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Last week a long-time reader called to ask me about a bullnose plane I had reviewed favorably a few years back.

“What” he asked, “is this thing good for?”

I walked him through some of its uses, such as cleaning up stopped rabbets and leveling up dividers in assembled casework. Then he asked if I used the plane for those operations.

“Not much,” I replied. “I use a shoulder plane.”

After that, I could hear an edge of frustration in his voice. He had bought a tool on my recommendation that he didn’t really need (he had a couple shoulder planes). He only had so many dollars to spend on woodworking, and he wanted to spend them wisely so he could squeeze the maximum functions out of the fewest of tools.

And now he had a tool he didn’t need.

That conversation bummed me out for the whole weekend. There is a ton of equipment out there that is well-made and useful but that is unnecessary for certain types of woodworkers or people who already have such-and-such a tool. I try to add caveats to my reviews, but sometimes those aren’t as obvious as they should be in the text. Or sometimes, I hear from a reader who buys a tool after reading a review without any further research about the tool and its historical uses.

Now, I don’t have the space in the magazine to fully explain every gizmo that passes through our shop, but I can offer two suggestions:

1. If you are unfamiliar with a tool and its uses, do some legwork before you click “Buy It Now.” You might already have a tool that does the same task faster and more accurately.

2. Download and check out my personal tool inventory (two links are below). This is a list I compiled this weekend of the machines, power hand tools and hand tools that I use for about 90 percent of my work. I have a lot more tools than are listed here (as my kids are fond of reminding me), but these are the tools that are within arm’s reach, are always in tune and never put into storage. My woodworking might be different than your woodworking, but this list reflects a good blend of hand and power operations.

I’m sure I’ll update this list in the coming months. Meanwhile, take a look at the tools I have in my shop and see how this core set compares to yours.

Workshop Inventory

Christopher Schwarz

October 2007

Critical Machinery:

1. 14″ band saw, ½ hp motor, cast-iron frame, no riser block

2. 8″ jointer, 2 hp motor

3. 15″ planer, 3 hp motor

4. 10″ table saw, 30″ rails, aftermarket sliding crosscut table

5. Hollow-chisel mortiser

6. Two portable dust collection units, one shop vacuum

7. Floor-model drill press

Critical hand-held power tools:

1. 12-volt cordless drill, 3/8″ chuck, two speeds

2. 1-1/2 hp fixed-base router, used hand-held and mounted in portable router table

3. DeWalt 621 plunge router

4. 18-gauge brad nailer and small 5-gallon compressor

5. 23-gauge pinner

6. HVLP turbine and spray gun

7. Circular saw with quality carbide blades for cutting plywood

8. Variable-speed jigsaw

9. 10″ sliding compound miter saw

Router bits:

1. Beading bit

2. Roundover (three sizes)

3. Pattern bits, a wide variety of diameters

4. Straight bits, spiral bits

5. Chamfer bits (three sizes)

6. Cope-and-stick bits (chamfer-edge profile)

7. Ogee bits (two sizes)

Hand planes:

