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Which Hand Tools to get Started?

There are five classes of basic woodworking tools. Those are tools to cut, finish, assemble, measure and hold wooden parts while transforming raw materials into completed projects. These tool groups cover everything a starting woodworker needs for building simple to complex items. To help prioritize what should go in your basic toolbox, here’s a beginner’s guide to must-have tools for woodworking.

Essential woodworking tool: Hand saw

Almost every component in a woodworking project starts with cutting materials. The best and most interesting pieces start with rough lengths of wood. Whether that’s hardwood like oak or softwood like pine, wood stock needs ripping and crosscutting to start taking shape. Saws are the answer, but they come in different shapes and sizes. They’re also for different cutting tasks


Once wood pieces are cut to a rough shape, they need more work to present an attractive, finished appearance. No matter how fine your saw blade is and how nice the quality, you’ll still need some sort of filing, planing and sanding supplies. When it comes to just the essential woodworking tools for beginners, all of your planing can be done with a single quality smoothing plane. As an added bonus, learning to be proficient with a smoothing plane will cut down dramatically on sanding time, which let’s be honest, is the worst part of woodworking.

Essential woodworking tool: Chisels

To start off you only need either a 1/4-inch or 3/8-inch mortise chisel (or some size close to those). I prefer 3/8-inch. You don’t need a whole set of mortise chisels. Mortise chisels (also spelled “mortice chisels”) are used for chopping mortises (rectangular holes) into the side of your board to accept the insertion of a tenon. “Mortise and Tenon” is a very common and very strong joint that most people have heard of.

Buy a Folding Rule and/or Tape Measure

Every woodworker should have at least one tape measure hooked on their belt.

A “folding rule” (not “ruler”) is a predecessor to a tape measure, and allows you to take measurements when cutting boards, etc. If you’re on a tight budget, a small tape measure can be used for the same job, usually for rough measurement (think lumber yard). I use both.


It’s next to impossible to create decent woodworking projects without an assortment of squares. Good squares let you create and verify all sorts of angles. Most squares also have measuring markings engraved on their surface. This lets them double as measuring rules.

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