Are you a beginner woodworker needing to know exactly what woodworking hand tools you should invest in first?
I was in the same boat a few years ago, and over the course of several projects I figured out pretty quickly which tools I really needed, and which ones were a waste of money. So today I want to share with you, in my experience, the top 14 hand tools I’ve used repeatedly on multiple projects over the years.
Keep in mind, this is a website that fully supports power tools, ergo I’m not a woodworker that works “unplugged”. No sir. I use and I love my power tools.
However, there are common uses (almost every single day in my wood shop) for the following hand tools. This is why I consider them essential, and they apply to woodworkers like myself, as well as traditional woodworkers like Paul Sellers.
Overview List Of Essential Woodworking Hand Tools
- Block Plane
- Sharpening Kit
- Quick Clamps
- Bar Clamps
- Sanding Block
- Standard Shop Tools
- Carpenter’s Square
- Framing Square
- Tape Measurer
- Center Punch
- Hand Saw
And next I’ll go into a bit more detail on what exactly I use for each, and how/when I use them.
I use a good sharp chisel multiple times, almost every time I’m in the shop. I have a full set of chisels, but 99% of the time I use the one-inch-wide Stanley FatMax model that I bought from Lowe’s.
I use my chisel to clean up glue joints, remove pieces of wood material, reshape wood as needed, cleanup mortises, clean up rabbets and dados, and the list goes on. It also works well for removing dried glue off of my plywood-topped workbench.
A block plane is really handy for flattening an edge of a board. This is a common thing I run into on many projects, including shop projects and jigs. but even all the rustic furniture I build, I regularly find a handy use for my block plane. You can even use these to hand-shape round over edges, or chamfer edges, on a finished board.
One thing you’ll figure out pretty quickly using a chisel and a block plane is how to use a sharpening kit. I’ve got a Japanese whetstone and a blade honing guide, which I can use to put a mirror-finish-edge on my chisel and plane blade. It ends up razor sharp and will push, or hammer, through any material.
I’ve got 7 Irwin quick clamps hanging on my main workbench. I use them for many different reasons, and I think I’d be lost without them. They are fast to set up, easy to use, quick to release, easy to store, and super-practical in a woodworkers shop.
I use them when I’m sanding, I use them when doing joinery, I use them when I’m planing, when gluing, and I could go on and on. But I think you get the point, quick clamps are a necessity in my shop.
Bar clamps come in many different lengths and styles. Whether you’re making furniture, woodworking jigs, workbenches, or anything else, you’ll need a few good bar clamps when doing your glue-ups.
I’ve bought some that act like quick clamps, and others that are more like screw-style C-clamps. They both work well enough for me, and you can find them readily at any home store or over on Amazon. They don’t cost much and they are essential for most woodworking projects.
Nobody likes sanding, especially by hand. But all Woodworkers have to do it. So when I have to sand by hand, I want it to be comfortable, quick, and done right.
So what I did was I found a sanding block that is padded for comfort, has a steel face to keep the sanding surface flat, but with velcro on the face. I then buy sanding pads from the same manufacturer, in several different grits, that attach directly to this velcro face. So these pads are pre-cut to fit perfectly and range from rough to fine. This makes sanding thru the various grits painless and quick.
This sanding block, by far, has been my favorite to use and it gets used multiple times on every project I do. There’s a time for power sanders, but in woodworking projects, you’ll likely find that hand-sanding is even more common. So invest a little in a decent sanding block, and you won’t regret it.
Standard Shop Tools
This is what I would consider my basic hand tools (not the same as woodworking hand tools), that anyone with a shop should own. Whether you’re turning screws, backing up bolts, or needing to bend a steel hanger, basic hand tools are going to be used.
Especially in a shop with power tools, you will need to make adjustments on these tools from time to time. Not to mention the initial setup of every power tool. For the most part, this would include screwdrivers, Allen wrenches, utility blade, hammer, pliers, and wrenches. I also do all my own electrical work around my house and in my shop, so I have wire strippers, crimpers, and linemans plyers as well.
A Good Square
Get yourself a good carpenter’s, speed, or combination square. Don’t cheap out on this, find something with some quality.
While you could get away with just a standard square, you’d get the most benefit out of having a good model of each type. I would even suggest a machinist square, as that works well for dialing in your power tools, blade angles, and checking jointed edges of a board.
A Framing Square
Even if you only go with one of the previously mentioned squares, you also want to get yourself a good framing square. This is going to allow you to square up projects during joinery and to create square cuts on larger material.
I also have a drywall T-square, and that comes in really handy for some of these situations, especially working with plywoods. But for the essentials, I would say a framing square would be the priority out of these two.
This is handy for most projects I’ve ever done. I keep this hanging on a screw on one of the legs of my main workbench. You don’t have to go with an 18-inch version, but I found this is a good compromise between the 12″ that seems to be too short from time to time, and the 36″ rule that is just too much more often than not.
I use this for a straight edge when drawing lines, finding the center point of a board, and making quick measurements. It’s especially helpful when you’re measuring between 2 points on a board, not from the end of a board. When measuring from the end of a board, the tape measurer works faster. But sometimes I just need to lay my ruler on a board and line up from an existing mark, from which I’ll make another mark.
A good tape measure is absolutely an essential in any woodworking shop. I keep it on my belt all the time, and it kind of goes hand-in-hand with a sharp pencil in my shirt pocket.
My tape measure is what I use for marking 90% of my cuts. I also use it to check for squareness after doing a glue up by measuring corner to corner in both directions. And even looking for boards in my shop, a tape measure is a quick way to find the board you’re looking for.
I keep a magnetic torpedo level on the side of my shop fridge. I use it when setting up power tools, just as much as when I’m building furniture.
While I also have a 3-foot level, the torpedo level is really all you need. If you need to check level on something wide or spread apart, just put a straight board on the material and place the torpedo level on the straight board.
Here’s a cheap little investment that will go a long way in helping improve your accuracy. If you need to drill a hole, and it needs to be perfectly located, use a center punch to start the whole. I can’t tell you how many times I skipped this step, and the drill bit shifted as it started going through the wood, messing up the hole.
The center punch is a simple solution to this problem. This is especially true when working with softer woods, like pine or spruce, which many of us do when building rustic, inexpensive furniture.
Sometimes it’s not practical to use a table saw or a miter saw. Sometimes you just need to trim a board, or maybe a dowel, and a hand saw will be the answer.
I’ve got two standard hand saws, one finish hand saw, one back saw, and a hacksaw. Starting out, if you only need one and you already have a circular saw or miter saw, I would get a hand saw with a finish blade on it.
However, if you need a hand saw to make your main cross cuts, then get a standard cross-cutting hand saw. It’s got fewer teeth and leaves a rougher finish, but it’s faster than a finish blade, and you can always hand plane and sand after sawing.
There you have it folks. My list of 14 Essential Woodworking Hand Tools. Like I said before, I’m a big fan of power tools, yet I still find every-day uses in my wood shop for these hand tools.
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