A set of basic woodworking tools are vital for woodworkers of any ability level. But for a beginning woodworker, first it’s important to know about the must have tools when building your kit.
In this article I’ll go over the basic woodworking tools for the budding woodworker. As part of this we’ll look at what they are and what woodworking projects they’re perfectly designed for. I’ll cover everything from measuring and cutting to finishing, joining and safety gear.
Hopefully by the end of the article you’ll have all the information you need to put together the perfect kit of basic woodworking tools. Proper planning of your toolkit at this point should see you through almost any woodworking project you come across in the future.
Measuring tools are fairly self-explanatory. You have different tools for measuring length, angles, and straight lines. It’s worth having one of each in your kit so you won’t be caught short when making accurate measurements.
For making general marks when measuring, the best tool you can use is a pencil. This allows you to remove any incorrect markings before cutting, and remove any leftover marks if necessary.
So here is a breakdown of the key measuring tools for woodworking.
A set square is used for measuring right angles. There are 2 types of set square: a tri square and a combination square.
A combination square consists of a metal straight edge (known as the beam) that has measurements on it. You then slide the head (or stock) along it. A combination square’s head usually has sides for 90-degree and 45-degree angles, along with a spirit level.
A tri set square, on the other hand, is usually just a fixed right angle. Some might have measurements on the stock, but many don’t.
What is a Set Square Used for?
A set square is used to measure angles when cutting joints and making furniture. The key to a set square is its accuracy, which is of course vital when cutting right-angled or 45-degree joints.
The benefit of having ruler markings on the beam is that it can be used for things such as:
Setting all types of circular saw blades.
Calibrating a table saw’s tilt.
The stock can be used as a stop for accurate joint measurements.
The stock also functions as a stop for drawing long layout lines.
Choosing and Using a Set Square
For an essential woodworking kit, I’d recommend going for a combination set square. It has so many uses other than marking angles for joinery that it’s definitely worth the money.
Find one with ruler markings on the beam and a spirit bubble in the stock for top accuracy.
You can watch this video on how to calibrate a set square for more use information.
Tape measures are one of the most fundamental measuring tools in woodworking. As you probably know, it’s simply used for measuring length when marking out cuts.
There are several different types of tape measure available for woodworking:
Retractable steel tape measures. The most common kind; they usually measure up to 30ft.
Reel tape measures. Generally made of fabric, but they can also be steel. They measure up to 100ft.
Folding rule. Also called zig-zag rules, these are made from rigid folding parts for easy transportation. They can also be used for estimating angles.
Straight edges. These are your typical ruler, and are simply a straight stick with measurements on it.
Choosing and Using a Tape Measure
While any of the above options are fine for woodworking, I’d recommend going with a retractable steel tape.
The benefit is that the tape stays rigid when extended, but folds away for convenient storage. Also, you can bend the tape into corners for accurate measurements, even in tight spaces.
Choosing a tape measure isn’t difficult, but make sure it’s a good length (30ft should be fine for most uses).
If possible, I’d recommend getting one with both imperial and metric markings, as this allows you to work in whatever units you’re presented with.
Tape measures doesn’t need to be expensive, but it’s worth investing in one that’s high quality because you’ll use it a lot.
A protractor is another tool for measuring angles. You might remember them from math lessons, and there’s no real difference between these and woodworking protractors.
You’ll often find protractors built in to miter and table saws too.
What is a Protractor Used for?
A protractor can measure angles up to 180 degrees, or 360 degrees if you get a foldable protractor.
Some even have digital screens for a high level of accuracy.
A woodworking protractor will often have a removable arm that also functions as a ruler. This is useful for drawing radial lines and marking bevel edges.
While a set square is great for marking 90-degree and 45-degree angles, a protractor is useful for measuring anything else. Therefore it’s worth having both in your woodworking toolkit.
Choosing a Protractor
When it comes to choosing a protractor, the best model depends on your experience level. For example, if you’re new to woodworking, a digital screen might be useful.
I’d recommend choosing a protractor that has a measuring arm, or going a step further and buying a miter saw protractor. These are circular and have 2 measuring arms.
