What is a good first set of tools for a beginning woodworker?

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Forum topic by helluvawreck posted 10-29-2010 06:30 PM 4015 views 6 times favorited 17 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View helluvawreck's profile


32087 posts in 3041 days

10-29-2010 06:30 PM

Topic tags/keywords: beginners tools set of tools

WoodmanWoodworker asked me about a beginning set of blacksmith tools and I thought that he was asking me about what would be a good set of woodworking tools. I sent him a list of what I think would be a good basic starting set of tools for someone that is just starting out and wants to concentrate on their hand tool skills. I’m certainly not an expert but I thought that it would make a good post that might help someone who either has or will have the same question. I thought that you Lumberjocks could add to the list or just state why something shouldn’t be on the list. Here is the list that I sent to WW:

WW is interesting in making many of his own tools and I think that is a wonderful pursuit.

Without thinking exhaustively about this, the following list would be what I would work towards having as a good starting set of tools. There is no doubt that I have forgotten something. Also no two people will have the same opinion on this subject. I will say this, you can do a whole lot worse than setting your mind on learning how to use the tools on this list well before acquiring any others.

The following can be your first projects:
work bench
tool box

vice – you can build this if you have a couple of steel shafts and an acme screw and nut see McMaster Carr supply

claw hammer
tack hammer
wood mallett – can probably make a decent one even without a lathe

3 pc set – nail sets

Bevel edge wood chisels
1/4 inch
1/2 inch
3/4 inch
1 inch
add 1-1/4 and 1-1/2 when you can

1/4 inch mortise chisel

hand crosscut saw
hand rip saw
14 inch back saw
10 – 12 inch dovetail saw
keyhole saw
coping saw

egg beater drill
drill bits – 1/16 – 3/8 by 16ths to start and add to when you can
auger bits – 1/4, 3/8, 1/2, 3/4, 1 to start and then add to when you can

6 inch try square
9 inch try square
combination square
sliding t bevel – can possibly make
combination mortise and marking gage – can possibly make
marking knife – can possibly make

scratch awl – can possibly make
6 inch steel rule
12 inch steel rule
18 inch steel rule
compass – can possibly make
depth gage – can possibly make – use rules
6 ft extension rule
12 ft tape measure

pocket knife
utility knife

block plane
smoothing plane #3 or #4
jack plane #5 #6 plane
cabinet scrapers
add a cabinet shoulder plane when you can

draw knife – add a curved draw knife when you can
flat spokeshave
convex spokeshave

choice of sharpening tools:
water stones, arkansas stones, etc.
leather strop

9 in half round bastard file
12 inch half round bastard file
mill file
file card

Files are useful add to these when you can. If you want to do this right you will need to have the files that you need to sharpen your saws. You can make a saw vice that works with your cabinet vice. You will also need a saw set. You can start out by paying someone to sharpen them when needed.

1 set screwdrivers
1 set combination wrenches
1 set allen wrenches
1 pr pliers
obviously the more mechanics tools you have the better.

You can never have enough clamps but you can start out with the simple bar clamps that go on pipe and just invest in a collection of pipes. They also make some fittings for making clamps out of wood using either holes or notches in the wood.

I hope this helps

Just thought of a couple of more that might should be on the list:
24” level
plumb bob

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

17 replies so far

View racerglen's profile


3112 posts in 2955 days

#1 posted 10-29-2010 06:47 PM

That’s a VERY good list ! About the only add I’d make would locking pliars, Vice Grips..and in more than one size and type.

-- Glen, B.C. Canada

View Beginningwoodworker's profile


13345 posts in 3847 days

#2 posted 10-29-2010 07:09 PM

Thats a good list!

View mafe's profile


11741 posts in 3264 days

#3 posted 10-29-2010 07:12 PM

Super list.
Wish I had the strenght to stop there…

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect. Democraticwoodworking.

View docholladay's profile


1287 posts in 3233 days

#4 posted 10-29-2010 08:08 PM

This is a very good list. I would suggest a few possible changes or additions in the interest of efficiency (more with less). For example, I rarely ever even use the try squares that I have. If I were starting over again, I would purchase a good quality (like a Starrett) 12” Combi-Square and then purchase several different length blades for it. This can take the place of the rulers on your list and then can do several other functions. You can use it sort of like a marking gauge. It makes a very good depth gauge. And you simply cannot beat Starrett for precision and acuracy. I read recently that Ian Kirby uses a very sharp Swiss Army pocket knife for a marking knife, so that is something else that can do double duty. If cost is a big issue (I don’t know anyone that is isn’t) the scary sharp method using sand paper is a great way to get into sharpening without spending much money and my leather strop is a piece of mdf with a piece from an old leather belt glued to it. I would suggest being more specific with regards to the block plane and get a low angle for starters. It is the plane that I keep in my tool belt all of the time. If I were going to add anything it would be a little 4” Starrett double square. This is the handiest little square that I own. It stays in my tool belt or my pocket whenever I am in the shop and I used for everything from tool setup, marking out, depth gauge, etc.

