Last Updated on 2022-04-04 by Harry Masterton
If you want to know how to get started In hand tool woodworking the right way without making costly mistakes from the start use these must follow essential tips
A common theme throughout the articles that I and the others here with the woodshop hobby team write is enjoying yourself. While some might maintain gainful employment from the wood crafts, most pursue it for pleasure. One way that you can gain a greater appreciation for the hobby is through traditional hand tool woodworking.
How To Get Started In Hand Tool Woodworking
In today's world of power tools, you might wonder how to get started in hand tool woodworking. Let me answer that by answering these two questions:
What tools do I need to get started in woodworking?
What tools does a beginner woodworker need?
What tools do I need to get started in woodworking?
Our hobby involves shaping wood into items we can enjoy in one form or another. Like power tools, traditional hand tools help you measure, cut, drill, shape, and fasten pieces of wood. A tape measure, hand saw, brace & bit, chisel, and mallet are my shortlist for how to get started in hand tool woodworking.
What tools does a beginner woodworker need?
At first glance, you might think we answered this question above. There is more to this type of woodworking tool, however.
Beyond constructing the most simple items, you will need a dedicated work surface. A workbench allows you to secure pieces as you work, providing for greater accuracy, efficiency, and safety. The work surface can include a bench vise, clamps, or pegs (called bench dogs) to secure wood as you shape or glue pieces.
Learning how to get started in hand tool woodworking will include using tools to clean rough-sawn surfaces. Hand planes are the choice for most traditional woodworkers. Also, experience has shown me that using tools to score the grain produces cleaner cut lines and creates a channel to guide saw teeth.
Woodworking Hand Tools List
When looking for a essential woodworking hand tools list to get started with hand tool woodworking, most hobbyists purchase hand tools for a specific project or several similar tools at once. We have used both approaches in the past and find that building a woodworking hand tools list one project at a time is more effective.
Woodworking Hobby Shop – Recommended Woodworking Hand Tools List
- Woodworkers bench or the best portable workbench
- Woodworkers tape measure
- Woodworkers try square
- Woodworking marking gauge
- Woodworking marking knife
- Woodworkers pencil
- Woodworking saws
- Miter box
- Woodworking chisel set
- Woodworking mallet
- Woodworking Hammer
- Hand drill for woodworking
- Woodworking drill bits
It allows you to build your essential woodworking starter tool kit with tools you will use right away. You can focus on buying the best tools you can afford, as high-quality tools make it easier as you learn how to get started in hand tool woodworking.
Also, you need to care for your woodworking starter tool kit. Proper maintenance, like sharpening, will turn woodworking tools to get started with into go-to hand tools for years to come. Cleaning, polishing, sharpening, and adjusting hand tools can also improve the tool's performance and make them safer to use.
Bench or Folding Portable Work Bench
When I was learning how to get started in hand tool woodworking and build my first serious woodworking project, a decision between buying a workbench or building a traditional woodworking bench was required. I could go to the big box store and buy something like one of the Keter workbenches or build one from woodworking bench plans free on the internet.
The advantage of buying a Kreg portable workbench (or other brands) is how easy they are to use and that you can work on other projects right away. Something like the Worx Pegasus multi function work table sets up quickly, is safe to use, and can be stored when not in use.
The best woodworking workbench makes shop-life easy and safe. Picking an antique woodworking bench or a portable design usually comes down to time and money.
Woodworkers Tape Measure or Folding Woodworkers Edge Ruler
As you are learning how to get started in hand tool woodworking, one item you will depend on continuously is your tape measure or edge ruler. We feel that the best tape measure for woodworkers should:
- Measure at least six-feet in length;
- Have 1/8-inch markings at minimum;
- Be usable with one hand.
Woodworkers tape measure
I have used several metal ribbon tapes over the years for the shop and home, and the best tape measure for woodworkers is 25-foot in length. That allows you to measure woodworking projects in the shop and help with home projects like centering wall anchors.
The only time I have found a tape measure lacking is when I measure interiors on boxes or shelving.
Woodworkers edge ruler
As you research how to get started in hand tool woodworking, you might find many traditional woodworkers using various edge ruler designs, including folding rulers.
