How Many Tools?

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Thomas Carlyle (1795 – 1881) a British essayist and historian once said, “Man is a tool-using animal. Without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all.” I wonder, though, how many tools does one actually need? I am of the mind that just a few basic hand tools and a good workbench are all you need to begin making things in wood. So how about a list of what tools I consider essential, and would recommend as a starting point to someone starting out in unplugged woodworking.

Marking/Measuring



(1) ruler, to measure. This is not the only way to measure, but rulers are quick and convenient; (2) straight edge, used to draw straight lines, check edges for straightness while planing, and measuring; (3) marking knife, to create knife walls/valleys for saws and chisels to butt against. The knife wall will make your work very accurate; (4) marking gauge, a very good tool for repeat marking; (5) combination square, the ability to mark out straight lines, 90° to a straight edge. The combination square is also able to mark out 45° angles; (6) bevel gauge, for marking different angles. A bevel gauge allows you to set an angle and repeatedly use in the same manner as a square.

Saws



I currently own several saws but, the three I could not do without are: (1) rip saw; (2)cross cut saw; (3) tenon/dovetail saw.

Planes



I own numerous planes, but only use four, on a regular biases. (1) jointer plane; (2) bench plane; (3) smoother plane; (4) block plane.

Chisels



I own numerous chisels, but I only ever use about nine. A set of six (1-1/2”, 1-1/4”, 1”, 3/4”, 1/2”, 1/4”) bevel edged chisels and 3/8”, 1/4”, 1/8” mortise chisels. And of course, a mallet with which to hit them.

Boring



A small hand drill and a brace and bit are a good combination. The hand drill works well with smaller drill bits.

So, there you have it, the tools I could not get by without. What would you consider an absolutely essential collection of tools?

Knowing how to use a tool is more important than the tool in and of itself. - Ron Aylor

15 Replies

I would need to add: striking tools (hammers and such), scraper plane or cabinet scraper, screwdrivers and turn screws. A broom and dust pan to pick up my mess. 

-- There is nothing like the sound of a well tuned hand plane. - https://timetestedtools.net and https://diy.timetestedtools.net

Having been involved in parts of this where the tools being motorized allowed for me/anyone to make more parts, faster, and with quite a bit less wear and tear on a body. So I would HAVE to add from more than the beer/meat powered tools. I have them in all of the above categories, plus quite a few others. Blended woodworkers burn calories, and electrons. 

Retired, and just tinkering, for lack of a better word, do I need them, Hail no. Would I give them up before the date of the final sale, again Hail no. :-)

Don

I would need to add: striking tools (hammers and such), scraper plane or cabinet scraper, screwdrivers and turn screws. A broom and dust pan to pick up my mess. 

Thanks, Don. I mentioned a mallet with which to strike a chisel but yes a hefty hammer to drive nails would be nice. Scrapers are nice too but I don’t consider them essential. I may have to revise my list and add a broom and dust pan because Lord knows I do make a mess. LOL!

Knowing how to use a tool is more important than the tool in and of itself. - Ron Aylor


GeorgeWest

Having been involved in parts of this where the tools being motorized allowed for me/anyone to make more parts, faster, and with quite a bit less wear and tear on a body. So I would HAVE to add from more than the beer/meat powered tools. I have them in all of the above categories, plus quite a few others. Blended woodworkers burn calories, and electrons. 

Retired, and just tinkering, for lack of a better word, do I need them, Hail no. Would I give them up before the date of the final sale, again Hail no. :-)

George, I get the distinct impression that minimalism is not your cup of tea. LOL!

Knowing how to use a tool is more important than the tool in and of itself. - Ron Aylor

Nice Selection Ron

For the really basic starter kit.
Panel saw, 1/2 inch chisel, No 4 plane.
1980 or older plane - you'll need to refurb it and learn a fair bit in the process, but it will at least work after its been fettled, no guarantee of that on a cheap new plane).
You can make a surprisingly large amount of stuff with this, but it will take a fair bit of time to learn how to do it (I picked a no 4 instead of woodies because it is easier to learn how to use 1 plane as a scrub, fore, jointer, jack & smoother if it's a bailey type)

The mods I'd make to what you put for a first kit.

Sharpening - Can't help but notice you chickened out on this one, well, so am I :)
Anything, they all work.
Saying that - Nowadays I'd probably recommend cheap diamond stones -  I got a 400 and 1000 grit to see if they were any good a year or ago and use them pretty much for everything.
Oh, and a strop - It's a bit of leather, sometimes on a stick, make it.
Use a jig, or don't use a jig (I'd actually recommend a jig if you are just starting, took me a hell of a long time to get a consistent edge freehand)

Marking
Pencil :)
I'd drop the combi square for a try square - you need to spend a fair bit for a decent one and the bevel gauge can do 45 easy enough.
Straight edge is the first tool you make when you need it - use the ruler until then.
Winding sticks is the next tool to make - you can live without them easy enough, but it's 2 straight edges with optional colour, so a good skill build project.

Saws
Depends on the size of projects you are planning, if mostly smaller stuff I'd switch the cross cut panel for a cross cut backsaw.
And tenon over dovetail anyday - more versatile.

Planes
Drop the block plane - It's nice on occasion, but you can do without it, use the smoother.
I'd stick a rebate plane in instead though.
I'd like to add a plough as well, but I'd probably leave it out of the basic kit.