-- Hey, woodworking ain't brain surgery. Just do something and keep trying till you get it. Doc

View crank49's profile


4032 posts in 3145 days

#5 posted 10-29-2010 08:16 PM

Don’t you guys consider clamps to be tools? You gotta have clamps.

By the way, very nice list, helluvawreck.

View helluvawreck's profile


32087 posts in 3041 days

#6 posted 10-29-2010 08:26 PM

Thanks, Doc. You have made some very good points. A beginner could do what you are saying and then add the others at a later time if they wanted to or not add them at all. Very good.

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View newbiewoodworker's profile


668 posts in 3001 days

#7 posted 10-29-2010 09:29 PM

Very good list.

People forget how much you can do with a simple jackknife… instead, they assume you need a $100 tool to do the same task, just as effectively..

One thing I would add, is a small sledge hammer(useful for splitting blocks with a chisel/other) and a dead blow hammer. I personally have never used the latter, but they are said to be extremely useful…

-- "Ah, So your not really a newbie, but a I betterbie."

View Blakep's profile


232 posts in 2977 days

#8 posted 10-29-2010 09:37 PM

Fine woodworking magazine has a list in the curent issue of the 12 tools that a woodworker can’t do without. It was more of a list for someone with power tools and not really a bigginer list but it did explain why you needed each tool and was very informative. The only problem is I can’t remember most of the tools that were on there so I can’t post them.

View helluvawreck's profile


32087 posts in 3041 days

#9 posted 10-29-2010 09:44 PM

newbie, you just made me think of another one – a woodworkers hatchet.

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View mtnwild's profile


3474 posts in 3702 days

#10 posted 10-29-2010 10:31 PM

Beautiful list, just what I was thinking. Pretty much how I started.
Affordable, readily available, transportable and pretty much able to build most anything.

-- mtnwild (Jack), It's not what you see, it's how you see it.

View DenverDave's profile


41 posts in 3025 days

#11 posted 10-30-2010 01:09 AM

#2 pencil and pencil sharpener. :)

View StumpyNubs's profile


7674 posts in 2975 days

#12 posted 10-30-2010 01:10 AM

What about a shop dog? That’s the first thing I’d get!

-- Subscribe to "Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal"- One of the crafts' most unique publications:

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 3290 days

#13 posted 10-30-2010 03:00 AM

not a bad list :-)

View Gofor's profile


470 posts in 3961 days

#14 posted 10-30-2010 04:45 AM

Good list

If you are looking at a basic hand tool shop set I would echo the hand ax and add a froe if working from rough lumber or getting into green stick chair making.

Top of the list would be the Starrett (or equivalent quality) machinist square set (includes center finder and protractor attachment) . It doubles as a depth gauge, center finder, accurate scale, angle gauge, etc. Whether hand or power tool shop, accuracy is a key to fine work. This is the one “modern” invention that can make your life much easier, and is the one area you do not want to skimp on. If accurate, it will be the most valuable tool in your shop. If inaccurate, the one you curse the most. Not saying that many a great craftsman did not have this in the past, but I would bet they would have readily spent a month’s pay to have one.

To the files I would add a four-in-hand rasp. If only one wood file, that would be the first. I use mine extensively (and I am not a galoot).

First work project is a set of knee-high saw horses. Need them to make the tool tote and work bench. They will support sheet goods, are great for assembling cabinets, etc, and give you a place to sit while taking a break and pondering why you ever decided to subject yourself to all this self-abuse.

In deciding, just follow the process to determine what tools are really needed:

Take rough wood and dimension it square, straight and flat, (or make it round).

Take the square, straight, flat (or round) wood and join it together.

No more complicated than that. ROTFL


-- Go

View BigTiny's profile


1676 posts in 3063 days

#15 posted 10-30-2010 08:05 AM

Great list. I’d switch the steel rules for stainless steel as most home shops encourage rust and I’d add a 1/8 chisel for cleaning out tight dovetails.

-- The nicer the nice, the higher the price!

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