Minimalist Tools

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Forum topic by BigDumbAnimal posted 02-24-2016 05:48 AM 1182 views 0 times favorited 27 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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65 posts in 1224 days

02-24-2016 05:48 AM

Topic tags/keywords: question

Looking for some advice. I’m about to get orders to spend a couple years overseas and I would like to be able to continue woodworking. I’m not strictly a hand tool guy but have a basic assortment and am comfortable using them. Due to weight restrictions and power considerations, my power tools will be staying here. Weight is the biggest consideration and whatever tools I decide to bring will have to be under about 70 lbs total. Size is the next consideration and by that I mean that smaller is better.

My future duty station is “arid” so I imagine that most of my wood will be reclaimed so I will need to have the ability to dimension whatever wood I can find.

I’m a far cry from a fine furniture maker. Most of my projects are small and consist of boxes and toys for the kids as well as small household solutions for my wife. I’d like to have the ability to experiment with hand cut joinery as well as make curved and irregular shaped projects. I don’t know what access to expendables like sandpaper, screws, and nails I’ll have so suggestions on methods of finishing and joinery would be appreciated.

Getting to the root of my question, if you were me what would your list of tools look like. Please be as wild and specific with your suggestions as you would like as I think that this could be an interesting discussion. Thanks in advance for your help.

Semper Fi

-- Semper Fi BDA

27 replies so far

View Derek Cohen's profile

Derek Cohen

296 posts in 3386 days

#1 posted 02-24-2016 06:25 AM

Jack plane (Stanley #5) with 2 blades: 8-9” radius for thicknessing, and straight blade for short jointer and shooting board.

LV LA Block plane – with handle and knob (accessory for this particular plane). Get 2 blades: use block plane with 25 degree blade as a block plane for small tuning/chamfering, and another with a 40 degree secondary bevel plus the handle/knob as a smoother.

4 bevel edge chisels. I would choose a 1/8” (dovetails), 1/4”, 1/2” and 3/4”.

Dovetail saw (joinery) and rip and crosscut panel saws (breaking down boards). Perhaps include a tenon saw as well, although you may get away with the other two.

A router plane can double for rebates, grooves and dados.

Veritas LA spokeshave (can adjust for straight and curved cuts).

Mallet/hammer/combination square/marking knife.

Sharpening gear.

You’re in business!

Regards from Perth


-- Buildiing furniture, and reviewing and building tools at

View bobasaurus's profile


2587 posts in 2602 days

#2 posted 02-24-2016 06:44 AM

Derek, that sounds like the perfect list. All of that could fit in a fairly small custom tool box. I might add some kind of bow/frame/coping saw for curved cuts. Here are some non-tool things to consider bringing:

Maybe include something for simple finishing, like a tin of paste wax (doubles for keeping tools clean/slippery) or some shellac flakes to mix while there?

I would want to bring parts for building a workbench, maybe just some vise screws for a leg and/or tail vise to convert an existing table.

Eye and hearing protection would be good, too (mostly for intense chiseling).

-- Allen, Colorado

View wood2woodknot's profile


46 posts in 1391 days

#3 posted 02-24-2016 07:08 AM

Thinking minimalist, basic and lightweight? Maybe:

small panel saw (or an even a smaller saw like a Fat Maxx Shark) – combination toothing for your basic dimensioning
coping saw and blades – for detail cutting
drawknife – for shaping curved pieces

#5 plane – for both truing and smoothing
4-way combination file/rasp – flat/rounded
6” rat-tail rasp
6” narrow file
set of card scrapers instead of sandpaper
short piece of carbide rod – for a burnisher to give a hooked edge to your scrapers
6” or 9” plastic drafting triangle
10’ tape measure or 6’ folding rule
4-way screwdriver
carpenter’s hammer
1/4” and 3/4” chisels
good pocket knife – for marking cuts and for detail carving, etc.
set of hard & soft Arkansas (or ceramic) stones – to keep all your edge tools sharp

With these you can perform most of your needs, and make some of your other needs when you get there, like a mallet, story stick, straight edge, wedges for clamping, cord to make tourniquet-type clamps for glueing, etc. Some of the other things you can probably get when you’re there – like pencils, paper, nails & screws, glue, string/cord, etc. Have to stop here before being tempted to add “just one more thing.”

With the exception of the panel saw, most of this should fit in a small tool box.

Good luck and happy woodworking.

PS – What branch of the service are you in?

-- ajh

View ToyMakingDad's profile


58 posts in 1429 days

#4 posted 02-24-2016 12:25 PM

I think others have nailed it (no pun intended.)
Just to reinforce – If I had to go bare minimum I’d definitely do:
Jack and block planes
Coping saw with several packs of blades.
Card scrapers with burnisher.
Set of chisels and sharpening stones
Carving knife.
Combination square.
A rasp and files
An awl
An old school “egg beater” hand drill with bits.
If you have room, a miter-box and saw means you can cut dowels into wheels as well as anything that needs to be square cut to size.

