Essential Hand Tools for Beginner Woodworkers
Getting Started with Woodworking Tools
If you are just getting started in the world of carpentry, you’ll want to have a few basic hand tools in order to set yourself up for success. Unlike power tools, hand tools are an inexpensive way to step into the world of woodworking but remain useful even after graduating to heavier equipment.
Before starting your woodworking hobby, I would also always advise beginners to seek out wood shops or local carpentry shops to see if they offer classes. Watching videos on YouTube and looking at articles online are great ways to brainstorm projects, but I always prefer to have a hands-on approach to learning from someone who is experienced. I was fortunate enough to get started at the Williamsport Community Woodshop, where the tremendous teachers shared their great wealth of knowledge with me.
Before we get into the tools, it’s important to consider what kind of carpentry you are interested in doing. I have an interest in learning a little bit about everything from carving to furniture building and anything else that catches my eye, so my choices reflect that.
With this list, I have curated the tools I appreciate having, the tools that are the most useful, and the tools that are just my plain favorites. When building your toolbox, take some time to think about what projects you might use a tool for instead of buying something that will sit in your toolbox unused gathering old dust instead of sawdust.
Sweep Gouge Chisel
If you want immediate satisfaction, there are few tools that give you a more primal feeling than that of a gouge chisel. Designed to make deep, precise cuts in wood, a gouge chisel is the first tool I used during my primary project of making wooden spoons out of cherry and other hardwoods. The sweep gouge comes in a variety of sizes and sweeps depending upon the project you are doing. As with any tool, a gouge poses a cut risk; use caution when working with the gouge chisel by making sure hands and other body parts are clear from its path.
I recommend: Flexcut Carving Tools, Starter Set of 6
A block plane is a perfect companion for projects that require quick, yet precise shaves. This essential beginner tool allows you to carve off a few quick layers or square off uneven material. Easy to use, the block plane is of those tools that come in handy for fine carpentry projects as well as projects around the house such as door or window frames.
I recommend: Stanley Contractor-Grade Block Plane
Combination Square and Speed Square
Depending upon the size and scale of your project, one or both of these tools will likely find its use at one point or another. A combination square and speed square are designed to assist with measuring accurate angles for cuts on your projects. A combination square has two planes and comes equipped with a built-in ruler as well as a leveling bubble. One plane is set at 45 degrees (the shoulder), and the other at 90 degrees (the anvil), with both planes adjustable along the ruler as needed. The speed square, primarily used for framing, is also great for measuring angles for cuts and measurements. This tool can also be used both as a level and a saw guide for your circular saw.
The day you think you have enough clamps is the day you need to up your wood project status. Clamps are game changers and have endless uses when it comes to working with wood. Though there are clamps for every use, the kind I use most often are my speed clamps for grip-action clamping. I also use C clamps in a variety of sizes for glue ups and large bar clamps for my bigger projects.
I recommend: IRWIN One-Handed Mini Bar Clamp 2 Pack
Miter Box with Saw
A miter box with saw is a perfect tool to create precise cuts on smaller pieces of wood for specific angles. The box portion of this tool has notches at various angles that hold the saw in place while you make a cut, making it easier than just clamping and sawing by hand.
I recommend: Stanley 20-600 Clamping Mitre Box with Saw
Rasps and Files
If you are carving or need to clean up spot on a project, rasps and files are great tools to have handy in order to do so. Rasps allow you to shave off larger amounts of materials than sanding and rough out changes in your work. A file allows you to do a finer job of removing or smoothing out material before you move onto the sanding stage. Both are great for carving and cleaning up work and are easy to use.
I recommend: INNOVANT 9 Piece Premium Grade Rasp and File Set
The most important set of tools for any carpenter, beginner or experienced, are those that contribute to safety. I recommended keeping safety glasses, ear protection (if near or using power tools), breathing protection, and a first aid kit handy while working.
Essential Woodworking Safety Tips:
Be aware of the direction and depth at which you are cutting.
Make a plan for project execution that will allow you to mitigate any potentially harmful steps of your projects.
Always wear the appropriate footwear and use and proper ventilation if you are working with finishes.
Keep a sharp edge on your hand tools! A dull blade is always more dangerous than a sharp one.
Woodworking is one of the easiest hobbies to start, provided you have the right insight and guidance. But once your toolbag is ready to go, that’s when the addiction begins! The satisfaction you get from shaping and molding a blank piece of wood into something useful - and then getting to use that item every day - is unmatched. Happy making!
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