11 (or so) Basic Woodworking Tools – A List for New Furniture Makers

Basic woodworking tools are different from beginner woodworking tools. For one thing, I don’t like to use the word “beginner” unless I am using it accurately. It’s not a very useful label, in my opinion, because it implies that there are clear-cut and hierarchical steps in your growth as a woodworker. Who wants to return to grade school during his or her valuable shop time? So I only use the word “beginner” when I’m talking about someone who is touching woodworking tools for the first time.

“Basic,” on the other hand, is a word that allows for growth – and that’s exactly what you want in your woodworking tool kit. You want to be able to take the same kit with you through many years in the craft. With my basic woodworking tools list, I wanted to provide a core set of tools that will serve you well from project to project. I’m especially concerned these days with the transition to hardwood furniture making, as opposed to plywood boxes of various sizes. That’s the transition I’m making right now in my own work!

The other crucial thing I am concerned with is having tools that will allow me to work efficiently with rough cut or reclaimed lumber, because I need to save money on materials. Paying full price for many board feet of smooth, dimensioned stock is a fairly quick way to go broke – or at least lose your love of woodworking.

Note that I am by no means reinventing the wheel with this list. I am borrowing heavily from the Popular Woodworking Magazine “I Can Do That” list from years ago. I have refined that list to suit my style and, again, to take into account the use of rough lumber.

Buy our latest DVD, “Building a Furniture Maker’s Tool Cabinet.” Make a cabinet to store your tools and learn about how Chuck Bender’s tool list has grown over the years!

My Basic Woodworking Tools List – Furniture Focus

1. Power jointer and thickness planer. I have developed various means of straightening the edges of my stock with hand-held tools, but I don’t see a way to efficiently flatten the faces of rough or reclaimed lumber without a power jointer. It’s part of the first few steps for any furniture project, and I want to be able to move through this step quickly and into the more interesting work. The thickness planer is also a huge time-saver, compared to hand-held tools.

2. Circular saw, for rough dimensioning (especially long rip cuts). If you have a good table saw, that’s even better, because you can of course use a table saw for all sorts of joinery work – not just dimensioning.

3. Hand saws, a router and two router bits. These are the tools I use for cross-cutting, straightening edges and cutting boards down to final width. The two router bits are a straight cut bit and a flush trimming bit.

4. Jigsaw, for cutting curves. A coping saw is also nice to have for detailed work.

5. Combination square and tape measure, along with crayons, pencils, a knife and an awl for marking.

6. A power drill or two, and bits as needed.

7. Rasps, files, a random-orbit sander, a smoothing plane and a block plane. These are the minimum for smoothing all surfaces of the final work, and doing it efficiently. Don’t forget that you’ll need sharpening supplies for the plane blades.

8. Joinery gadgets? I’m not yet sold on buying a biscuit joiner or a pocket-hole set. Again, if you already have them I think they are great. But I’m looking for projects I can complete with a combination of hand-cut joints, router joints and straight-in screwing. We’ll see how it goes.

9. Chisels and a wooden mallet.

10. A hammer and some screwdrivers.

11. A Workmate, a puttering bench and clamps. Until I can invest in a large furniture-making workbench, I think I will be able to make do with the Workmate and a small bench. Again, we’ll see how it goes. A good-sized supply of clamps, of course, is always necessary.

What am I forgetting? Please tell the community in the comments section below.

Dan Farnbach

CATEGORIES
Tools in Your Shop, Woodworking Daily
Dan Farnbach

About Dan Farnbach

Dan apprenticed and worked in two professional shops during the years after college. But sweeping shop floors only goes so far toward learning woodworking. These days Dan is online editor for Popular Woodworking, and is learning new skills every day. He divides his time between Boston and Maine.

40 thoughts on “11 (or so) Basic Woodworking Tools – A List for New Furniture Makers

  1. rroselavy

    Heheh. Your list of “11 (or so)” tools is probably closer to 24+ tools.

    Jointer/Planer is top on my list as well, but in my shop, a $250 vintage 14″ bandsaw is superior to a circular saw for ripping (and cuts curves as well).

    A powered router is strictly forbidden…I would rather use my hand skills and take credit (or apologize) for each joint. ;)

  2. corgicoupe

    My $0.02 worth. I agree with the thickness planer [mine is 10"] but anything over a 6″ jointer is expensive and space-consuming, so use hand planes as in your later blog. I inherited an 8″ table saw that my dad and I used to build a 12′ outboard boat back in 1955. I’ve used it for ripping, but I’m having second thoughts because of safety issues. Some have suggested a band saw for ripping, which is quieter and safer to use. I gave my router away [and hope to get rid of my Freud biscuit joiner and 6" jointer]. A quality eggbeater drill works every bit [pun not intended] as well as a power drill, and they cost less. A coping saw and a jewelers saw negate the need for a jigsaw unless you are into making puzzles. Chris Schwarz has a video short on one of the Highland Woodworker series showing how to joint the edge of a board with a plane and a simple jig on the workbench surface. Another reason to bypass the jointer.
    Bob Newman

