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.
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.

I work with a lot of rough sawn boards (Wood Mizer) that are up to 12 inches wide. The worse defect is twist. First I saw the stock to rough project lengths and then using winding sticks, I attack the twist with a #5 hand plane, gradually moving the winding sticks toward the center. If there is bow or cup I can plane that out also. I now have a reference surface that can go thru my planer. The finished boards are perfect. This is not really difficult or excessively time consuming.
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.
Like you, I too am benchless. I built the “Mozilla” Molson vice variant from last year’s issue (I forget which) and it comes in handy for a lot of operations. I clamp it down to a piece of plywood that I have covered with formica (actually, it’s two pieces that I have piano-hinged together for easier storage) laid across two sawhorses. As long as lateral thrust is not involved, this is a pretty stable way to work. I also have a Zyliss vise for working on smaller pieces. I’ve made do for nearly forty years with a radial arm saw and circular saw. I have only recently acquired a planer and router table (both on wheels) It makes the garage croweded because also sharing the space are two motorcycles and about 400 board feet of rough sawn Camphor. I currently attend classes in woodworking and this coming semester I’ll be enrolled in a class for handtools only (and sharpening).
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.
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!
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!
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.
My $0.02 worth. I agree with the thickness planer [mine is 10″] but anything over a 6″ jointer is expensive and space-consuming, so use hand planes as in your later blog. I inherited an 8″ table saw that my dad and I used to build a 12′ outboard boat back in 1955. I’ve used it for ripping, but I’m having second thoughts because of safety issues. Some have suggested a band saw for ripping, which is quieter and safer to use. I gave my router away [and hope to get rid of my Freud biscuit joiner and 6″ jointer]. A quality eggbeater drill works every bit [pun not intended] as well as a power drill, and they cost less. A coping saw and a jewelers saw negate the need for a jigsaw unless you are into making puzzles. Chris Schwarz has a video short on one of the Highland Woodworker series showing how to joint the edge of a board with a plane and a simple jig on the workbench surface. Another reason to bypass the jointer.
This heavy-duty Combination Machine joints and planes using This heavy-duty Combination Machine joints and planes using the same 12 in. cutterhead saving money and the space required for 2 individual machines. Conversion from the jointer to the planer is easy. Just remove the quick-release fence and flip up the jointer tables. The tables are precision-ground to a mirror-like ...  More + Product Details Close
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.
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!

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about three years ago I thought to make even only a cutting board I would need a complete set of machines, stationary and handmachines, plus of course a few handtools for “hybrid woodworking”, then I discovered Peter Sellers and most importantly Chris and The Anarchist’s Tool Chest, that was a revelation! So I find it absolutely awesome that you show us how to start with even less tools (especially the advice for saws is great, much cheaper to only get rip)!
The block height’s going to be a personal thing, depending on what you use it for. Mine’s about knee height, which is on the low end, but I did use to do a tremendous amount of prepping straight from the tree. As you’re the same height as me, I’d say 33″ would be a tad on the high side. If you imagine you’ve got a longish piece of wood to work down the length, you want to be holding it almost vertical, rather than angled as it’s less likely to slip. The higher the working surface, the more angled it’s naturally going to become, hence why mine’s so low.
Two things which I took to instantly and now wouldn’t want to do without are an old-fashioned two foot, four fold ruler which gets used all the time (there’s nothing that comes close to it) and a 1 1/2″ butt chisel which gets used all the time for marking anything which needs to be chopped e.g. the side of a mortice. It also means fewer chops and therefore a bit more accuracy when cutting out a knife wall.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.

Dan, I’m worried about you. The stress must be getting to you. Somehow you’ve lost your ability to count. By my estimation, your list has at least 29 items, some of which are actually “sets” of items, like chisels or crayons, which I only counted as one item. Perhaps you need a break from all that blogging, and time to get back to basics, like counting. I can help. Come over to my shop and we can count things like parts, items on the honey-do list, and for extra credit, screw holes. Don’t worry about making mistakes, I’ll guide you through it, and we can round up if necessary. Ha!
If I were to give someone new one piece of advice, it would be to buy their chisels new, not used. I have wasted more time and more money trying to save butchered chisels than I want to admit. There’s a good chance that the used chisel will be bellied in the back or pitted at the edge and it will take more than beginner skills to fix it. You may make things worse rather than better. Sure, learn to do this _some_ day, but maybe not as a beginner first thing. I’ve had similar problems with used planes, but it isn’t nearly as bad a problem for a joinery plane. If there are pits that lead to scratches, it may not matter for anything other than a final smoother. Also, a tiny back bevel may save the day on a plane, but you likely don’t want that on a chisel. So, I’m less fussed about planes and, if it all goes south, you can buy a new blade for smoothing work and use the old for rough work (all in the same plane). You can’t buy a new blade for a chisel. Well, you can, but it’s called buying a new chisel. I use 3/8″ a lot. 1/4, 3/8 to handle all the mortises and dovetails and either 3/4 or 1″ for paring shoulders and for fat parts of some dovetails. I probably learn towards the 1″ because there are times you want to reference off the blade to keep moving in a line, like for a housing. I think Lee Valley’s version of the Narex are excellent and mine came with flat backs that could go straight to polishing.
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.
Dan, I’m worried about you. The stress must be getting to you. Somehow you’ve lost your ability to count. By my estimation, your list has at least 29 items, some of which are actually “sets” of items, like chisels or crayons, which I only counted as one item. Perhaps you need a break from all that blogging, and time to get back to basics, like counting. I can help. Come over to my shop and we can count things like parts, items on the honey-do list, and for extra credit, screw holes. Don’t worry about making mistakes, I’ll guide you through it, and we can round up if necessary. Ha!
It is my understanding that frame saws are standard to a continental toolkit. Richard’s list of a hard-point handsaw, 10-12” backsaw, and coping saw is a very standard British/American toolkit, that preforms the same roles as the frame saws you detailed. All three are available in every hardware store in America and I assume in Britain, true hardware store back saws are now junk and to get something new that preforms as well an old Disston, like Richard stated, you have to upgrade to likes of Veritas and Lie-Nielsen.
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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