My essential tools

With the many tools available to us woodworkers, it presents the question of how many tools do we actually need. There is a saying 'There is a tool for every job'.  While this is true, and i have seen these scenarios time and again proving, that there is a tool for every job but, do you need every tool you own? or go out and buy every tool you see? how many tools can you get by with?

I will admit i do have a problem with tools, i cant stop buying them , and have nowhere to put the bloody things ! I like nothing more then to wake up on a friday, have a coffee, and head to the local flea market to see what treasures ( old hand tools ) i can find. And let me tell you , I get upset if i walk away empty handed.

So thinking about scaling down and curbing my addiction ( maybe? ). I thought about what tools i would consider essential, my everyday tools, maybe to take on my travels, and what could be recommended as a starting point, to someone starting out in the world of unplugged woodworking.

Below is a list/description ( for those new to unplugged woodworking ) of what I consider essential (to me) tools, to build things like coffee tables, blanket chests, chest of drawers and the like.

Of courese this is only my opinion , and the tools will vary for differnt areas of work and opinions.
Fortunelty most of the tools mentioned are availabe here in the uk at markets, carboot sales and of course ebay, at pretty cheap prices. I can't comment on the rest of the world but, we do have a lot of secondhand tools here, in the uk.

I currently own several saws but, the three i could not do without are , a rip saw, panel saw and a tennon saw.

The rip saw has 4.5 tpi and rips through the stock (usually killin dried, european oak) very quickly. The saw gets used for nothing else but, is still invaluable ( to me ) because of its speed.

The panel saw , which i bought soley for crosscutting has 10tpi. The teeth are smaller and are better suited for crosscutting, leaving less splintering. Splintering can be a problem , with larger teeth even with a knife wall (which i always make). Although crosscutting is my primary use of the saw, i do use it to rip thinner stock, which the saw is intended to do, as well as crosscutting. I also use the saw to cut large joints, such as a tennons.

The tennon/dovetail saw i own is a hybrid, Kind of in the middle of the both. It has 15 tpi and the blade is a thin gauge , which can cause it to stick/bind while cutting. This can be minimised by oiling with a rag regularly. Because of the thin guage of the saw , it leaves a very clean cut. This is very noticable when cutting dovetails and the shoulders of tennons. In some cases i don't have to clean the shoulders up with a chisel, and dovetails are always nice, clean, tight joints. The saw is mostly used for cutting differnt joints, and crosscutting narrow stock like styles/rails for doors on furniture.

Again, i own numerous planes and i will use about six, on a regular baises. But, since this artical is all about what i consider essencial, and what you can get by with. I will say that a no. 4 smoothing plane, routerplane and a combination plane will get most things done. Some people will disagree with this statement, but i got by long enougth to know its true. I jointed long boards and shaped edges with the no.4 plane, its a little workhorse, which could have its own article, as could many tools.

The combonation plane will allow you to create grooves, rebates and profiles. The abillity to create rebates, and grooves will allow you to make frames, like doors for furniture, thus expanding your furniture building.

The router plane, which i was in two minds about adding to the list, because you can get by without it, but it is to accurate not to include. I use this to true up the faces of tennons, level out housing joints and create a small rebate on the edge of boards, to line up my dovetail joints. The blade can be a little ackward to sharpen but, worth the effort to do so.

The spoke shave is a tool used to plane/shape curves. I use mine as a follow up to chisel work, on curved pieces.

I own numerous chisels but, i only ever use five. A set of  four (25mm, 18mm, 12mm and 8mm) bevel edged chisels, I use these for everything , including morticing. The 25mm and 12mm get used the most, and the other two rarely get used at all. The fith't one is a 6mm stanley which varies in use but, it needs to be there. And of course you need something to hit them with. I use a thor hammer, which i like the weight of and it and the fact it has replacable head pads. This is a good hammer for essembly too, because of the soft pads, which are less likely to damage your work

A small hand drill and a brace and bit are a good combanation. The hand drill works well with smaller drill bits and it can be pretty fast.

The brace and bit is also very quick and efficent, providing the bits are sharp. I think most people who have never used one, would be shocked at how well they work, once the bits are sharp. 

There's a lot of marking and measuring tools out there, and while i like to use numerous tools, the ones i consider essential to my work , would be as follows :-

Tape measure
Ok, so this is a obvious one. you need to measure, and the tape measure makes life easy. Not the only way to measure but , they are quick and convenient.

1m straight edge
I use mine to draw straight lines, check edges for straightness while planing, and measuring.

Marking knife
Used to create knife walls/vallys for saws and chisels to butt against. The knife wall will make your work very accurate and, the knife is very handy and quick to sharpen pencils and will lend itself for other tasks

marking gauge
A very good tool for repeat marking. A mortice gauge is a good bet, because of the ability to mark out two lines for morticing. Most of the morticing gauges will have a single spike/pin on the back side, which makes this a good marking tool.

Combination square
The abilty to mark out straight lines, 90* to a straight edge, is something most woodworkers will do day in , day out , several times a day. The cominonation gauge is also able to mark out 45* angles and, the straight edge can be set at different lengths, which is good for marking continous line, and repeat lines parellel to straight edges.

Bevel gauge
marking different angles is important, and the bevel gauge allows you to set a angle, and repeatedlt use in the same manor as a square.

So, there you have it, my essential tools,  that I use on a day to day basis, that I feel I could get by with and make some furniture with. This is not the be all and end all but, it is a good starting point for someone beginning and for someone scaling down , a little food for thought . Even as I write this I wonder, should I add more tools to the list? Whether or not I will scale down remains to be seen but, who knows ! What are your essential tools ?


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  3. Hello,
    Thank you for your website I take a lot of pleasure to read. Please do continue. I have a question about the first picture illustrating the post: is it all the hand tools you have? Or do have even more? NB: You have a few typos in the article.

    1. Thank you, I do have more tools, but this article was about my essential tools, the one's I thought I , and other people could use to build many pieces of furniture.

  4. Awesome! No words. You always go one step beyond.

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  5. You are correct about tape measures. They are quick and convenient. They are also grossly inaccurate by nature.

    1. Yes, I have to agree with the inaccuracie. The readings can vary from tape to tape, brand to brand. I'm currently using, and have been for some time, my folding 2m wooden ruler, which is pretty accurate. I prefer this over everything I have, maybe it's because of my love for all that is wood?

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