My Stanley 51/2 was in a bit of a state when I got it and refurbing it took a bit of time and cash. Now it works a treat and looks like new. I’m nearly through the bench build and have spend hours using it – it really is a workhorse piece of kit. I did some final cleaning up of some oak legs the other day and I can’t really see how a smaller plain would do a better job.
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.
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.
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.