What is the minimum set of tools?

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Forum topic by Texchappy posted 07-05-2013 12:27 AM 1904 views 0 times favorited 12 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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252 posts in 2396 days

07-05-2013 12:27 AM

A little background. I have a gift of $1000 dollars that I can spend on woodworking tools and had asked on another woodworking forum for advice on how to spend it. One of the responses suggested that I should save it and just keep building things until I ‘knew’ what I wanted. I know there is merit to that but it lead me to the question above.

I certainly can save the money and wait to spend it (even though I do admit to being like a kid in a candy store). There are things that I think I’m well equipped with like saws and bench planes (even though some part of me is curious to use a good metal plane besides the 3 wooden english pattern planes I currently have).

Then there are things that I’m less sure about – like chisels. I know Chris Schwarz says you can get by with 1/4” and 3/4” (which is what I have).

My main goal now was to get the tools that are demonstrated in the video for the project I’m doing now – the Shaker Table that Schwarz does. When I survey the tools that I don’t have that are used in the video, here’s what I come up with:

Shoulder Plane for adjusting tenons for the apron to leg connection
Plough Plane for making grooves for the drawer bottoms
Router plane for leveling tenon cheeks
Skew block plane for the ‘140’ trick on the dovetails

Of those, I could use a chisel to pare the tenon shoulders and cheeks reducing the need for the Shoulder and the Router. I can certainly do dovetails without the ‘140’ trick so I could do without the skew block plane. I could saw and chisel out the grooves for the drawer bottoms. I could also level the bottom of them (or if patient completely cut) with the Router plane instead of the plough.

So I could do without all of those things. The question is: would I want to? What would I learn from not using those tools if I could acquire them?

-- Wood is not velveeta

12 replies so far

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 3823 days

#1 posted 07-05-2013 12:37 AM

I’ve owned and sold perhaps a dozen joinery planes.

The only ones I still have are a large shoulder plane,
a pair of side rabbet planes, and a small router plane,
which I seldom use. I have a lot of power tools too
so I seldom establish basic joint geometry with hand
tools – however most joinery plane cuts can be
adequately executed with sharp chisels.

If you don’t have skew chisels and some crank-necked
chisels you may be missing out.

View Tim's profile


3812 posts in 2137 days

#2 posted 07-05-2013 12:44 AM

You can google minimal hand tools or essential hand tools to get some good basic lists that other people have put together. That’s how I started, and have almost all the things on Paul Seller’s list plus some others I ended up with good deals on or whatnot. I got almost all mine cheap and vintage and have restored or am restoring them to working order.

But you got good advice too. Buy what you need. If you have the skills with a chisel you can get by without certain other tools but it’s not easy to make it look as nice unless you have a lot of practice. I’d try the joints you want to make with some scrap wood a couple times to see what you can do with what you have then consider those tools you mentioned. They are all pretty general tools that you can use for other things.

View Texchappy's profile


252 posts in 2396 days

#3 posted 07-05-2013 12:58 AM

I’ve been working on C. Schwarz’ list from the anarchists tool chest, but the question I’ve been asking myself is what priorities and how fast to do it.

-- Wood is not velveeta

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 3823 days

#4 posted 07-05-2013 12:59 AM

I don’t follow Schwartz at all. Does he seriously
true tenon cheeks with a router plane?

If you don’t have an Iwasaki file or something
similar, you’re missing out on a really neat tool
for joinery.

View Texchappy's profile


252 posts in 2396 days

#5 posted 07-05-2013 01:07 AM

I’m trying to remember the parts of the tenon lol. He uses it to level the flats that go inside the mortise (what I’d call a tongue but don’t remember at the moment what they’re supposed to be called).

-- Wood is not velveeta

View sikrap's profile


1121 posts in 3534 days

#6 posted 07-05-2013 01:19 AM

Those are the cheeks. They can be tuned with a chisel, a shoulder plane or a rabbeting block plane. IMHO, you can do a lot of things a lot of different ways, so its really difficult for most of us to tell you what tools you need most. If you prefer to do the basic milling by machine and just “fine tune” with hand tools, you don’t need many at all. If you like to use hand tools for joinery, I’d suggest some good paring chisels, good mortise chisels, a rabbeting block plane and a couple of good saws. But that’s just me.

