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In an interesting article on Highland Woodworking’s Wood News Online™, Bruce Lamo discusses which woodworking tools he would buy, based on his 30 years of experience, if he were starting over. For example, he would start with three or four hand planes (a low-angle block, a smoothing, a jack, and a jointer: “With these…and some practice, you can go a long time without a planer, jointer, belt sander, and a few other machines.”), a good hand saw, a few good chisels, some clamps, and a scraper. His first power tool would be a good contractor saw, followed by a plunge router.

He says he would not buy a small or medium-sized jointer because of the space they require (e.g., edge joining an 8-foot plank needs 16′ of work space; in this case he would rather move the tool than the material). After the router, he would go for a small planer, and a drill press. He recommends early investing in dust collection.

How about you? Take a look at his list, and see if you agree. If you knew then what you know now, what woodworking tools would you buy to start out? Let us know in comments.

[Wood News Online™]


20 Responses to Which Woodworking Tools To Buy?

  1. Blaise Pascal says:

    As someone who is not an experienced woodworker, I’m interested in a related question — a question that the linked article doesn’t quite address head-on.

    Assuming I’m inexperienced, but interested, in woodworking, and the home economist in the household has said that I can spend $X on tools until I’ve shown you aren’t going to give up on this, what would be a good place to start?

    I think it’s a reasonably complicated question. The Wood News Online article suggests he would start with 3-4 planes, a hand saw, chisels, clamps, and a scraper. I’d supplement that with a sharpening guide and a scary-sharp setup. But since the price of one new Lie-Nielsen plane might be the entire initial budget, how to get that setup with reasonable tools on budget becomes tricky.

    Should one get a set of BigBox-brand chisels and planes, knowing they are crap out of the box, and tune them up as best as possible? Or should one buy used tools without the hands-on knowledge of what makes a good tool?

    I don’t know where to start, and I’m interested.

  2. Gary says:

    Blaise Pascal, look at vintage planes, chisels and saws. Provided they aren’t badly damaged, they can be tuned to the point that they will rival LN planes, chisels and saws. It will take some time, but it is a good skill to learn.

    Another thing to consider is that the tools you buy are driven by what you want to make.

  3. fred says:

    This is a perennial question and has been fodder for many woodworking magazine articles over the years. With access to a commercial cabinet shop – with both old-fashioned and some newer NC machinery, I have a somewhat different perspective on what I need for my home shop where, as I’ve grown older, I’ve grown to use more and more traditional hand tools – with woodworking as a form of relaxation. I am also humbled to think of our forbears who developed high levels of craftsmanship, typically under an apprenticeship system, using mostly hand tools to create fine furniture. There was an age when a router was neither an electrically powered tool nor something attached to a computer – but rather a hand plane.

    In my opinion, if you want to try your hand at building furniture, I think that the 2 basic stationary tools are the table saw and the jointer/planer. I have no experience with the newer hybrid saws – but do have with some new Bosch and Makita transportable job-site saws – and older cabinet saws. I’d recommend that if you can possibly afford the cost and the space – you buy a cabinet saw – comparing the saws from folks like Delta, General, Grizzly and Sawstop to name a few makers. (I have an old Unisaw) For the Jointer/Planer – we bring a bench-top 4 inch Delta to a jobsite – but rely on a 12 inch machine in the shop. If you can fit it into your budget and space – an 8 inch machine would be (and was) my choice for the home shop.
    My other acquistions would be:
    A combined Plunge/Fixed Base Router kit – something in the 2.5Hp class
    — with the thought of a router table down the road
    A good quality cordless drill/driver – a drill press can come later
    A good quality RO sander – a belt sander and a sanding station can come later
    A good shop vacuum cleaner
    A high quality block plane (look at Lee Valley or Lie Nielsen)
    A high quality corded jigsaw (I’ve always liked the Bosch)
    A 7-1/4 inch circular saw for breaking down sheet goods (we use a panel saw or sliding table saw in the shop – but this is probably impractical for home)

  4. aaron says:

    as someone who started WW a couple years ago and has “slowly” been building my arsenal, another complicating factor is when you need to buy these tools and how well they need to work. Some examples to clarify:

    You need a workbench with at least one vise. do you go out and buy rough maple and a ready made vise to build from scratch? or do you use 2x4s? Or do you just use an old desk that you buy for $5? Do you make a totally usable vise from $5 pipe clamps?

    If all I plan on doing is making a bookcase out of s4s lumber, how useful is a drill press gonna be right now?

    should I get a table saw first, or a straightedge and circ saw? how about a bandsaw?

