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Basic Woodworking Tools for Beginners: Don’t waste thousands of dollars on fancy equipment before you check out this essential list of tools every woodworker needs. From hand planes to circular saws, we’ll show you what you need and what you don’t!
Tools do matter. They can make a big difference to your success as a woodworker. But the truth is, if you have no idea what to buy or how much things cost, then you are going to be spending way too much money and wasting time trying to figure out everything you need by yourself.
That’s why we’ve put together this guide so you know exactly what you should get to get started making beautiful furniture at home! The good news is that with just a few hundred dollars worth of good tools, you can start your woodworking journey.
Basic Woodworking Tools For Beginners
Before we go any further, let me say that this list is for beginners. It contains just the basics that every beginner needs. (And a few things to plan on for the future) It doesn’t include thousands of dollars of equipment that would fill up a two-car garage.
We are going to focus on quality while keeping things as cost-effective as possible. And if you are on a tight budget, we get it. We’ll offer budget alternatives for pricier items and do our best to note any additional costs you should expect.
Your Woodworkers basic tool kit.
Whether you are into woodworking with hand tools, power tools, or both, every woodworker’s basic tool kit needs to have tools to measure, cut, join and finish wood. You also need to keep yourself safe and have a surface to work on.
Measurement tools are an essential part of any woodshop. Whether you’re measuring lengths, widths, angles, or heights, there’s nothing more frustrating than having to guess when cutting pieces down to size. A set of accurate measurement tools will save hours in the shop.
Tape Measure or “Pocket Tape”
A tape measure needs to be in every woodworker’s tool kit because knowing the dimensions of your wood pieces is essential to a successful build. The best kind for your shop is a self-retracting metal tape. In fact, you probably already have one of these in your home.
If you don’t or want one specifically to use in your woodshop we recommend one like this 25′ model from Stanley. It’s long enough for most wood projects and the blade stays rigid for about 8 feet.
It’s just like the one our grandfather gave us. These things just keep on working.
It’s hard to imagine a woodshop without a combination square because it combines a straight edge with an angle drawing/checking tool and often a level.
Most of the angles you’ll be dealing with on your woodworking projects are going to be either 90 degrees or 45 degrees.
A combination square will make sure you get these exactly right every time. The one pictured here is inexpensive and will get the job done.
If you are looking for a tool you can pass down to your kids and grandkids, we recommend this Starrett Combination Square. It is beautifully designed and obviously a very high-quality tool but it is a bit pricy.
Marking gauges are used to mark out precise straight lines on wood. They are useful for both basic and advanced joint making.
You will need one for mortises and tenons, dovetails, rabbets, thicknesses, and any number of other tasks, so it should be one of your first tools to purchase.
Luckily they are easy to use and quite inexpensive and they come in different sizes depending on how far apart the lines are spaced.
If you are building something small, then you may only need a 1⁄4 inch marking gauge. But if you are doing larger projects, such as cabinets, you might need a 3⁄16th inch marking gauge.
This particular model has adjustable markers which makes it easy to change between measurements. It is inexpensive and very newbie-friendly.
If you are looking for more of an heirloom tool (though still not too expensive) we suggest taking a peek at this Woodriver wheel marking gauge. It’s got great heft, hand feel, and is lovely to boot!
The next must-have tools for your woodshop are those used for cutting your wood. As with all things woodworking, the kind and number of saws you need depend on the type of woodworking you plan to do. Also, the kind of projects you plan to make.
That said, it’s safe to say that every woodworker will need a handsaw, miter, and chisel set. If you plan to use power tools you can add a circular saw and router to that list.
Hand saws are perhaps the most basic woodworking tools ever invented. Every woodworker needs one or two. And though we know you probably aren’t going to be ripping wood with one there are many jobs where using a power saw isn’t really practical.
Heck, even Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor had an extensive collection of hand saws. Unlike Tim, we prefer the Japanese-type handsaw. Because unlike most traditional hand saws on the market today, these are still made to exacting standards.
This one made by Hachiemon is an heirloom quality saw at an entry-level price. In fact, all their products are affordable, durable, and work well.
The humble miter box is the best friend of any woodworker on a tight budget who wants to cut precise angles and make beautiful joints. These boxes offer low-budget alternatives to the much pricier “miter saws” we’ll talk about next.
A miter box coupled with a backsaw allows you to make perfectly straight cuts at precise predefined angles. Usually 45 degrees, 90 degrees, and 22.5 degrees.