A sliding bevel, also known as a T-bevel, is used for measuring angles. It’s made of 2 parts: the stock and the beam.
The stock is used as a stop, which you rest against the edge of the wood. The beam is the part you move to change the angle. The stock is locked in place with either a lever or a wing nut.
What is a Sliding Bevel Used for?
A sliding bevel functions much like a set square. But unlike a set square, which can measure at most 2 angles, a sliding bevel can be set to any angle.
You can also use it to duplicate and transfer angles. For example, you can set it to the right angle using a protractor and then transfer this to your material.
You can find more information on how to use a sliding bevel in this short video.
Choosing a Sliding Bevel
A sliding bevel’s stock can be made from wood, metal, or plastic. I’d recommend choosing a metal one, as this simply means better durability.
Perhaps the most important decision is the locking mechanism. Wing nuts are the most common, but you can also get sunken screws or cam locks.
Wing nuts are the most convenient, but do stop the sliding bevel from laying flush on the material. Sunken screws allow for this, but mean you need a screwdriver every time you want to adjust it.
A level cam lock is probably the best of both worlds, but ensure you buy from a reputable brand so it’s more likely to work properly.
Cutting tools are the bread and butter of any woodworking kit. For best results and accuracy, you’ll need a range of different tools for different types of cut.
Here are the key cutting tools in woodworking.
Regardless of all the power saws available, a hand saw is still one of the most fundamental hand tools many beginners add first to their collection. They’re more than just a basic tool, as hand saws come in many varieties:
Crosscut for going across the grain.
Ripping for cutting with the grain.
Combination for both cutting with and against the grain.
Backsaws are reinforced for miter cuts.
Carcase are stronger than backsaws.
Coping saw for curved cuts.
Dovetails are for dovetail joint work.
Keyhole saws are for cutting interior holes.
What is a Hand Saw Used for?
A handsaw is ideal for making quick yet accurate cuts to wood. They’re easy to transport and you don’t have to worry about finding a power socket or running out of battery.
That said, power saws are generally better for making longer and bigger cuts because they require less effort.
Choosing a Hand Saw
When choosing a handsaw for your essential toolkit, I’d recommend a combination saw. This will cover you for both rip cuts and crosscuts. For more precise work, such as curved cuts, stick with a power saw.
Go for the best quality you can afford on your budget. A good handsaw will last for years before it gets dull, so it’s definitely worth the investment.
Wood chisels the essential hand tool in joinery work, or any other woodworking project that requires shaving or paring.
The chisel market is massive, but they come in 3 main types:
Bench chisels. These are multipurpose chisels that are good all-rounders for both chopping and paring.
Mortise chisels. A mortise chisel is specifically for cutting mortise joints. They’re shaped to cut across the wood grain and can lever out waste material.
Paring chisel. As the name implies, these are for paring or slicing wood in delicate operations. You should only use them with your hands rather than a mallet.
What are Chisels Used for?
Chisels have a sharp beveled edge to cut out chunks of wood. Their use ranges from fine detail work and cleaning grooves to roughing out a design in wood.
They can be used to cut or expand joints, shave and trim wood, and cutting or shaping intricate designs. Chisels are arguably one of the most useful tools in any woodworking kit.
When choosing chisels for an essential woodworking kit, I’d recommend going for bench chisels. These are good for a variety of tasks and a set will have chisels of different sizes.
If you find you’re doing more specialist and detailed work in the future, you can upgrade to a more specific set.
Chisels have either wooden or plastic handles. Plastic handles are less expensive, but wooden handles provide better balance. Also, plastic handles are more durable, but the difference is negligible.
A jigsaw is a useful power tool that gets its name from the blade being mounted on a jig. This means it bounces up and down to make the cut.
What is a Jigsaw Used for?
A jigsaw is used to cut irregular shapes and angles in wood, such as stenciled patterns or curves. They provide more accurate cuts in these situations than any other power saw.
For example, you’d use a jigsaw to cut a curved edge on a countertop, or to cut scroll work into a decorative piece of wood.
You can also use a jigsaw to finish off inside corner cuts which hard to do neatly with other types of power saw.
