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.


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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.
However, I would recommend that you either build a wooden workbench, or purchase one if you feel a workbench build is too advanced for you right now. However, I created the DVD “Building the Portable Moravian Workbench with Will Myers” so that even beginners can build a solid, portable, and very affordable workbench that will fit almost anywhere, using mostly or only hand tools. You can buy it in my store here. You can find Will’s free workbench plans for the Moravian Workbench here. Whichever path you choose, make sure you choose to either build or buy a heavy & sturdy wooden workbench, with at least a 3″ solid top, strong supportive base legs, and at least one strong vise.
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).
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!
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 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.
I’m not sold on the need for a power jointer for flattening a surface. That said, I do have a Shopsmith 4″ jointer.. It’s great for jointing edges, and perhaps flattening the occasional rails and stiles, but it of course is inadequate for surfacing wide boards. Would a six inch jointer be better…..not by much. So what do we do? Go to an eight inch, or better yet a ten inch jointer? Now we’re getting into really big, heavy, and electrically hungry machines that are not really suitable for the small shop that is likely to be in a small shed or garage.
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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.

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.
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!

I am finally getting to practice my woodworking more after years of collecting tools. By using tool reviews and thinking of the kind of work I would like to do, I have accumulated a nice set of tools without purchasing many mistakes. I decided to use Paul Sellers book and videos and start learning from the beginning. He starts with projects that begin with a small set of tools. One of those tools is a spokeshave. Even though I know much of what is in the first lessons, I have picked up a few new tricks, and am learning to use my tools more efficiently. My most important tools are my workbench and vise. The workbench was tough to build as I was on the floor using hand planes; not a good way to work. I have no jointer; did get a small planer and made a sled for it so I can flatten a board. My tools are in my house, so there is no room for a big table saw or bandsaw. I have a chopsaw and a piece of an old Craftsman tablesaw I got for free. It has to be moved outside to use. A circular saw with a guide is handy. My guide has a plate on which the saw is mounted. The plate slides on aluminum angle (with help of rollers) which is screwed to plywood. Once the initial cut is made in the plywood, the plywood is simply lined up with your cut marks and clamped down.

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.
In the sixty years of woodworking I have found two tools of increasing necessity. One is a band saw. I can do most of my work with a band saw and hand plane. The second tool is a bow saw, or actually several bow saws. They will replace the band saw if required, though they are slow. One I made about twenty years ago has a one and a half inch wide rip blade and is about thirty inches long. I think the blade is from an old industrial band saw blade I picked up and sharpened into a rip saw blade. It works very well on ripping lumber, logs, etc. Though it tires me out to much to use it now.
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.
Once you have the four aforementioned handheld power tools in your arsenal and you've had time to get comfortable with using them, its time to make your first (and likely most important) major tool purchase. The table saw is the heart and soul of every woodworking shop, the centerpiece around which all of the other tools are used and organized, so you'll want to buy the best table saw that your budget can comfortably afford. Take the time to learn which features you really want and the table saw that best fits your budget and your needs. This article will show you the most common features, and how to determine what features you need and how to know if those features are really well built, or simply added on to the saw because they are selling features.
Whilst I agree with everything you say there has to be a but 😀 and here it comes, after promising myself I’d have the bench of my dreams since my apprenticeship 42 years ago I finally two years ago built a three quarter ton steamed beech monster with all the bells and whistles. If only I’d had it years ago to me it’s the most important tool in my workshop now ! Solid, heavy, side and head vice, dog holes everywhere, sliding deadman the lot and yes very very pretty. But built to be used as a bench and with some visiting clients a showpiece! But more than anything because I could
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.
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

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.


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..
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