I was telling my brother of the different ways I sharpen and he seemed interested in the slab/sandpaper method. When I went to get the extra supplies I picked up a slab of granite, adhesive, and sandpaper for sharpening. When the job was completed, the saw, the can of finish, and the slab with sandpaper were gifted to my brother. I could have shortened my list a little,
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.
I created the above hand tool buyer’s guides to help beginners who feel overwhelmed when trying to understand which hand tools they need first. It’s frustrating! Below you’ll see my summary list of the 20 basic professional woodworking hand tools that you should start to accumulate in order to start building the most basic woodworking projects. When you’re ready, you can follow the yellow buttons to visit each of the buying guides for each type of hand tool, to get help with understanding hand tool features, brands, & models. At the bottom of this page is a handy full list of tools that is sorted by “urgent”, “semi-urgent”, and “not-urgent” to buy.
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.

Just for the record, a jointer and planer are not from the ICDT kit – the philosophy on that column is, indeed, beginner AND basic (hence the Workmate). The tools we suggest in the ICDT manual are for those who are working at a kitchen table or in a backyard; the tools the editors would recommend for someone who is quite sure he or she wants to pursue serious furniture making would be rather different.

Always be on the lookout for usable wood. You might be able to salvage some. You can use a metal detector to find nails and screws. You don’t need a full fledged metal detector. I use a pinpointer made by Garrett. If your wood has some woodboring beetles you can still use it if not eaten too badly. A healthy dose of cyfluthrin will take care of them.


Having very sharp tools is one of the most important aspects of proper traditional woodworking with hand tools. Many beginners think that they stink at woodworking, but usually they are just using dull (or improperly sharpened) hand tools. To start off with I recommend buying quality sharpening supplies for sharpening & honing your chisels, hand plane irons, and handsaws. And I’ll help you save money by avoiding systems that don’t work as well.
Two things which I took to instantly and now wouldn’t want to do without are an old-fashioned two foot, four fold ruler which gets used all the time (there’s nothing that comes close to it) and a 1 1/2″ butt chisel which gets used all the time for marking anything which needs to be chopped e.g. the side of a mortice. It also means fewer chops and therefore a bit more accuracy when cutting out a knife wall.
While some people consider the circular saw to be more of a carpentry tool than a fine woodworking tool, but some would disagree. There may be no more versatile basic handheld power tool than a circular saw. When used with a clamp-on straight-edge, the circular saw can be just about as accurate as a table saw and handle quite a few of the tasks that one would attempt with a table saw, particularly cutting sheet goods such as plywood or medium-density fiberboard. When woodworking on a budget, a quality circular saw should be the first handheld power tool purchased, as it is the one that will likely be the most useful as you get started.
The fourth most important basic handheld power tool every beginner should buy is a random orbital sander. While palm sanders are less expensive and can use plain sandpaper (cut into one-fourth sections), the random orbital version uses hook-and-loop fastened sanding disks, and doesn't sand in patterns, using a random sanding motion instead. This motion will serve to reduce the chance that any sanding marks may appear on the stock due to the sanding. Of course, be certain that your local woodworking supplier has sanding disks readily available in a number of grits to fit the model that you choose, as the key to proper sanding is to use progressively finer grits as you sand to reduce or remove any marks that are left behind from the previous sanding.

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.
Two things which I took to instantly and now wouldn’t want to do without are an old-fashioned two foot, four fold ruler which gets used all the time (there’s nothing that comes close to it) and a 1 1/2″ butt chisel which gets used all the time for marking anything which needs to be chopped e.g. the side of a mortice. It also means fewer chops and therefore a bit more accuracy when cutting out a knife wall.
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.
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I am finally getting to practice my woodworking more after years of collecting tools. By using tool reviews and thinking of the kind of work I would like to do, I have accumulated a nice set of tools without purchasing many mistakes. I decided to use Paul Sellers book and videos and start learning from the beginning. He starts with projects that begin with a small set of tools. One of those tools is a spokeshave. Even though I know much of what is in the first lessons, I have picked up a few new tricks, and am learning to use my tools more efficiently. My most important tools are my workbench and vise. The workbench was tough to build as I was on the floor using hand planes; not a good way to work. I have no jointer; did get a small planer and made a sled for it so I can flatten a board. My tools are in my house, so there is no room for a big table saw or bandsaw. I have a chopsaw and a piece of an old Craftsman tablesaw I got for free. It has to be moved outside to use. A circular saw with a guide is handy. My guide has a plate on which the saw is mounted. The plate slides on aluminum angle (with help of rollers) which is screwed to plywood. Once the initial cut is made in the plywood, the plywood is simply lined up with your cut marks and clamped down.

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.

After you have chosen the perfect table saw for your woodshop, the next major purchase one should consider would be a compound miter saw. While not as expensive as a quality table saw, a compound miter saw is invaluable for cutting compound angles (beveled, mitered and combination cuts) on the ends of a piece of stock. Once you develop your ability to make precise cuts with a compound miter saw, you'll find that your circular saw spends a little more time in the drawer than it used to.

A good set of 5-7 bench chisels (they don’t have to match) will get you going right away. Down the road you’ll eventually add some specialty chisels (like paring chisels, fishtail chisels, etc) but bench chisels will work for just about everything. I often pay only $10 for high quality vintage chisels, so a compiled set can certainly be affordable, and higher quality than low quality new sets. Read the chisel buying guide to learn what chisels to avoid and which chisels will work great.
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)

It is my understanding that frame saws are standard to a continental toolkit. Richard’s list of a hard-point handsaw, 10-12” backsaw, and coping saw is a very standard British/American toolkit, that preforms the same roles as the frame saws you detailed. All three are available in every hardware store in America and I assume in Britain, true hardware store back saws are now junk and to get something new that preforms as well an old Disston, like Richard stated, you have to upgrade to likes of Veritas and Lie-Nielsen.

Being without machinery to dimension and dress rough timber myself I can definitely see the benefit, but I think the investment (both in money and space) in machinery like this is premature for ‘basic’ woodworking. Additionally, without some other machinery (table saw, bandsaw) you’re still going to have trouble dimensioning smaller timber for projects from large/rough stock (e.g. producing timber strips for case fronts, ripping to reduce thickness, etc).
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).
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.
When you go shopping for tools, get the tools for your new woodworking shop only a few at a time. As your woodworking hobby progresses, you can obtain more wood tools as time goes on. We list the woodworking tools that you will find most useful and use most often. If you are going to be doing any type of woodworking, we recommend to make a custom workbench to store your tools which will also give you with an area to perform your woodworking projects. See below for what we recommend for a basic woodworking tool kit.
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