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.
I’d like to add some type of sharpening system to your list. A simple sandpaper and slab system, stones, or the more expensive slow grinder system. Although listed, files should be in this sharpening/maintenance category as well. You’ll need these as soon as you purchase a majority of hand tools. They’ll be needed throughout each day of using the tools. Initial setup and routine maintenance will give better results with less fighting the grain and tool. Whether your a beginner or a master, the tools must be sharp and maintained.
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.
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
Dividers (or compass) are used for taking and repeating a measurement over and over again on a work piece. Traditional woodworkers rarely take measurements with a tape measure when doing fine joinery work, but rather take a measurement with dividers then transfer that arbitrary (yet accurate) measurement to another work piece. This removes a degree of inaccuracy.
The fourth most important basic handheld power tool every beginner should buy is a random orbital sander. While palm sanders are less expensive and can use plain sandpaper (cut into one-fourth sections), the random orbital version uses hook-and-loop fastened sanding disks, and doesn't sand in patterns, using a random sanding motion instead. This motion will serve to reduce the chance that any sanding marks may appear on the stock due to the sanding. Of course, be certain that your local woodworking supplier has sanding disks readily available in a number of grits to fit the model that you choose, as the key to proper sanding is to use progressively finer grits as you sand to reduce or remove any marks that are left behind from the previous sanding.
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.

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..
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.
If you are just getting into the hobby of woodworking, below is a list of woodworking tools that will help you get started. The tools we have listed are essential for having the ability to do almost any wood working project yourself. For some special projects, obviously you will need a specialized woodworking tool that may not be in our list below.
Lots of good comments! I do think it is a bit of stretch to include a jointer and surface planner on the ‘basics’ list – we’ve got a slippery slope here! And a lot of different approaches – money, space, time, resources, etc. But lets plunge ahead. If you buy your wood already (or mostly) prep’ed, then the jointer & surface planner can be postponed. You definitely need a way to accurately measure linear distances (e.g. length, width) so a good ruler and tape measure. You need to be able to measure squareness – so you need a good combination square. You need to be able to mark the wood – so a good marking knife, an awl, some chalk, a fine pencil, etc. You should have some decent chisels (and good ones don’t need to cost a lot!). You will need to sharpen them (again not expensive – piece of plate glass and some sandpaper). You need a way to accurately cut your wood – a couple of good handsaws and a file or two for sharpening. You really should have a decent work surface/work bench/etc – a good first project by the way. Last of the basics – a good drill (3/8″ vs battery type). Lastly (I could go on but room is lacking), take a look at Paul Seller’s video’s for simple but highly competent work.
With the right tools and materials, what you build is only limited by your imagination and creativity. So why not have a little fun with the kids and teach them something at the same time? Our woodworker tools and woodworking supplies will help you put together an easy birdhouse, squirrel feeder or butterfly house. The kids will love to use our paint samples to add their creative touch, and will enjoy displaying the finished product in the backyard.
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