1. No. 8 jointer plane

2. No. 4 smoothing plane

3. No. 5 jack plane

4. Low-angle block plane

5. 1-1/4″ shoulder plane

6. Large router plane

7. Small router plane

8. Record 044 plow plane

9. Moulding planes: 1 pair hollow and rounds

10. Moulding plane, 5/16″ beading plane

11. Moving fillister plane

12. Small scraping plane, Stanley 212 size

13. Bevel-up jack plane for shooting

14. Card scrapers, about 10

15. Spokeshaves, flat sole and round; large and small


1. Dovetail saw, 15 ppi, filed rip

2. Carcase saw, 14 ppi, filed crosscut

3. Tenon saw, 10 ppi, filed fip

4. Handsaw, 7 ppi, filed crosscut

5. Ripsaw, 4 ppi, filed rip

6 Lee Valley Japanese flush-cut saw

7. ModelmakerÕs saw

8. Coping saw

9. JewelerÕs saw, equipped with scrollsaw blades

10. Hacksaw

11. Fine Japanese saw, filed crosscut, for detail cuts

12. Two sawbenches

13. 8″ dado stack

14. 24-tooth rip blade

15. 40-tooth combination blade


1. Bevel-edge chisels: 1/8″ to 1″ in 1/8″ increments

2. Mortise chisels, ¼”, 5/16″, 3/8″

3. Mallet

3. Paring chisel, 2″ wide

4. Skew chisels, left and right

5. Set of small-scale carving chisels

6. Corner chisel, 3/8″

Layout tools

1. 6″ 4R rule

2. 6″ and 12″ combination squares

3. 8″ try square

4. Miter square

5. Sliding T-bevel

6. 12Õ tape

7. Saddle square

8. Dovetail square

9. Tite-Mark marking gauge

10. Blue Spruce marking knife

11. Awls, scratch and bird-cage

12. Two dividers

13. Set of three French curves

14. Compass

15. Protractor and center-finder for combination square

16. 24″ aluminum straightedge and 32″ wooden straightedge

17. Levels, 18″ and 48″

18. 5mm-lead mechanical pencil

19. Dial caliper

Percussive tools

1. 22 oz. wooden mallet

2. 16 oz. hammer

3. Plane-iron hammer

4. Warrington-style hammer

5. Nail pullers, Japanese and Western style

6. Dead-blow mallet


1. Brace, 8″, 10″ and 12″

2. Augers, full set of 13

3. Auger bit file

4. Forstners, ¼” to 1″

5. Brad-points, complete set by 1/64s up to ½”

6. Instybits, pilot and countersink bits, set from No. 6 to No. 10 screws

7. Countersink

8. Set of spade bits


1. Two 12″ F-style

2. Six 4″ F-style

3. Eight 12″ parallel jaw

4. Fourteen 26″ parallel jaw

5. Four 40″ parallel jaw

6. Four handscrews, large size

7. Four quick-release plastic clamps

8. Eight spring clamps


1. Cabinet rasps and files

2. Floats, ¼” mortising float, bed float

3. File card


1. Complete set of screwdrivers, Phillips, straight, Robertson

2. Set of index bit and driver for drill/driver


1. Eclipse honing guide

2. Duo-Sharp Diamond stone (x-coarse and coarse)

3. Sharpening stones, waterstones, 1,000, 4,000 and 8,000

4. Plant mister

5. Hand blocks (medium and fine)

6. Oil and oil-soaked rag

7. Mill file

8. Burnisher

9. Cheap 6″ stainless ruler

10. Kell honing guide

11. 6″ grinder


1. Detail carving knives, used for a wide variety of tasks

2. Sloyd shop knife

3. Sanding disk for table saw

4. Paraffin

5. Bench brush

6. Needlenose pliers, locking pliers

7. Putty knife

8. First aid kit

9. Two drawbore pins

10. Spray gun cleaning kit

11. Wide and varied collection of screws, nails, bolts, nuts, hardware

12. Hemp string, for measuring diagonals

Product Recommendations

Here are some supplies and tools we find essential in our everyday work around the shop. We may receive a commission from sales referred by our links; however, we have carefully selected these products for their usefulness and quality.

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Showing 11 comments
  • Chris Schwarz

    Pardon the late response; I’ve been on a trip.

    1. The list is not really in order of importance or in that of acquisition. It’s order by when I saw it in my shop. Rank-ordering my tools is something I’ll have to do another day. But the band saw is the most important machine to me, followed by the jointer and planer.

    2. These tools were acquired much like your collection, I imagine. I started with a core set and then expanded as the projects demanded. For many years I always tried to add one tool and one skill with each new project. I bought a lot of useless tools this way, though the skills are all good…. And I think the jointer plane is the most powerful hand plane in my shop and the one I would acquire first (followed by a smoothing plane and block plane).

    3. As to showing my entire collection of tools, I think you’d be disappointed. Graham Blackburn has a rule he follows that I adopted long ago. If you don’t use a tool for a couple years, sell it and buy one you will. Most of the additional tools I have are for special tasks, such as chairbuilding. I do have a lot of tools in my box that I am testing, but those don’t really count as ones I recommend or need.

    4. Yes, you need a workbench. And please buy my book.

    5. I like the No. 8 more than the No. 7 because it’s like a freight train and plows through tough grain easily thanks to its momentum. That said, I was happy with a No. 7 for a loooong time.


