Choose the right hand tools

Once you have a project in mind and have scribbled out your napkin drawing and decided on a joint to use and dimensions to match where you will put it or on it, then and only then should you think about tools. If you’re going the hand tool route any of the above projects can be built with the following:

  • Jack plane
  • Panel saw (I don’t care if its rip or crosscut and neither should you)
  • 1-3 chisels (1/4, 3/8, or 1/2″)
  • Back saw (again I don’t care about tooth geometry but a Carcass Saw is a good choice)
  • Combo square

This is all. You’ll notice you have a few options in the above list that all center around planing, sawing, and chiseling. There are plenty of tools beyond this initial kit that will make thing easier but I wouldn’t not even think about them until you have a complete plan of attack written down on your first project. For example if I was making a bookcase using dados then I would seriously consider getting a router plane or if nothing else a cranked neck chisel to make things easier. If I choose a project that will be built with mortise and tenons then I would add a mortising gauge to make my layout repeatable. This is why worrying about tools is useless until you have a plan of attack ready to go.

Underhill Tool Tote

In the end woodworking all comes down to a simple series a steps that add up to a finished project. I think with a little planning you can break even the most complex project down to these simple steps and everything looks much easier from that granular level. For the beginner the goal should be to break the project down into these simple tasks and remove as many variables as possible. eg: using only 1 type of joint.


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