A jigsaw is useful for making plunge cuts, which are the best way of starting an interior cut. For example, if you want to cut a circle out of the middle of some wood, a plunge cut with a jigsaw is ideal.
Choosing a Jigsaw
Choosing a good jigsaw isn’t too difficult; go with a recognized brand that you have faith in.
The harder part is choosing the right blades for the job. Woodworking requires side set teeth in that are either ground or milled depending on the type of cut.
A circular saw is one of the most essential power tools in a woodworker’s kit and is perfect for a range of cutting jobs.
What is a Circular Saw Used for?
A circular saw is designed to make quick and clean cuts through wood. It can be used for both rip cuts (along the grain of the wood fibers) and crosscuts (across the grain of the wood fibers) .It is also suitable to use on materials such as plywood and MDF.
Its function is very similar to table saws, but it has the benefit of being more portable.
Whereas with a table saw you feed the material through, you guide a circular saw through the stationary material.
While they’re fine for making freehand cuts through your material, but for accuracy it’s best to use a guide.
They can also be used for making bevel cuts, although you’ll have better accuracy with a table saw.
In short, a circular functions as a powered handsaw and is useful for a wide range of cutting jobs. If you buy any power tool for your kit, it should be this one.
Choosing a Circular Saw
I’d recommend buying a corded version for your essential toolkit, as it means greater power and cutting ability. It’s unlikely you’ll need the portability of a cordless saw at home.
As with a jigsaw, most of the research comes down to the blade type. This’ll depend on your job, but it won’t take you long to find the right type.
A table saw is is comprised of a stand, or table, through which a rotating saw blade protrudes. On the surface of the table is an adjustable fence which is used to guide the workpiece through the saw blade.
They tend to take up more room, and aren’t as portable as other cutting tools. However the speed and and accuracy that can be achieved make them a great addition to any woodworking shop.
What is a Table Saw Used for?
A table saw can perform almost any wood cutting job you need, including some with a high degree of accuracy. It’ll do the following:
Rabbets and grooves.
Joints (tenon, lap, dado, dovetail, etc.)
The benefit of a table saw for budding woodworkers is that it’s much easier to make accurate cuts because you just have to guide the material, rather than the tool.
Choosing a Table Saw
If you’re investing in a table saw, I recommend a 10” model. This will give you a good cutting range and the most blade options.
I’d also recommend finding a model with expandable sides, as this’ll mean you can cut larger pieces of material.
Similarly, blade adjustment and a side fence are key for accurate cutting at different angles.
While a circular saw is an essential tool, if you’ve got the space and the budget, it might be worth buying a table saw instead. As mentioned, these are easier for beginners because they guarantee greater accuracy.
Miter saws are stationary, table-mounted circular saws into which you clamp your workpiece against a fence. The saw blade is mounted on a pivoting head which is bought into contact with the work piece by pulling down on a handle.
What is a Miter Saw Used for?
Miter saws are designed to make crosscuts and miter cuts (angled cuts). It’s perfect for making quick precision cuts for things such as picture frames, furniture, or anything else that requires an angled join.
The benefit of miter saws is that you can lock the blade at an angle and make the same cut over and over again. This is great if you’re making repetitive cuts in a workshop.
You can also use a compound miter saw for making beveled and compound angle cuts, such as a board that’s angled across 2 planes (for example, skirting board or crown molding).
Finally, a they can handle trim work and flooring with ease. Again, the benefit is the lockable blade with complete adjustability over the angle.
Choosing a Miter Saw
Miter saws come in both stationary and sliding models. I’d recommend a compound sliding miter saw because it allows you to cut larger pieces of wood, at almost any angle you’ll need to.
When choosing a model, ensure it has all the necessary features, such as bevel adjustment, quick release blade locking, and even dust extraction.
A router is a more specialized woodworking power tool that can either be handheld or mounted onto a routing bench.
What is a Router Used for?
Routing means to hollow out, and this is what the tool does. It’s used for hollowing out an area within a piece of wood. Its uses can be broken down as follows:
Edging and trimming – cutting down lips (instead of a chisel).
