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.
Here’s a list of the 5 basic woodworking tools I’d recommend for beginners to DIY and woodworking. These tools should enable you to build almost anything, and will still be useful even if you upgrade to larger stationary tools later on. These tools would also make great gifts for any of the woodworkers in your life. Enjoy, and let me know what your 5 picks would be in the comments below!
On chisels, once a new comer learns to sharpen, Aldi sells a 4 chisel pack for about $20 US. They are blunt and the backs need to be flattened but once correctly sharpened, they hold their edge very well. These are my go to chisels for most work and they’re as sharp as a scalpel. My good chisels haven’t seen the light of day in over a year as the Aldi chisels work beautifully.
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.
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.
Always be on the lookout for usable wood. You might be able to salvage some. You can use a metal detector to find nails and screws. You don’t need a full fledged metal detector. I use a pinpointer made by Garrett. If your wood has some woodboring beetles you can still use it if not eaten too badly. A healthy dose of cyfluthrin will take care of them.
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.
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 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.

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.
A try square is used to square up your workpieces for precise-fitting joints. If you’re not confident enough to build your own try square yet, you should purchase a good metal try square (somewhere between 9 and 12 inches). It’ll be used for scribing square lines around the faces and edges of your boards, such as a line for where to cut with your saw.

A good set of 5-7 bench chisels (they don’t have to match) will get you going right away. Down the road you’ll eventually add some specialty chisels (like paring chisels, fishtail chisels, etc) but bench chisels will work for just about everything. I often pay only $10 for high quality vintage chisels, so a compiled set can certainly be affordable, and higher quality than low quality new sets. Read the chisel buying guide to learn what chisels to avoid and which chisels will work great.


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