Being a woodworker, whether as a professional or a weekend hobbyist, makes you an important part of a rich, long-lasting tradition of art and culture. Since the dawn of time, wood has been used to create shelter, boats, farming implements, household items and art.
As civilizations around the world advanced, existing tools were improved and new tools were invented to cut and shape wood. Most of the woodworking hand tools in use today have changed little since ancient times. Fortunately, the art of using hand tools is making a comeback. A growing number of novice and skilled woodworkers are “getting back to basics”.
Whether you’re just starting out or expanding your woodworking skills, it’s important to choose several basic, yet versatile hand tools. While few skilled woodworkers will agree on the exact same wish list, we’ve come up with a good sampling of must-haves.
These tools are essentially the workhorses in any woodworking shop due to their ability to remove waste from wood. There are several types of chisels, each of which is used to perform a specific function. Here is a look at each type and recommended sizes:
These beveled-edge chisels are vital to any woodworking shop. A set of five bench chisels in the following widths will meet most of your needs: 1/4, 3/8, 1/2, 3/8 and 1 inches.
Long (between 14 and 15 inches), lightweight and thin, these chisels are used to shave off thin layers of wood and precision trimming and fitting.
A mortise chisel has a thick, strong blade designed to withstand the stress caused by levering waste wood out of mortice joints. The most common widths are 1/4 and 3/8 inches.
Most woodworkers prefer a rounded or square-faced wooden mallet when driving a chisel into wood.
This is an obvious tool choice when working with wood, but like chisels, each saw has its purpose.
• Back Saw: used for cutting dovetails and tenons
• Coping Saw: the narrow blade clears corners of waste and cuts precise arcs
• Crosscut Saw: this saw enables you to quickly cut rough stock to size
Even woodworkers who love power tools know that some jobs are more easily started or finished by making a few passes with a hand plane. There are many types of planes, but these are good basics.
These planes are available in lengths of 14 to 18 inches and are commonly used to smooth stock.
Possibly one of the most versatile planers in any woodworking shop, this tool can be used to flush edges, tune joints, rounding over and beveling edges, removing mill marks left by power saws and (always) adjusting the fit of a wood door.
This smaller plane can perform double duty by planing stock to both thickness and width.
Jointer or Try Plane
This is used to flatten and true your boards. For most furniture projects, a sole length of 22 or 24 inches is best.
A smoother works like sandpaper by taking very fine shavings off a wood surface.
As with all your woodworking equipment, consider the hand tools listed above as investments. Choose each new tool carefully, buying the best quality you can afford and gain confidence with that tool or set before moving onto the next. As your skills using hand tools improve and your projects grow more multifaceted, add whichever tools will give you the best results.