    Finally dont forget all the peripherals – clamps and measuring tools. My 12″ antique millers falls combo square is my #1 tool. It’s as accurate as I care to be and found it on ebay for <$10. what about router bits and saw blades?

    You need to weigh a bunch of factors, including when you need to have the tools. If you wait, good deals will come along. Go to yard sales. check local ads and craigslist. just be patient 🙂

  5. Eeyore says:

    Why hasn’t anybody mentioned the humble hammer?

  6. Dan says:

    It’d be interesting to see a list of these tools for the pragmatic woodworker, rather than the heritage-class woodworker.

    I’m never going to use a large planer or a jointer because I use sheet goods to make things — I don’t start off with rough-hewn bits of tree and then make them flat enough to be furniture, I’ll let a factory somewhere do that and concentrate on making furniture, rather than making wood.

  7. aaron says:

    dan – i guess it all comes down to taste and what you (or your wife!) is willing to put up with. is Dogs Playing Poker art?

    anyway, for the “pragmatic” woodworker, wouldnt you just take out the bench planes (but cmon, you gotta keep the block plane!), planer and jointer, and keep the rest? Everyone uses the table and circ saws, cordless drill, jigsaw, router, etc.

    what would you add?

  8. fred says:

    I guess that I started my working years as a plumber/pipefitter rather than a carpenter/furniture maker – so my perspective may be off a bit. Over the years I’ve expanded my horizons and business experience to include both heavy and light construction as well as casework and cabinet making. For my home shop – I’ve built up a tool inventory that’s allowed me to build furniture as a hobby. Some of the more utilitarian pieces I’ve built have incorporated sheet goods – and I nearly always use sheet goods for drawer bottoms and some furniture backs. But I have made 4 desks (gifts) and 3 tables and 3 chests – all of which used solid wood glue-ups for tops, sides etc. I know of no good source for wood that would arrive in my shop ready for glue-up – hence the need for a jointer – and my adding that tool to my recommended list. BTW – I did not include a surface planer (to adjust wood thickness) because I agree with you that this is a bit more milling that I’d want to do in a home shop. Apparently – from what I see on sale in the Big Box stores – not everyone agrees with me – because they sell a few different brands of 12+ inch surface planers – but nary a stationary jointer.

  9. Jim German says:

    I love all these ‘expert’ woodworkers who claim all you need is a few block planes. Sure with a set of LV/LN planes and years of experience you can do great things. Of course those planes will cost as much, if not more than some decent grizzly power tools. Not to mention you’ve still got to spend all the time learning how to use them.

    Personaly I’ll take my power tools, for my limited time I’d perfer to be making stuff than practicing with a hand plane.

  10. fritz gorbach says:

    Often, all i hear is “All you need is these hand planes, and you dont need a jointer, planer, sander…” but the handplanes will cost yo more than the power tools. I do like good hand tools, but the cost can be tough to bear for a weekend warrior. my power tools on the other hand, get full time use. Every board I cut, almost, gets a quick pass over the jointer, which lives right next to the tablesaw, and i hae a perfect edge. I dont use the handplanes as much, and the 6″ deltajointer was less than the veritas jointer plane.

    My twelve inch planer, n the other hand, i have never used. probably because of the nature of my projects, and it wasn’t expensive, but I have it because I listened to what other people said I needed.

    I think first choices would be circ saw, router, and jointer for power, and some chisels, scrapers, block plane, and some japanese style saws and surform tools for hand work.

    oh, and i assume everyone has a decent cordless drill and some bits

    And, you can never have too many tools, so buy what you want

  11. JH says:

    If at first you are unsure what to get, try renting or borrowing a tool for a while. That way you can see whether you really need it. You don’t need to have every tool available if you can get your hands on them in a pinch.

  12. aaron says:

    fred you must have a lot of pipe clamps huh?

    You can buy new veritas/LN planes for $$$$, but 50+ yr old planes can be had at yard sales and flea markets for ~$15. All they usually need is a bit of sandpaper and you’re good to go. That said, there’s a reason i have a thickness planer, and it’s because I dont want to be using handplanes for dimensioning 50 bdft of lumber for a project.

    the other thing about hand tools is that they complement a power tool arsenal as well – for trimming up joinery, smoothing frames, flush trimming dowels, etc. You’ll be doing a lot of sanding without them. Since I started using planes/scrapers I’ve had to do almost NO sanding – which I consider the worst woodworking task.

