Basic woodworking tools are different from beginner woodworking tools. For one thing, I don’t like to use the word “beginner” unless I am using it accurately. It’s not a very useful label, in my opinion, because it implies that there are clear-cut and hierarchical steps in your growth as a woodworker. Who wants to return to grade school during his or her valuable shop time? So I only use the word “beginner” when I’m talking about someone who is touching woodworking tools for the first time.
“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!
The other crucial thing I am concerned with is having tools that will allow me to work efficiently with rough cut or reclaimed lumber, because I need to save money on materials. Paying full price for many board feet of smooth, dimensioned stock is a fairly quick way to go broke – or at least lose your love of woodworking.
Note that I am by no means reinventing the wheel with this list. I am borrowing heavily from the Popular Woodworking Magazine “I Can Do That” list from years ago. I have refined that list to suit my style and, again, to take into account the use of rough lumber.
My Basic Woodworking Tools List – Furniture Focus
1. Power jointer and thickness planer. I have developed various means of straightening the edges of my stock with hand-held tools, but I don’t see a way to efficiently flatten the faces of rough or reclaimed lumber without a power jointer. It’s part of the first few steps for any furniture project, and I want to be able to move through this step quickly and into the more interesting work. The thickness planer is also a huge time-saver, compared to hand-held tools.
2. Circular saw, for rough dimensioning (especially long rip cuts). If you have a good table saw, that’s even better, because you can of course use a table saw for all sorts of joinery work – not just dimensioning.
3. Hand saws, a router and two router bits. These are the tools I use for cross-cutting, straightening edges and cutting boards down to final width. The two router bits are a straight cut bit and a flush trimming bit.
4. Jigsaw, for cutting curves. A coping saw is also nice to have for detailed work.
6. A power drill or two, and bits as needed.
7. Rasps, files, a random-orbit sander, a smoothing plane and a block plane. These are the minimum for smoothing all surfaces of the final work, and doing it efficiently. Don’t forget that you’ll need sharpening supplies for the plane blades.
8. Joinery gadgets? I’m not yet sold on buying a biscuit joiner or a pocket-hole set. Again, if you already have them I think they are great. But I’m looking for projects I can complete with a combination of hand-cut joints, router joints and straight-in screwing. We’ll see how it goes.
9. Chisels and a wooden mallet.
10. A hammer and some screwdrivers.
11. A Workmate, a puttering bench and clamps. Until I can invest in a large furniture-making workbench, I think I will be able to make do with the Workmate and a small bench. Again, we’ll see how it goes. A good-sized supply of clamps, of course, is always necessary.
What am I forgetting? Please tell the community in the comments section below.