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.

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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. DIY-Phil

    While reading the posted comments, it occurred to me that this list is getting to be like the old story of “Stone Soup”, One by one every tool gets added to the basic list.

    What tools do we use the most? That would be another interesting topic.

    1. arfabuck

      Hardly a basic list for my situation, yet I now have all the above plus many more.

      The basics before I was forced into big machines, ( no access to finished size lumber ) were hand tools, a Skilly , router, jig saw and work mate.

      These did everything I needed to do until demands outstripped time available.

  2. pestoman

    I don’t use my lathe often, but much more frequently than my jointer. The table saw is my workhorse but I really value my planer, band saw, drill press, chop saw, belt/disk sander and brad nailer. But I guess it depends on what you like to make. I’m really eclectic – classic furniture to whirligigs.

  3. Lambertwoodworks

    Real quick story: Recently, I had to help my brother with some furniture and cabinet issues, but there were a few problems. First he lived 3 hours by car and my wife needed our only car. I’ve had a scooter for a few years, but have only used it for local trips with small needs. Since weather was changing and I needed a break away from my other half, I decided to make the trip. I installed my motorcycle saddlebags to the scooter and loaded the necessary tools for the trip. Where’s the motorcycle? That’s another story. Of course the saddlebags are small and the scooter only had a massive 50cc engine; vrmm, vrmm. Although I have a shop full of electric and traditional hand tools, only the smaller hand tools would make the list for this trip. So, here is the list from that trip: (A few may be missing)

    2 small Japanese pull saws, a western push saw, fret saw, set of chisels, bit brace with a roll of arbor bits, rabbet plane, side rabbet (trim) plane, 2 shoulder planes, 3 set of diamond stones, slip stone, multiple files, a rasp or two, 2 small bar clamps, a mini vise, hand scrapers, scratch beader with cutters, combination plane with cutters, smoothing plane, jack plane, block plane, combination square, steel straight rule, 12′ tape measure, small bottle of glue, a few short dowels, 2 marking gauges, and a few different marking instruments (awl, pencils, marking knife).

    Now, I know this list only contains traditional hand tools, but my circumstances led me to this choice to complete the job. After all, he is my brother and he’s helped me once or twice. Not all woodworkers will want to take the time and effort to go strictly with hand tools. That’s fine; different circumstances and preferences will lead the way. Most people wouldn’t drive a scooter full of tools to assist their siblings either. Sounds crazy, but I enjoyed the trip through the mountains. Once I was there, I still needed a way to rip through lumber. I also needed a can of finish. As needed, a few jigs and templates were constructed from the purchased lumber.
    I was telling my brother of the different ways I sharpen and he seemed interested in the slab/sandpaper method. When I went to get the extra supplies I picked up a slab of granite, adhesive, and sandpaper for sharpening. When the job was completed, the saw, the can of finish, and the slab with sandpaper were gifted to my brother. I could have shortened my list a little,

    I consider this my “basic” tool list. Although I do not have a dedicated box for these tools, I assure you that they have a great home in cabinets, on shelves, and laying around on benches. When I do need to take my hand tools somewhere, the larger tools end up in a simple tongue and grooved latch box my grandfather owned. The smaller tools are always in my overall pockets. Overalls work great. They have multiple pockets, they’re comfortable, and they protect your upper body and legs. You only have to deal with small chunks of wood getting into the pockets, which can be dealt with if you or your other half are crafty enough to sew some flaps. It doesn’t bother me though. Thanks for your time.