I like using folding rulers when measuring project interiors since I can measure corner to corner. They can also be easier to control one-handed, which is handy when you are marking.
Woodworking Try Square – Choosing The Best Woodworking Try Square
A woodworking square is a measuring device you will discover when researching how to get started in hand tool woodworking. The most accurate try square designs are precision crafted to provide two straight edges that meet at a right angle. One of the edges is thicker, allowing you to butt it against the wood's edge.
The best try square for woodworking will allow you to:
- Accurately layout right angles;
- Create 45-degree angles from the edge.
At a minimum, a woodworking square sits along an edge to create right angles. The best try square for woodworking will also include an angle on the thick edge that you can butt at 45-degrees. I find a try square great for marking lines for crosscuts, and the most accurate try square will create a perfect guideline as long as the edge you use is square.
Many of us found this layout tool indispensable when learning how to get started in hand tool woodworking. My best woodworking try square still gets used even when working with power tools, and I have watched pros use it to guide saws.
Woodworking Marking Gauge
A wood marking gauge is something many power tool users are not familiar with as they learn how to get started in hand tool woodworking. It uses a fence to hold a pin or cutting wheel a predetermined distance from the edge of a piece of lumber. There are two types of woodworking marking gauge designs:
- Standard wood marking gauge: Uses a single arm with pin/cutting wheel;
- Mortise marking gauge: Uses two arms with pins/cutting wheels.
You will find an adjustment knob that allows you to loosen the fence, allowing you to move the pin or wheel a measured distance from the interior fence surface. Resting the gauge fence against the edge of a board lets you move the marking pin or cutting wheel along the wood's face. The scored line cuts into the wood fibers, providing a marking line and a guide for saw teeth to rest along.
I prefer a mortise marking gauge because it scores a single line for cutting or two parallel lines for joinery. These are ideal for several joints you will practice while learning how to get started in hand tool woodworking.
Woodworking Marking Knife
Another instrument I discovered when learning how to get started in hand tool woodworking was the wood marking knife or utility knife. The best marking knife for woodworking provides:
- One flat surface to rest against a straight edge as you mark;
- At least one sharp edge that cuts precisely along the flat knife face;
- A point that can reach into corners.
These features are what I have found to be the most helpful when using a wood marking knife. For me, the best marking knife for woodworking has two edges, allowing me to mark from either side of the blade.
Some woodworkers use a knife with replaceable blades, while others spend money on woodworking marking knife designs with a fancy handle that requires you to sharpen the edge. We find the performance similar, so that design feature is a personal preference.
Woodworkers Pencil – Wooden pencils vs Mechanical pencils
As you discover how to get started in hand tool woodworking, you will find that marking timber requires a gauge, knife, or a woodworkers pencil. The best pencil for woodworking is not your standard writing pencil with regular lead. Reasons include:
- Unsupported lead found in most writing mechanical pencils will break when marking lumber. I have discovered that even the sharp points on wooden writing pencils break easily across wood fibers;
- Small lead diameters and sharpened points will get caught in the wood grain. That can pull the pencil away from a straight edge as you try to mark lines.
The carpenter's design is the best pencil for woodworking if you plan to use a wooden pencil. They offer advantages over other wood pencils like:
- Flat bodies that will not roll when you put them down;
- Can be sharpened while stuff holding a wider point on the lead;
- Are cost-effective.
Woodworking mechanical pencil
The best mechanical pencil for woodworking has features that compliment carpentry. As you learn how to get started in hand tool woodworking, you will discover the importance of accuracy and the best mechanical pencil for woodworking offer:
- Wide lead that provides shop durability;
- A taper that allows the woodworking mechanical pencil to rest against an edge;
- Ergonomic handle that does not roll.
Types of Hand Saws for Wood
- Cross cut saw: A push saw with a TPI and set for cutting across wood grain;
- Rip cut saw: Large push saw with a TPI and set for cutting along the wood's grain;
- Tenon saw: Backsaw with a deep-reaching blade for joinery;
- Dovetail saw: Smaller backsaw with a thin blade for small kerfs;
- Japanese saw: A variety of pull saws designed for cross cuts, rip cuts, and joinery.
