The Best Hand Tools for Woodworking Projects
s flashy and fun as a good power tool may be, hand tools are where it’s at when it comes to refining your woodworking skills and cleaning up your piece.
In this chapter, you’ll learn about all the basic professional hand tools you’ll want to familiarize yourself with to make the most of your woodworking projects.
Best Measuring and Planning Hand Tools
The first stage of any woodworking project will involve planning or – at the very least – a small amount of measuring. For this reason, one of the first hand woodworking tools you’ll want to get is a 6-inch combination square.
6-Inch Combination Square
An accurate, reliable 6-inch combination square will come in handy in your workshop for a range of tasks. You’ll need it from measuring the depth of mortises and angles (90º and 45º) to creating miter joints and scribing dovetail joints.
Combination squares need to be completely accurate in order to be at all worthwhile, so take care when looking at “affordable” options. This is one tool that’s really worth choosing carefully.
For projects that require precise-fitting joints, try squares are the best hand tools for squaring up. The ideal try square will be somewhere between 9 and 12 inches long and can be made by the woodworker or bought in any hardware store.
A try square is used to scribe lines for saw cuts and other marks around the faces and edges of your boards. It needs to have an angle of exactly 90º, and try squares that are slightly off-square will need filed before they can be of use.
Sliding Bevel Square
Lovers of fine woodworking hand tools will appreciate the importance of a high-quality bevel gauge, or sliding bevel square. These tools are used to scribe angles on a workpiece, allowing users to repeat the same angle multiple times to create the perfect dovetails and joints.
When you source your bevel gauge, make sure it’s able to hold its angle without slipping or becoming loose.
For more on measurements, see Chapter Five’s guide to project planning.
Basic Hand Tools for Sawing
Once you’ve planned your project and measured your pieces, it’s time to get cracking with the saw. Here are the main hand tools you’ll need for this.
Also known as “handsaws”, a panel saw has a comfortable wooden handle and a long, thin saw blade.
It’s used to roughly dimension your lumber and will have one of two tooth configurations – “Cross Cut” saws are designed to cut across the grain, while “Rip” saws are for cutting along the grain. If you want to learn more about how wood grain works, check out Chapter Four: Lumber Selection.
Because the two saw types have such different purposes, a good workshop will need at least one of each. This is a very affordable tool and will come in handy all the time.
Back saws are hand tools for woodworking that requires a little more intricacy, as when you create a neat joint or dovetail. Their saw plate is topped with a brass or steel “back” designed to make the thin metal saw completely stiff.
A cheaper dovetail saw will work for a while if you’re on a tight budget, but woodworkers with a little more freedom to invest would benefit from buying three separate backsaws – a larger tenon saw, a dovetail saw and a “carcass saw”.
Miter Saw and Miter Box
Wood working hand tools like the miter saw are ideal for woodworkers who value accuracy. Miter saws are very large back saws that are combined with a miter box to cut wood at very accurate angles and lengths. The box provides a rigid saw frame through which the long saw glides back and forth.
The angles allowed by the miter box make it perfect for picture frames (miter joints) among other joint types. They’re a little more expensive than the standard panel saw, but still quite affordable.
Most woodworkers today choose to make their angled cuts using a power miter saw, which serves the same purpose at a higher speed. However, if you’re a purist who wants to use hand tools as much as possible a hand miter saw and miter box will serve you just as well.
See Chapter Six for everything you need to know about saws and sawing (coming soon).
Best Planing Hand Tools for Woodworking
Woodworking with hand tools can be a deeply relaxing process, and there are few tools more satisfying to use than a good hand plane. The following planes are a vital part of any toolbox:
Some planes will find a permanent home on your workbench because they’re used so often that there’s no point in storing them anywhere else. One of these is the Jack Handplane, a medium-sized plane that can be used for smoothing boards, rough stock removal and jointing board edges.
A Jack Plane is perfect to get your projects started, even if you do eventually invest in dedicated jointer and smoothing planes. What you’re looking for is a new, sharp, low-angle Jack Plane.
A woodworker’s workshop can’t be said to have its full complement of wood carving tools without a block plane. This tool is used to trim end grain, clean up components and put chamfers on board edges.
A low angle makes it easier to cut difficult grain, so once again you’ll be looking for a low-angle plane.
A rabbet plane should be toward the top of your list of wood working tools to buy, as rabbet joints are incredibly common in furniture making. Moving fillister planes, wooden and metal rabbet planes and shoulder planes can all be used to cut rabbets, but a wooden or metal moving fillister plane is likely the most useful option.