    -LW-

    1. Lambertwoodworks

      I didn’t mention that I purchased a cheap rip hand saw for the long cuts. Also, I forgot to mention how the list could’ve been slightly shorter. I didn’t really need to bring the smoothing plane. The jack would’ve been just fine. Since I had the space, the smoother was packed.
      -LW-

  4. bradarno

    As someone who is just progressing past being a “beginner” (just getting into building furniture) in the woodworking community, I would say there are a number of changes I would make to your list. First, I would say that a power jointer/thicknesser does not belong on the list by any means. They are way too large of an investment and take up a lot of space (not to mention you can buy your stock at the desired dimensions). I also strongly disagree with the concept of joinery devices. As someone new to the trade, I feel this is a very important skill that must be developed, not skipped over by buying devices power devices that achieve a single goal. I think the jigsaw should be replaced by a good bandsaw. I just purchased my first major power tool and it was a 14″ bandsaw and not a tablesaw for space reasons as well as versatility. The bandsaw allows me to resaw, cut curves, (now that it is adjusted for drift) rip pieces of stock accurately that are thicker than a table saw could handle, etc. Once the cut is complete, a handplane can remove any saw marks and square/flatten a surface. It is also really useful for cutting tenons and dovetails. Handsaws can be used for crosscutting and anything else the bandsaw cannot handle. As for a bench, if you are getting into woodworking, this should be your first real project (and it is not expensive to make). You are also missing a good vise to be attached to the bench.

    I agree with the rest of what you listed when it comes to hand tools (not powered) as well as a drill and router as these are the tools I have found useful. You are spot on about sharpening supplies and measuring/marking tools, they are very useful.

  5. BobGroh

    Lots of good comments! I do think it is a bit of stretch to include a jointer and surface planner on the ‘basics’ list – we’ve got a slippery slope here! And a lot of different approaches – money, space, time, resources, etc. But lets plunge ahead. If you buy your wood already (or mostly) prep’ed, then the jointer & surface planner can be postponed. You definitely need a way to accurately measure linear distances (e.g. length, width) so a good ruler and tape measure. You need to be able to measure squareness – so you need a good combination square. You need to be able to mark the wood – so a good marking knife, an awl, some chalk, a fine pencil, etc. You should have some decent chisels (and good ones don’t need to cost a lot!). You will need to sharpen them (again not expensive – piece of plate glass and some sandpaper). You need a way to accurately cut your wood – a couple of good handsaws and a file or two for sharpening. You really should have a decent work surface/work bench/etc – a good first project by the way. Last of the basics – a good drill (3/8″ vs battery type). Lastly (I could go on but room is lacking), take a look at Paul Seller’s video’s for simple but highly competent work.

  6. ScottM

    I have used a Workmate successfully for years and I am in the process of building an upgraded replacement for the work surfaces. My replacement bench top will be a little longer, much thicker and it will have and extended apron between the two halves to greatly improve holding wood vertically for dovetailing. With this simple upgrade it turns the little Workmate into a very capable portable woodworking bench.

  7. Mark_Levine

    A fine list, to be sure. But a few things of note pertaining to the itemized list above:

    1: Table saw in place of a jointer. Any number of tips in previous issues address straightening edges of boards without a jointer. A jointer serves one purpose, but a tablesaw can serve many (just watch your local Craigslist for a decent one to come up.) The thickness planer is unavoidable, but until you can afford one, buy stock in the thickness you need.

    3. Router bits- for the cost of two good ones, you can get a pack of decent ones that will get you rolling. These are, after all, router bits (prone to replace) and not shaping cutters. That too will come in time. Oh, and don’t forget a 1/4″ tongue and groove bit.

    6. I would recommend one corded drill and one cordless. Generally I outfitted my corded drill with the countersink combo bits and used the cordless to set screws (thanks to the torque collars) and finish by hand tightening.

    8. A 5/32″ slot cutting bit for #3 solves the biscuit joint problem. A couple of quick jigs to plunge your pieces and you have a fairly universal biscuit cutting solution. Also a dowling jig (General, Kreg). They are cheap, fairly accurate, and can keep your face frames and glue up panels pretty well aligned.