As you learn how to get started in hand tool woodworking, you will discover that all-purpose hand saws will not cut it. I recommend starting with a cross-cut saw, followed by a dovetail saw.
Other specialized hand saws will likely make it into your collection as your skills and interests progress. You can buy new models or source antique tools online or through meets.
Crosscut Saw vs Rip Saw – What is the difference between a crosscut saw and a rip saw?
The difference between crosscut saw vs rip saw is tooth design and how that affects the hand saw's cutting ability. As you learn how to get started in hand tool woodworking, you will find cutting along the grain is easier than across it, requiring fewer teeth. Some features that distinguish the blade types:
- Usually have more teeth per inch (TPI);
- Each tooth is sharpened on its edge to slice wood fibers;
- They have shallow gullets, so cut slower along the grain.
- Often have fewer teeth per inch (TPI);
- Tooth edges are not sharpened and scrap wood fibers;
- A deeper gullet between teeth ejects material quickly for faster cutting.
- Can a crosscut saw be used for ripping?
They can, but a crosscut saw is not as effective. A rip saw uses teeth without cutting edges that act like a chisel scraping fibers away from the saw blade's path. That makes the rip saw a fast option as it moves with less resistance along with the wood grain.
Crosscut teeth have edges, so they will cut along a fiber in a rip cut, taking longer than a rip-tooth configuration. As I learned how to get started in hand tool woodworking, my first saw was a crosscut hand saw.
Woodworking Tenon Saw
As I researched this section of how to get started in hand tool woodworking, I recalled the hours I spent cutting and carving various joints. That includes using backsaws, like the tenon saw, for the first time.
What is a tenon saw?
- It uses a mid-sized saw blade with reinforcement at the top of the blade made from metal or wood. The blade's thickness and back support keep it rigid as you cut;
- These use 10-14 teeth per inch. That makes them slower, but it does provide you with more control for cutting depth;
- It has a blade that reaches deep enough to cut joinery like tenons for mortise and tenon joints. They are highly accurate, providing a snug fit when the joint is fit.
What is a tenon saw used for in woodworking? Design features like a brass back tenon saw will add weight as you cut. A woodworking tenon saw cuts tenons and other joinery efficiently.
As you learn how to get started in hand tool woodworking, you will find modern designs such as the Spear & Jackson tenon saw reasonably priced compared to some antiques.
Dovetail Hand Saw – Best Dovetail Saw for Beginner
These are also part of the backsaw family. That means that a dovetail saw has a rigid back that helps to keep it from flexing. They are shorter in length and have a thinner saw blade profile.
Other features found on the best dovetail saw for beginner woodworkers include:
- Rip cut teeth: These saw quickly along the grain as you cut dovetails;
- High tooth count: 15-20 TPI provide adequate control with cut depth, allowing you to be precise at the shoulder of the joint;
- Thin blade kerf: That allows you to get right along the cut line without going over.
- As you progress in learning how to get started in hand tool woodworking, you will discover how handy a dovetail hand saw is, as dovetails are a popular joint used in woodworking.
Tenon Saw vs Dovetail Saw
So, which saw is better as you learn how to get started in hand tool woodworking? While both are backsaws, I feel the differences are worth noting.
Comparing tenon saw vs dovetail saw
- Size: Tennon saws are longer and have wider saw blade profiles. The blade is more rigid and reaches deeper before topping out on the back spine;
- Kerf: Dovetail saw blades are thinner, creating a thinner kerf than a tenon saw. That allows you to reach tighter cutlines without going over them;
- Configuration: Tenon saws have 10-14 crosscut teeth, and dovetail saws have 15-20 rip cut teeth.
If you can only start with one or the other, examine the types of projects you plan to build. The joinery used would dictate which type I purchased first, saving the other for future projects.
Miter Box 101 – What Is A Miter Box used For?
The best miter box designs are useful hand saw guides that allow you to precisely cut:
- 90-degree crosscuts;
- 45-degree crosscuts.
You will find an inexpensive miter box at Harbor Freight model works for general contractor work and DIY home projects, but the best miter box models will offer greater precision with little saw blade play as it sits in the slots. You can find these sold as just the box, with a saw and other slot angles.
