Whether you are planning to do some woodwork for your house or just to make it as a plain hobby, you will need to invest on the basic woodworking hand tools to get you going. To help you better, we have narrowed the list to the most essential and habitually used hand tools only and have added guides on selecting the tools. Most of the pictures here are the recommended types/brands of woodworkers hence, you may want to opt for these.
As one or more tools listed have almost the same purpose or use, you may start buying those that you will need for your basic projects especially if you are on a budget. As you go along with your projects, you will have to accumulate these hand tools, as it is important to match the tool to the woodworking task so you can get the most desirable outcome of your projects.
There is a long list for woodworking hand tools alone but those that were not included here are semi-important and/or not necessarily needed (you may buy or make it according to your preference). Regularly visit our site for more of this list.
Solid Wooden Workbench
Important Woodworking Hand Tools Table of Contents
- 1 Solid Wooden Workbench
- 2 Planes
- 3 Saws
- 4 Chisels
- 5 Marking, Measuring & Layout Tools
- 6 Sharpening Tools
- 7 Clamps
- 8 Wood or Hide Glue
Workbench is a table at which carpentry or other mechanical or practical work is done. They range from simple flat surfaces to very complex designs that may be considered tools in themselves. It is the most fundamental, yet most important fixture in a traditional woodworking workshop or any job site. The right workbench, whether portable or permanent, equipped with drawers, vises, or drafting-table tilt top, not only helps work go faster and more accurately but keeps you safe as well.
Regardless if you are planning to make your first traditional workbench or planning to buy it, it is important to do some research first and then get the features that will help you enjoy working with hand tools. It is best to test out any workbench to see what feels most comfortable for your size and working habits. If you do not have a budget, you can make use of anything that allows you to secure your wood in place for planing and sawing, and using clamps to secure your workpiece.
One of the most important features to look for in a workbench design is sturdiness and stability. Choose to either build or buy a heavy and sturdy wooden workbench, with at least 3-4” solid top that will usually provide you with the mass you need. For the dimensions, this can be a matter of preference. Just look at the space you have for a workbench and let that be your determining factor. Make sure that it has strong, supportive legs and that it is flush with the front of the workbench top.
To select a height that matches your stature, the rule of thumb is to make your workbench height the distance from the floor to your first thumb knuckle, with your arms hanging relaxed at your sides.
Planes are hand tools with an adjustable blade that is used for smoothing or shaping a wood surface.
A jack plane is a middle size, general-purpose woodworking bench plane that is used for dressing down the wood to its correct size, in preparation for truing and/or edge jointing. It is usually the first plane used on rough wood.
If you are on a budget, a jack plane can temporarily be used in place of other planes that perform specialized functions like rough stock removal, jointing board edges and smoothing the boards.
A new and sharp low angle jack plane is ideal for beginners and professionals who are not up for rehabbing a hand plane
Block plane is a woodworking hand plane that has the blade typically bedded at a lower angle and with the bevel up. It is typically small enough to be used with one hand and is designed to cut end grain, trim joints and put asymmetrical slope on board edges. It is recommended to find a low angle block plane to let you cut difficult grain more easily.
It is not a collector’s favorite tool but most traditional woodworkers use a block plane more than most other planes as it gets into tight spaces and can work as a rabbet plane. It is recommended to use a low angle block plane so you can work difficult end grain more easily.
The shoulder plane, also called bull-nose plane, is a tool with its shoulder planes extending, allowing trimming right up to the edge of a work-piece. The shoulder plane is used to trim the shoulders and faces of tenons, a projecting piece of wood made for insertion into a mortise in another piece. It can be used to trim right into the concave corner where two surfaces of the same piece of wood meet perpendicularly. It is also used to cut rabbets, a step-shaped recess cut along the edge or in the face of a piece of wood, typically forming a match to the edge or tongue of another piece. In addition, it can clean up dadoes, a groove cut into one piece of wood into which another piece of wood will fit snugly. Unlike the rabbet plane, the shoulder plane is intended to cut end grain. It also has a much finer set mouth, which allows finer shavings to be taken.
In selecting a shoulder plane, it is better to buy the large size because it will cut the most sized joints. Most traditional woodworking hand tools can be vintage or used. However, used shoulder planes can be very hard to rehab, so it is recommended that you spend extra money on a new shoulder plane.
Panel saws, also called handsaws, are long, thin flexible metal saw plates with a comfortable wooden handle and no rigid back or frame. It has larger teeth and is generally for rough dimensioning of lumber. A panel saw is technically a smaller handsaw that fits into the panel of a tool chest. It can be quite affordable but you need to know what you are looking for and be willing to spend some time learning to refurbish and sharpen.
