Thursday, September 1, 2016

First Tools for Hand Tool Woodworkers

Quick answer: There isn't a quick and simple answer like with power tools. Hand work requires more tools, there is no way around. This list is meant for the beginning woodworker that wants to primarily use hand tools. There will be a separate article on hand tools for woodworkers using a mix of power and hand tools.

Long answer:  I will break this down into categories beginning with milling rough stock and continuing on until finishing. People choose the hand tool route to avoid noise and fine dust; other times they wish to save money. Saving money isn't a good reason to go hand tool only. Sure, you can buy inexpensive hardware store tools meant for Harry Homeowner to use twice then rust into oblivion but for woodworking those tools will lead to frustration and poor results. If woodworking is to be your hobby, don't suck the fun out of it by using crappy tools. You don't have to buy top of the line tools but you should buy tools meant for professionals. I know that many get frustrated by this advice and feel like we don't know what it's like to be on a limited budget. Well I assure you I do know. When I started woodworking I had to save months just to buy a saw. And during that time I gave in and bought some tools that were cheap and frustrating and made me second guess being a woodworker. The only legitimate way to save money on hand tools is buy vintage tools from a time when portable power tools didn't exist or were uncommon. Put some elbow grease into those vintage tools and they will perform equal (or nearly so) to anything you can buy today. There are entire websites dedicated to buying vintage tools and it's too big a subject for this article. 

Breaking down rough stock: Many people, even hand tool advocates, use machinery for breaking down and milling because it's tedious, hard work. Way back in time before portable power tools, stock was usually milled prior to being sold to cabinet shops. Tools for breaking down and milling rough stock will be coarser than finish tools. We will assume you are buying rough boards from the lumberyard. If you are starting from a tree then you are beyond the scope of this article.
Rough cutting/breaking down rough boards
  • 4 tpi rip panel saw, 24" or longer (5 or 5-1/2 tpi is acceptable)
  • 5-7 tpi crosscut panel saw, 24" or longer (optional; you can delay purchase and use a finer crosscut saw but you will dull your fine saw quicker)
  • Tape Measure (I prefer 16' Stanley Powerlock. I've tried other brands and styles, the Powerlock always wins.)

Dressing/milling: Making the lumber usable
  • 6-7 tpi rip panel saw (Optional, you can delay purchase)
  • 11-12 tpi crosscut panel saw
  • #5 jack plane for flattening and light thicknessing
  • #7 jointer plane for truing edges
Layout: These are tools for planning and layout before cutting to final dimensions.
  • Combination Square: A combination square will provide a ruler, 90°, 45°, crude depth gauge, and level. This will be a go-to reference tool in your shop. Many find the 6" to be the most commonly used. You can buy an American made PEC Blem from Harry Epstein or Taylor Toolworks for around $30 (as of 2016). Blue Point, Starrett, Brown and Sharpe, and Mitutoyo also make quality squares. Vintage Lufkin are also good quality. 
  • Bevel Gauge for angles
  • Marking Knife or Pencil (eventually you'll want a knife)
  • Marking Gauge (I prefer blade styles. Pins want to follow the grain.)

Final Cuts and Finishing

  • Clamps, you can never have too many... short, med, long, bar, C, spring, all sorts, all sizes, all useful. Buy 'em as you need 'em. 
  • Sandpaper and sanding blocks 
  • Bench Hook
  • Workbench: A woodworking bench is more than a table, it is a work holding device, a big flat vise and a hand tool woodworker can't do without one. This should be one of your first projects.
  • Miter Box

note; some links in this article are Amazon Affiliate and I will get a small percentage from Amazon if you buy using the link. The opinions are my own and not influenced in any way by outside parties.