About Essential Woodworking Tools for Beginners
If you’re serious about making woodworking a hobby well into the future, we strongly recommend buying good-quality tools rather than inferior ones. They’ll serve you better in the long run and will last longer. This post is about essential woodworking tools for beginners and hobbyists – and how to use them safely.
As far as hand tools are concerned, there’s nothing wrong with buying used tools – just make sure they’re in good condition. Older tools tend to be of better quality and they were generally made to last.
It is possible to build quality projects using only hand tools; however, having some basic woodworking power tools will make your job so much easier. Just be careful when you’re buying used or discounted power tools – make sure that they work effectively and are safe to use.
There’s no need to rush out and buy everything all at once! Woodworking can earn you money that you can use to build up a collection of tools and materials. If you really apply your talents diligently, it could turn into a livelihood!
So you’ve decided to embrace woodworking as a hobby. Ask your friends, neighbors and family members if they have any basic woodworking hand tools that they no longer have a need for. There might just be some prize items that you could add to your toolbox. Once you start turning out your projects, you could reward your donors’ kindness with a beautiful, hand-crafted piece!
Basic Woodworking tools: Getting Started
Woodworking Hand Tools List
Here are some essential woodworking hand tools for getting started:
Claw hammers: This is the most commonly-used type of hammer for woodworking. It’s also excellent for general repair work around the home. They come with different types of handles; some have rubber, plastic or fiberglass grips.
There’s no rule about which type of hammer you should use; it is essentially a personal choice. The hammer should feel nicely balanced in your hand and the grip should be comfortable. Their weights differ, with 16 ounces being a good choice for general-purpose use. For heavier work, you might go for 20 ounces. Smaller weights would be useful for light work, driving in tacks or for children’s use.
Screwdrivers: You’ll need these for just about every woodworking project. Make sure you have different sizes of flat-head as well as Phillips-head screwdrivers. If you really want to simplify your use of screwdrivers, you can’t do better than invest in a cordless, electric screwdriver that has its own supply of different-size bits for all types of projects. This way, you will have one tool with the versatility of ten! However, don’t neglect to retain a variety of regular screwdrivers in your toolbox.
Wood chisels: These come in a range of sizes from 1/4″ to 2 inches wide, in gradations of 1/8 inch. They are available with plastic or wooden handles. To make a cut, use a chisel that is about half the width of the groove to be cut. To make a thin cut, you can push the chisel by hand; for a heavier cut, tap on the end with a wooden mallet.
There’s no need to buy every size of chisel when you’re starting out – just a couple of different sizes will be fine.
Leveling tools: A leveling tool is necessary to ensure that your project turns out straight. They come in many shapes and sizes, the most common being 24 inches long. They can be made from aluminum, wood or plastic. Some have fixed vials, while others are adjustable (a vial is a glass tube containing a colored fluid with a bubble).
All leveling tools have one or more vials for horizontal and vertical use; some also have 45-degree vials. To make sure your project surface is level, the bubble should be centered between the two indicator lines on the tube. You don’t want your new bookshelf to be teetering at an angle!
Framing square: Also called a set-square or carpenter’s square – you’ll find this tool very useful in woodworking. You can use it to lay out and measure just about anything in the construction of a house, from attic rafters to basement stairs. The most commonly-used size has a 16″ tongue and a 24″ blade; they usually have the framing tables stamped into them. The smaller sizes generally lack the framing tables, as do cheaper versions of the larger style.
Try square: These squares have a wooden handle with a steel tongue stuck into them to form a right-angle. Sizes range from 3″ to 12″; some are stamped with inch scales, while others are blank. Being small enough to fit into confined spaces, they come in very handy in furniture- and cabinet-making.
Triangles: These come in different shapes, sizes and materials. The two most commonly used in laying out patterns are the double-45° and the 30° – 60°.
Tape Measures: As you can imagine, these come in a variety of lengths and widths. Avoid using a tape that’s narrower than 3/4″ if the tape is more than 6 feet long; it will not remain rigid when you extend it out. For small projects, 1/2-inch-wide ones are adequate.