The number of saw teeth per inch (tpi) or points per inch (ppi) is one important factor in selecting a handsaw for a particular purpose. The number is usually stamped into the saw plate. If you cannot see the tooth shape up close, the ppi number can sometimes assist in identifying a handsaw as a rip handsaw or crosscut handsaw.
Large handsaw teeth will cut quickly through the wood, but will leave a rough surface. Small handsaw teeth will cut finely and accurately, but are not practical for cutting long lengths or widths. You will need both of the following two tooth configurations. However, you can change any saw’s tooth shape and/or the tooth count with saw sharpening tools. If you can only afford one initial handsaw, then get a ripsaw.
Rip handsaw’s teeth are typically larger than cross cut teeth and is shaped like a woodworking chisel. It cuts/rips along the board’s grain like a chisel. A 26” 5 ppi handsaw will make quick work of all your ripping chores. The pitch is set low enough that the saw will cut fast but not leave the cleanest of cuts. Nonetheless, you will be cleaning and trying those edges with a plane anyway.
Crosscut handsaws are used for cutting across the grain of the board to a specified length. Its teeth are shaped like a knife blade so they can cut cleanly across the wood fibers. Crosscut saw teeth are more difficult to sharpen than rip saw teeth.
Look for cross cut handsaws with 7-9 ppi. A 26” 8 ppi saw will allow you to cut your rough stock quickly down to size. Finalized lengths can be achieved with a hand plane.
Unlike panel saws, backsaws are used for fine accurate work when making wooden joints (like dovetail joints). The thin metal saw plates have steel or brass backs that run along the top of the saw plate, which keeps the blade stiff. In back saws, rip and crosscut teeth can vary in size.
All three backsaws are used very often. You can certainly get by with just a larger dovetail saw and a carcass saw at first, if you do not immediately plan to cut large tenons.
Dovetail saws are the smallest backsaws (typically 8-10”) and are configured with fine rip-filed teeth (15-20 ppi) for cutting along the grain. Rip filed teeth at 14-18 ppi is great but move towards the lower end for a more general usage saw.
Carcass Saw would do your entire final dimensioning and bench top cutting for joinery. It can be configured to rip or crosscut, but most joiners find crosscut most useful for precise cross-grain cuts, like tenon shoulders and dadoes. A 12-14″ carcass saw with 12 ppi crosscut filed teeth would suffice.
Rip Tenon Backsaw
Next to miter saws, tenon saws are the largest backsaws with around 22” long, 16” long blade and 10-12 ppi. It is used for cutting deeper cuts, along the grain, predominantly on tenon cheeks. A larger saw is preferable for greater depth of cut and balance. The recommendable one is 18” saw with a depth of cut at least 3.5” or more. The filing should be around 10 ppi.
Miter Saw with Miter Box
A miter box is a frame that holds a very large miter saw to enable you to cut your wood to very accurate lengths, at accurate angles. This will especially save you a lot of time in trying to square your board ends when building boxes/tool chests. The long miter saw glides back and forth through a rigid saw frame and makes very precise cuts across the grain.
The frame’s angles can be changed to enable you to cut perfect miter joints (the joint used for picture frames) and many other joints. The accuracy and cleanliness is even better than with the power miter saw/chop saw. It can give you perfect 90° angles.
The very affordable coping saw is used regularly for rough cutting shapes in the board, but especially for removing imprecise waste from dovetail joints (one of the most common wood joints). An affordable coping saw would work just fine as long as you have plenty of replacement blades (also very affordable) on hand because it bends and kinks easily.
Chisel is a tool that has a long metal blade with a sharp edge at the end. It is used for cutting and shaping wood and stone. It is preferable to have the wooden handles because of the balance it gives to the chisel and the amazing feel and look. Plastic handles most certainly hold up better to repeated blows but because you would use a wooden joiner’s mallet, it takes a very long time to break a wooden chisel handle.
Another factor to consider when buying a chisel is its blade system style. Socket chisels is much more durable as it can take a severe beating because the blade sit on top of the handle’s cone. Tang chisel’s blade on the other hand, sit inside a handle’s mortise and can split the wood handle if repeatedly struck hard enough with a mallet.
Bevel Bench Chisel Set
Bench chisels are the shop’s workhorses as they are multipurpose woodworking chisels. It is used for chopping and paring the wood and the most commonly used sizes are the 1/8, 1/4, 3/8 and 1/2. They should be sharpened for general use in the 30° bevel area. It is a good idea to not cheap out on the chisels. A new or vintage high quality set of bevel edge bench chisels will last many years and will be used on nearly every project. It is highly preferable to have lighter wooden handle chisels with excellent steel. Bench chisels can be shaped as bevel edge, firmer or registered.
