More than a decade ago I spent 2 weeks in Maine aspiring to learn furniture making. On my return home I started enthusiastically planning to turn my basement into a proper shop – with all the “essential” tools I had learned to use. My list reflected my engineer’s preference for buying quality and quickly exceeded $25k in power tools alone (table saw, band saw, joiner, thickness planer, drill press…) even before solving the power, lighting and dust challenges.
Dan, I’m worried about you. The stress must be getting to you. Somehow you’ve lost your ability to count. By my estimation, your list has at least 29 items, some of which are actually “sets” of items, like chisels or crayons, which I only counted as one item. Perhaps you need a break from all that blogging, and time to get back to basics, like counting. I can help. Come over to my shop and we can count things like parts, items on the honey-do list, and for extra credit, screw holes. Don’t worry about making mistakes, I’ll guide you through it, and we can round up if necessary. Ha!
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“Basic,” on the other hand, is a word that allows for growth – and that’s exactly what you want in your woodworking tool kit. You want to be able to take the same kit with you through many years in the craft. With my basic woodworking tools list, I wanted to provide a core set of tools that will serve you well from project to project. I’m especially concerned these days with the transition to hardwood furniture making, as opposed to plywood boxes of various sizes. That’s the transition I’m making right now in my own work!
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Along with stone, clay and animal parts, wood was one of the first materials worked by early humans. Microwear analysis of the Mousterian stone tools used by the Neanderthals show that many were used to work wood. The development of civilization was closely tied to the development of increasingly greater degrees of skill in working these materials.Woodworking shop in Germany in 1568, the worker in front is using a bow saw, the one in the background is planing.Among early finds of wooden tools are the worked sticks from Kalambo Falls, Clacton-on-Sea and Lehringen. The spears from Schöningen (Germany) provide some of the first examples of wooden hunting gear. Flint tools were used for carving. Since Neolithic times, carved wooden vessels are known, for example, from the Linear Pottery culture wells at Kückhofen and Eythra.Examples of Bronze Age wood-carving include tree trunks worked into coffins from northern Germany and Denmark and wooden folding-chairs. The site of Fellbach-Schmieden in Germany has provided fine examples of wooden animal statues from the Iron Age Wooden idols from the La Tène period are known from a sanctuary at the source of the Seine in France.
When it is time to make a purchase, is it better to compromise and get an undersized machine that will only improve our capabilities by a small degree? After 30 years of working wood, my shop is equipped with several large, heavy machines that I greatly enjoy having and using. If I had to do it over, I personally would skip most of the interim-sized machines that did not serve me well and I would wait for the time when I could afford and have room for the right machine. In the meantime, I could still be productive with a smaller, but carefully selected group of the right hand tools and power tools.

Like you, I too am benchless. I built the “Mozilla” Molson vice variant from last year’s issue (I forget which) and it comes in handy for a lot of operations. I clamp it down to a piece of plywood that I have covered with formica (actually, it’s two pieces that I have piano-hinged together for easier storage) laid across two sawhorses. As long as lateral thrust is not involved, this is a pretty stable way to work. I also have a Zyliss vise for working on smaller pieces. I’ve made do for nearly forty years with a radial arm saw and circular saw. I have only recently acquired a planer and router table (both on wheels) It makes the garage croweded because also sharing the space are two motorcycles and about 400 board feet of rough sawn Camphor. I currently attend classes in woodworking and this coming semester I’ll be enrolled in a class for handtools only (and sharpening).
Break down plywood Following the cutting diagram, crosscut plywood along the line marked “first cut”. Take the smaller of the two rip 3/4″ plywood according to diagram and cut list. For safety and easier handling, use a circular saw with a good quality blade (following a straight edge guide for a straight cut) for first cross-cut on plywood. If you are not confident in your circular saw’s ability to cut straight lines with no tear out, leave yourself 1/4″ of extra material (there is enough extra material in a 4′ x 8′ sheet of plywood to do this) and make your final cuts on the table saw.
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