Many beginners trying to get started in woodworking take one look at their budget and worry about how they can afford to buy a whole shop full of power tools to get started. Fortunately, one doesn't have to spend a fortune to get started. There are really only seven woodworking tools that I would recommend any beginning woodworker have on hand from the start, and most are relatively inexpensive. However, with these seven tools, a beginner can tackle quite a number of projects.
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)!

1. Power jointer and thickness planer. I have developed various means of straightening the edges of my stock with hand-held tools, but I don’t see a way to efficiently flatten the faces of rough or reclaimed lumber without a power jointer. It’s part of the first few steps for any furniture project, and I want to be able to move through this step quickly and into the more interesting work. The thickness planer is also a huge time-saver, compared to hand-held tools.
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Now, I know this list only contains traditional hand tools, but my circumstances led me to this choice to complete the job. After all, he is my brother and he’s helped me once or twice. Not all woodworkers will want to take the time and effort to go strictly with hand tools. That’s fine; different circumstances and preferences will lead the way. Most people wouldn’t drive a scooter full of tools to assist their siblings either. Sounds crazy, but I enjoyed the trip through the mountains. Once I was there, I still needed a way to rip through lumber. I also needed a can of finish. As needed, a few jigs and templates were constructed from the purchased lumber.
Being without machinery to dimension and dress rough timber myself I can definitely see the benefit, but I think the investment (both in money and space) in machinery like this is premature for ‘basic’ woodworking. Additionally, without some other machinery (table saw, bandsaw) you’re still going to have trouble dimensioning smaller timber for projects from large/rough stock (e.g. producing timber strips for case fronts, ripping to reduce thickness, etc).

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.


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.

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).
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).
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.
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 »

As someone who finds hand planing a challenge the minimalist approach seems like the best way to truly learn a tools quirks and develop the skill required. So the Veritas BU planes are going along with the Tormek required to sharpen those gargantuan irons and a diamond plate and oil stone are on the way to get my old Stanley no 5 humming. I never found a sharpening routine that didn’t look a ball ache to keep the BU planes working well and being a stick thin wimp the weight of the buggers for anything more than controlled smoothing shavings knackered me out.


Like yourself, I get great satisfaction from working with this small kit. Similar to your wine box, I’ve got this old ‘sausage box’ that I can fit everything in, if I’m out the job site or such. It’s a lovely feeling to know that with just this small box of tools, I can pay all my bills and eat. I just wish I could get the rest of my life so minimal!


Like yourself, I get great satisfaction from working with this small kit. Similar to your wine box, I’ve got this old ‘sausage box’ that I can fit everything in, if I’m out the job site or such. It’s a lovely feeling to know that with just this small box of tools, I can pay all my bills and eat. I just wish I could get the rest of my life so minimal!
Somehow I overlook #1, the jointer and thickness planer, and I saw all the other tools and immediately thought that this was my first set of tools I bought when I started working as a carpenter on a friend’s crew. Then I saw my oversight and just couldn’t get over how incongrous those two items were to the rest of the list. Had I seen a scrub plane and a jack plane I would have more harmony in the list.
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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)!
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.
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