  3. Redbat

    I enjoy reading the comments about what is considered a basic need in tools. I purchased and read Christopher Schwarz’s “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” and considered the tools he listed in it. I have them all and then some. You could call me a tool collector, my family does.
    About forty years ago I purchased a Shopsmith Mark V because I lacked space for a large shop, and also moved around the United States a lot. Later I purchased another Shopsmith Mark V Model 510 for the increase in table size and flexibility. I do wood working as a hobby, not to do many projects as fast as possible. I also have every tool and accessory that Shopsmith makes for the two primary tools. Their quality is excellent, and while I enjoy antique tools like the 1912 three phase electric Camel Back Drill Press I purchased for my son’s shop, the Shopsmith does every thing I have ever needed.
    In the sixty years of woodworking I have found two tools of increasing necessity. One is a band saw. I can do most of my work with a band saw and hand plane. The second tool is a bow saw, or actually several bow saws. They will replace the band saw if required, though they are slow. One I made about twenty years ago has a one and a half inch wide rip blade and is about thirty inches long. I think the blade is from an old industrial band saw blade I picked up and sharpened into a rip saw blade. It works very well on ripping lumber, logs, etc. Though it tires me out to much to use it now.
    Anyway, this is my two cents worth, and a little different view point from others expressed here.

  4. engineerartist

    More than a decade ago I spent 2 weeks in Maine aspiring to learn furniture making. On my return home I started enthusiastically planning to turn my basement into a proper shop – with all the “essential” tools I had learned to use. My list reflected my engineer’s preference for buying quality and quickly exceeded $25k in power tools alone (table saw, band saw, joiner, thickness planer, drill press…) even before solving the power, lighting and dust challenges.

    Then I managed a reality check and put the whole project on hold for later in life when I would actually have time to work in the shop.

    Now as I approach retirement, I am excited to read that Chris Schwarz and Tom Fidgen are embracing the “unplugged” workshop approach. Instead of a basement, I now have a detached garage (in a condo neighborhood), and both the power required and the noise generated by power tools would be problematical.

    While I understand the time-saving potential of power tools, woodworking will not be a paycheck for me. I look forward to a future article from you (or Chris, perhaps) listing “Basic Woodworking Tools for the unplugged workshop”.

    1. Megan Fitzpatrick

      Jack, you might find these links useful in your hand-tool journey:

      http://www.popularwoodworking.com/woodworking-blogs/chris-schwarz-blog/41-things-from-1839

      http://www.popularwoodworking.com/tools/tools_for_woodwork

      Also, have you read Chris’s “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest?” He has a good list in there as well, plus a DVD that details the tools actually in his chest (you can find those here: http://www.lostartpress.com/The_Anarchist_s_Tool_Chest_and_DVD_p/bk-atc-kit.htm)

  5. Dan FarnbachDan Farnbach Post author

    I agree that this list, plus comments, was starting to look like “stone soup” … but I have to say that it looks like some order is now emerging from the chaos. Thanks for all the helpful comments! We’re hoping this helps move woodworkers forward in their basic knowledge and in setting up the right kind of shop.

  6. fortrat

    Dan, my work space that is available for power tools is quite small, about 6′ x 20′. It may seem like a lot on the surface, but a long rectangle is a bear to work in. It requires a lot of serpentine action. That said, I don’t have too much room for large footprint tools. I have settled finally on three big tools; a small bench saw, a thickness planer, and a drill press. I had to forgo the jointer, so I use hand tools to make up for it’s absence (as I do with a lot of my hand tool techniques). I have gotten to the point where I can flatten one side and true an edge of a board reasonably quick. I then finish it up with the thickness planer and table saw, giving me a nice flat board. I guess what I am basically saying is, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and don’t write off hand tools as a quaint way to experience the past. They worked for thousands of years, and still do! Thanks for the blogs, they make for great reading.

  7. REFFI

    Like you, I too am benchless. I built the “Mozilla” Molson vice variant from last year’s issue (I forget which) and it comes in handy for a lot of operations. I clamp it down to a piece of plywood that I have covered with formica (actually, it’s two pieces that I have piano-hinged together for easier storage) laid across two sawhorses. As long as lateral thrust is not involved, this is a pretty stable way to work. I also have a Zyliss vise for working on smaller pieces. I’ve made do for nearly forty years with a radial arm saw and circular saw. I have only recently acquired a planer and router table (both on wheels) It makes the garage croweded because also sharing the space are two motorcycles and about 400 board feet of rough sawn Camphor. I currently attend classes in woodworking and this coming semester I’ll be enrolled in a class for handtools only (and sharpening).

  8. rhansen

    The planes and chisels are somewhat useless without the tools to properly make them shop ready and sharpen them. Therefore, either get a good set of stones or proper grades of sand paper and a flat surface such as a piece of float glass or granite tile.

    I’d also add a metal scraper as well, but then a proper metal file is needed to prep the edge. One can always use a screw driver to turn the burr.

    A logical next post would be to list the basic shop made tools, such as a shooting board and bench hook. If one uses a table saw or band saw a cross-cut sled is not necessary, but easy to make and is ideal.

