Having decided to try woodworking (see why woodworking), one of the first questions beginner woodworkers ask is ‘what are the essential woodworking tools I should get first?’ This is an obvious question, yet it is one that beginner woodworkers face difficulty in finding a simple, straight answer. They always get a version of ‘it depends on what you are going to work on’. Whereas that is a fair answer, it is one that doesn’t help the beginner woodworker.
Surely there is a set of essential tools that will always be part of a woodworker’s toolbox, independently of what type of projects you might chose to do now or in the future, you might think?
We believe so.
The below is an effort to outline a set of essential woodworking tools that a beginner woodworker can use to guide one of the earliest decisions in woodworking, i.e. what tools should I get first?
THE ESSENTIAL WOODWORKING TOOLS GUIDE
The guide is intended to be as short, succinct and practical as possible. It is outlined as follows:
- Types of woodworking tools
This is a brief summary of the types of tools that exist in the woodworking universe. A bit of a high-level taxonomy of tools.
- Essential tools
The ‘must have’ tools that, as mentioned above, any woodworker will have in their toolbox in 99.99% of cases.
- Core tools
The ‘should have’ tools. Those that as you start advancing in your woodworking skills, you will find you have the need for.
- Discretional tools
The ‘could have’ tools that you will find yourself in need of as you develop a taste for woodworking and your projects get more complex.
- Project specific tools
These are the tools that could be essential for some types of projects. Many could be considered niche.
- ‘Nice to have’ tools
The tools that we all end up getting, even though we really didn’t need but we really want to have.
- Further reading. This includes links to other articles that discuss the beginner toolset that we recommend you read as well.
It is important to clarify a couple of things:
1. The guide focuses on hand tools. This means that for each category, you could have another set of equivalent power tools. However, power tools are not the focus of this guide.
2. This guide does not specify, neither recommend, specific brands. What is outlined is general tool types. The brand you choose will depend both on local availability, budget, and personal preference. Plus, looking at brands would require a separate guide.
3. Wood turning and carving are excluded from this guide. Again, a separate guide for those activities would be warranted.
4. The main aim of the guide is to help the beginner woodworker create a mind map of the types of tools that exist, their use and importance, as well as serve as a reference framework to decide what to acquire when.
TYPES OF WOODWORKING TOOLS
Woodworking tools can be classified in different ways. The simplest way to classify them, and the way most vendors and local shops would do is by type. This is as follows:
Hand planes – these are the tools used to flatten, straighten, and smoothen wood surfaces.
Chisels –tools used to carve and cut out material in small, precise cuts, often aided by a mallet.
Saws – most people know these. Used to cut wood to get it to a specific length, width or thickness.
Marking and measuring – these are the tools used to ensure accuracy, e.g. cutting to the right length or planing to the right thickness.
Sharpening – All tools with a cutting edge need to be as sharpened before use. A dull tool will make more harm than good.
Holding – Tools to aid accuracy and safety by keeping working pieces in place.
Other – Anything else that does not fall in any of the classes above, including work space and safety.
Essential woodworking tools – the ‘must have’
These are the very essential tools that virtually any woodworker would need. This is the set of tools that beginners should focus on when looking at their first tool acquisitions. A set that includes these essentials, would allow a new woodworker to complete their first projects.
This tool class includes:
- A jack plane (No. 5 or 62)
- A block plane (60 ½ or 102 or rebate)new
- 3 or 4 bevel-edge chisels in e.g. 6, 13, 19 25mm
- A Ryoba Japanese saw or a couple of western style back saws (one rip and one crosscut)
- A Dozuki Japanese saw (240 mm) or a dovetail western saw (e.g. 15 rpi back saw)
- Marking and meassuring
- A marking gauge, a marking knife, a 30 cm high accuracy rule, a straight edge and a small to mid-sized try square
- A whetstone for sharpening chisels and plane blades (1000 and 4000 or 6000 grit)
Core woodworking tools, the ‘should have’
These are the tools that come right after you have acquired the essentials. They come naturally. As you start getting into more complex projects, the need for these tools quickly arises. You will know when you have reached that point. If you have a larger budget and can afford to get these tools in addition to the essentials, you can rest assured you have got tools that you will need and use.
This tool class includes:
- A smoother plane (a No. 4)
- Scrapers (cheap, simple and super useful steel cards)
- One or more rasps depending on the work you are doing (there…)
- Some extra bevel edge chisels depending on the projects you are lining up
- A couple of mortise chisels (e.g. 6 and 13 mm)
- A Kataba Japanese saw
- A coping saw
- A sliding bevel
- A sliding (combination) square
- A mitre (combination) square
- A small (30cm) framing square
Discretional tools, the ‘could have’
These are the tools that follow you in you quest for more intricate work. This means wider or narrower chisels, saws with more special teeth arrangement, etc Tools in this sub-class help you in making your work easier, quicker, more enjoyable, but they are far from essential. You are buying these tools when woodworking has become embedded in your life.
These tool class includes:
- A joiner (No. 6, 7 or 8) if working on larger pieces
- Extra blades for the jack (No.62) and low angle block plane to extend their use cases
- A shoulder and a router plane to make joinery work easier
- A spokeshave (flat sole and curved if budget allows)
- Bevel-edge and mortise chisels in sizes as needed
- A flushing saw to cut of pins or dowels
- A 60cm rule
- A large (60, 100 cm) framing square
- Protractor or digital angle gauge
- A diamond sharpening stone for fixing and sharpening blades (400 or 600, and 1000 grit)
- Clamps in different sizes (you never have enough clamps)
Project specific tools
The need for these tools may arise earlier or later. It will depend, as the title suggest, on the type of projects you may be doing. This is when you are doing very specific work and as such you need less general and more task-specific tools.
This class may include things like:
- A No.3 plane if working on small pieces where even a No4. Would be too big
- A violin-maker block plane (again, if working on very small pieces)
- A groove plane
- Miniature chisels
- A panel saw (if you don’t have a Ryoba or working on very large pieces that may need a very long saw blade. Some people would consider this essential but many of use have survived without one for long periods of time)
- A small Dozuki (150 mm) for small, intricate work
- Veneer, inlay saws
- Long sash or pipe clamps for holding very large panels
- Or Japanese bar clamps if working on small pieces
‘Nice to have’ tools
These are tools that you don’t really need, but you might want to get at some point just because you really want them. Some like blue steel Japanese chisels could possibly be part of an essential list if you were going to work with Japanese tools only, but the price tag and availability (outside of Japan of course) is more limited that western cabinet-makers chisels.
Tools in this class may include:
- Scrub planes
- Shooting board planes
- Edge planes
- Chisel planes
- Blue steel Japanese oire nomi
- Frame saws
- And many more tools
Other articles and guides that are work checking out to help beginner woodworkers:
- Yann Giguere on choosing and using Japanese saws
- 4 essential saws by Fine Woodworking magazine:
- A fantastic tabular compilation at the Hand Tool List
- Short and sweet list by renaissancewoodworker
- A very comprehensive list by Joshua Farnsworth
The essential woodworking tools for beginners – a succinct guide