    11. For $150 in 2×4′s and plywood, you can have yourself a nice assembly table. Double up the benchtop with two layers of 3/4″ and some wood glue. Clever cutting will still give you enough for a shelf down below. Top it off with some 3/8″ hardboard and there is nothing you can’t tackle.

    11-2. Pipe clamps, I have about 10 of them with varying lengths of black pipe in 1′ increments. I can switch out the clamps for larger lengths on larger projects, or downsize as needed. (very rarely do I need more than 6 clamps on a project during drying time, and when I do, it’s time for a cup of coffee and a 1/2 hour break while I wait) You keep your initial investment down, and buy them as you need them to increase your collection.

  8. Lambertwoodworks

    I’d like to add some type of sharpening system to your list. A simple sandpaper and slab system, stones, or the more expensive slow grinder system. Although listed, files should be in this sharpening/maintenance category as well. You’ll need these as soon as you purchase a majority of hand tools. They’ll be needed throughout each day of using the tools. Initial setup and routine maintenance will give better results with less fighting the grain and tool. Whether your a beginner or a master, the tools must be sharp and maintained.

    Thanks
    -LW-

  9. cam1297

    I personally think a pocket hole jig is a great beginner tool. Especially if you want some just “screw in” joints. Some of the ICDT projects use pocket holes. And if it’s good enough for the authors of those project, it’s good enough for me.

  10. cbf123

    Most of it makes sense, but I question the first item.

    A planer (and especially a jointer) is nice but not strictly necessary. You can do quite a bit with surfaced lumber (and sheet goods) to start with, and the jointer especially tends to be big and heavy.

  11. thormikesell

    I think it depends on the type of woodworker you would like to become. Are you more interested in traditional “electric free” carpentry or are you drawn to the ease and convenience of modern machinery? Also, I think you should take into consideration what kind and how much shop space you have available. I have worked with all the modern machines for years now, and are just presently finding personal satisfaction in traditional woodworking. In fact, last night I built my very first bookcase with just a few “powerless” hand tools. So in all, I would suggest some personal reflection…What type of woodworker do you want to become?…and from there garnish your shop appropriately.

  12. farms100

    Make a tool box that teaches you fundamental carcase construction techniques.

    You can put off a jointer/planer, but I’d hate to see a woodworker quit because they are frustrated, or find rough dimensioning distasteful.

    loose the joinery gadgets

  13. Megan Fitzpatrick

    Just for the record, a jointer and planer are not from the ICDT kit – the philosophy on that column is, indeed, beginner AND basic (hence the Workmate). The tools we suggest in the ICDT manual are for those who are working at a kitchen table or in a backyard; the tools the editors would recommend for someone who is quite sure he or she wants to pursue serious furniture making would be rather different.

  14. sean3047

    I would hardly call a jointer/thickness ‘basic’. Very useful and time saving, but far from basic. Sorry, but it has no place on a ‘basic woodworking tools’ list.

    Being without machinery to dimension and dress rough timber myself I can definitely see the benefit, but I think the investment (both in money and space) in machinery like this is premature for ‘basic’ woodworking. Additionally, without some other machinery (table saw, bandsaw) you’re still going to have trouble dimensioning smaller timber for projects from large/rough stock (e.g. producing timber strips for case fronts, ripping to reduce thickness, etc).

    I also think that the inclusion of a smoothing plane as a ‘minimum’ for finishing is a bit off the mark. A smoothing plane leaves an amazing finish, but you can still get a good finish with sanding. You are however missing a jack plane from your list. A jack plane is an absolute must for any joinery work.

  15. tsstahl

    I consider myself a newb. My experience is that good work holding is crucial to the process. Some sort of beefy (inexpensive) bench has to be in the ‘top 10′ list.

    I use my workmate pretty much only to gang cut dovetails on construction grade one-by lumber since building a bench from two reclaimed solid core doors.

    1. WoodMom

      This is the one I was going to suggest…I turn to my scrapers ahead of any sanding on a larger surface. So unknown by people starting out in the shop.

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