-- Dave, Colonie, NY

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 3823 days

#7 posted 07-05-2013 01:24 AM

I’ve never used a router plane for that. I use chisels
and files. If your sawing is as accurate as your thicknessing
(why wouldn’t it be if you’re doing all hand tools?)
the tenons shouldn’t need much work. Considering a
router plane used this way will index the thickness
of the tenon as a set reduction from the thickness of
the board being tenoned, any variances in thickness
from part to part in the board will end up as variances
in the tenons… and since the mortices are established
by a tool of set width, that’s an area I anticipate
problems in. In power tool work as well – thickness
variances in boards of as little as 1/100” can cause
some tenons cut by machine to come out too thin
if one isn’t watching the tolerances.

View crank49's profile


4032 posts in 3146 days

#8 posted 07-05-2013 02:02 AM

For tenons I have good chisels, saws. rasps and a shoulder plane. I sometimes wish I had a rabbet block, but I manage just fine with chisels and the shoulder plane for now.

You can dump a huge sum of money into quality hand tools, even going with vintage tools and refurbishing them. But, the use of a few, top quality tools is much more satisfying than having a large stable of lesser quality tools. So, my advice is to get only the ones you really need and make sure they are the best you can afford.

View Tim's profile


3812 posts in 2137 days

#9 posted 07-05-2013 02:33 AM

Loren, I could be mistaken but I think Paul Sellers recommends a router plane for tenon cheeks too in his workbench build series. I think the benefit for tenon cheeks is you can take very small amounts off the whole cheek and try the fit again. Of course you’re right your sawing should be more accurate, but I think the idea is to help a beginner. The router plane can do dadoes and rebates too, so the versatility puts it on a number of minimal tool lists even though there can be better tools to use.

View Wally331's profile


350 posts in 2201 days

#10 posted 07-05-2013 03:40 AM

You can do the same thing with a shoulder plane as a skew block plane, just use a cutting gauge before
cross-grain and it will do the same thing,

router planes can be shop built, and you can live without one for a long time, the shoulder plane or even just sawing the tenons will be fine.

There is really no suitable replacement for a plough plane for cutting long grooves like drawer bottoms unless you want to take an hour for each one. You can usually find a stanley 45 pretty cheap on ebay, and add a couple of blades, you should have plenty of money left for bench planes and some nice chisels and stones.

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


15649 posts in 2794 days

#11 posted 07-05-2013 03:55 AM

I’ve not sold a one of my joinery planes; I use them all.

I’d suggest you can skip the skew block. It’s a trick, not required, and tough for cross-grained work without the sharpest of irons. Yes for a plough; the Stanley #50 is versatile and cheaper on the ‘bay than a #45, and easier to master. Yes to the #71 and #271 routers, and the large shoulder plane as well. Oh, and het the Anarchist book for the core list. Lots to get… Good luck, enjoy the journey!

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. -- OldTools Archive --

View knockknock's profile


454 posts in 2349 days

#12 posted 07-05-2013 11:07 AM

First, your picking of tools you will use on your current project is a good strategy.

I pretty much agree with Wally331 above. Here is my opinion:

Plow plane is a yes, for doing near edge grooves without power tools (drawer bottoms, stile and rail panel doors, box bottoms etc.). It also can do some rabbets.

Shoulder plane is a good choice also. It is good for tweaking/aligning the shoulders of tenons and some other uses. The choice of size (large or medium) is a matter of preference and the scale of your projects.

Router plane, maybe once I use one, I will understand why people like them. I would point out that tenon cheeks and the bottoms of dados are generally not visible, so if the surface is close enough for alignment and for the strength of the joint you need, it would be good enough.

Skew block plane, if you do smaller projects it may or may not be useful. I have the Veritas left skew block plane (I am right handed). I use it as my main block plane and for shooting small pieces. I have used it for dove tails and to make the tongue for breadboard ends on a box top. It works well as a smaller rabbet plane, it has a nicker and fence, and no depth stop.

-- 👀 --

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