What hand tools should a beginner woodworker buy first?

For the last few weeks, in what little spare time I’ve had, I have agonized over one question: “What hand tools should a beginner woodworker buy first?”  I tried (and hopefully succeeded) in answering that question over the last few “Bare Essentials” posts.  In response to a question from a colleague, though, and for the TL;DR crowd out there, I thought I would take one more stab at it.

It’s a tough question and there is no easy answer, of course.  Partly, because the answer depends on what kind of woodworking the beginner wants to do; partly, because each person’s budget and/or available space vary.

So, instead, I will answer an easier question: “If I had a time machine, what basic set of hand tools would I have bought my past self as a birthday present when I was a beginner hand tool woodworker?”  I know it’s cheating, but, after all, the paradoxes largely resolve themselves and this is my website.

Basic Tools

Happy 30th Birthday, Past-James!

The picture above is for (literally) illustrative purposes only.  I thought it would be fun to fit everything in a single camera frame, but I don’t actually own one of the tools I recommend (a No. 5 jack plane) and I apparently forgot to include three others in the picture (low angle block plane, 600 grit diamond stone, saw files).

I am sure my views will evolve over time, but for now, here is what I believe should have been the first tools I owned as a beginner hand tool woodworker (with the goal of making tables and chairs):

Safety: Eye protection (ALWAYS!)
Bench Chisels: 1/4″, 1/2″, 3/4″, 18 oz. mallet
Hand Planes: #5 jack, low angle block
Hand Saws: rip cut panel (8-10 TPI), rip cut tenon (8-12 TPI)
Marking and Measuring: 12 inch combination square (the best you can afford), 12 foot tape measure, double bevel marking knife, mechanical pencils
Sharpening: 600 grit diamond plate, 1200 grit diamond plate, eclipse-style honing guide, saw files
Other: spray lubricant, screwdrivers, deadblow mallet, 2x 12″ bar clamps, 2x 8″ bar clamps, 24″ straightedge, 50″ straightedge clamp, blue tape

These tools (plus a regular claw hammer, a power drill, wood glue and some sand paper) should give a new hand tool woodworker everything absolutely required to get started cutting joints and making things out of wood.   Remember to stick to your budget and always do your safety, technique and sharpening research ahead of time.

I started out working on a WorkMate Portable Workbench, but any stout surface you can clamp material to (such as a sturdy dining table) is just fine.  I recommend laying down some hardboard or plywood to protect any finished surfaces from tool marks and marring, though.

Note: if you are interested in brand recommendations for the above, please leave a comment or email me.



  1. Both of those handsaws are manufactured by Lynx.

    The tenon saw 12″ and is at http://www.amazon.com/Lynx-410029-Tenon-Beech-Handle/dp/B003RWS9U6/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1440681384&sr=8-1&keywords=lynx+tenon+saw&pebp=1440681388736&perid=144BEBGAEM4VQV1HBGVC \

    I am a huge fan of this tenon saw. It’s more compact than the Veritas tenon saws, which are also a great choice. http://www.leevalley.com

    The hand saw is 26″ and is at http://www.amazon.com/Lynx-410034-Handsaw-Beech-Handle/dp/B003RWS9UQ/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1440681430&sr=8-2-fkmr0&keywords=lynx+panel+saw&pebp=1440681432703&perid=131ESEKKP0V9MV70C9MN

    The fine teeth in an eased rip configuration are good for all purpose work. An alternative would be the Pax crosscut panel saw (also at http://www.leevalley.com). At 22″, it’s smaller than a full-size hand saw and the breasting of the plate makes up for the crosscut tooth pattern when ripping.

    The wooden-handled screwdrivers are Woodriver (www.woodcraft.com) and are specifically for the Woodriver hand planes (one for the lever cap, one for the frog adjustment). The heads are a bit thick for normal screw driving (anything below a No. 10 or No. 12 screw, anyway), so you might be just as well off with a hardware store combo pack.

    Hope this helps!



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