  13. Shopmonger says:

    I AM a professional woodworker, and i think this question is impossible to answer this question without knowing what the person wants to start off doing. When working on cabinetry, and table tops then a Jointer will be a primary tool. Working on smaller case work, then a small table saw, a router, and maybe 1-2 block planes would be a great start. Hand tools are great but they are only useful if you know how to use and sharpen them. Some people say that you should start out with these, as the old apprentices did. But maybe you just want to make some cabinets or shelves in your house, or get into making small household items. It is all a matter of what you want to do. i offer my consulting services to people who are getting into the craft FOR FREE, because i love helping new woodworkers. I will help them set up shop, pick tools …. either by phone or e-mail.


  14. IronHerder says:

    In defense of hand planes, I needed a jointer plane to remove years of use from my dad’s oak-top workbench. Also, it was perfect for smoothing the mounted 16 foot 2X4 rails on my car trailer. No cheap power tool would have worked for these two jobs, save possibly a belt sander, for which I have a healthy distrust. I bought my jointer plane through ebay for a very reasonable price.

    My other recommendation for wood working would be to use tapered wood screws for everything smaller than a deck. Their drawback is that new ones are expensive (so try estate sales) and because most are slotted, the bits for cordless drills don’t drive them reliably. But I like tapered screws well enough to drive them by hand or with a brace and bit, after lubricating the threads (for which a toilet bowl wax ring is as good as it gets).

  15. Mark says:

    Why are so many people listing hand planes?

    I have a:
    -power hand planer
    -belt sander
    -orbital sander

    Between these tools it’s hard for me to imagine why I’d want a hand plane.

    The power plane is fast, easy and collects the chips for me.
    If I need a nicer finish, out come the sanders.

    Is there something you guys are able to pull off with a hand plane, that you just can’t do with these tools?

  16. aaron says:

    yes. I use hand planes because

    1. I abhor sanding and sanded sawdust
    2. I like the feel of hand planing
    3. I feel that sharp hand plane blades tend to leave a crisper surface than sandpaper does.

    again, I use a power planer and jointer (actually a router in table for edge jointing). but I try to use hand tools for trimming up joinery and preparing finishing surfaces.

  17. Dan says:

    I could definitely see the attraction of using hand tools for the sake of using hand tools — but the things I’ve made have all been doable without, because I’m either making toys and other child-sized things (so jigsaw, OSS, router), or very utilitarian things (laundry room cabinets, bookshelves that are now entirely full of books so the shelves themselves are barely visible, kitchen table which will have a lot of spills and abuse in its future, so the time there went on many many coats of varathane..)

    I’d like to have the time to make furniture which is decorative as well as functional, but until that becomes an option, I’m left with the most efficient, rather than the most satisfying, approach.

  18. Brett From Utah says:

    I like power tools as much as the next guy- but scrapers and planes….Gotta have ’em….and once you DO have ’em you’ll realize that fairly often they’re the best tool for the job…so start of with a Stanley block plane and card scraper, sharpen/tune them up properly and add a helluva lot you your woodworking for very little money….

  19. Joe says:

    I think the recommendation to start with a “few good hand planes” is abolutely wrong for new woodworkers.

    First, if the planes are not really well tuned, the results are terrible. Lee Nielsen planes are $200-300 each and do come well tuned.

    Second, you need a very solid bench with good workholding and vises to get anything done (EXPENSIVE) and hard to build if all you have are 4 planes and no bench yet. Third, it takes lots of time to master hand plane usage and more importantly hand plane sharpening. Just go to any woodworking forum on hand planes and the majority of the posts are on how to sharpen and sharpening problems.

    Third, New woodworkers need to see some quick progress, some instant gratification. I doubt hand planes give that.

    Fourth, quality of the end product in my 30 years of this hobby, the quality of the end result is directly tied to how square and true the parts are. Boards need to be flat and consistent thickness. Getting a stack flat on one side isn’t super hard, but getting them all the same thickness is a bitch.

    When new woodworkers ask me how to start, I first ask what they want to make. 9 times out of 10, they are interested in WW as a way to “save some money” doing their own bookshelf or builtin. Once I show them how it’s not really cheaper than cheap premade stuff, but the results can be custom and way better, most lose interest. For those still interested I strongly recommend buying a used contractor saw and some other tool used. This way if they figure out the hobby isn’t for them they aren’t stuck with a garage full of shiny new tools that depreciated 50% the day they bought them. Then I recommend they start with something small or simple. Like an 2 by 4 and plywood bench for the garage or a a storage cabinet for the garage.

    Start with hand planes. Reminds me of the lady white water raft guide we met who had a PHD in 4th century english literature. She was a ski bum the winters and guided white water rafts to make enough money to live in the summers. Her ideal day of skiing would be to cross country ski 10 miles into the wilderness and the ski fresh set of tracks on powder. Then camp at the base of the hill for 2-3 days to admire the perfect set of tracks. Lots of hand plane folks remind me of her.

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