If you have a little more to spend, we recommend you take a look at this ADJUSTABLE ANGLE MITER SAW from Craftsman. It allows you to cut pretty much any angle you’re likely to come across in your woodworking journey.
Of course, you can always learn how to make a miter box. This is a fun woodworking project for new woodworkers and it’s something you can hand down to your children or grandchildren someday. This heirloom-quality tenon saw by Thomas Flinn of Sheffield England would go great with it.
While a miter box saw will get the job done a miter saw does so much more than just making perfect right-angled cuts. A good miter saw has features like variable speed control, depth adjustment, and adjustable fence.
The ability to adjust the blade height makes it possible to rip boards into thinner pieces without having to raise the table up higher.
We’ve seen some very nice ones over time but our favorite is this DEWALT model. It offers a lot of bang for its buck. It also includes a dust collector which helps keep the shop clean.
If you are looking for a more budget-friendly model this one, also from DEWALT, will get the job done. Though it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of the saw we just mentioned, it is still a quality miter saw and will give you hears of good service.
A circular saw is an essential power tool. In fact, it’s one of those beginner woodworking tools that everyone should own.
They are inexpensive tools considering how versatile they are. They do a decent job cutting through just about anything including hardwoods, plywood, and even rough lumber.
If you want to build furniture, kitchen cabinets, sheds, decks, or anything else that requires lots of crosscuts then a circular saw is what you need. A good one will make bevel cuts too. This means you can make your basic miter cuts with it.
There are several different types of circular saws out there. Some are corded while others run off batteries. For new woodworkers, our favorite is this one from Dewalt because it gives you professional quality and power packed into a small lightweight workshop size.
If you are looking for a really affordable option please see our article “Best Circular Saw Under $50”.
This may sound over the top but a power router is one of the most versatile tools you’ll ever own. When you have a router you don’t need to buy dado blades or rabbet planes. Your router will handle that for you.
Furthermore, cutting circles and other shapes, even irregular ones just became a breeze. With a little practice and a few router jigs, you’ll be utterly amazed at how easily your finished piece will dazzle your friends and family.
You’ll probably get a few basic router bits with your initial purchase. But, you’ll almost certainly want to supplement your collection with a router bit set and, eventually a plunge base. That’s really the only additional cost associated with this tool.
Another fantastic addition is a router table, which you can make yourself if you have the time.
This BOSCH unit is a full-featured router at a very respectable price.
Sadly, a quality chisel set can be tough to find these days. Way too many companies, even some reputable ones, are putting out little more than junk chisels right now.
This is a shame because new woodworkers usually won’t know the reason they are having trouble with their projects is because of the tool, not their skill!
We are going to recommend you get yourself a good 6 chisel set and learn how to sharpen them. You’ll be amazed at the quality of work you can do just with minimal tools like this. With these carvings, joining, shaping, and even paring will be a breeze!
For beginner woodworking projects we are recommending a set of bevel edge chisels because they are affordable and quite versatile. Bench chisels and mortice chisels only have niche uses in comparison.
The Irwin Marple set pictured above has plastic handles, is durable and affordable. They will give you hears of service if you don’t abuse them and use a mallet (more about that later) rather than a hammer.
For those of you who are looking for something just a bit more or if you are looking for a woodworking gift idea for that special someone out in your garage take a look at this Narex woodworking chisel set. The handles are made from European Beech and they come in a lovely wooden box for gift-giving and easy storage.
Joining tools are what you will need to attach or join your pieces of wood together. In addition to the major tools listed below, you’ll need to get an assortment of nails, screws, and wood glue to accomplish this basic woodworking task.
A set of calms is one of the most essential tools any woodworker can get. In fact, many times having the right clams determines the success or failure of your building projects.
Ask anyone who has worked with wood for any time and they’ll tell you it is impossible to get enough clamps into your workshop. Honestly, try it and see.
And yet they are all too often overlooked by new woodworkers busy worrying about table saws and whether or not they need a belt sander.
To make matters worse the type of clamps you’ll need depends on the type and size of your DIY projects. If you are making something large like a dining table, for example, you are going to need a set of 4 pipe clamps like these from Bessey.
But for most miscellaneous projects we recommend you pick up a set of smaller clamps like the “8 piece quick grip set” from Irwin pictured above. They are incredibly versatile and will be useful for most of your building projects.
