I have to say, reading your blog and watching your videos makes me want to get started immediately on traditional woodworking. The problem I have is that hand tools are hard to come by at swap meets or antique stores out here in Bakersfield, CA. I have made several trips and so far all I have found is a beat-up old Jack plane. I would rather buy used, but I am a little leery of EBay, so my options are limited. Thank you for your posts on what to buy and links to websites. I haven’t bought anything yet, but… Read more »
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.
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.
So, you have decided to start woodworking. One of the first questions that must have crossed your mind is what equipment do you need for your new hobby? One mistake that many beginners do is going on a spending spree and buying a bunch of unnecessary stuff. This is especially true for power tools which they assume are essential to becoming a “real” woodworker.
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.
The very affordable coping saw (usually under $20) is regularly used for rough cutting shapes in the board, but especially for removing waste from dovetail joints (one of the most common wood joints). An affordable coping saw will work just fine, along with a pack of affordable replacement blades. Read my hand saw buying guide for more detail on brands & features to look for when purchasing a coping saw.
We offer the best hand saws for woodworking. A fine hand saw's image has long been the emblem of a craftsman at work. Used for carpentry, dovetailing, joinery and many other tasks around the shop, we stock a large variety of hand saws. You will find the hand saw you need among our selection of British Bowsaws, Gent's Saws and Tenon Saws, our extensive collection of Japanese Hand Saws, and the fine hand saws of Lie Nielsen. Be sure to check out the newest additions to our Backsaw collection from Bad Axe Tool Works - the ultimate in premium hand saws, made in the USA. Selecting the best hand saws for woodworking can be daunting, to help sort through all the options we recommend reading Essential Woodworking Hand Tools by Author Paul Sellers. His book includes a lengthy chapter on hand saws to help you decide which hand saws you need in your workshop.
I just found you site and from what I have seen so far is very impressive. I cannot believe it took me this long to find it. I have a question concerning the Stanley 62 folding rule that you and Chris Schwarz recommend. I checked on ebay and there seems to be a wide range in prices. Do you have any more information or a recommendation as to the where more research could be done on these rules? Also, if I win the video, I would like the Howarth Bow Saw video and/or the black Got Wood? t-shirt. I live… Read more »
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.
The third tool for the beginner is the Jigsaw. A jigsaw allows the user to cut curved and circular patterns in stock. Sure, a band saw will likely be more accurate and can cut thicker stock, but for the beginner, the jigsaw (sometimes also referred to as a Sabre Saw) can be perfectly effective. For versatility, choose an orbital-action, corded jigsaw that feels good in your hand and has an easy blade changing system.

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.


The very affordable coping saw (usually under $20) is regularly used for rough cutting shapes in the board, but especially for removing waste from dovetail joints (one of the most common wood joints). An affordable coping saw will work just fine, along with a pack of affordable replacement blades. Read my hand saw buying guide for more detail on brands & features to look for when purchasing a coping saw.
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.
As someone who finds hand planing a challenge the minimalist approach seems like the best way to truly learn a tools quirks and develop the skill required. So the Veritas BU planes are going along with the Tormek required to sharpen those gargantuan irons and a diamond plate and oil stone are on the way to get my old Stanley no 5 humming. I never found a sharpening routine that didn’t look a ball ache to keep the BU planes working well and being a stick thin wimp the weight of the buggers for anything more than controlled smoothing shavings knackered me out.
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.
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.
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.

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.


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
Other than the panel saw, all my kit fits into a 50x33x17cm wooden wine box. After years of relying on power tools for everything, I’ve found this minimalist approach very refreshing. Asking myself ‘will it fit in the box?’ helps me to curb ‘add to basket’ tendencies. My only additions to your list are a Stanley No. 18 block plane, a Lie Nielsen dowel plate and a small engineers set square, all non-essential but they do get used.
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.
I have to say, reading your blog and watching your videos makes me want to get started immediately on traditional woodworking. The problem I have is that hand tools are hard to come by at swap meets or antique stores out here in Bakersfield, CA. I have made several trips and so far all I have found is a beat-up old Jack plane. I would rather buy used, but I am a little leery of EBay, so my options are limited. Thank you for your posts on what to buy and links to websites. I haven’t bought anything yet, but… Read more »
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.
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