excellent post! noone can beat good advice from someone who makes a living at this. it’s struggle to commit to minimal tools but i can attest to getting too many too soon and not mastering them all. it can even slow down a project trying to fiddle with a new tool and create some waste. i’ve taken to the idea to make 6 projects with the same problem i like to solve with a specialty tool. then ask do i really need it.. for instance i want to incorporate more sliding dovetails. as per you sound advice you don’t need anything more than what you listed but i keep eyeing a dovetail planes both male and female. i just saying resist and build! learn efficiency with what i have and decide if its a roadblock to success or profitability
Now, I know this list only contains traditional hand tools, but my circumstances led me to this choice to complete the job. After all, he is my brother and he’s helped me once or twice. Not all woodworkers will want to take the time and effort to go strictly with hand tools. That’s fine; different circumstances and preferences will lead the way. Most people wouldn’t drive a scooter full of tools to assist their siblings either. Sounds crazy, but I enjoyed the trip through the mountains. Once I was there, I still needed a way to rip through lumber. I also needed a can of finish. As needed, a few jigs and templates were constructed from the purchased lumber.
Someone on here made the point that it took them a few years before they got a clear idea about what they wanted to make. I can relate to that. I’m starting to think that I’d like to do a cabinet type build so maybe a plough plane would help with that. There are plenty of old Stanley’s knocking around on Ebay. On the other hand, I’m in no hurry to buy anything else – I feel much more inclined now to make do and explore the limitations of tools that I’ve got.

about three years ago I thought to make even only a cutting board I would need a complete set of machines, stationary and handmachines, plus of course a few handtools for “hybrid woodworking”, then I discovered Peter Sellers and most importantly Chris and The Anarchist’s Tool Chest, that was a revelation! So I find it absolutely awesome that you show us how to start with even less tools (especially the advice for saws is great, much cheaper to only get rip)!


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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.
Handsaws (often called “panel saws”) are long, thin saws with a comfortable wooden handle. They are used for rough dimensioning of your lumber. Although a “panel saw” is technically a smaller handsaw that fits into the panel of a tool chest, I’ll hereafter refer to this type of saw as a “Panel Saw” to differentiate them from the broad category referred to as “hand saws”. Panel saws come in two tooth configurations: “Rip” (cuts along the grain…like a chisel) and “Cross Cut” (cuts across the grain…like a knife). You will need both.

If you’re on a tight budget, you can get by with just a dovetail saw for awhile. But if you have the means, then I’d recommend that you purchase three backsaws:  (1) a dovetail saw, with fine rip teeth, used for cutting joinery along the grain (like dovetails), (2) a “carcass saw” used for cutting across the grain (fine cross cut teeth), and (3) a larger tenon saw used for cutting deeper cuts, like tenon cheeks, along the grain (rip teeth). All three saws are used very, very often in my workshop. As mentioned above, you could certainly get by with just a dovetail saw at first, since the small rip teeth don’t do too bad of a job at cutting across the grain. Buying backsaws can be very confusing because most sellers don’t know what saw they have, and the tooth configuration can  change the job of the saw. Most people that sell antique saws mix the names up, so don’t worry. My buyer’s guide really clears this confusion up and will help you know what to look for.
I have used a Workmate successfully for years and I am in the process of building an upgraded replacement for the work surfaces. My replacement bench top will be a little longer, much thicker and it will have and extended apron between the two halves to greatly improve holding wood vertically for dovetailing. With this simple upgrade it turns the little Workmate into a very capable portable woodworking bench.
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.
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.
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.

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.
On chisels, once a new comer learns to sharpen, Aldi sells a 4 chisel pack for about $20 US. They are blunt and the backs need to be flattened but once correctly sharpened, they hold their edge very well. These are my go to chisels for most work and they’re as sharp as a scalpel. My good chisels haven’t seen the light of day in over a year as the Aldi chisels work beautifully.
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.
My Stanley 51/2 was in a bit of a state when I got it and refurbing it took a bit of time and cash. Now it works a treat and looks like new. I’m nearly through the bench build and have spend hours using it – it really is a workhorse piece of kit. I did some final cleaning up of some oak legs the other day and I can’t really see how a smaller plain would do a better job.
Wooden mallets are mostly used for hitting your chisels when cutting joints (like dovetail joints or chopping mortises). You should never hit a chisel with a metal hammer. Build or buy a mallet that is made of fairly hard wood (e.g. maple, oak, beech wood, etc.), that will feel well balanced in your hand, and that gives you enough weight to chop with your chisels.
Speaking of rugged simplicity and hand tools kit – I’m very surprised to not see an axe in it! I still remember how I was amazed to see a board being split by an axe in the spoon rack premium video. Do you plan to make a blog post on this sort of topic (also because not everyone has access to premium videos)? Would be interesting to see what other coarse tools you use and when and why, and your thoughts around them. After all, the longer we stay at coarse stage the less time it will take to make something and the more efficient we are.
about three years ago I thought to make even only a cutting board I would need a complete set of machines, stationary and handmachines, plus of course a few handtools for “hybrid woodworking”, then I discovered Peter Sellers and most importantly Chris and The Anarchist’s Tool Chest, that was a revelation! So I find it absolutely awesome that you show us how to start with even less tools (especially the advice for saws is great, much cheaper to only get rip)!
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.
All reps were extremely helpful throughout the process of figuring out what to order. When problems developed due to mistakes by my installer not connected to Woodworker Express, the reps sent replacement hinges without charge. Jason, particularly went the extra mile and more helping me figure out what the problems were and how to solve them, even though the problems were not related to or caused by Woodworker Express..
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