When you need to drive a nail thru one piece of wood into another the tool you reach for is a claw hammer. You probably figured this one out on your own but just in case we’ve included this woodworking classic!
Claw hammers come in many different weights, with varying head sizes, and shaft materials.
You will want to choose one that is heavy enough to get the job done but not so heavy it will become a burden to use. Also, it needs to be comfortable to hold and have arubberized finish which makes it much safer to use.
We think a 16-20 oz hammer is suitable for most jobs and we like fiberglass shafts over wood because they absorbed vibration better and therefore preventing fatigue.
A mallet is used to tap joinery into place or gently strike the end of a chisel when wood carving. It’s about tapping and nudging not driving the way a hammer does. Your hammer is about power. Your mallet is about finesse.
When choosing a mallet you’ll have to decide the size head you want.You’ll also need to choose between round, flathead, rubber/nylon or wood.
We’ve chosen to feature a lovely Beachwood mallet from Crown Hand Tools Ltd, Sheffield, England. It’s a medium weight 20 oz so you can let the mallet do the work and save your muscles for driving nails.
If you prefer a rubber or nylon mallet we recommend this Thor model. Thor is a trusted name and you can replace the nylon heads of this mallet should they become worn. Note: quality costs and this mallet is on the pricy side.
Another handy tool you will NEED in your woodshop is a power drill. You’ll use it all the time for things like drilling pilot holes, countersinking screws, setting screws, etc…
If you are going to invest in any cordless tools, this may be the one to start out your cordless tool kit with. Simply because you’ll find yourself using it so darn much. It can really be a pain to have to plug it in here there and everywhere.
We really like the cordless drill pictured above because it has plenty of power, the battery lasts a long time, and it comes with accessories in a variety of sizes, not just one drill bit.
If you have your heart set on a corded drill, we think this one made by DeWalt is particularly nice for new woodworkers because it has all the power you’ll ever need and then some. That way, no mater what project you set your heart on this drill will be able to get the job done for you.
Whether it’s for delicate work or hand-tightening that last screw, you will want to get yourself a nice set of screwdrivers. This basic Craftsman Screwdriver Set is all you should need in your woodshop for quite a while.
We particularly like that it comes with a tool to magnetize or demagnetize your screwdrivers based on what you need at the moment.Can’t tell you how handy that is!
Shaping & Sanding Tools
Woodworking requires precision cuts and smooth surfaces. Shaping and sanding tools are useful for smoothing out rough surfaces and edges on wooden furniture and other projects. They are also used to remove dust from the surface of the wood before applying finishes or painting.
Smoothing plane or Wood Plane
The wood plane is an iconic woodworking tool. Learning to use one correctly will dramatically cut down on your sanding time. And I don’t know about you, but that’s the job we enjoy the least when working with wood.
Other folks will tell you differently, but we don’t think a power planer is the way to go for new woodworkers. It’s just too darn easy to get overdo and mess up your work.
Warning: Your smoothing plane is not a place to cut corners. There are plenty of wood planes on the market that don’t cost very much. They say they are “inexpensive” but in our opinion, they should just come out and say it, they are cheap and are more trouble than they are worth.
Stanley has been producing the “Sweetheart No. 4” for AGES and thank goodness they have not lowered the quality of this tool. It is a work of art and a great wood plane.
Of course, the Lie-Neilson is the ultimate wood smoothing plane and is priced accordingly. You can take a look-see at it right here.
You will get sticker shock. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Random orbital sander
Random orbital sanders combine the speed and intensity of a belt sander with the ability to achieve a finer finish than a slow-speed orbital finishing sander.
By spinning the sanding disk and moving it in small ellipses at the same time, the random orbit sanding pattern is created. This makes sure that the sandpaper never moves in the same way twice during the same rotation.
The tool does not create swirl marks and is not sensitive to the direction of the wood grain because of its random sanding action. When sanding two pieces of wood that will be joined at right angles, this feature comes in handy.
Sandpaper disks are used in random-orbital sanders, and many have dust collectors built-in.
This variable speed model from Makita is designed with user comfort in mind when using it for long periods at a time. It also has an optional/adjustable front handle that lets you sand in tight spaces and corners.
No list of essential woodworking tools would be complete without covering safety equipment. Way too many new woodworkers blow these items off. Thinking that accidents only happen to “other people” is a one-way ticket to hearing loss, breathing issues, or a trip to the emergency room.
We heartily recommend investing in some good goggles, ear protection, dust masks, and gloves.