Cutting grooves or rebates such as installing a new door hinge.
Making joints (for example, in place of a dovetail chisel).
Cutting plunge holes for interior cutting.
Beading and molding.
Cabinet making. Routers are ideal for almost all functional and decorative work when making cabinets.
In short, a router can do many of the same jobs as a chisel, but much faster and with less effort. It’s a perfect tool for beading and decorative woodwork.
Choosing a Router
I’d recommend sticking with a handheld router, as a table-mounted router is going to take up more room. But if you find yourself using it a lot, it might be worth upgrading.
There are hundreds of different router bits depending on the job at hand. For woodworking, high-speed steel should be fine, and just look out for the appropriately named bit for your job.
Shaping and Finishing Tools
After cutting your material, you’ll need to go through several stages of shaping and finishing. Here are the most important tools for this stage of woodworking.
Woodworking planes are used to smooth, flatten, or reduce the thickness of a piece of wood. They have a horizontal cutting edge that takes off shavings of wood when moved back and forth.
There are several different kinds, but the 2 most common are electric planes and hand planes.
Also called power planers, an electric plane does all of the above jobs but is powered rather than manual.
An electric plane has a shoe with depth adjustment, which is how you set the planing depth. Its blade spins around 20,000RPM to shave the wood down.
Importantly, an electric plane saves time over a manual version. But it’s also better for awkward jobs where the back and forth motion of a manual plane would be difficult.
For example, a power planer would be perfect for smoothing ceiling joists, as this requires working at a difficult angle.
Check out this video for all the information you need on how to use an electric planer.
A hand plane is the most recognizable form of plane. They’re the last one you’d use on your material as it takes off very small shavings to leave a smooth finish. As the name suggest, hand planes are manual and used with both hands.
There are many different types of hand plane:
Bull Nose Plane
Which types of plane you need in your toolkit will depend on the types of woodworking you’re looking to do. Check out this great guide for more details on each kind of hand plane.
It’s worth having a smoothing plane and electric plane in your kit, as the electric one won’t provide as smooth a finish.
Files are useful for a number of finishing jobs in woodworking, but can also be used for roughing out if necessary.
What are Hand Files Used for?
Files consist of a steel bar with teeth cut into one or more of its long surfaces. They’re designed to remove small amount of material from wood, but can also be used in metalwork.
You’d use a hand file instead of a plane when you don’t need a completely smooth surface. But you can also use files for:
Shaping the surface.
Removing excess wood.
Roughing out a design.
Files come in various levels from coarse to fine. A good beginner’s set should have a range of finishes, and the finest can be used in place of sandpaper.
Rasps are coarser than files, and scrape away the material rather than filing it. But it’s useful to own a rasp alongside your hand file set.
Random Orbital Sander
Random orbital sanders are to sandpaper what power saws are to handsaws. In short, they’ll save you loads of time.
What is a Random Orbital Sander Used for?
Random orbital sanders are used to finish and smooth out a piece of wood. The name refers to the fact that the speed and angle of the sander are variable.
You’d use an electric sander for large surfaces, such as in:
Furniture making to finish pieces before and after construction.
Cabinet making for the same application.
As you can see, the key to a random orbital sander is that it makes light work of large surfaces. The benefit over a belt sander is that this machine is handheld and portable.
Random orbital sanders use sandpaper disks that come in a variety of grains, meaning it’s well suited to almost every sanding task.
Choosing a Random Orbital Sander
Choosing a good model isn’t difficult, but just ensure that it’s a suitable size for available sandpaper disks. The most widely available size is 5”, so that’s your best option.
Some models have built-in dust extraction, and in my opinion this is a big help for larger jobs.
Sandpaper sheets are a must-have in any toolkit, even if you’ve got a random orbital sander.
What are Sandpaper Sheets Used for?
Sandpaper sheets are used for sanding and finishing wood surfaces. They come in a variety of grains from coarse to fine, which are suitable for different jobs.
Coarse is ideal for taking off more of the material but make deeper scratches in the material.
Fine sandpaper is better suited to finishing off your material or for removing planer marks and will leave less visible scratch marks.