I prefer a wooden miter box or plastic miter box over ones made from other materials, like metal. While I was learning how to get started in hand tool woodworking, I found the drill and saw guides a great way to improve my accuracy. Keep in mind that this saw blade guide is made for crosscutting.
Wooden Miter box vs Plastic
As you learn how to get started in hand tool woodworking, you will discover many tools use different materials. Choosing between a wooden miter box vs plastic model is mostly personal preference. I find plastic is more readily available and is usually cheaper.
Outside of that:
- Plastic models are more durable on the job site;
- Plastic boxes will not warp due to moisture.
Precision Miter Box
A precision miter box might be something you stumble across as you research how to get started in hand tool woodworking. The term describes an adjustable box design with an upgraded saw.
The advantage here is that you can adjust to a needed angle without being limited to those cut into the box. I can not see the need for one unless you work a lot with molding and trim.
Best Beginner Chisel Sets – What Are The Best Wood chisels To get Started?
The best beginner chisel set will provide you with:
- A good starter chisel set for woodworking uses bench chisels you can use for various applications. Paring chisels are more delicate, and mortise designs are thick and heavy;
- The best starter chisel set has balanced tools. Heavy plastic handles are more cumbersome as you try to line up for a strike;
- I think that the best beginner chisel set should include at least three woodworking chisels. The best wood chisels you will use most often will range between 1/4 and 1/2-inch.
As you progress in how to get started in hand tool woodworking, investing in the best starter chisel set pays dividends. These hand tools get used a lot in my shop.
Stanley Sweetheart Chisels
Our Stanley Sweetheart chisel review offers a quick look at these popular chisels. The 750-series socket chisels have wood handles, and sets come with three to eight pieces. Blade sizes range from 1/8-inch through 1 1/4 inches wide.
We find the Stanley Sweetheart chisels reasonably priced, making them worth looking into for your shop as you learn how to get started in hand tool woodworking;
A 30-degree beveled edge provides a good edge for woodworking. That angle works well with the various tasks that bench chisels do, but they remain easy to control;
The only point of concern in our Stanley Sweetheart chisel review is that novices may need to perform more initial tune-ups than with a higher-priced set. You will need more time to flatten the back and hone the edge out of the box.
Narex Chisel Set
As you learn how to get started in hand tool woodworking, you might notice the price difference between the Stanley Sweetheart chisels vs Narex brand chisels. Is there more to the price beyond imported European beechwood handles? A stand out for us is the high-quality steel used.
- The Narex chisel set has a tool grind of 25-degrees on its edge. That can produce more precise cuts as you gain experience with these tools;
- Narex sets often come with a hard wooden case for storage. It can prove beneficial for protecting your tips once you have them where you want them;
- One thing we noticed between the Stanley Sweetheart chisels vs Narex is the beechwood handles on the Narex are a bit more fragile. That can be a factor if you use a mallet and chisels as a novice.
One tool I realized I needed as I learned how to get started in hand tool woodworking was a wood chisel mallet. A woodworking mallet hits chisels, drives things like wooden dowels, or forces pieces of wood together at tight joinery.
The best mallet for wood chisels will:
- Strike the butt of the chisel without causing as much damage as metal hammers do. That protects your chisel handles;
- Your wood mallet is easier to control the chisel with than a metal hammer;
- A wood chisel mallet creates a stronger force during the swing than a rubber mallet will. That means less work and fewer bounces as you swing.
- The best mallet for wood chisels can be purchased or made in several shapes, sizes, and weights. I find larger mallet heads work better than small cylinder heads for most applications.
What Type Of Hammer Do I Need For Woodworking?
While you are learning how to get started in hand tool woodworking, you will notice several types of the same hand tool on the market. Hammers are a prime example. Do you need them all for traditional woodworking?
I have found that most work is doable using either a claw hammer or a cross pein pin hammer, and I would recommend these two designs for your shop.
Claw Hammer – What is a claw hammer used for?
The claw hammer is the most common design and is familiar to most of us. One of its ends has a flat striking surface, while the other has two fingers splayed out to form a “claw.”
We use these for driving fasteners or prying nails out of wood.