Chisels
Any one of 1/4, 1/2 inch or 3/4 (depending on what size of thing you are planning to build) - get the rest as you need them,  although a set is a good idea if you have the funds.
I use firmer chisels for pretty much everything but dovetails and really big mortices - but could get by with bevel for everything if I needed to.
Make the mallet - even if you need to use the chisels to make it (depends on the style you pick), you can use a bit of wood, or handy branch, for long enough to make it.

Boring
Same choice - I might go for a small 2 speed breast drill instead of the hand drill for a little more flexibility, depends on what is easy to get.

Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.

I’m not qualified to speak on this, but I’d think your basic tool kit would depend heavily on what your primary area of interest is. A wood carver would need different tools than a furniture maker, etc. 

Ryan/// ~sigh~ I blew up another bowl. Moke told me "I made the inside bigger than the outside".


RyanGi

I’m not qualified to speak on this, but I’d think your basic tool kit would depend heavily on what your primary area of interest is. A wood carver would need different tools than a furniture maker, etc. 

You are on to something there, Ryan. Perhaps another forum topic is in order... hmmm.

Knowing how to use a tool is more important than the tool in and of itself. - Ron Aylor

Only 1 type of tool... FES!

There's a difference between what you need, want and have...  we always want what the other guy has.

But what you really need is a good cheque book/VISA...  To buy the tools that take your fancy and/or pay the tradie when you bugger up the job with the wrong tools you bought.

If your first cut is too short... Take the second cut from the longer end... LBD

I have 59 hand held circular saws, a dozen or so sanders, a couple dozen drills, about 20 routers, 1 marking gauge, 1 T-bevel, a handful of different squares and a crap load of pencils.
One plane that I use a lot more than I thought is my shoulder plane. 
How about a coping saw also?
On saws, I don’t disagree, but since I saw out the waste on my dovetails, I need a coping saw or a turning saw or two. I have three, one a short coping saw, and two large turning saws, one with a fine blade for thin stock, and one with a coarse blade for thick stock. But then I also have two dovetail saws, one at 15ppi for 3/4 inch thick stock (and up) and one for 1/2 inch and below which is a 24ppi saw. I also have a cheap crown gent saw at 32 ppi for when I go nuts and dovetail stock thinner than a quarter inch.

I also have a float of a width appropriate to my dovetails for cleaning up the bottoms where most people would pare with a chisel. I find it much quicker to make two passes with the float after I’ve sawn the waste.

For planes, I use a transitional try plane, a wooden smoother, and three different block planes set for different tasks. One is strictly end grain. One is a skew, and gets used as a rabbet plane. And one is a “small smoother” as I use it. But then if I pull down a shoot board, I also get out the shoot board plane. And I have a jack plane that’s only used with the miter jack. And a scrub plane… etc.

May you have the day you deserve!

I am of the mind that just a few basic hand tools and a good workbench are all you need to begin making things in wood.

I'm far from a minimalist. But I am an advocate of using what is on hand, at least to start. You have to determine what you "need" based on "you". How you work, what your skill set is (yes you have a skill set, even if you don't know it yet)  and what your projects are. Your list is a good starting point. You have to start somewhere!

-- There is nothing like the sound of a well tuned hand plane. - https://timetestedtools.net and https://diy.timetestedtools.net

I am WAY past minimalist on tools. I don't have a CNC like Ducky but everything up to it for wood  working and a lot for metal working. If I did not have the tools and a shop or 2, I might as well not exist!!

Cheers, Jim ........................ Variety is the spice of life...............Learn something new every day


Don

I am of the mind that just a few basic hand tools and a good workbench are all you need to begin making things in wood.

I'm far from a minimalist. But I am an advocate of using what is on hand, at least to start. You have to determine what you "need" based on "you". How you work, what your skill set is (yes you have a skill set, even if you don't know it yet)  and what your projects are. Your list is a good starting point. You have to start somewhere!

Don, I agree with you and Ryan. An essential tool kit definitely depends on what one needs to build a certain thing. Perhaps before amassing tools, we should determine what we want to build, based on the skills we possess.

Knowing how to use a tool is more important than the tool in and of itself. - Ron Aylor

WOW, this subject is a rabbit hole that keeps getting deeper & deeper the more I think about it.

I think what RyanGi says; "I’m not qualified to speak on this, but I’d think your basic tool kit would depend heavily on what your primary area of interest is. A wood carver would need different tools than a furniture maker, etc.", sums up my thoughts fairly well.

I believe that the final objective needs to be defined first, is it "fine furniture" or simply utilitarian furniture?, or is it furniture at all.
 
The recommended tools will obviously need to be selected for achieving the final objectives, but starting with the most basic of tools to permit manipulating wood; cutting (a saw), shaping - to include making holes (drill and/or chisel), and finishing (sand paper or any sharp edge for scraping), further tool selection would be to achieve the desired effect. This is based on starting with boards from a store, not with a log.

Measuring and marking may not be needed, unless the final piece needs to fit a predetermined space. Parts can be use to mark other mating parts, such as tail boards held against pin boards, then a pencil would help.

I think I'm over thinking this, so let me finish by saying get the tools you need to do the job. Sorry I've rambled on like this.