I was shopless for a few years and had basically just what was listed above handy (except power drill and sandpaper.) I was able to make a few toys. It made me be more precise and tailor the toy more to the material at hand.

It sounds like for the kind of woodworking you do, most horizontal surfaces could double for a work bench for you with a few good clamps. You might want to look into something like a Maxon vise that you could build on site and temporarily anchor as needed into whatever ends up being handy as your workbench (assuming you don’t build your own.)

Good luck with everything. Oh yeah…Pallets are mostly hardwood. A hammer and pry bar may be in order. Or just saw off the usable bits. Just saying.

-- Toy Making Dad, Northern Virginia,

View HornedWoodwork's profile


222 posts in 632 days

#5 posted 02-24-2016 01:52 PM

If you are going minimal that means you are going to have to have versatile tools, the more tasks each can perform, the higher on your must have list it becomes. If you get to a point where you have to cut weight, think about each tool individually and how it acts as a (to borrow a familiar term) force multiplier. The obvious answers when it comes to versatility are (in this order) Chisels, Saws, general purpose planes, clamps, mark/measuring. From there you get into special purpose planes, finishing and sharpening gear. Now you could argue that if you are unable to keep your gear sharp and in tune, you have basically brought 70 pounds of metal into a desert for no reason, I would agree, but when it comes to cutting weight, flat rocks are a pretty easy thing to find in a dessert…

For what it’s worth there is a guy out there that built an entire bedroom set using his pocket knife. It was a really nice pocket knife, but still. In the end you need a sharp blade and good saw and the right level of insanity to make you believe you can do it.

-- Talent, brilliance, and humility are my virtues.

View canadianchips's profile


2307 posts in 2415 days

#6 posted 02-24-2016 03:38 PM

Not sure where you are going.
I would consider looking for everything when you get there. Trying to take what you think is tough. I have move 3000 miles 4 times in 9 years. First time I thought I would take everything. When I got there I realized I could buy what I already had ! No moving cost !
I know it is tough to leave favorites behind.

-- "My mission in life - make everyone smile !"

View mtenterprises's profile


933 posts in 2111 days

#7 posted 02-24-2016 04:13 PM

I too was going to mention a good quality miter box and saw even though it’s weighty it could be a workhorse. Now this is something I thought was a great idea, a bit pricey, but what you can do with it – – with no electricity. Check out all the videos on youtube.

-- See pictures on Flickr - And visit my Facebook page -

View BigDumbAnimal's profile


65 posts in 1224 days

#8 posted 02-25-2016 05:27 AM

Thanks to everyone for your input. I will definitely be bringing my block and jack planes and thanks Derek, I hadn’t thought of just bringing multiple blades.

Saws get a little more complicated for me though, I grew up using Grandpa’s old western style push cut saws but have since found that I have more control with a pull cut japanese styly saw. I’m leaning towards a combination rip/cc japanese style saw but since this is a tool that I will have to buy I’ll have to do a little research. I learned years ago that it’s worth it to buy higher quality up front vs. buying it later when I break the cheap one.

For a joinery saw I’m thinking along the same lines with a japanese style saw. If anyone has any input on brands or styles of saws, please share. I value the input of folks who I believe to have used a tool aver the random interwebs search results.

Chisels are in, so are the spokeshave, coping saw, and carving knives. The ability to drill has had me thinking for awhile. I’ve been going back and forth between egg beater and the old brace and bit style. I think I’ll take toymakingdad’s advice and try the egg beater.

For sharpening, I’ve tried it all and have water stones, ceramic stones, Arkansas stones, and a couple diamond plates. The ceramic and water stones will probably make the move. Although water stones in the desert kind of makes me chuckle.

I hadn’t thought of bringing my own wax or schellac flakes so thanks Allen, if theres room they’ll make the list too.

Once I’ve assembled everything here my plan is to make a combination toolbox and floor style workbench to store everything and to actually make the move with. On the plus side I’m trading an American desert for another foreign desert so if I make it out of wood I shouldn’t have to worry about it shrinking and warping too much on me. Mtenterprises, thats an awesome tool, but definitely a little outside of my price range.

For wood2woodknot, I’ve been a Marine Artilleryman for almost 10 years and foe Allen, that means that I am definitely set on eye and ear protection for when the shavings start flying.

Thanks again for everyone’s input and if you see anything that I’m overlooking or if you have further brand/style suggestions, specifically for the saws please keep it coming.

