Have you ever seen a professional woodworker’s shop? They seem to have at least one, if not two, of every basic woodworking tool in existence. Newcomers to woodworking can often feel unsure what equipment they need.
Truthfully, you need far fewer woodworking hand tools than many people think. The chances are good that you have many of them in your garage already. Here’s a rundown of the must-have hand tools for woodworking:
Here’s a quick index to help you navigate this article:
01. Retractable Tape Measure
You probably already know the classic carpentry saying: Measure twice and cut once. To measure accurately, you’ll need a retractable measuring tape.
You have two options: standard and metric. Most carpenters prefer a tool that lists both, so you have the greatest flexibility without needing two tape measures.
You don’t need an especially large tape. A maximum tape length of 15 feet should work fine for most household woodworking projects.
One special feature useful for carpenters is a measuring tape with blank space on the side. That lets you write measurements in pencil and then erase them later. It’s a quick notepad built right into the tool.
02. Utility Knife
A utility knife is useful in practically every home repair and construction project, and woodworking is no exception. You’ll want a utility knife for a wide range of purposes, such as marking stock, cleaning up hinges, and detailing.
For woodworking, you want a heavy-duty utility knife. A box cutter is too lightweight and fragile for cutting most types of wood. Instead, you want a utility knife with a metal casing and individual blades.
03. Hand Saw
Also called a panel saw, these simple saws have a huge variety of uses when working with wood. They have a basic design with a handle and a thin, flexible saw. They have large teeth compared to many other types of saws.
Hand saws are known more for their speed than their precision. You’ll mainly use it for rough cuts on large, long boards. You won’t find many fancy features, just reliable and low-tech wood cutting.
A quick note about the name: This specific tool is called a hand saw. However, the term “hand saw” is also used generally to refer to all non-power saws.
Looking for something a bit more powerful than a handsaw. Check out 8 Things to Consider When Buying a Table Saw in 2020.
04. Back Saws
Back saws are designed for accurate, precise cuts. They have fine teeth with thin metal plates and brass or steel backs. You can find back saws with many different degrees of tooth fineness. Smaller teeth create a finer cut.
They’re often used in cabinetmaking and other situations where detailed cuts are necessary. They’re also a useful tool for cutting wood joints. You’ll want a back saw for anything beyond the most basic of woodworking projects.
05. Frame Saws
Frame saws allow for a variety of different cuts. A frame saw with a narrow blade cuts curves, similar to a band saw (only without the electric power). When used with a larger blade, they’ll make rough cuts similar to a hand saw.
Also called bow or turning saws, they have a blade that sits between two saw arms. You can tighten the blade to adjust its tension. Frame saws are available in many different sizes, with larger saws typically well-suited for cutting large pieces of wood, and smaller sizes preferred for circular detail work.
A small set will work just fine, especially if you mainly work on relatively beginner-level projects.
At a minimum, you want both Phillips and flathead screwdrivers. Square and Torx are also often useful.
Chisels are some of the essential woodworking hand tools. They allow you to make sharp, precise cuts into any type of wood. As any true woodworker will tell, you can never have too many chisels. Experienced craftspeople collect chisels of all shapes and sizes.
However, you really only need the following few chisels to get started:
Beveled-edge chisels with wooden handles are generally considered the best all-purpose type for woodworking.
08. Block Plane
This type of hand plane mainly does finish and clean-up work. The blade subtly shaves away thin layers of wood to remove end grain and even out edges.
A block plane is a classic woodworking hand plane. It’s a metal plane with an embedded blade. It’s compact enough for one-handed use.
For finer finish you may need to use sandpaper. Read our article on choosing sandpaper here: How To Choose Sandpaper: The Right Grit And Type For All Kind Of DIY Job
09. Nail Hammer
A nail hammer is one of the most important and most easily forgotten, woodworking hand tools. Many carpenters become so accustomed to screws, glue, and other fasteners that they often overlook the trusty hammer.
You can use a hammer to drive:
- And more
A 16 or 20-ounce hammer works well when working on large products, such as flooring or outdoor projects. However, lighter hammers are often the best option for cabinets, furniture, and similar types of carpentry. Although it might seem light, a 12-ounce hammer is a must-have tool for woodworking.
A hammer with a wooden handle is best for most carpentry. Wood absorbs shock, so it’s easier on your hand and arm. Additionally, the damage is easy to notice, because you can see cracks appear in the handle.
10. Dead-Blow Hammer
A dead-blow hammer is a special mallet with a rubberized coating. It’s designed for a minimal rebound when swung. It’s less likely to damage surfaces, which is especially useful when striking wood.
Dead-blow hammers have a wide range of uses in woodworking, including:
- Joint assembly/disassembly
- Striking sharp objects embedded in wood
- Aligning boards
You’ll also want a dead-blow hammer or a mallet when striking chisels. Using a nail hammer to hit a chisel is often difficult and even unsafe.
11. Air Compressor
Additionally, air compressors help keep your shop clean. They blow away fine wood debris far more efficiently than many shop vacs.
You don’t need a particularly large air compressor, since it’s mainly used for more incidental work. A small air compressor isn’t just easier to use, it’s also relatively quiet compared to a larger one.
A level is a tool that’s vital for determining if a piece of wood is straight horizontally (“level”) and vertically (“plumb”).
The most common level for woodworking is the standard carpenter’s level. They’re rectangular levels typically made from aluminum or a resin material. They’re available in a wide range of lengths. Usually, anything from 24” to 96” will work fine for most at-home or backyard woodworking projects.
It often helps to buy a level that includes measurements along the side. You can find magnetic levels, although that’s usually not particularly useful for most woodworking.
13. Layout Square
As we established earlier, proper measurements play a key role in completing your projects successfully. Also known as a speed square, a layout square is a simple tool used to make straight lines and angles. Most layout squares are six inches long and let you mark angles up to 45 degrees.
While you can find a simple square made from steel, fancier options are also available. Look for aluminum construction, as it’s a lightweight material that combines durability with portability. Also, look for contrasting colors, such as black and yellow, which can help make the measurements easy to read.
You’ll also want a sliding bevel. It’s similar to a sliding square but with increased adjustability. It’s useful for marking angles that you can then use elsewhere. As with a layout square, make sure your sliding bevel is easy to read and made from durable materials.
A list of wood shop accessories you must have: Wood shop Accessories Every Woodworker Should Have
Final Thoughts: Essential Hand Tools in Woodworking
You don’t need a ton of fancy and expensive power tools to complete awesome DIY woodworking projects. Instead, the woodworking hand tools listed above will provide a solid foundation to start.
Woodworking is a fun hobby that can also help you save on a variety of home repairs. Even better, you don’t need to spend a fortune on fancy or expensive power tools for your woodshop. Use the guide above to start your collection of woodworking hand tools and watch how fast your carpentry skills grow!