Mortise or Mortice chisel is used for heavy chopping of mortises (rectangular holes) into the side of your board, for insertion of a tenon. They take a real beating, so they need to be tough. You do not need a whole set of mortise chisels but for a beginner, choose chisel size 1/4″. If this is not available, a 3/8″ size or a size close to these will do.
Wooden Joiner’s Mallet
Wooden mallets are mostly used for hitting your chisels when cutting joints (i.e. dovetail joints or chopping mortises). A good wooden mallet is vital for traditional woodworking. It is preferable to have the English-style Joiner’s mallets. The lighter carver’s mallets will not be heavy-duty enough for most tasks, especially chopping on a mortise chisel. Build or buy a mallet that is made of hard wood (e.g. maple, oak, and beach wood) and one that will feel well balanced in your hand. You should never hit a chisel with a metal hammer.
Marking, Measuring & Layout Tools
6-Inch Combination Square
A combination square is a tool used for multiple purposes like measuring angles, determining flatness and measuring the center of a circular bar or dowel. It consists of a rue-type blade attached to a two-part handle, the shoulder and the anvil. The shoulder is placed at an angle of 45° between itself and the blade and used for the measurement and lay-out of miters. The anvil, on the other hand, is placed at a 90° angle between itself and the blade. The handle contains an adjustable knob, which allows it to move freely, horizontally, along the edge of the ruler so that it may be tailored towards any size job.
Do not cheap out on this because you will eventually have to replace it because of its inaccuracy. If you want your joinery to fit perfectly, then you need to scribe it accurately with precise marking tools.
A try square is used to square up your work pieces for precise-fitting joints. It is used for scribing square lines down the face of your boards, such as a line for where to cut with your saw. You can test the squareness by lining the square along the edge of a board and scribing a line along the inner side of the blade. Flip the square over and try to draw a line over the same line again, with the inner side of the blade. If the lines line up, then it is good.
If you are not confident enough to build your own try square, you can purchase a good metal try square (between 9 and 12”). Most antique metal try squares that you will find are out of square when you buy them. However, they can be brought back into square with a file.
Sliding Bevel Square
A sliding bevel square, or bevel gauge, is very useful for scribing angles on your work-piece. Once set, a good sliding bevel square should be able to do that angle repeatedly. This is preferable to use in laying out dovetail joints, rather than using a dovetail marker.
Dividers / Compass
Dividers or compass is used for precisely taking and laying out measurements without ever having to look at a number. It is also used for scribing circles or arcs. Traditional woodworkers rarely take measurements with a tape measure when doing fine joinery work. Rather, they take measurement with dividers then transfer that arbitrary measurement to another workpiece. This removes a degree of inaccuracy.
It is recommendable to have at least two pairs of dividers, a little 3″ pair and a larger 6″ or 9″ pair, because you regularly will be storing and transferring more than one measurement at a time.
Like dividers, marking gauges or scratch gauges are used in joinery and sheet metal operations to mark out lines for cutting or other operations. You cannot build furniture without at least one good sturdy marking gauge. The purpose of the gauge is to scribe a line parallel to a reference edge or surface.
The gauge consists of a beam, a headstock, and a scribing or marking implement, typically a pin, knife, pen or wheel. The headstock slides along the beam, and is locked in place by various means: a locking screw, cam lever or a wedge. A locking mechanism keeps the gauge from slipping and loosing that measurement. The marking implement is fixed to one end of the beam.
The heart of the marking gauge is its micro-adjustable fence. Slide the fence close, secure the tail and then micro-adjust the head until it is right on your mark. The micro-adjustable fence gives you precise, repeatable settings, and the A-2 tool steel blade gives you sharp, crisp lines.
Since it determines the accuracy of all your work pieces, make sure that you get the right marking gauge and have more than one. The recommendable wheel-style gauge will allow you to mark two measurements at once, thus eliminating the need to purchase a separate mortise gauge, which saves you money. If you are laying out wider pieces, consider choosing a longer marking gauge.
Folding Rule and/or Tape Measure
A folding rule is a predecessor to a tape measure and used for somewhat precision measuring when cutting boards. A nice vintage 24-inch wooden rule is so handy to have because it slips into your pocket and gives you quick measurements. They are affordable but beware, as not all folding rules are created equal. Make sure that the numbers and lines are not worn off, the metal joints are in good shape (try applying oil) and not wobbly.
If you are on a tight budget, a small tape measure can be used for the same job of rough measurement. A tape measure or measuring tape is a flexible ruler and used to measure distance. Its design allows for a measure of great length to be easily carried in pocket or toolkit and permits one to measure around curves or corners.
A marking knife is used for marking into tight spots, like dovetails, and making very accurate lines, which is vital for tight fitting joints. Not all old knife, would work for your woodworking project. It is recommended that you get one that looks exactly like the one in the photo. This is perfect for marking joints like dovetails.
