Updated: Feb 22
If you're just getting started woodworking there are some essential hand tools that you will need. Having been a woodworker for 17 years and an instructor for the past 8 years, students often ask me what tools they should invest in. Below is the list of the essential woodworking hand tools you will need to build fine furniture and create as a woodworker. I own one of each of the tools listed here.
Below is the list and the following will be details about each specific tool.
There are two types of styles of Bench Chisels, Japanese and English. With Japanese chisels, a metal blade is hammered onto an iron core. This allows the chisel to stay sharper longer and overall gives them a unique handcrafted look. The drawbacks are that they're more expensive and because the chisel is laminated steel it cannot be hollow ground on the grinder. If the blade ever gets chipped it will take a long time to sharpen. English chisels are cast so the metal (though softer) is solid throughout and can easily be hollow ground which makes sharpening them easier. It is because of this fact and that they're more affordable I prefer English Chisels. Stay away from chisels with shock-absorbing rubber handles that have metal ends, those are construction chisels and won't have the same finesse for fine woodworking. Also, keep away from the super cheap chisels because they won't hold a sharp edge long, it will chip or roll the edge too easily. Below are three options for bench Chisels. The first set I ever had was Marples (best price) and in the last few years upgraded to a Wood River set. Click the images below for links:
There are many different types of Mallet out there and I've used them all. My preferred shape is a cylinder mallet. A friend once gave me a custom turned maple mallet, which was very good. But, the one I find most comfortable and best weighted is from Wood is Good. You have a lot of control with this mallet the rubber is weighted perfectly for precise strikes.
Your Chisels will need to be sharp so you'll want to invest in an easy sharpening system. There are two types of sharpening stones, Oils Stones and Water Stones. I started with oil stones, however made the switch to water stones and prefer them now because clean-up is simpler and water is free. Oils stones are harder and the oil will never rust your tools, but the trade-off is it's a pain to clean and if you run out of oil. Water stones are softer but clean up quick and easy. For all your sharpening needs you'll want three grits Coarse 400-600, Medium 1000, and Fine 3000 and up. The first sharpening set on the left is the best value because you get 4 grits and two strops + rouge. The far-right is a fine option for oil stones.
A dependable combo square is extremely important for precision work. One brand alone stands out as the most accurate best combination square on the market, the Starret Combo Square. They are a little pricey but the payoff is that they are dependable so your joinery will much better. I now have all three below but started off with only the 12". The 6" and 4" are very handy to carry with you while going from machine to machine.
Another tool that there are many options of but the only one that works the best is a marking knife. Early on in my woodworking journey, I purchased a good looking set of marking knives that functionally was terrible. To avoid this mistake, here's what you should look for: The blade should have a double bevel, having a Left & Right blade is cumbersome. Also, the marking knives that work best have a flat back; the handle gets in the way.
A marking gauge is used for laying out joinery, mostly dovetails and tenons. There are three types: Japanese, English, and a newer version that uses a Steel rod. Japanese Marking gauges are excellent to use. The Steel Rod Gauge is the least expensive and works very well and the English style works fine.
You should have at least one 6" Ruler, a 24" or a 36" Ruler. A steel ruler will always be more accurate than a tape measure. These rulers selected have both Inches & Millimeters. Knowing both systems interchangeable is like knowing how to speak two languages and will be helpful when talking with other woodworkers overseas.
As in the name, this tool helps layout mortises and tenons. It is a great tool that will save you a lot of time and allow you to replicate measurements with ease. Beware there are cheap versions that pop up when doing a general google search. They have a cheap slide lock and are designed poorly. This is a tool that needs to be precise and is worth its value. The most important aspect is that the end adjustment has a turn-key and thread. This allows you the ability to micro-adjust and lock independently the measurement between the pins.
There are many types of handsaws, so we're going to focus on just crosscuts saws. Here they can be classified into two categories Japanese and English. The main difference is the Japanese Saw cut is on the pull. The English Saw Cut is the opposite on the push. Other differences are the handle shape and that English Saws have a wide fixed blade that needs to be realigned over time. Japanese Saw blades are thinner and have a blade that can be replaced when teeth break off. I prefer the Dozuki-Z Japanese Saw because