Which Are the Best Hand Tools for Woodworkers?
If you’re in the woodworking business or you just want to start woodworking, then there are a couple of hand tools that you must have in your arsenal. While you can always go with power tools when working with lumber, we’ll only be focusing on the best hand tools in this article.
With that said, woodworking hand tools are generally rather expensive and knowing what you need is not as clear and straightforward as it may seem. Furthermore, when the devices are so costly, knowing the best woodworking tools to start with and which ones to get later on in your journey will go a long way in saving you money.
You might be tempted to go with power tools instead, but before you make such a decision, we highly recommend you read this article first as you’ll soon realize that you won’t have to spend so much to get started. We’ll be going over the list of the best woodworking tools you’ll need to start.
While the answer to the question of which woodworking hand tools to get might vary depending on where you’re coming from, we tried to come up with a list that will suit each and everyone who wants to start making things by hand. Whether you’re all new to woodworking, or you’re switching from power tools to hand tools, you’re inevitably going to get something out of this.
And now, without further ado, let us dive straight into the list of the best hand tools that you can add to your tool box.
Best Hand Tools for Woodworkers:
- A Jack plane (Stanley no. 5 to be more specific)
- A hand saw (backless saw roughly around 26 inches long)
- 1/4, 3/8 as well as one-inch chisels
- A Back Saw
- A Coping Saw
- A Marking Gauge
- A Square
- Stones, sandpaper or any kind of sharpening set up.
Best Hand Tools for Woodworkers:
If you’re looking for a toolbox that can help you keep your equipment together for any away-from-home projects or even some yard chores, then you should get yourself a compact-sized toolbox. You don’t want to keep carrying around a big box, and you don’t want to keep packing your equipment every time you have to move them around with you. This Stanley product can take care of this issue for you. Seeing how it’s a bag, you can easily store it when you’re not using it. Quite convenient, isn’t it?
You might think that the nature of the bag’s walls will leave your tools vulnerable to the surrounding elements, but in fact, the padding that the bag comes with is strong enough to protect your equipment from mild hits. The bottom is equipped with rubber foam to protect the interior when the kit comes in hard contact with any given surface. You’re getting six outer pockets as well, three on each side, to store small tools if you’d like. The broader sack on one side has a heavy-duty, reliable Velcro flap to hold stuff inside, which adds to the sturdiness of Stanley’s tool bag. On the inside, the Stanley bag has five pockets of various sizes on one side, and one sack the whole length of the bag on the other.
Want even better news? All of that comes at a really affordable price, which means that you can get several bags and categorize your tools according to their uses.
Topping our list of the best hand tools is the jack plane, which will act as your one and only hand plane. It is used to flatten rough boards as well as make the finish ready. If you want to make heavy stock thickening and removal, we recommend you use a second plane and couple it with a big 8- to 10-inch radius cambered. Alternatively, you can clip off the blade’s corners and use the plane for medium to fine work instead. The Jack plane’s length should do the trick for the majority of furniture sized parts as well as preparing them for finishing.
This plane can be used to shoot board ends, taper table legs, plane bevels as well as a plethora of other tasks. We recommend you don’t skimp on the Jack plane as it is an essential tool in your arsenal that you’ll be using. When you buy a cheap Jack plane, you’ll be hampering the quality of your work, so we strongly advise against it. Even though spending $200 to $300 on a good Jack plane might seem like a hefty investment at first, it is one that you won’t regret as it will return its value in spades later on when you start making your own things.
Having a well tuned and high-quality Jack plane not only makes for a smoother end product, but it will also make your woodworking experience a lot smoother than if you were to use a cheap Jack plane. That is why we highly recommend you read up on this particular tool, so you get the most out of it.
Each woodworker that is worth his salt must be familiar with their instruments and tools, and this cannot be overstated when it comes to the jack plane. Just keep it adequately tuned and sharpened, and you’ll understand why it’s one of the best woodworking tools that you can own.