Having very sharp tools are necessary for accurate and safe woodworking. There are many methods for getting a keen edge on chisels and plane irons. Selecting the right tool starts by finding the one with the best combination of advantages for your particular sharpening needs.
Majority of traditional woodworkers obtains a primary angle on a grinder and then hones the angles on water stones.
Power or Hand Grinder with Cool Wheel
A grinder is used to quickly establish the correct angle on chisels and plane irons or blades. The process of grinding refers to an abrasive machining process that uses a grinding wheel that act as the cutting tool. For beginners, start with a slow speed bench grinder with special wheels like white aluminum oxide that do not heat up as much as traditional grinder wheels.
Regularly quenching your hot edge tool in water or peanut oil is essential but slow speed grinders and cooling wheels require less quenching. You can even grind your edge tools on a cheap normal wheel as long as you quench enough.
Angle grinder, also called side or disc grinder, is a handheld power tool used for abrasive cutting and polishing. Although developed originally as tools for rigid abrasive discs, the availability of an interchangeable power source has encouraged their use with a wide variety of cutters and attachments. It must have enough power, reliability, and the features to make it useful. Certain angle grinders, depending on their speed range, can be used as sanders, employing a sanding disc with a backing pad or disc.
The last step, after establishing the desired bevel angle, is to refine/hone the edge with progressively finer waterstones or oil stones, until the edge disappears and the intersection between the back and bevel is razor sharp. These stones are separated into different grades or grits that are related to the density and the finish a stone produces on a blade. Waterstones and oil stones are available in both natural and synthetic materials.
Waterstones are synthetic brick of grit that breaks free easily to allow grit to accumulate in your wet slurry and provide faster honing. To make sharpening enjoyable and save you hours of frustration, do not buy cheap waterstones. A clear advantage of the waterstone is it cuts metal faster and sharpens more tools in less time. Another is the use of water rather than oil to remove the swarf (fine chips) from the stone. However, the softness that promotes fast cutting also wears the stone down more quickly. This tends to wear the stone unevenly, which requires flattening to bring the stone back into shape.
The most traditional natural oil stones are the Novaculite, also called Arkansas stone. This natural oilstone can produce a polished edge but tend to cut more slowly than manmade stones.
The very popular manmade oilstone on the other hand is the Aluminum Oxide oilstone. This stone are coarser and can cut fast and produce a fine edge on tools and knives.
The fastest cutting oilstone is made of Silicon Carbide. While this stone will not produce a fine edge as that of the Aluminum Oxide oil stone or Arkansas stone, the fast cutting makes them ideal for initial course sharpening. It is a common practice to use the Silicon Carbide stone, progress on the Aluminum Oxide stone and then finish up on an Arkansas stone.
Arkansas sharpening stones are still the most favored sharpening stones by chefs, woodworkers and sportsmen around the globe. These handmade stones is the most durable and produces the best and sharpest edges although it tends to cut more slowly than manmade stones.
The good overall performance and the lower price are the oil stone’s greatest assets. The main disadvantage of the oil stone is its slower cutting rate. The fact that oil is used to remove the swarf is also messier to clean up than water.
Diamond Lapping Plate (or Sandpaper on Melamine)
These small industrial diamonds are much harder than any other sharpening stones. However, not all diamond stones perform the same function, nor are they always created equal. These stones are preferred when you are sharpening tools with points that might caught in the recesses of the non-continuous diamond surface. The mono-crystalline diamonds are more desirable as they will last longer.
The two greatest advantages of the diamond stone are the very fast sharpening and the flatness retained by the diamond stone. In fact, extra-coarse diamond stones can quickly and easily lap water stones and oil stones flat, which is vital for properly sharpened chisels and hand planes. The main disadvantage of the diamond stone is its initial cost. While these stones are the most expensive, they will also last a long time, so the long-term cost can be comparable to other stones.
Sandpaper or glasspaper is a type of coated abrasive used to remove material from surfaces, either to make them smoother, remove a layer of material or sometimes make the surface rougher. Sandpaper sharpening works, but is more expensive in the end.
Woodworking clamps hold the freshly glued-up joints together until the glue hardens. To start with, it is recommended to buy at least one quality hand screw clamp (around 10 – 12”) and a few bar-type clamps.
To see how many clamps you think you will need to put enough pressure in all the right spots, build your first project and put it together without glue. Then, proceed to purchase that number of clamps.
Wood or Hide Glue
Hide glue is a protein-based glue that is often made of various boiled animal tissues. One limitation of hide glue is that it is water soluble, so things connected with hide glue can lose their bond when out in the elements and in high humidity. When working on outdoor furniture projects or for water resistance and affixing wood to different materials like painted wood to non-painted, consider a polyurethane glue.