  • Mark Wells

    I am surprised that your primary jointer is a #8 as opposed to the lighter #7. Is that because you just happen to have a #8, or do you really prefer it for everyday work over the #7?


  • Jeff Skiver

    Dang it, Chris!!!!!!!! I have done all I can to try to make you a marketing whiz, yet you continue to miss opportunities.

    You did not mention a workbench on your list.

    You should have mentioned a workbench on your list.

    Then…you could have put in a shameless plug for your soon to be published book on workbenches.

    Are the kids already assured of full ride scholarships? Why do you keep missing the chances to jump on the marketing roller coaster, screaming toward the land of prosperity?

    I am very close to just washing my hands of you, but I truly believe there is a profit-driven capitalist inside everyone. I just struggle to find the one in you…

  • Pedro Lanhas, Portugal

    You say your children are happy to remind you that you have a lot more tools than those listed; the amount of tools you have could be quite useful to most of us: How about publishing a picture of all your tools brought together? This would relieve some guilt people have in owning "too many" tools. Of course this would put you in a much worse position in the "wifes against Schwarz" issue…
    This is a joke, of course, the real reason is that I am curious to see, because I imagine you have an interesting collection… other people could do the same: show their collection and tell what sort of woodworking they do most. Why don’t you make a survey among readers?

  • Doug Fulkerson

    The situation your reader had is, I think, a pretty common one. Stretching the woodworking budget can be tough. It seems like I’m always torn between buying wood, a key ingredient, or buying tools, another key ingredient. Finding that balance between enough wood and enough tools is a constant struggle. The fact that my wife continually wants to fritter away our money on the mortgage, utilities, food, and clothing doesn’t help either.
    I’m more interested in the order of acquisition of your tools. For example, when you had zero planes which came first, the jointer, the jack, or the smoother? Given the opportunity to revisit some of those decisions would you have done something different? Did you acquire tools with the idea of building a specific project or did your projects force you into buying new tools?

  • Jason


    Is your list in order of importance? IE, is the bandsaw the most important tool in your arsenal?

  • Christopher Schwarz

    I also use the binder clips. I swipe them from old reports being recycled or discarded in our building.

    I’ve seen them for sale, but they are pricey.


  • Bruce Jackson

    May I offer Alex a "Scotsman’s solution"? Go to an office supply store and buy a pack of those cheapie report binders, the clear ones with the clips for the long edge of the papers. The clips slip on and off. I’m pretty sure you can get a pack of 10 for about a dollar, give or take change. Use the clips and "recycle" the plastic covers.

    If you’re really religious about it, any store with "Depot" in its name should work for you. You may already be a Home Depot regular, nothing wrong with going to Offec Depot for the clips, the protractors, the compasses, the drafting triangles, etc., etc. (Just having a little fun here, that’s all).

    Anyway, Chris, that’s a fine piece. I’ve found woodworking (and gardening and living frugally) to be exercises in problem-solving. Half of problem-solving is finding different uses for the things your already have.

  • Alex Moseley

    The real challenge here as readers is to avoid inferring a prescriptive message from the ultimately descriptive field of woodworking journalism.

    Chris’s work is exceptionally authoritative, which makes it all the more tempting to read his body of work as one of the missing Gospels, but it doesn’t absolve us as readers from doing our own soul-searching.

    As an aside: Chris, where do you get those nice-looking plastic blade guards for your back saws?


  • Chris C.


    The idea that not only do you have to review a tool, but
    somehow must guess at how it might or might not be appropriate for any given reader is absurd.

    You can only review a tool on its specific merits. It’s
    up to the individual to figure out if their particular
    needs are met by the tool.

    The fact that he asked you "What is this tool good for?"
    pretty much sums it up; who buys a tool having to ask that

    As it turns out, a bullnose plane IS highly specialized
    so it’s not surprising that he isn’t finding day-to-day
    use for it around the shop.

  • Christopher Schwarz


    I do have a lathe, a midi-sized one. I debated putting it in the list, but I rarely use it. In fact, I probably would have been better off not buying it and simply borrowing the use of one when I needed to turn some legs, chair spindles or tool handles.

    Perhaps my lathe will become more critical to my day-to-day as I get back into chairmaking.



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