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Essential Woodworking Hand Tools

By Editorial Staff

There are certain essential woodworking hand tools that belong in any garage or shop.

This list contains my “must haves” of non-power tools. It’s in no particular order. To use any tool well, you need good instructions. The Woodworkers Guild of America offers excellent videos, projects and plans that will allow you to put any of these tools to good work.

10. Square

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A square excels at one thing: it lets you mark a straight line on a piece of lumber. Slap the square on a 2X4 or 2X6 and you have the perfect edge to mark a line with your pencil. In the hands of a skilled carpenter, a square can do all sorts of complicated framing measurements. But for most of us, the square is simply indispensable for cutting in a straight line – and instructional woodworking DVDs and videos will help you perfect your hand tool skills.

9. Tape Measure

Tape Measure

Always necessary, most tape measures are inexpensive enough to get two or three. As one of the most practical tools invented, they get borrowed frequently, so be sure to have one in reserve. Fun fact: some tape measures are lefty friendly. Woodcraft sells a “Lefty/Righty 16’ tape measure that can be read from either side of the tape.

8. Level


A level is so basic to woodworking and carpentry that it hardly needs describing. There’s no quicker way to tell if your work is true than with a level. Treat your woodworking levels well and don’t drop them or otherwise do anything to knock them out of kilter. Lengths vary according to your job and they come in wood or aluminum.

7. Handsaw


Even with a roomful of power tools, every woodworker has at least one general purpose handsaw. Good handsaws are expensive but basic saws less so. Keep the blade lightly oiled to prevent rust. Make sure the mounting bolts securing the blade to the handle can be retightened as needed. Better blades can be replaced when necessary, however, sharpening them is a skill well worth learning and the mark of a good woodworker.

6. Miter box and saw

Miter box and saw

What the handsaw is to big cuts, the miter box and saw is to small cuts. These kits let you precisely cut small lumber and molding at a variety of angles. Although power miter saws are indeed wonderful, you’ll find yourself going back to a miter box and saw for many of your small woodworking projects.

5. Planes


A block plane is another indispensable hand tool. It takes off material from boards and lumber that don’t fit precisely. Aligning a door is a perfect example. You may have framed up your door opening as well as possible, but when you go to install the door you find it’s catching a little. Shaving down just a small amount of wood with a plane will let you precisely fit that door to its opening. Cabinet and window frame work invariably call for a plane. Good ones are heavy and worth the cost.

4. Clamps


“You can never have enough clamps.” That old adage can be ascribed to woodworkers everywhere. Besides holding your work, clamps are essential for gluing boards together. A simple box or a picture frame demands clamping. You can’t use nails and screws for everything, especially if you want to do fine work. Clamps come in a bewildering variety, from basic “C” clamps, to clamps that work with pipe to span long distances. Ask your woodworking supplier for their recommendations for your project.

3. Carpenter Pencil

Carpenter Pencil

A common Number 2 pencil is no good for woodworking. The point will break immediately on any kind of rough wood. A carpenter pencil is flat or mostly so, so that it doesn’t roll off a table. Sharpened with most any kind of pocket knife, the broad lead tip will give you a nice, easy to read line on your work. Buy several so you’ll always have one nearby.

2. Hammer


What would a shop be without a hammer? A framing hammer and a claw hammer are the most common. Framing hammers are heavier, often 20 oz., and are meant for rough work. Their face is often textured. You wouldn’t want to use a framing hammer on finish work because they may mar your project. Normal claw hammers are 16 oz. in weight and can be swung all day, although they don’t deal well with bigger nails and lumber. My suggestion? Get both!

1. A Vise

A Vise

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While not necessarily a hand tool, a vise is indispensable for any shop. Kinds vary and you’ll need to do some research on what’s best for you. But an all-around, all-purpose vise will serve you well on your workbench until you decide later that you need something particular.

by Info Guru Thomas Farley


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