After experiencing working in the wedding rental industry, I knew it wasn’t something I wanted to do long term and sold my business. My wedding and vintage rental business had reawakened my creativity though. After learning how to build farm tables, I became hooked on building and making things. And knowing how to build other things became much easier, as well as learning to use different tools. It’s like once you know how to do one thing related, the rest just flows.
Then, beginning several decades ago, shop classes began to be removed from secondary curriculums. With the decrease in educational funding, and increasing emphasis on standardized testing, schools began to cull electives, institute stricter graduation requirements, and focus more on college prep academics and the subjects necessary for passing state exams. There wasn’t money or time to maintain tools and sawdust-filled workshops, and one by one school districts dropped their shop classes, figuring that students who wished to pursue trade skills could do so later at a vocational college.
Hand Tools — Three to four hand planes. A low angle block plane, smoothing plane, jack plane and a jointer plane are the most used sizes. With these in hand and some practice, you can go a long time without a planer, jointer, belt sander, and a few other machines. The market now has a few brands that are close to, if not ready, to use off the shelf. I also think the purchase of at least one good hand saw, a few good chisels, some clamps and a card cabinet scraper are necessary for most projects.
I created these hand tool buyer’s guides to help beginners who feel overwhelmed when trying to understand which hand tools they need first. It’s frustrating! Below you’ll see my summary list of the 20 basic professional woodworking hand tools that you should start to accumulate in order to start building the most basic woodworking projects. When you’re ready, you can follow the yellow buttons to visit each of the buying guides for each type of hand tool, to get help with understanding hand tool features, brands, & models. At the bottom of this page is a handy full list of tools that is sorted by “urgent”, “semi-urgent”, and “not-urgent” to buy.
Lots of ways. Woodworking really reinforces my independent nature. Blogs are good. Norm Abrams videos. I have a library of magazines and books with really neat projects which I love to read over and over to get a sense of how other woodworkers think through their creative projects. I have a painter friend with whom I endlessly brainstorm how to finish the final wood project. But really, the wood itself teaches me the most. Each species has different needs. The projects also teach me. Each project is unique in approach, design, and method. I’ve learned to listen and make myself a servant of these things. I come to the shop ready to learn.
As far as schools, there are lots of fine schools that teach woodworking, and I think that they are a good way to get started. However, the best way to learn the trade, in my opinion, is by working alongside an experienced woodworker in a working shop. You’ll learn a lot of valuable skills in a school, but in a shop you’ll learn those skills in more of a practical and real-world surrounding. You have to not only do good work, but do it efficiently, and schools can be a little less demanding than a working shop.
As for schooling, many local school districts, community colleges and woodworking stores offer woodworking classes, but those are a mixed bag. A handful is really good and many are terrible. There’s also a big difference between woodworking for fun and doing it for a living, and most classes are geared towards hobbyists. Out of all the proper woodworking schools with good reputations, I’ve only had personal experience with Marc Adams School of Woodworking. That place I recommend 100%, as the instructors are generally active professionals in their specialized niches, so one can always pick their brains for extra information related to earning a living. The director of the school also does a good job of screening instructors to eliminate the ones that don’t interact well in a classroom setting.