When you’re starting out, all you’re going to need are 1/4-, 3/8- and one-inch chisels. We recommend going with vintage chisels. When it comes to the setup process, it is a rather simple but crucial thing to learn. When you’re woodworking, the exact detail and types of steel are not really that important to know. A 200-year-old chisel is just as good as a new one. Steel is rather easy to sharpen and maintain. When it comes to your options on the market, you can go ahead and buy premium made chisels for $50 a piece, or if you’re running a tight budget, you can buy all three chisels for just $25 or $35 on the vintage market.
The chisels will be your main tools for refining shape as well as joinery. You won’t need to do any heavy chopping aside from when you’re cutting mortises which is why we recommend you by 1/4 and 3/8 sizes since they’ll be able to fit into almost any mortise you want to cut. The one-inch chisel will act as your problem solver. You’ll mainly be using it as a paring chisel in order to refine a half lap or tenon’s fit.
It’s easy to see why we’ve included chisels in our list of the best hand tools. What’s so great about them is how versatile they are as tools. Any woodworker worth his salt should know how to use and handle their chisels properly, and that’s why they made it to our “best woodworking tools” list.
A common misconception among people would be to call this a panel saw. While panel saws don’t have a back, not every saw without a back is a panel saw. In fact, a panel saw is a special kind of backless saw that is around 18 to 14 inches long with more teeth. Panel saws are optimal for parts that are ¾ or thinner; this means that you can use it for woods that have been planed on all four sides. If you try and cut a rough saw 4/4 limber with a panel saw, you’ll soon realize that the process is rather slow and the saw is inefficient.
On the other hand, when we talk about a hand saw, we are referring to a saw that is 24 to 28 inches long and has a lower pitch, which makes them more fit for sawing throw thicker wood. When you’re starting out you shouldn’t go into too much detail about which specific type of hand saw you should get, as all kinds can be among your best hand tools. However, keep in mind that there are rip filed and crosscut saws. Going into too much detail is not necessary at this point. When it comes to the pitch, you’ll find that rip saws are pitched around 5 TPI while crosscut saws are pitched around 8 TPI. For those just starting out, we recommend going with a crosscut saw as it is more beginner-friendly and more forgiving since it cuts slower and cleaner than a rip saw. Once you’re comfortable with the sawing process, then you can move on to using rip saws which are quicker but require more experience for efficient handling.
Not unlike the Jack plane, you’ll need to invest in a decent hand saw as it is one of the best tools for woodworkers, one that will stay with you throughout your woodworking projects. Unfortunately, getting a hand saw is not as simple as it sounds as there are no modern manufacturers that make them. Instead, you’ll find panel saws on the regular market which are not the same as we explained the difference earlier on. However, you should be able to find a decent hand saw at an antique tool market. Just make sure you’re getting a hand saw from a reputable tool dealer. After you buy a hand saw, aka the best hand tool for woodworkers, you should get it sharpened and readied up. Numerous people are willing to offer this service, so this part shouldn’t be as much of a hassle as getting the actual saw.
While a workman’s worth is not measured by his tools, saws seem to be an exception to this rule. You’d be surprised at how big of a difference a good saw can make. Having the right saw will make even a novice workman seem like a pro as a good saw will hide bad technique and also compensate for it. When it comes to how much you should be spending, we’d recommend spending no less than $50 on the saw itself and an additional $50 to get it set up. This $100 will give you a tool that will stay by your side, and that will not fail you for years to come! Talk about the best hand tools that will actually last, huh?
With that said, if you’re really struggling to find a vintage hand saw, there is an easier and cheaper alternative. You can find ‘hard point’ saws being sold on many home centers. These saws usually have unusual tooth geometry that resembles a Japanese saw and will usually run you around $25. However, note that this should not be considered a permanent solution, rather a band-aid fix that will carry you a bit UNTIL you find a good vintage hand saw. In fact, this hardpoint saw can be a real pain to work with as they tend to be very slow and they also get clogged quickly. They are just a last resort solution, which is why they’re not among our recommendations for the best hand tools.