Sandpaper: You can’t escape using sandpaper! You’ll be using a lot in finishing off your projects. Have various grades on hand for the different projects you’ll be completing. Most wood projects call for fine-grit paper. Medium is generally used for first sanding of softwoods and for shaping. Coarse-grit should be used for rough sanding, paint removal and shaping.
- Fret saw: A fret saw uses very narrow blades; this enables you to cut intricate designs. You can rotate the blade a full 360° to negotiate tight corners. To start an inside cut, first drill a small hole and pass the (unattached) blade through it, then insert the blade into the saw frame.
- Scroll saw: These are deep-throated saws that are electric- or pedal-operated. They have very fine blades for cutting intricate curves in metal, wood or other materials. They cut more easily than a fret saw.
- Handsaws: These come in many sizes and configurations. For general use, one that is 26″ long with 8 teeth per inch would be a good choice. Crosscut saws have teeth with a negative rake; they are used for cutting across the grain of the wood. Ripping saws have a zero rake and are for cutting in the direction of the grain.
- Jigsaw: It’s not essential to have a jigsaw but a good one can certainly make your woodworking projects easier. Beside making cutting wood easier, they can add some eye-catching detail to a piece.
Hand plane: There are several different styles of hand planes. Some are made of steel, others of wood. They are generally intended for smoothing a surface. Some have blades for cutting profiles; however, the arrival of the electric router has made these less common (see under Power Tools below). You’d be amazed at how versatile a router is!
A hand plane makes easy work of cleaning up rough boards and squaring up board edges. While it’s true that a basic smoothing plane is fine for tackling most projects, don’t skimp on quality. Look for a trusted brand name or at least ensure that it’s of good quality metal; you’ll want your plane to last a long time.
Clamps: You can never have too many clamps! You’ll need clamps to glue boards side-to-side and to hold pieces together as joints dry. Any project that you glue requires that you clamp it to ensure that the parts are bonded firmly in exactly the right position.
If you have a range of pipe clamps from 18 inches to 8 feet wide, you should be able to handle most clamping projects. Keep a few hand clamps and small C-clamps for smaller projects. If you intend to work a lot with oak, consider purchasing pipe clamps with zinc-coated pipes to prevent staining of the wood.
Vises: A vise holds pieces of wood firmly on the workbench as you work on them with other tools. For a beginner, a mid-sized vise with an opening of 7 – 9 inches should be sufficient. Look for a vise with wooden jaws or inserts (or use smooth, scrap wood) to keep the vise from denting your projects.
Rasps (files): Rough metal rasps are used to file board edges and remove small amounts of wood. Two rasps should be sufficient for your needs: one fine and one coarse.
Essential Woodworking Power Tools
Woodworking Power Tools List
Electric drill and drill bits: An electric drill is by far the first power tool people purchase. You can use them for tons of jobs, besides drilling holes. There are attachments that can turn them into sanders, paint mixers, screwdrivers, saws, lathes, grinders and more.
There are corded and cordless drills, each one has its place. We recommend that you start with a 3/8″-capacity, variable-speed, reversible corded drill. It won’t be as convenient as a cordless but for the lower price, you’ll still be getting good performance. Slower-speed models (max. 1200 rpm) seem to have more torque for drilling larger holes, yet still drill clean smaller holes.
Most drills are now double-insulated for safety; if yours has a 3-prong plug, use a 3-prong extension cord.
Electric circular saw: This can be very handy for cutting your wood pieces. Find one that’s reliable and easy for you to use.
Router: Routers have become one of the most popular tools in a workshop, perhaps even more so than a table saw. Most well-equipped workshops would have a plunge-base and a fixed-base router. You can now get a combination kit where you’ll have one machine with both bases.
Of the many different router bit profiles available, a straight bit and a round-over bit would be good when starting out; it depends on the type of projects you will be doing.
It would be much easier to work with smaller pieces if your router is mounted on a table. If you have to remove a lot of material, you can generally achieve better results by taking several passes, making shallow cuts, rather than just one deep pass.
Glue: To ensure that your joints have good stability, keep some strong carpenter’s wood glue on hand.
Carpenter’s pencil: This is a rectangular-shaped pencil, about 1/4″ x 1/2″, with a 1/16″ x 3/16″ lead.
