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.
Lots of good comments! I do think it is a bit of stretch to include a jointer and surface planner on the ‘basics’ list – we’ve got a slippery slope here! And a lot of different approaches – money, space, time, resources, etc. But lets plunge ahead. If you buy your wood already (or mostly) prep’ed, then the jointer & surface planner can be postponed. You definitely need a way to accurately measure linear distances (e.g. length, width) so a good ruler and tape measure. You need to be able to measure squareness – so you need a good combination square. You need to be able to mark the wood – so a good marking knife, an awl, some chalk, a fine pencil, etc. You should have some decent chisels (and good ones don’t need to cost a lot!). You will need to sharpen them (again not expensive – piece of plate glass and some sandpaper). You need a way to accurately cut your wood – a couple of good handsaws and a file or two for sharpening. You really should have a decent work surface/work bench/etc – a good first project by the way. Last of the basics – a good drill (3/8″ vs battery type). Lastly (I could go on but room is lacking), take a look at Paul Seller’s video’s for simple but highly competent work.
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.

Like yourself, I get great satisfaction from working with this small kit. Similar to your wine box, I’ve got this old ‘sausage box’ that I can fit everything in, if I’m out the job site or such. It’s a lovely feeling to know that with just this small box of tools, I can pay all my bills and eat. I just wish I could get the rest of my life so minimal!
For some great tips for woodworking beginners, this website will show you some great tips and techniques that can help you to become more efficient and have less mistakes. If you are using woodworking tools for the first time, it is best to watch a video or do some research on how to use that particular tool in the way it was designed to be used. There are many woodworking tools that can make any and all woodworking projects much easier and with less frustration. There are some videos below to help you with using basic woodworking tools.
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.
If you can buy a bunch of tools at one time, you can save a ton on shipping, as the more you buy, the lower the rates. Also, take advantage of free shipping offers. Compare to see where you can get the best deal. Whatever you buy, make sure it is high quality. I have a Nicholson backsaw I bought at a local store before I knew of the woodworking suppliers. It has never been used much, but cuts much slower than saws such as Gramercy or Lie-Nielsen, even though mine have smaller teeth than the Nicholson.
With the right tools and materials, what you build is only limited by your imagination and creativity. So why not have a little fun with the kids and teach them something at the same time? Our woodworker tools and woodworking supplies will help you put together an easy birdhouse, squirrel feeder or butterfly house. The kids will love to use our paint samples to add their creative touch, and will enjoy displaying the finished product in the backyard.
“Basic,” on the other hand, is a word that allows for growth – and that’s exactly what you want in your woodworking tool kit. You want to be able to take the same kit with you through many years in the craft. With my basic woodworking tools list, I wanted to provide a core set of tools that will serve you well from project to project. I’m especially concerned these days with the transition to hardwood furniture making, as opposed to plywood boxes of various sizes. That’s the transition I’m making right now in my own work!
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.
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
My $0.02 worth. I agree with the thickness planer [mine is 10″] but anything over a 6″ jointer is expensive and space-consuming, so use hand planes as in your later blog. I inherited an 8″ table saw that my dad and I used to build a 12′ outboard boat back in 1955. I’ve used it for ripping, but I’m having second thoughts because of safety issues. Some have suggested a band saw for ripping, which is quieter and safer to use. I gave my router away [and hope to get rid of my Freud biscuit joiner and 6″ jointer]. A quality eggbeater drill works every bit [pun not intended] as well as a power drill, and they cost less. A coping saw and a jewelers saw negate the need for a jigsaw unless you are into making puzzles. Chris Schwarz has a video short on one of the Highland Woodworker series showing how to joint the edge of a board with a plane and a simple jig on the workbench surface. Another reason to bypass the jointer.
With the right tools and materials, what you build is only limited by your imagination and creativity. So why not have a little fun with the kids and teach them something at the same time? Our woodworker tools and woodworking supplies will help you put together an easy birdhouse, squirrel feeder or butterfly house. The kids will love to use our paint samples to add their creative touch, and will enjoy displaying the finished product in the backyard.
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