See Chapter Seven for more information on planes and planing (coming soon).
Best Gluing and Clamping Tools for Woodworking
Most of the tools for working wood are designed to cut, smooth or shape the wood in some way, but your woodworking project will most likely involve multiple pieces of wood that you’ll need to not only shape but join together in some way.
There are many different ways to join pieces of wood together, but sometimes you just can’t beat good old fashioned glue. And while you’re waiting for that glue to harden, you’ll need woodworking clamps to keep the piece still.
Beginner woodworkers are advised to invest in a handful of parallel or bar-type clamps as well as at least one quality 10-12 inch “hand screw clamp”. To avoid running into difficulty, make sure you have all the clamps you need before applying the glue.
Ratchet Bar Clamps
Ratchet bar clamps are a popular choice for woodworkers as they can easily be placed and removed by hand, and offer a sturdy hold on your working piece.
For more information, see Chapter Eleven: Gluing and Clamping (coming soon).
Other Essential Carpenter Tools
The ten tools listed above are enough to get you started on your basic projects like picture frames, bird boxes and even simple furniture. Once you’ve mastered them, you may want to expand your arsenal for more complex projects. Here are some hand tools that might come in handy later on.
- Coping Saw: These are useful for removing waste from dovetail joints (one of the more common wood joints) and are also good for cutting rough shapes in a board.
- Bench Chisel Set: Once you start using chisels, you’ll likely find a way to use them in every project.
- Mortise Chisel: These are used to chop rectangular holes (mortises) into the side of a board so a tenon can be inserted.
- Woodworking Compass: This is used to take a measurement and repeat it multiple times. A similar function is carried out by a Marking Gauge.
- Folding Rule: This is simply used to take measurements. It is slightly pricier than a tape measure, but a little handier and nicer to use.
- Marking Knife: A small blade used to mark points on your wood where you will be using a chisel or saw.
- Sharpening Supplies: Even the best joiner tool will go blunt eventually.
- Wooden Joiner’s Mallet: These are used to hit chisels when cutting joints – metal hammers should never be used for this purpose.
These DIY tools form the second part of your basic tool kit, and will allow you to take a good crack at any project you fancy. It’s also worth investing in a flat screwdriver for adjusting tools and a basic claw hammer for driving in nails – both of which are easy to come by and highly affordable.
Holding Your Work
Workholding instruments are one of the most overlooked types of woodworking tools, but nobody can work without them for long. Your bench vice is the focal point of your workbench, holding your piece still so you can work on it safely and accurately. Other workholding tools like a bench knife, cut nail or holdfast will also come in handy.
Other Popular Woodworking Hand Tools
The following tools aren’t as essential as those listed above, but will still come in handy for certain projects. You can buy most of them anywhere you find woodworking tools for sale.
- Utility Knife: This tool is perfect for scribing wood or cleaning out joints, and can cut a lot of lighter materials.
- Moisture Meter: Use this gadget to measure the moisture content levels of your wood. It comes in really handy when you’re selecting lumber (Chapter Four).
- Bubble Level: A spirit level is used to check if something is perfectly horizontal or vertical. You’ll need one of these if you want to put up any shelves.
- Nail Set: These are used to make a tiny dent in your lumber so that your nails won’t slip as you hammer them in.
- Caliper: This is another measurement tool that can be used to measure the outside of an object, the inside of an opening or the diameter of a hole or tube.
- Jig: Many woodworkers make their own jigs to get rid of the hassle of re-marking measurements and angles on every part of their project. They’re handy for projects requiring the same action multiple times. Also, they can be used alongside any number of different power tools, planes and wood cutting tools.
- Dovetail Jig: This popular jig is used to create classical dovetail joints in fine furniture, chests and drawers. It ensures that the corresponding dovetail cuts match perfectly by holding both workpieces at the same time.
- Feather Board: This is used to achieve a smooth cut by pushing your material past the cutting edge of your saw or other wood shaping tool.
- Metal Detector: This isn’t so much a hand tool as a way of protecting hand tools. For projects involving reclaimed or repurposed wood, nails, screws and other metal fragments hidden in your lumber can cause real damage. They might harm the working edges of your equipment and could even cause an injury. A metal detector can tell you in advance whether this will be an issue with your boards.
Once you’ve gathered all of your beginner woodworking tools, you’ll need something to use them on. Read on to learn all about selecting and sourcing lumber for woodworking in Chapter Four.