Thank you for this post. I am about three years into wood working with handtools. I didn’t want to be a handtool collector. I wanted a good set of tools I could use. Since funds were tight and I wasn’t sure if I would keep doing this, I wanted to build my tools slowly. What you outlined is more or less what I ended up getting and it has indeed served me well. One can easily do a lot with all of these tools. At some point about two years into the hobby, I had a much better feel for what I wanted to make and what I may or may not need beyond this.
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
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)
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.
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.

now I finally know what to recommend my friends when I try to convince them to give handtools a try (I currently am doing an apprenticeship in cabinetmaking (unfortunately mostly particle board) and said friends they do the same and often have no clue what can be achieved with handtools alone) because up until now, I never knew what to recommend for sharpening as my setup is great but very expensive. And I guess if I recommend to get two stones instead of a combination stone, one can keep one side flat for flattening the backs of new chisels, and add a strop with some polishing compound I really can’t think of anything else one would need for a long time!
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.
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.
I agree, that’s a nice and easy set up to start with. I’d say a block plane it’s handy for small areas, and touch ups. A no.5 is excellent but a bit heavy and tiring sometimes. I find that a nice rabbet block plane (shoulder + block) with two irons with different sharpening angles it’s essential to me. One fine flat rasp and a medium flat file would complete my set.
Real quick story: Recently, I had to help my brother with some furniture and cabinet issues, but there were a few problems. First he lived 3 hours by car and my wife needed our only car. I’ve had a scooter for a few years, but have only used it for local trips with small needs. Since weather was changing and I needed a break away from my other half, I decided to make the trip. I installed my motorcycle saddlebags to the scooter and loaded the necessary tools for the trip. Where’s the motorcycle? That’s another story. Of course the saddlebags are small and the scooter only had a massive 50cc engine; vrmm, vrmm. Although I have a shop full of electric and traditional hand tools, only the smaller hand tools would make the list for this trip. So, here is the list from that trip: (A few may be missing)
I use chisels perhaps more than any other tool in my workshop, so it’s a good idea to not cheap out here. A high quality set of bevel edge bench chisels (new or vintage) will last you many years (likely  your entire life) and will be used on nearly every project. I’ve used some descent affordable plastic handle bench chisels, but highly prefer lighter wooden handle chisels with excellent steel.
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