I created the above hand tool buyer’s guides to help beginners who feel overwhelmed when trying to understand which hand tools they need first. It’s frustrating! Below you’ll see my summary list of the 20 basic professional woodworking hand tools that you should start to accumulate in order to start building the most basic woodworking projects. When you’re ready, you can follow the yellow buttons to visit each of the buying guides for each type of hand tool, to get help with understanding hand tool features, brands, & models. At the bottom of this page is a handy full list of tools that is sorted by “urgent”, “semi-urgent”, and “not-urgent” to buy.
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.
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.
Rabbets are one of the most common joints in furniture making, so a handplane that cuts a rabbet should be toward the top of your list of tools to buy. Yes, rabbets can be cut without a handplane, but at greater difficulty. I own a lot of handplanes that cut rabbets, including wooden rabbet planes, metal rabbet planes, shoulder planes, and moving fillister planes. While I use all of them for specialty tasks, I find that a metal or wooden moving fillister plane (pictured above) is the most useful, as it allows me to cut rabbets with the grain, across the grain, and allows me to easily cut panels (as seen above). And the movable fence helps greatly with accuracy. I discuss rabbet planes in great detail in the handplane buyer’s guide.
“Basic,” on the other hand, is a word that allows for growth – and that’s exactly what you want in your woodworking tool kit. You want to be able to take the same kit with you through many years in the craft. With my basic woodworking tools list, I wanted to provide a core set of tools that will serve you well from project to project. I’m especially concerned these days with the transition to hardwood furniture making, as opposed to plywood boxes of various sizes. That’s the transition I’m making right now in my own work!