Safety Glasses or Safety Goggles
Wood chips, dust, and even broken bits or blades are hazards every woodworker faces each time they get to work. You cannot replace your eyes. Protect them.
These “Powertec Safety Glasses For Woodworking” are inexpensive, fog resistant, and can be worn over your glasses if you wear them. They provide excellent eye protection while still allowing you to see clearly.
Loud noises will damage your hearing over time. If you don’t protect your ears you will have hearing issues eventually. It’s only a question of when. The men in our family (yes, we’re talking to you DAD!) didn’t believe this and now even with their hearing aids, we all have to shout at them to be heard. Learn from this.
This set of over-the-head ear muffs are amazing. They are comfortable, look cool, and offer excellent hearing protection.
BONUS: their ear cushions and foam liners can be replaced when worn or get dirty.
Dust Mask or Respirator
It’s common sense people. Let’s use it. All sawdust is irritating to your lungs but some types of wood are toxic when inhaled. And the fumes from many types of wood finishes are really not good for you to breathe either.
Please be safe. Use a dust mask when cutting and sanding your wood projects. Use a respirator when dealing with toxic substances in your woodshop. Always!
Splinters suck. But then so does slicing your hand open. When you’re working with sharp tools it’s a no-brainer to protect your fingers and hands from cuts and gouges. Please get yourself a sturdy pair of work gloves for use in your woodshop.
Grandpa used to wear a pair of leather or heavy canvas gloves. Those are good but today there are more advanced materials that will protect you from cuts while still giving you excellent grip.
These gloves from Dowellife are 10 times stronger and more cut-resistant than ordinary shop gloves. And for about the same price OR LESS as well.
Shop Tools & Maintenance
There is just some universal equipment every craftsman needs. This is the stuff you take for granted and rarely think about once you have your woodshop up and running. Maintenance tools aren’t sexy but you should know which ones you need before you bring your first piece of wood into your shop.
A sawhorse is a simple yet versatile support system that allows you to easily set up workspaces on the fly. The most common type of sawhorse has four legs connected by crossbars.
These types of sawhorses are usually made from metal tubing and steel pipe. However, there are several different styles available including those made from plastic, aluminum, and even bamboo.
If you want something portable then consider buying one of these collapsible sawhorses. These models fold down flat so they’re easy to store away.
It’s possible to make a set of saw horses out of some rough lumber or 2×4’s especially if you get a set of folding sawhorse brackets.
Every woodworker needs a quality workbench. You’ll find many styles of workbenches available today ranging from simple designs to elaborate pieces made specifically for woodworking. The most important thing when choosing a bench is stability.
You are going to be working with sharp tools possibly spinning at high speeds. Under these circumstances, a wobbly bench is NOT an option.
And don’t go thinking you need a fancy shop table either. We’ve seen some great benches constructed using 2x4s. Heck, until the day he died, grandpa used a piece of plywood set on top of two sawhorses as a secondary workbench!
Ok, building our own custom wooden workbench is usually one of the first projects a new woodworker plans to tackle. But we think it’s best to hold off on that for a little while. Build this once you know what you truly want out of your shop bench.
It would be a shame to spend all that time and money building one only to find it doesn’t suit your needs.
A portable workbench is perfect for small shops where space can be an issue. They can be set up and taken down quickly and come in various sizes depending on how much room you have.
The main advantage of having a portable workbench over a fixed design is, obviously, portability. These are great for the craftsman who has to work in the field as well as folks who are still deciding exactly what kind of workbench they want to build.
An affordable option that can keep you going until you know exactly what type of workbench you want to build is something like this Black and Decker portable workbench. Many woodworkers use one of these happily for years or keep one handy for some extra workspace.
Sharpening stones are essential for any serious woodworker because no matter how careful you are and how well you treat your plane and chisels they WILL NEED SHARPENING!
The two types of sharpening stones you are likely to find are diamond plates and whetstones.
Both kinds come in varying grits and you can get a good sharp edge with them both but that is where the similarity ends.
Whetstones (sometimes called water stones) are used coated in water to lubricate the stone. This is the kind you most often see being used in movies. They work well BUT they wear down over time developing a dip in the middle.
Therefore the edges will need to be ground down to make it flat again. This also means you’ll have to replace them when they become too worn to make flat.
On the other hand, diamond plates are a one-time purchase and will last you a lifetime (and probably your children’s lifetime, too). For this reason, we recommend you invest in a set of diamond plates right off the bat.