Sandpaper grits are numbered: 120 and 150 grit are coarse to medium, anything above 150 is fine.
If you’re going to stain or oil the wood, be careful what grit you use. The dust will clog up the wood’s pores, meaning it’ll take less of the finish.
For oil, stop around 180.
For stain or dye, 220 is fine.
320 will give the smoothest finish but it won’t take much stain.
If you’re planning on building furniture such as chairs, a spokeshave will be a necessary tool.
What is a Spokeshave Used for?
A spokeshave is designed to turn flat or squared edges into rounded ones. Its traditional applications included chair legs, cart wheels, and bows.
Its design isn’t far off a planer, and it does a similar job. A spokeshave (unsurprisingly) shaves off pieces of the material, but at concave or convex angles.
You’ll use a spokeshave most often during furniture making for creating decorative curved edges, such as on bookshelves or chairs. Although not a common tool, it’s still the best thing for this kind of job.
Just be sure to choose the right bevel and to properly tune your tool for the job at hand.
When it comes to building anything out of wood, a good set of joining tools is a must. As they’re essential to well-built and long-lasting projects, invest in a good set.
Choosing the right hammer might seem like the simplest task in assembling your woodworking kit, but it’s more complex than you might think.
What is a Hammer Used for?
In short, a hammer is used to hit things. This can either be driving nails or tacks into wood, marking with a punch, or using a chisel.
The 2 types you’ll want to invest in are:
A nail hammer.
A wooden mallet.
A nail hammer is your typical metal-headed hammer for driving in nails and tacks. A claw hammer also includes a claw for removing nails so makes a good all-round tool.
A wooden mallet is better for using with chisels and other finishing tools. You can also use a mallet for:
Assembling or taking apart joints.
The reason a mallet is better for these jobs is because it’s softer. This means that you won’t damage the wood when assembling a joint, or leave any marks.
A mallet is better for striking chisels because the larger, flat surface area ensures a cleaner hit. Also, a metal hammer can damage a chisel’s handle, which you don’t want after investing in a good set.
Choosing a Hammer
Choosing a wooden mallet is easy: just go for a good quality, large model.
Choosing a nail hammer depends on your intended task. For all-round woodwork, a 16oz or 20oz claw hammer is fine.
For more delicate tasks, such as cabinetry, a 12oz or 13oz is better.
I’d recommend opting for a wooden handle if possible because it absorbs shock better and can be replaced when necessary. This ensures you get the most use out of your tool.
A nail gun is basically an electric hammer and makes quick work of hammering tasks.
What is a Nail Gun Used for?
A nail gun simply drives nails into wood quickly and easily. Most either use compressed air or electromagnetism. But some use butane or propane.
You’ll need a different type of nail gun depending on the job at hand, but the most common types include framing nail guns (for construction) and finishing nail guns (for lighter projects).
A nail gun is useful for any job that involves hitting in lots of nails. It’ll save you loads of time over the manual option of a hammer.
However, I’d recommend sticking with the manual option for delicate tasks such as decorative and hobby projects. Sometimes you just can’t beat the traditional methods.
Choosing a Nail Gun
Choosing a nail gun will depend on your project. For general all-round woodworking, either a finisher or brad nail gun will be the best choice.
I suggest watching this video on how to choose a nail gun for more information.
Like hammers, you might think you’ve got drills in the bag. But choosing the right one takes a bit of thought.
What are Power Drills Used for?
Drills are used to make round holes in a piece of wood. You’ll generally then use these holes for inserting screws or dowels, or as pilot holes for other purposes.
While many people still use manual drills, it’s worth opting for a power drill. They double up as electric screwdrivers, which is another useful woodworking tool.
You can also get a drill press, which are table-mounted drills. But a handheld power drill is more versatile and portable.
Choosing a Drill
The main decision you’ll need to make when choosing a drill is whether to go corded or cordless.
In my opinion, corded is better because it guarantees more consistent power. If you’re only working at home, there’s little danger of you not having a power socket spare.
An impact driver is a type of drill, similar to a hammer drill (but for woodworking).
What is an Impact Driver Used for?
