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.
I consider this my “basic” tool list. Although I do not have a dedicated box for these tools, I assure you that they have a great home in cabinets, on shelves, and laying around on benches. When I do need to take my hand tools somewhere, the larger tools end up in a simple tongue and grooved latch box my grandfather owned. The smaller tools are always in my overall pockets. Overalls work great. They have multiple pockets, they’re comfortable, and they protect your upper body and legs. You only have to deal with small chunks of wood getting into the pockets, which can be dealt with if you or your other half are crafty enough to sew some flaps. It doesn’t bother me though. Thanks for your time.
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.
Love this article and the videos, very informative. As a beginning woodworker I have chosen on the traditional means because I can find some good deals at local flea markets and with a little tune up the tools work good. This video give great tips for the new woodworker and the basic essentials needed for getting started. One area I need help is in clamping so I would be honored to win a set of the clamps. If I am not picked for the clamps, an XL shirt would fit (disston seal), my choice of video would be “Building the… 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.
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.
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.
Basic woodworking tools are different from beginner woodworking tools. For one thing, I don’t like to use the word “beginner” unless I am using it accurately. It’s not a very useful label, in my opinion, because it implies that there are clear-cut and hierarchical steps in your growth as a woodworker. Who wants to return to grade school during his or her valuable shop time? So I only use the word “beginner” when I’m talking about someone who is touching woodworking tools for the first time.
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..
About forty years ago I purchased a Shopsmith Mark V because I lacked space for a large shop, and also moved around the United States a lot. Later I purchased another Shopsmith Mark V Model 510 for the increase in table size and flexibility. I do wood working as a hobby, not to do many projects as fast as possible. I also have every tool and accessory that Shopsmith makes for the two primary tools. Their quality is excellent, and while I enjoy antique tools like the 1912 three phase electric Camel Back Drill Press I purchased for my son’s shop, the Shopsmith does every thing I have ever needed.
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.

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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