2-5' min.)
Safety and maintenance:
- Face shield or safety glasses
- Hearing protector
- Dust mask or respirator
- Sharpening stone (dual-purpose, coarse/fine)
Portable power tools:
- Router (1 hp, 1⁄4 " collet) Purchase bits as needed; bead, chamfer, cove, straight, round-over, rabbet.
- Circular saw (7 1/4")
- Drill (3/8" variable speed)
- Twist drills (1⁄16 -3⁄8 ")
- Spade-shaped drill bits
- Brad-point drill bits
- Random-orbit sander
- Belt sander (3X21" with dust collection)