Even if you’re not using power tools in your workshop, you should still keep a pair of safety glasses at hand. When using a hammer or chisel, splinters or other objects can shoot up rapidly and potentially cause injury.
Of course, a basic first aid kit should always be readily available in the event of workshop accidents. You can reduce the risk of such accidents by always using the right tool for the job – and using them as they were intended.
Lastly, keep a wet/dry workshop vacuum cleaner close by so that you can quickly clean up wood particles and dust. Keeping dust and wood residue to a minimum will reduce the risk of workshop fires and also help you breathe more easily.
Using woodworking tools isn’t rocket science. Most people have at least a basic knowledge of how to use a hammer and screwdriver. If you’ve bought new power tools, you’ll have instruction manuals that come with them. If your tools are not new and you don’t have a guide, you should be able to download one from the manufacturer’s website.
Tools are not difficult to figure out if you give it some thought. Just remember to use them carefully and practice safety rules (see below).
Maintaining Your Woodworking Tools
You saved the money, did the research and the comparison shopping. Your longed-for tool has finally arrived and you can call it your own! It’s a great feeling. What can be more exciting than getting a new power tool?
Machines will drill, they will cut, they will chop or level just about anything. However, you have to maintain them. Read through the user manual, then keep it for later reference. Once you’ve set up your machines, you’ll still need to check them regularly for alignment, for bolts or screws that need tightening and, importantly, for lubricating and cleaning.
Keep each machine tuned within its tolerances. For example:
- Bandsaw wheels need to run in the same plane;
- A drill press must raise and lower vertically square to its table;
- A table saw blade must be 90° square to its tabletop, with the front and rear of the blade running parallel to its miter slots.
Before you start loading a motor-driven tool with heavy use, give it time to build up to full power so it can do its job efficiently. Before using a new machine for heavy use for the first time, allow it to run for several minutes to allow the brushes in the motor to “seat”.
Get to know the sound of the motor of each machine; pay attention to how it sounds when under the load of an operation. If something’s not right, you’ll often be able to feel or hear it from the machine before things go more wrong.
Don’t try to work a machine too speedily. If a procedure requires excessive force, something is most likely wrong, such as:
- The wood is too hard;
- There’s not enough chip clearance for a blade;
- Essential parts are misaligned.
If you feel that the work is overtaxing the machine, approach the job in smaller steps or work out a different way to do it.
Before you start, make sure you know where the machine’s “emergency button” is and how to get to it. Practice using the button as follows: hold a work-piece clear of the blade, then turn the machine on and off.
Always UNPLUG a machine before you handle or change any blades. You can’t always tell when a switch might be faulty. Switches have been known to connect and switch on when the tabletop receives a sudden blow, as from a dropped tool or piece of wood.
In the event of a power outage, unplug each machine individually and leave a light switched on so you can tell when the power is restored.
Cleaning Your Machines
See that you keep your machines clean. Vacuum any dust off switches, belts, pulleys and out of router collets and motor vents. Band saw tires can be cleaned with a toothbrush and isopropyl alcohol (turn the wheels by hand).
If you’re using a rack-and-pinion height adjustment, be sure to keep its teeth and gears free of sawdust buildup.
Woodshop Safety Rules
Never cut freehand on a table saw. Generally, you should securely guide or clamp your workpiece in place as it passes a blade. Stabilize your workpiece against a fence or miter gauge. However, don’t use the two together; doing so may bind the workpiece against the blade, causing a nasty kick-back or jamming of the blade.
The safest way to do cross-cuts is with a panel-cutting sled riding in the miter slot.
Before you begin using hand-held power tools, ensure that the electrical cord is of adequate length and will pass unencumbered as you perform the operation. Make sure that the cord won’t snag on something or coil itself around your feet (a problem you won’t have with battery-powered, rechargeable tools!).
The best advice regarding new machinery is: educate yourself and practice before doing the work. Woodworking is a fulfilling hobby but you are ultimately responsible for your own safety.
Now that you’re outfitted and (hopefully) are acquainted with your essential woodworking tools for beginners, the next step is to get to know some woodworking terms that you’re not familiar with (in the next post).