Cross Pein Pin Hammer – What is a Cross Pein Pin Hammer used for?
As you learn how to get started in woodworking, you might wonder how a blacksmith hammer fits your woodshop.
They are usually heavier than claw hammers and work great with punches and rivets. You can also use them to shape metal components used on your projects.
What Is an Advantage of Using a Hand Drill?
A common theme you discover as you learn how to get started in hand tool woodworking is sensitivity. Using a woodworking hand drill offers you feedback that you can not get with an electric drill. The turning control on a brace hand drill is superior to the slowest of settings on powered drills.
A wood hand drill is:
- More lightweight: Your woodworking hand drill is easier to carry and use. There is no motor, housing, or electronics to add weight;
- Less damaging: A brace hand drill offers better torque control. You will split wood less often, and you will eliminate blowouts on the backside of your lumber;
- Will need more room: You will need more space to operate a wood hand drill. That should not be an issue on open timber, though.
What Are the Different Types of Hand Drills for Woodworking?
As you learn how to get started in hand tool woodworking, you will find a handful of drill designs available for your shop. These include the brace drill, breast drill, and egg beater hand drill.
- Egg beater: Uses a lever on a spinning wheel to turn the bit through gears;
- Breast design: Similar to egg beater but includes a back plate to apply pressure;
- Brace design: Has a “U” shaped handle to turn the bit.
- What is the difference between an egg beater hand drill and a breast drill?
The addition of a backplate makes the breast design allows you to use your weight to push harder into the wood.
Why use a brace drill?
The “U” handle generates more torque, helping drive wide bits through wood.
So Which Woodworking Hand-powered Drill Should I use To get Started?
So, which hand drill design is best for those learning how to get started in hand tool woodworking? We feel that the egg beater design will serve you best at the start. Reasons include:
- Plenty of power for beginner projects: Most holes will be small enough for it to handle;
- Does not require specialized bits: Brace bits have special shapes and are harder to find.
We suggest looking for an old Stanley model on places like eBay, tool swaps, or garage sales.
Types Of Drill Bits For Woodworking
You probably had heard of twist bits before you began researching how to get started in hand tool woodworking. The best drill bits for woodworking come in several designs that reduce accidental damage, including:
- Auger drill bits: An open design that ejects wood from deep holes;
- Brad tipped drill bits: The brad keeps the bit centered and exits smoothly;
- Self-feed drill bits: Use a screw that helps pull the bit through the wood;
- Spade drill bits: A paddle used for creating large holes.
Why are Brad point bits better for woodworking than twist bits?
The best brad point drill bits for wood are better than twist bits due to:
We find the best brad point drill bits for woodworking are more accurate. Twist bits slip, so you need a pilot hole or dimple to keep it in place;
Brad point drill bits reduce damage on exit. The brad reduces blowouts and splitting woodgrain.
These two features make brad point drill bits better than twist bits as you learn how to get started in hand tool woodworking.
Hand Planes Woodworking – Best Hand Plane To Start With
I think the best hand plane to start with is a low angle plane because they are easier to use with most types of woods. That is especially true when you are working end grain. The best woodworking hand planes to use in your shop as you learn how to get started in hand tool woodworking are:
- The low angle jack plane: The low iron angle adjustment offers you more versatility, which is the intended purpose of a jack plane. Something like the Stanley low angle jack plane will remove wood but can readily adjust for smoothing applications;
- A low angle block plane: The best low angle block plane will be your go-to for end grain on timber. Its iron angle and shorter foot make it the best manual hand planer to smooth fiber ends that stand proud.
How To Get Started In Hand Tool Woodworking – Buy The Best Hand Tools You can Afford
It can be tempting to start your hand tool collection using bargain tools purchased online or in big box stores. I can not recommend that, though. Spending the extra money on quality hand tools provides you with:
Quality components hold edges longer and withstand the abuse they receive during the build process. You will have downtime due to maintenance or shopping for replacements.
Quality tools cut, drill, and shape better. That adds to shop safety, especially with dangerous tools like chisels.
Cheap tools will not last, and they often perform their intended tasks poorly. Buying good hand tools from the start future proofs your shop by allowing you to get hand tools designed to last a lifetime while offering top-end performance.