  9. sailorjoe

    Dan, I’m worried about you. The stress must be getting to you. Somehow you’ve lost your ability to count. By my estimation, your list has at least 29 items, some of which are actually “sets” of items, like chisels or crayons, which I only counted as one item. Perhaps you need a break from all that blogging, and time to get back to basics, like counting. I can help. Come over to my shop and we can count things like parts, items on the honey-do list, and for extra credit, screw holes. Don’t worry about making mistakes, I’ll guide you through it, and we can round up if necessary. Ha!

  10. hkc94501

    On the subject of a circular saw.
    I just moved overseas and had to give up all of my power tools due to space limitations and power incompatibility. Upon arrival the first power tool that I bought was a cordless drill/driver and the second was a circular saw. I then modified the saw to improve its performance for cabinet quality work by putting a zero clearance baseplate (just a piece of 1/4″ plywood screwed to the base) this allows the saw to cut plywood panels without tearing up the edges. I also bought a length of aluminum rectangle tube stock for a straight edge. Together the straight edge and the zero clearance baseplate makes the circular saw a fairly accurate tool for plywood construction projects. It’s not as easy to use as a Festool track saw but it cuts almost as clean and cost about 1/5th the price.

    Never did see the charm of tablesaws. Even when I had the space I preferred a bandsaw for almost any job. Better by far for long rips and it won’t try to amputate your fingers or spear you with flying projectiles.

  11. 8iowa

    I’m not sold on the need for a power jointer for flattening a surface. That said, I do have a Shopsmith 4″ jointer.. It’s great for jointing edges, and perhaps flattening the occasional rails and stiles, but it of course is inadequate for surfacing wide boards. Would a six inch jointer be better…..not by much. So what do we do? Go to an eight inch, or better yet a ten inch jointer? Now we’re getting into really big, heavy, and electrically hungry machines that are not really suitable for the small shop that is likely to be in a small shed or garage.

    I work with a lot of rough sawn boards (Wood Mizer) that are up to 12 inches wide. The worse defect is twist. First I saw the stock to rough project lengths and then using winding sticks, I attack the twist with a #5 hand plane, gradually moving the winding sticks toward the center. If there is bow or cup I can plane that out also. I now have a reference surface that can go thru my planer. The finished boards are perfect. This is not really difficult or excessively time consuming.

  12. Barquester

    Somehow I overlook #1, the jointer and thickness planer, and I saw all the other tools and immediately thought that this was my first set of tools I bought when I started working as a carpenter on a friend’s crew. Then I saw my oversight and just couldn’t get over how incongrous those two items were to the rest of the list. Had I seen a scrub plane and a jack plane I would have more harmony in the list.
    I think everyone’s first large power tool should be a table saw, even if it’s just a contractor’s saw. My first was a 12″ radial arm saw 35 years ago, but now I feel it was a mistake and should have been a table saw.
    When the body adjusts to the energy and muscle required to use hand planes, happiness and progress is possible.

  13. knothole

    I am finally getting to practice my woodworking more after years of collecting tools. By using tool reviews and thinking of the kind of work I would like to do, I have accumulated a nice set of tools without purchasing many mistakes. I decided to use Paul Sellers book and videos and start learning from the beginning. He starts with projects that begin with a small set of tools. One of those tools is a spokeshave. Even though I know much of what is in the first lessons, I have picked up a few new tricks, and am learning to use my tools more efficiently. My most important tools are my workbench and vise. The workbench was tough to build as I was on the floor using hand planes; not a good way to work. I have no jointer; did get a small planer and made a sled for it so I can flatten a board. My tools are in my house, so there is no room for a big table saw or bandsaw. I have a chopsaw and a piece of an old Craftsman tablesaw I got for free. It has to be moved outside to use. A circular saw with a guide is handy. My guide has a plate on which the saw is mounted. The plate slides on aluminum angle (with help of rollers) which is screwed to plywood. Once the initial cut is made in the plywood, the plywood is simply lined up with your cut marks and clamped down.
    If you can buy a bunch of tools at one time, you can save a ton on shipping, as the more you buy, the lower the rates. Also, take advantage of free shipping offers. Compare to see where you can get the best deal. Whatever you buy, make sure it is high quality. I have a Nicholson backsaw I bought at a local store before I knew of the woodworking suppliers. It has never been used much, but cuts much slower than saws such as Gramercy or Lie-Nielsen, even though mine have smaller teeth than the Nicholson.
    Always be on the lookout for usable wood. You might be able to salvage some. You can use a metal detector to find nails and screws. You don’t need a full fledged metal detector. I use a pinpointer made by Garrett. If your wood has some woodboring beetles you can still use it if not eaten too badly. A healthy dose of cyfluthrin will take care of them.
    I was talked in to getting a biscuit joiner. Could have done without it.
    Got to be able to sharpen. I got a piece of plate glass and sandpaper. A few old oil stones inherited or given to me.
    A Zyliss vise has been quite useful. Don’t know why we never hear of them.
    A scrub plane can reduce thickness fairly quickly on small stock, like stuff too short for the planer.

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