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.
Rabbets are one of the most common joints in furniture making, so a handplane that cuts a rabbet should be toward the top of your list of tools to buy. Yes, rabbets can be cut without a handplane, but at greater difficulty. I own a lot of handplanes that cut rabbets, including wooden rabbet planes, metal rabbet planes, shoulder planes, and moving fillister planes. While I use all of them for specialty tasks, I find that a metal or wooden moving fillister plane (pictured above) is the most useful, as it allows me to cut rabbets with the grain, across the grain, and allows me to easily cut panels (as seen above). And the movable fence helps greatly with accuracy. I discuss rabbet planes in great detail in the handplane buyer’s guide.
Most of your cutting will be done using power tools. While you can go full neanderthal and work solely with hand tools, modern power tools will make your woodworking hobby much more enjoyable. And you don’t really have to spend a fortune to get them. For some of them, you can easily find low budget alternatives. You can also ask your wood to be cut at the store you are buying it from.
More than a decade ago I spent 2 weeks in Maine aspiring to learn furniture making. On my return home I started enthusiastically planning to turn my basement into a proper shop – with all the “essential” tools I had learned to use. My list reflected my engineer’s preference for buying quality and quickly exceeded $25k in power tools alone (table saw, band saw, joiner, thickness planer, drill press…) even before solving the power, lighting and dust challenges.

As someone who is just progressing past being a “beginner” (just getting into building furniture) in the woodworking community, I would say there are a number of changes I would make to your list. First, I would say that a power jointer/thicknesser does not belong on the list by any means. They are way too large of an investment and take up a lot of space (not to mention you can buy your stock at the desired dimensions). I also strongly disagree with the concept of joinery devices. As someone new to the trade, I feel this is a very important skill that must be developed, not skipped over by buying devices power devices that achieve a single goal. I think the jigsaw should be replaced by a good bandsaw. I just purchased my first major power tool and it was a 14″ bandsaw and not a tablesaw for space reasons as well as versatility. The bandsaw allows me to resaw, cut curves, (now that it is adjusted for drift) rip pieces of stock accurately that are thicker than a table saw could handle, etc. Once the cut is complete, a handplane can remove any saw marks and square/flatten a surface. It is also really useful for cutting tenons and dovetails. Handsaws can be used for crosscutting and anything else the bandsaw cannot handle. As for a bench, if you are getting into woodworking, this should be your first real project (and it is not expensive to make). You are also missing a good vise to be attached to the bench.
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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)
Block planes have become one of the most oft-used tools in a woodworker’s workshop. Some traditional woodworkers even keep them in their aprons! These little planes can be used to trim your joints, put chamfers on board edges, trim end grain, etc. I would recommend finding a low angle block plane, because the low angle lets you cut difficult grain more easily. My handplane buying guide goes into more detail about the features and brands that you should look for when purchasing a good quality block plane.

To start off you only need either a 1/4-inch or 3/8-inch mortise chisel (or some size close to those). I prefer 3/8-inch. You don’t need a whole set of mortise chisels. Mortise chisels (also spelled “mortice chisels”) are used for chopping mortises (rectangular holes) into the side of your board to accept the insertion of a tenon. “Mortise and Tenon” is a very common and very strong joint that most people have heard of.
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 »
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.
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!
The last tool I recommend for every beginning woodworker is a quality router. While many routers available today offer two different bases (a stationary base and a plunge router base), for most beginners, a quality stationary base model will take care of quite a number of tasks, and can also be mounted in a router table should you choose to invest in (or even build one) one down the line. Choose a router model that is at least 2-HP and has electronic variable speed controls (as larger cutting bits should use slower speeds), a soft start mechanism and is easy to make bit changes (preferably with the ability to use both 1/2-inch and 1/4-inch shank router bits).
Most of your cutting will be done using power tools. While you can go full neanderthal and work solely with hand tools, modern power tools will make your woodworking hobby much more enjoyable. And you don’t really have to spend a fortune to get them. For some of them, you can easily find low budget alternatives. You can also ask your wood to be cut at the store you are buying it from.
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