Newbie - Tool and Portable Bench Advice Needed

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Forum topic by DetroitJoe posted 12-26-2009 05:22 AM 1377 views 0 times favorited 7 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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6 posts in 3315 days

12-26-2009 05:22 AM

Topic tags/keywords: newbie beginner hand tools limited space apartment

Hello everyone,

I grew up working on small projects with my dad (everything from little boxes to an occasional piece of furniture, etc.). I never worked really independently on a project from start to finish – he was always there to help. I did take a year of shop class in middle school, which taught me a bit more and allowed me to work a bit more on my own. In short, I have a general respect and understanding of wood, the tools, and the time that go into making beautiful pieces of work.

Now in my late 20’s, it has been about 12 years since I’ve chiseled on a pen holder or made a cut on the bandsaw. I am living in an apartment with a small (6.5’ x 7’) patio. For obvious reasons, I can’t have a bench outside or a permanent shop inside. I need some sort of portable setup that doesn’t take up a lot of space. Also, I am most interested in hand tool woodworking. I know that power tools are so much faster, but I have more time than space at this point.

I have some cash (read: a few hundred bucks at most) to pick up a some (sharp!!!!) tools, books, etc. I just need your input on where to start and what to get! I have read lots of posts on here that say to start with a bench, or start not with tools, but with just acquiring knowledge. I get it – but I want some cold steel so I can start practicing as I read/learn from all of you!

Sample projects that I can see wanting to work on: jewelry boxes, a blanket chest, small end tables or coffee table, wine rack, etc. Nothing super fancy…not aiming for professional cabinet-maker status at any point…just hoping to kick up some sawdust and churn out a few good looking items.

Thanks all, for your input!

-- - DetroitJoe

7 replies so far

View a1Jim's profile


117420 posts in 3818 days

#1 posted 12-26-2009 05:34 AM

Hey Joe
The first thing you need is a bench it doesn’t need to be big or fancy just sturdy. After that if you working with hand tools you need saws,hammer and carvers mallet,planes,Chisels, and squares. a few clamps. a rasp or two, measuring tapes or rulers,marking knife, and a good source of light. I’m sure others will add things I’ve forgotten. Besides the help here you might want to watch some videos on you tube maybe Charles Neil.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View DetroitJoe's profile


6 posts in 3315 days

#2 posted 12-26-2009 05:38 AM

Thanks for the reply, Jim!

I know that in the past, I have seen my dad use a couple of sawhorses on pavement with a large board over the top that he can clamp things to, etc. For the sake of my living arrangement, would this suffice for a “bench”?

-- - DetroitJoe

View a1Jim's profile


117420 posts in 3818 days

#3 posted 12-26-2009 05:49 AM

Well Joe
I thought of that too but if your doing a lot of hand planning on the bench it needs to be pretty solid. Maybe you could either clamp or screw the top to the saw horses of build a bench with folding legs.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View Navtrtl's profile


17 posts in 3321 days

#4 posted 12-26-2009 06:15 AM

I purchased a book called Selecting and using Hand Tools that really helped explain a lot to me. I think I gave about $7 for it at a discount book store. It is part of a series called Best of Fine Woodworking. It covers things like how to dimension wood with only hand tools and where to find the best deals on used tools, what to look for in a used hand tool, types of saws, sharpening saws, and many other useful things like that.

The thing that I think would apply to you especially was an article on page 96 that featured Toshio Odate explaining the various Japanese saws and their uses. What he used for a work bench was simple something that looked like two sawhorses that were about 8 inches tall. He did all of his sawing (and I am assuming hand plane work) on a board spread across these. He did most of his work from the seated position, but also stood up and used his feed as clamps while he would saw. I will try to find out what the actual name of this workbench is and let you know. If you don’t mind being on the floor, I think it could work. Also, it looks like everything should come apart and fit under the couch or in a closet.

I found a picture of him using the bench without the board across the top in a different book here.

-- US Navy Veteran Morgantown, KY

View DetroitJoe's profile


6 posts in 3315 days

#5 posted 12-27-2009 08:20 AM

I appreciate the input guys!

-- - DetroitJoe

View 8iowa's profile


1591 posts in 4002 days

#6 posted 12-27-2009 06:09 PM

I started woodworking in an apartment on the dining room table. I would have loved to have had a patio.

With this said, you have about 45.5 sq feet of working area. A Shopsmith occupies 12 sq feet. This is tight, but probably workable. Check Craigs List or ebay for a used machine. They often sell for a few hundred dollars. There is also a lot of support available, even for machines 50 years old.

-- "Heaven is North of the Bridge"

View papadan's profile


3584 posts in 3609 days

#7 posted 12-27-2009 06:16 PM

Joe, here is an idea for a mobile bench with plenty of storage.

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