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.
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.
The last tool I recommend for every beginning woodworker is a quality router. While many routers available today offer two different bases (a stationary base and a plunge router base), for most beginners, a quality stationary base model will take care of quite a number of tasks, and can also be mounted in a router table should you choose to invest in (or even build one) one down the line. Choose a router model that is at least 2-HP and has electronic variable speed controls (as larger cutting bits should use slower speeds), a soft start mechanism and is easy to make bit changes (preferably with the ability to use both 1/2-inch and 1/4-inch shank router bits).
Once you have the four aforementioned handheld power tools in your arsenal and you've had time to get comfortable with using them, its time to make your first (and likely most important) major tool purchase. The table saw is the heart and soul of every woodworking shop, the centerpiece around which all of the other tools are used and organized, so you'll want to buy the best table saw that your budget can comfortably afford. Take the time to learn which features you really want and the table saw that best fits your budget and your needs. This article will show you the most common features, and how to determine what features you need and how to know if those features are really well built, or simply added on to the saw because they are selling features.
Many beginners trying to get started in woodworking take one look at their budget and worry about how they can afford to buy a whole shop full of power tools to get started. Fortunately, one doesn't have to spend a fortune to get started. There are really only seven woodworking tools that I would recommend any beginning woodworker have on hand from the start, and most are relatively inexpensive. However, with these seven tools, a beginner can tackle quite a number of projects.
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.
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.
Block planes have become one of the most oft-used tools in a woodworker’s workshop. Some traditional woodworkers even keep them in their aprons! These little planes can be used to trim your joints, put chamfers on board edges, trim end grain, etc. I would recommend finding a low angle block plane, because the low angle lets you cut difficult grain more easily. My handplane buying guide goes into more detail about the features and brands that you should look for when purchasing a good quality block plane.
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.
2 small Japanese pull saws, a western push saw, fret saw, set of chisels, bit brace with a roll of arbor bits, rabbet plane, side rabbet (trim) plane, 2 shoulder planes, 3 set of diamond stones, slip stone, multiple files, a rasp or two, 2 small bar clamps, a mini vise, hand scrapers, scratch beader with cutters, combination plane with cutters, smoothing plane, jack plane, block plane, combination square, steel straight rule, 12′ tape measure, small bottle of glue, a few short dowels, 2 marking gauges, and a few different marking instruments (awl, pencils, marking knife).
More than a decade ago I spent 2 weeks in Maine aspiring to learn furniture making. On my return home I started enthusiastically planning to turn my basement into a proper shop – with all the “essential” tools I had learned to use. My list reflected my engineer’s preference for buying quality and quickly exceeded $25k in power tools alone (table saw, band saw, joiner, thickness planer, drill press…) even before solving the power, lighting and dust challenges.
A marking knife is used for marking where you will be cutting with your saws and chisels. For getting into tight spots (like dovetails) and making very accurate lines (which is vital for tight fitting joints) you need just the right marking knife. You would think that any old knife would work, but you would be wrong. Years ago I purchased several that didn’t work well.