Impact drivers are also used for making holes and driving in fasteners. But they have much higher torque, combined with rotational tapping. This helps to move the fastener in quicker while keeping the screw bit in place.
Think of holding a wrench on a bolt that you’re tightening. You hit the end of the wrench with a hammer for a bit of extra force while holding it in place. This is basically what an impact driver does.
An impact driver isn’t for fine projects where you’re working with small fastenings and delicate joins.
Where it does excel, though, is in fast-paced construction such as:
Building lumber frames.
Impact drivers are also great for drilling large holes with ease, such as ½” or wider.
Choosing an Impact Driver
Much like with a drill, the biggest choice will be between corded and cordless. Again, my opinion is to stick with corded when building an essential woodworking kit for home use.
If you do go cordless, a smaller motor will mean a lighter tool and fewer battery changes.
Clamps come in all shapes and sizes depending on the application, and choosing a set for your kit can seem a bit overwhelming.
What are Clamps Used for?
Clamps are used to fasten or secure objects to one another using pressure. Common uses include holding material in place during cutting, or applying pressure to a freshly glued joint.
The most common types of clamps are:
Trigger clamps – good all-rounders.
C clamps – greater clamping power than trigger clamps.
F clamps (bar clamps) – come in a wide range of sizes.
Parallel clamps – good for cabinet joinery.
Clamps come in a wide variety of sizes, but some can accommodate more material than others. For example, trigger clamps can’t open that wide, whereas bar clamps can reach 8ft or more.
When choosing clamps, trigger clamps are good for thinner material or holding wood in place while cutting. A set of 4 should do.
With the others, choose sets based on the size you think you need. Parallel clamps are best for cabinets and furniture, but go as big as you want with them.
No basic woodworking kit is complete without the right safety gear. It might be easy to overlook some of these things, but they’ll be worth it in the long run.
Safety goggles are designed to protect your eyes from dust and debris. It’s important to get a pair that fit well and are comfortable, particularly if you’re wearing them for extended periods.
Ensure the lenses are scratch-resistant and ideally anti-fog. This’ll mean you won’t have any problems with visibility later down the line.
Foam lining is best for comfort, particularly around the nose.
Some models have tilting lenses that’ll protect you at all angles. If you can find a pair, I recommend these.
Like your eyes, your ears can easily be damaged by prolonged woodworking. Hearing protection is most important when working with power tools.
I’d recommend earmuffs over earplugs, but the choice is up to you.
Earmuffs are more comfortable for extended periods and won’t risk damaging your delicate eardrums.
A dust mask prevents you from inhaling fine sawdust when sawing or sanding. They come in many different types, including reusable and disposable.
The most suitable for woodworking are:
FFP1 – easiest breathing but least resistance to non-toxic particles.
FFP2 – protects against fumes and smaller particles. Some include activated charcoal.
FFP3 – the highest level of protection against all airborne particles.
I’d recommend opting for a reusable mask over disposable. Not only do reusable ones offer better dust protection, but they’re also better for the environment.
Considering your hands are often in the firing line when woodworking, proper protection is a must.
Leather or canvas are the best choices because they’re resistant to cuts but are flexible enough to accommodate fine work.
Make sure you get a pair that fit well; loose gloves can be more hazardous than no gloves at all!
Even if you wear a dust mask, dust extraction is a good idea. If nothing else it’ll stop your work area from becoming too messy.
Some power tools come with their own dust extraction, but it’s perfectly easy to build your own.
Whether you install a premade model or design your own, be sure to include a way of discharging static electricity. It builds up as the wood dust travels along plastic piping and can be a big fire hazard.
Some Final Thoughts
Hopefully this list has given you some useful information on building your basic woodworking tool kit. I consider everything on this list to be essential in its own right, regardless of the type of projects you’re planning.
Putting this kit together will probably take a bit of time and a lot of money. If your budget won’t stretch to everything in one go then think about what are the most essential.
Again, this’ll depend on what kind of projects you have planned.
Do you agree with what I’ve included here? Do you think I’ve missed out anything you’d consider essential? Let me know in the comments below!