The backsaw will be your precision saw. You’re going to be using it for cutting joinery as well as cutting small parts. You’re going to need to properly set it up in order to produce joints that won’t require any extra work. When it comes to precision and accuracy, the back saw is one of the best woodworking tools that you’re ever going to use.
There are numerous different types of backsaws which might seem confusing at first. There are Tenon, Carcass, Sash, Dovetail, and many others. These are all different depth and length configurations. Each type of backsaw has its own use and strengths. However, when you’re starting out, you can just get yourself a carcass saw since it should be enough for most of the things you’ll be doing. A carcass saw is a crosscut filled saw that has medium depth and length. That means that you’ll be able to saw tenons, dovetails, and anything in between.
Just like the Jack plane, you shouldn’t skimp on this tool. Even if you already own an old backsaw, we still recommend you buy a new one. However, you won’t have to go through such a hassle in order to obtain one as numerous manufacturers make great backsaws.
With that said, there is no amount of money that you MUST pay in order to get a good saw. It will ultimately depend on your budget. Just make sure that you buy the back saw from a reputable manufacturer, and you should be all good to go. You also have the option of buying from the vintage market.
If you end up with a lousy back saw, you’ll grow to hate woodworking with all of the frustration it’s going to cause you, so make sure you do proper research before buying a back saw from anywhere.
The coping saw is not really a must-have tool if you’re not going to be introducing curves into your designs. However, it can be rather helpful if you want to remove the waste on dovetails. Adding curves to your designs drastically changes them, mostly for the better, of course, which is why the coping saw is one of the best woodworking tools that you can have in your workplace.
With that said, you need to be careful when you’re sawing the saws as you’ll need to be meticulous about cleaning them up for finishes. For this process, you can use sandpaper, or files and rasps depending on the complexity of the task.
These tools will be essential for ensuring that you stay accurate and your pieces turn out straight and symmetrical. Now, there are plenty of marking and layout tools you can use in your work. However, for starters, you’ll mostly need a marking gauge and a square. You can’t go with a combo square as it will allow you to slide and lock the rule to your liking which gives you some much-needed freedom and flexibility.
The marking gauge is a must have if you want to have repeatability to your designs. The easiest marking tools to use are probably wheel gauges. They are also quite cheap. Additionally, you can get some vintage marking gauges. Getting multiple marking gauges is not a bad idea too as it will allow you to keep track of numerous marking gauges at the same time throughout your project. In short, layout and marking gear are among the best woodworking tools, so make sure to add some of them to your arsenal.
Last but not least on our list of the best hand tools, you should get yourself some sharpening gear.
There are plenty of options available on the market. However, there is no single right set up. The equipment you get for yourself will ultimately depend on your personal preference. Knowing this, you’ll have to experiment with different setups until you figure out what works best with you. There are those that prefer to use knives to sharpen wood while others tend to favor sharpening wheels, stone or paper.
With that said, the sharpening tools might run you a bit of money. However, you can’t skimp on the sharpening gear as it’s as important as the wood itself.
What to Do Next
After you’ve bought the best hand tools that we mentioned above, you should be able to start making wood pieces by hand. If you find yourself utterly confused with the choices, don’t hesitate to check our buying guides, in which we do all the heavy lifting for our users. Just keep in mind that this list only involves the basic tools you need to start working. Later on, as you’ll gain more experience and get more familiar with your devices, you’ll naturally start thinking of expanding your arsenal to allow for more creative freedom and breathe more life into your projects.
Best Hand Tools for Woodworking: Final Thoughts
Power tools can set you back a darn pretty dollar, especially when you’re just starting out, which is why we researched the best hand tools that can help you get your foot in the door the right way.
If we missed any tools that you deem vital for beginners, make sure to let us know. There are so many tools that you can work with, which made writing this list that extra hard for us. We tried to include everything that is rudimentary without overwhelming newcomers and dissuading them from converting to using hand tools.
Till the next article, adios, woodworkers. Remember to stay safe, and happy woodworking!
- Our own experience