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Dan, my work space that is available for power tools is quite small, about 6′ x 20′. It may seem like a lot on the surface, but a long rectangle is a bear to work in. It requires a lot of serpentine action. That said, I don’t have too much room for large footprint tools. I have settled finally on three big tools; a small bench saw, a thickness planer, and a drill press. I had to forgo the jointer, so I use hand tools to make up for it’s absence (as I do with a lot of my hand tool techniques). I have gotten to the point where I can flatten one side and true an edge of a board reasonably quick. I then finish it up with the thickness planer and table saw, giving me a nice flat board. I guess what I am basically saying is, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and don’t write off hand tools as a quaint way to experience the past. They worked for thousands of years, and still do! Thanks for the blogs, they make for great reading.
To start off you only need either a 1/4-inch or 3/8-inch mortise chisel (or some size close to those). I prefer 3/8-inch. You don’t need a whole set of mortise chisels. Mortise chisels (also spelled “mortice chisels”) are used for chopping mortises (rectangular holes) into the side of your board to accept the insertion of a tenon. “Mortise and Tenon” is a very common and very strong joint that most people have heard of.
A try square is used to square up your workpieces for precise-fitting joints. If you’re not confident enough to build your own try square yet, you should purchase a good metal try square (somewhere between 9 and 12 inches). It’ll be used for scribing square lines around the faces and edges of your boards, such as a line for where to cut with your saw.
24″ for the chopping block. all of my lumber comes from last years spring clean up. currently have Cherry, White oak, Ash, Hard & Soft Maple as Well as Sasafrass on hand there is also Birch in the woods but none of them have needed to come down yet. I keep two single bevel axes one light one Heavy(2-1/2 lb) which I use depends on how my Elbow feels. A Froe is also required. I think going from tree to board is harder than from board to furniture but it depends how much wind is in the tree. I don’t think I would of ever been able to build the required skills if I had to pay for the lumber though I guess I paid in labor. Air dried stuff is some much better to work with its worth it.
Like you, I too am benchless. I built the “Mozilla” Molson vice variant from last year’s issue (I forget which) and it comes in handy for a lot of operations. I clamp it down to a piece of plywood that I have covered with formica (actually, it’s two pieces that I have piano-hinged together for easier storage) laid across two sawhorses. As long as lateral thrust is not involved, this is a pretty stable way to work. I also have a Zyliss vise for working on smaller pieces. I’ve made do for nearly forty years with a radial arm saw and circular saw. I have only recently acquired a planer and router table (both on wheels) It makes the garage croweded because also sharing the space are two motorcycles and about 400 board feet of rough sawn Camphor. I currently attend classes in woodworking and this coming semester I’ll be enrolled in a class for handtools only (and sharpening).
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I think it depends on the type of woodworker you would like to become. Are you more interested in traditional “electric free” carpentry or are you drawn to the ease and convenience of modern machinery? Also, I think you should take into consideration what kind and how much shop space you have available. I have worked with all the modern machines for years now, and are just presently finding personal satisfaction in traditional woodworking. In fact, last night I built my very first bookcase with just a few “powerless” hand tools. So in all, I would suggest some personal reflection…What type of woodworker do you want to become?…and from there garnish your shop appropriately.
Our Woodworking Tool index (LEFT) includes a listing of all our Woodworking Tools and materials. Throughout our site you will find exceptional values on fine woodworking tools, quality tools built to last.  Woodworking Hand Tools are one of our passions and we sell the very best hand tool brands in production today. At Highland Woodworking we not only carry a great selection of top rated tools but we also provide top notch information on woodworking tools and techniques. Selecting the right woodworking tools for your woodworking shop can be overwhelming so we are always here to answer your tool questions and help you to become a better woodworker.  If you are new to woodworking checkout our starter woodworking tool list for beginners. We've been offering fine woodworking tools and education since 1978, keeping woodworkers informed about the best woodworking tools, tips & techniques along the way. Purchases are backed by Highland Woodworking's 60-day money back guarantee, so you can shop us with confidence for high quality woodworking tools.
Somehow I overlook #1, the jointer and thickness planer, and I saw all the other tools and immediately thought that this was my first set of tools I bought when I started working as a carpenter on a friend’s crew. Then I saw my oversight and just couldn’t get over how incongrous those two items were to the rest of the list. Had I seen a scrub plane and a jack plane I would have more harmony in the list.
Whilst I agree with everything you say there has to be a but 😀 and here it comes, after promising myself I’d have the bench of my dreams since my apprenticeship 42 years ago I finally two years ago built a three quarter ton steamed beech monster with all the bells and whistles. If only I’d had it years ago to me it’s the most important tool in my workshop now ! Solid, heavy, side and head vice, dog holes everywhere, sliding deadman the lot and yes very very pretty. But built to be used as a bench and with some visiting clients a showpiece! But more than anything because I could
Our Woodworking Tool index (LEFT) includes a listing of all our Woodworking Tools and materials. Throughout our site you will find exceptional values on fine woodworking tools, quality tools built to last.  Woodworking Hand Tools are one of our passions and we sell the very best hand tool brands in production today. At Highland Woodworking we not only carry a great selection of top rated tools but we also provide top notch information on woodworking tools and techniques. Selecting the right woodworking tools for your woodworking shop can be overwhelming so we are always here to answer your tool questions and help you to become a better woodworker.  If you are new to woodworking checkout our starter woodworking tool list for beginners. We've been offering fine woodworking tools and education since 1978, keeping woodworkers informed about the best woodworking tools, tips & techniques along the way. Purchases are backed by Highland Woodworking's 60-day money back guarantee, so you can shop us with confidence for high quality woodworking tools.
So, you have decided to start woodworking. One of the first questions that must have crossed your mind is what equipment do you need for your new hobby? One mistake that many beginners do is going on a spending spree and buying a bunch of unnecessary stuff. This is especially true for power tools which they assume are essential to becoming a “real” woodworker.
For very many years (since the early 70’s) I built furniture, that I still have and use, with a Stanley No4 as my one and only plane – and only one blade for it. I still have, and use, that same plane. I now have other planes, but the first one is still my ‘go to’ plane. I have just given away my set of chisels, to my son, as I have collected a few old wooden handled ones which I now prefer, but those old blue plastic Marples set did me well for about 25 years.
However, I would recommend that you either build a wooden workbench, or purchase one if you feel a workbench build is too advanced for you right now. However, I created the DVD “Building the Portable Moravian Workbench with Will Myers” so that even beginners can build a solid, portable, and very affordable workbench that will fit almost anywhere, using mostly or only hand tools. You can buy it in my store here. You can find Will’s free workbench plans for the Moravian Workbench here. Whichever path you choose, make sure you choose to either build or buy a heavy & sturdy wooden workbench, with at least a 3″ solid top, strong supportive base legs, and at least one strong vise.
Own one junk chisel, probably about 1″. This will keep you from doing what you oughtn’t to your good chisels. It can be used and can be nearly trash. It’s going to hit caulk on masonry, junk stuck to the floor, interior cuts on thin sheets of aluminum, and other such abuse. If the back and bevel sort of intersect on an extra coarse stone, it’s sharp. I’ve sharpened mine on the concrete back stoop. (Not so great for the concrete)

