To start off you only need either a 1/4-inch or 3/8-inch mortise chisel (or some size close to those). I prefer 3/8-inch. You don’t need a whole set of mortise chisels. Mortise chisels (also spelled “mortice chisels”) are used for chopping mortises (rectangular holes) into the side of your board to accept the insertion of a tenon. “Mortise and Tenon” is a very common and very strong joint that most people have heard of.
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).

I use chisels perhaps more than any other tool in my workshop, so it’s a good idea to not cheap out here. A high quality set of bevel edge bench chisels (new or vintage) will last you many years (likely  your entire life) and will be used on nearly every project. I’ve used some descent affordable plastic handle bench chisels, but highly prefer lighter wooden handle chisels with excellent steel.

It is my understanding that frame saws are standard to a continental toolkit. Richard’s list of a hard-point handsaw, 10-12” backsaw, and coping saw is a very standard British/American toolkit, that preforms the same roles as the frame saws you detailed. All three are available in every hardware store in America and I assume in Britain, true hardware store back saws are now junk and to get something new that preforms as well an old Disston, like Richard stated, you have to upgrade to likes of Veritas and Lie-Nielsen.


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We offer the best hand saws for woodworking. A fine hand saw's image has long been the emblem of a craftsman at work. Used for carpentry, dovetailing, joinery and many other tasks around the shop, we stock a large variety of hand saws. You will find the hand saw you need among our selection of British Bowsaws, Gent's Saws and Tenon Saws, our extensive collection of Japanese Hand Saws, and the fine hand saws of Lie Nielsen. Be sure to check out the newest additions to our Backsaw collection from Bad Axe Tool Works - the ultimate in premium hand saws, made in the USA. Selecting the best hand saws for woodworking can be daunting, to help sort through all the options we recommend reading Essential Woodworking Hand Tools by Author Paul Sellers. His book includes a lengthy chapter on hand saws to help you decide which hand saws you need in your workshop.
So, you have decided to start woodworking. One of the first questions that must have crossed your mind is what equipment do you need for your new hobby? One mistake that many beginners do is going on a spending spree and buying a bunch of unnecessary stuff. This is especially true for power tools which they assume are essential to becoming a “real” woodworker.
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.
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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.
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.
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 »
If you can buy a bunch of tools at one time, you can save a ton on shipping, as the more you buy, the lower the rates. Also, take advantage of free shipping offers. Compare to see where you can get the best deal. Whatever you buy, make sure it is high quality. I have a Nicholson backsaw I bought at a local store before I knew of the woodworking suppliers. It has never been used much, but cuts much slower than saws such as Gramercy or Lie-Nielsen, even though mine have smaller teeth than the Nicholson.
Whether you’re a seasoned woodworker or DIY pro, you’ll find the woodworking tools you need for the jobsite or around the house. Search woodworking project plans to get some fresh ideas or browse our wide tool selection to find exactly what you need. Outfit your woodworking shop with routers, sanders, table saws, dust collectors, planing tools, and hand tools from bestselling brands including Makita, Festool, Bosch, JET, Powermatic, Rockler, Grizzly, and more.
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