-- Semper Fi BDA

View bandit571's profile


14049 posts in 2101 days

#9 posted 02-25-2016 06:05 AM

Smitty has a blog about the Stanley tool boxes of the 1920s….complete with a tool list. Go to his blog about the No.888 and look at what all went into that tool box. Then, you can “adjust” a size, here and there, to fit what you are going to do.

BTW: the stanley No. 888 style box I built a little bit ago? It is almost full now, and is right at 50 pounds…

Retired, 37 yrs Army…..

-- A Planer? I'M the planer, this is what I use

View Tim's profile


3029 posts in 1379 days

#10 posted 02-25-2016 01:03 PM

The ability to drill has had me thinking for awhile. I ve been going back and forth between egg beater and the old brace and bit style. I think I ll take toymakingdad s advice and try the egg beater.
- BigDumbAnimal

Looks like you’re getting good advice. The eggbeater is good for small holes, but the problem is it really can’t do larger holes. Limited to less than a 1/4” in most of mine. A brace on the other hand is better for larger holes (up to 3” in soft wood with an expansive bit), but it can’t do the smaller holes. You can chuck hex shank drill bits in a good quality brace, but if you go too small you risk snapping the bit, plus it’s much slower obviously. If It were me and I were very limited I’d take the brace and auger bits and an electric drill. Because really to do everything by hand efficiently you need a breast drill for the in between sizes in addition to the eggbeater for pilot hole sizes and a brace for larger holes. Depends on what size holes you plan on boring of course.

View Derek Cohen's profile

Derek Cohen

296 posts in 3386 days

#11 posted 02-25-2016 01:20 PM

A small brace (8” throw) could do both auger bits from 1/4” through 1/2” with some ease, and 3/4” with a little more effort. It could also hold a good number of small drill bits and would work about as well as an eggbeater. I think that Lee Valley sell an adapter for drill bits. Check out their website.

I have and use braces from a small 5” throw (used for hinge screws) through a large-ish 12” throw (that will bore a 3/4” hole through a 4” oak bench top with ease). The most common size you will find is a 10”. That would do if you cannot find an 8”.

Both ratchet and non-rachet braces will work equally well.

Regards from Perth


-- Buildiing furniture, and reviewing and building tools at

View sikrap's profile


1121 posts in 2777 days

#12 posted 03-01-2016 12:38 AM

One thing that I would is a set of pinch dogs. They are small and weigh very little. A set of 8-10 will weigh almost nothing and they make excellent clamps for glue ups.

-- Dave, Colonie, NY

View Boatman53's profile


996 posts in 1614 days

#13 posted 03-01-2016 02:23 PM

I would try and find a ‘Zyliss Vise’ or its clone they are very versatile and when ever I’m working out of the shop I have one with me. Made out of aluminum they don’t add much weight.

-- Jim, Long Island, NY home of the chain leg vise

View WirelessWoodworker's profile


54 posts in 674 days

#14 posted 03-01-2016 03:40 PM

I would try and find a Zyliss Vise or its clone they are very versatile and when ever I m working out of the shop I have one with me. Made out of aluminum they don t add much weight.

- Boatman53

The vise is a good point – workholding/workbench options may also need to be considered I guess. You may be able to find clamps locally, or make some possibly. Shannon, over at the Renaissance Woodworker, made a mobile workbench that doubles as a tool box which may be of interest.

-- Tim, Delaware,

View BigDumbAnimal's profile


65 posts in 1224 days

#15 posted 03-02-2016 04:51 AM

Thanks again to everyone for the advice and thoughts. I’m looking at eggbeater drills, I’m leaning towards the schroeder, I’ve got some older stanley tools but have heard their quality isn’t what it was so for now I’m ruling them out. Also considering a 10” brace and bit but that is less of a priority. Out of curiosity though if I did get a brace would I need auger bits or do standard twist bits still work. I know better than to even consider bring my forstner bits.

Work holding solutions is also something that I’ve been thinking through. I will definitely be building a new toolbox to hold everything. Thanks Tim for sending me the link to Renaissance Woodworker, I actually stumbled across his mobile workbench video on youtube over the weekend.

What I am leaning towards is a heavy (I know it’s counter to my original post) toolbox with a flat work top that I can add a vice to the front or side of. I also have a small clamp to the tavletop vice that I bought for my 4 year old so that she could work in the shop with me so that will get packed as a last resort.

We weren’t supposed to move until next summer but they bumped it up a year and now I’m at the point where I’m looking and realizing exacly how many half finished projects I’ve got out in the shop and how little time I have. Then there’s the fact that all of my power tool will be heading to storage for the next 2 years completely unsupervised and unused and I’m not super excited about that prospect either.

-- Semper Fi BDA

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