I recently just got into traditional woodworking and came across your YouTube channel. Your videos plus the blog posts have a depth of knowledge that cannot be found anywhere else. I have been able to buy enough tools to start a workbench and I am almost complete with the build. Your video about how to square, flatten, and dimension rough boards was a life saver! Thanks again for all your knowledge.

I just moved overseas and had to give up all of my power tools due to space limitations and power incompatibility. Upon arrival the first power tool that I bought was a cordless drill/driver and the second was a circular saw. I then modified the saw to improve its performance for cabinet quality work by putting a zero clearance baseplate (just a piece of 1/4″ plywood screwed to the base) this allows the saw to cut plywood panels without tearing up the edges. I also bought a length of aluminum rectangle tube stock for a straight edge. Together the straight edge and the zero clearance baseplate makes the circular saw a fairly accurate tool for plywood construction projects. It’s not as easy to use as a Festool track saw but it cuts almost as clean and cost about 1/5th the price.


For very many years (since the early 70’s) I built furniture, that I still have and use, with a Stanley No4 as my one and only plane – and only one blade for it. I still have, and use, that same plane. I now have other planes, but the first one is still my ‘go to’ plane. I have just given away my set of chisels, to my son, as I have collected a few old wooden handled ones which I now prefer, but those old blue plastic Marples set did me well for about 25 years.
If I were to give someone new one piece of advice, it would be to buy their chisels new, not used. I have wasted more time and more money trying to save butchered chisels than I want to admit. There’s a good chance that the used chisel will be bellied in the back or pitted at the edge and it will take more than beginner skills to fix it. You may make things worse rather than better. Sure, learn to do this _some_ day, but maybe not as a beginner first thing. I’ve had similar problems with used planes, but it isn’t nearly as bad a problem for a joinery plane. If there are pits that lead to scratches, it may not matter for anything other than a final smoother. Also, a tiny back bevel may save the day on a plane, but you likely don’t want that on a chisel. So, I’m less fussed about planes and, if it all goes south, you can buy a new blade for smoothing work and use the old for rough work (all in the same plane). You can’t buy a new blade for a chisel. Well, you can, but it’s called buying a new chisel. I use 3/8″ a lot. 1/4, 3/8 to handle all the mortises and dovetails and either 3/4 or 1″ for paring shoulders and for fat parts of some dovetails. I probably learn towards the 1″ because there are times you want to reference off the blade to keep moving in a line, like for a housing. I think Lee Valley’s version of the Narex are excellent and mine came with flat backs that could go straight to polishing.

Basic woodworking tools are different from beginner woodworking tools. For one thing, I don’t like to use the word “beginner” unless I am using it accurately. It’s not a very useful label, in my opinion, because it implies that there are clear-cut and hierarchical steps in your growth as a woodworker. Who wants to return to grade school during his or her valuable shop time? So I only use the word “beginner” when I’m talking about someone who is touching woodworking tools for the first time.
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