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!
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.

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.
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 have to say, reading your blog and watching your videos makes me want to get started immediately on traditional woodworking. The problem I have is that hand tools are hard to come by at swap meets or antique stores out here in Bakersfield, CA. I have made several trips and so far all I have found is a beat-up old Jack plane. I would rather buy used, but I am a little leery of EBay, so my options are limited. Thank you for your posts on what to buy and links to websites. I haven’t bought anything yet, but… 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 agree, that’s a nice and easy set up to start with. I’d say a block plane it’s handy for small areas, and touch ups. A no.5 is excellent but a bit heavy and tiring sometimes. I find that a nice rabbet block plane (shoulder + block) with two irons with different sharpening angles it’s essential to me. One fine flat rasp and a medium flat file would complete my set.
1: Table saw in place of a jointer. Any number of tips in previous issues address straightening edges of boards without a jointer. A jointer serves one purpose, but a tablesaw can serve many (just watch your local Craigslist for a decent one to come up.) The thickness planer is unavoidable, but until you can afford one, buy stock in the thickness you need.
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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).
Wooden mallets are mostly used for hitting your chisels when cutting joints (like dovetail joints or chopping mortises). You should never hit a chisel with a metal hammer. Build or buy a mallet that is made of fairly hard wood (e.g. maple, oak, beech wood, etc.), that will feel well balanced in your hand, and that gives you enough weight to chop with your chisels.
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.
About forty years ago I purchased a Shopsmith Mark V because I lacked space for a large shop, and also moved around the United States a lot. Later I purchased another Shopsmith Mark V Model 510 for the increase in table size and flexibility. I do wood working as a hobby, not to do many projects as fast as possible. I also have every tool and accessory that Shopsmith makes for the two primary tools. Their quality is excellent, and while I enjoy antique tools like the 1912 three phase electric Camel Back Drill Press I purchased for my son’s shop, the Shopsmith does every thing I have ever needed.
I agree, that’s a nice and easy set up to start with. I’d say a block plane it’s handy for small areas, and touch ups. A no.5 is excellent but a bit heavy and tiring sometimes. I find that a nice rabbet block plane (shoulder + block) with two irons with different sharpening angles it’s essential to me. One fine flat rasp and a medium flat file would complete my set.
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