Top 40 Tools Every Woodworker Should Have
#11: The Block Plane
A block plane is the key to versatility in your woodwork. You can flatten a piece of wood, or add a curve to it, square your work. Shape or chamfer your stock using a block plane. Once you have a piece dovetailed, you can smooth the joint with your block pane, rather than spending endless tine sanding. Your plane can ease the edges of a piece, taking the sharpness out of it.
It is most important to make sure the blade of the block plane is sharp. Use a little bit of oil on the sharpening stone and hold the bevel flat against the stone. Raise the heel a little, and hone it. It will form a burr, but that’s OK. Just turn the blade over, and rub it on the stone on the flat side. It will remove the burr. A cap screw holds the blade in place, and this is where you adjust the depth of plane you want to cut.
If you’re performing fine work, you’ll measure the blade at about 1/64”. For more general work, you’ll go with as much as 1/16”. Roll the pressure from the back of the plane to the front as you complete the cut, so that you don’t end up with arching. If you’re going to plane end grain, plain both ends toward the middle to keep from tearing up the outside edge.
#12: The Caliper
A set of calipers is a must for fine-tuning your woodworking projects. You can even get digital calipers, now, that leave no guesswork as to whether you were inside or outside the line. Of course, the metal ones are always recommended over those made of plastic, even though the plastic ones are cheaper.
Calipers have a double “F” appearance. To one side is a large “F”, used to measure the outside of an object. To the other side will be a smaller “f”, used to measure the inside of openings. You loosen the screw to move the lower “lip” of the caliper, then tighten the screw into place when you have the caliper placed correctly.
You’ll use the inside calipers to measure slot diameters, hole diameters, and dado widths, among other things. There is also a depth gauge in the end of calipers that will allow you to measure the depth of slots and holes. You just rest the end of the caliper on the edge of the hole and twist the thumbscrew until the probe reaches the bottom of the hole. Then, you can take your reading. If you need to measure the exact thickness of something attached to a flat surface, you can use the calipers to determine the thickness by placing the butt of the caliper end against the flat surface, and use the inside caliper lip that’s closest to your hand to record the surface of the item you’re measuring. The distance from the backside of that caliper lip to the end of the caliper is the thickness of the piece you’re measuring.
While calipers will measure up to 1/1000ths of an inch, you won’t need that kind of tight tolerance. Remember that wood is an organic material, and expands and contracts with the relative humidity and with temperature fluctuations. Trimming everything to 1/1000ths tolerance will not leave the piece enough room to breathe.
#13: The Clamp
Clamps are vital to the success of any woodworking project. Most woodworkers agree that you can’t have too many clamps. While they can get expensive, you don’t want to skimp in this area. You’ll need clamps for 45 and 90 degree joints, and pipe clamps to reach for long stretches. You usually purchase the pipe clamp fixtures, and insert your own pipe into the fixtures to make a really strong clamp to the size you need. C clamps and F clamps are the standard, but now you can get K camps, too. The great thing about these is that they can reach a long way into your work area and clamp things in the middle of your workspace. Deep throated bar clamps and C clamps will help with this.
You can’t get by without a selection of quick grip clamps in various sizes. These are available with spreaders of 12” or more, all the way down to micro-mini clamps for toy construction. An edge clamp will hold laminate trim onto the edge of a counter or table top. A strap clamp will wrap around any shape, and pull the joints together. Spring clamps are handy for holding a piece steady. The main difference between quick clamps and spring clamps is that the quick clamps slide into position with one hand. When you release them, they lock into place. Spring clamps are like big clothespins.
Hand Screw Clamps are the classic-looking wooden clamps with the awl screws that you turn from both sides to get equal pressure. These are great for applying a lot of pressure on tapered or sloped pieces. Assembly square clamps do just what the name implies – they help you assemble squares. You can also get bench clamps and “dogs”, as well as other clamps and vises that attach to your workbench.
#14: The Jig
You don’t have to measure every single cut and joint if you have jigs. Most woodworkers make their own jigs. You usually use a jig with a power tool, to guide the piece through the saw. You can make a jig to cut a perfect circle. Maybe you need to make furniture with tapered legs. A jig will accomplish this, without the hassle of re-marking the angles on each leg. A dovetail jig does just that – it guides your wood as you make dovetail joints.
#15: The Hand Saw
A high quality hand saw should not be overlooked. In fact, a select collection of hand saws may be one of the more valuable additions to your woodworking shop. You don’t have to use a power saw on everything – in fact, you probably won’t want to. You need to be able to feel the wood’s response under the saw blade, and the saw blade’s response to the wood. Besides a coping and a tenon saw, you may want a dovetail saw and a hand miter saw, too. In fact, for many woodworkers, a fine collection of Japanese saws is the backbone of their craft.
For general use, start out with a fretsaw for woodworkers – it’s like a coping saw for wood. You need a mini saw, too, for areas in which a chisel just won’t work. Then, a good tenon saw should follow, along with a miter box that you can use with the tenon saw. Other saws, with their variety of cutting surfaces and angles, will come as the need arises.
#16: The Feather Board
Feather boards are important for achieving smooth, quality cuts. You’ll use a feather board with all kinds of saws and other cutting surfaces, to push the material past the cutting edge. You can make your own feather boards, or purchase them, instead. Most woodworkers find it easier to just make them to suit their own needs.
#17: The Metal Detector
No, you’re not looking for buried treasure with your metal detector. You’re looking for something that could ruin your treasures – namely, your woodworking tools. It is of vital importance to keep metal out of your cutting surfaces, or you’ll ruin blades, bits, and knives on your tools. A quick scan with a metal detector will let you know if there is a piece of screw or nail still lodged in your stock. You’ll find out anyway, it’s just nice to find out before you ruin your tools.
Furniture and Storage
Organization is important in the shop, if you want to be able to find all the fabulous tools you are accumulating. This is where you get to build-to-suit your own furniture and work surfaces.
#18: The Saw Horse
Saw horses, of course, are a natural in any woodworking shop or construction site. There are actually patterns available that you can use to build your own stacking sawhorses. If you build your sawhorses properly, they’ll hold up to 500 lbs apiece. They’re even fairly cheap to build. Your saw horses will serve countless uses around your shop, from providing backup as you saw and drill, to extending your work surface while using power saws.
#19: The Work Bench
You’ll need a work bench, or work table in your shop. Don’t try to be noble and make do with the table for your table saw. It won’t be big enough or stable enough, and your saw will get in the way. You can get patterns for work benches, too, just like with saw horses.
Your work bench can be portable, on retracting or locking casters, or it can be fixed. It’s however you want it. There aren’t even any rules about measurements, since work benches are usually based on the amount of room you may have.
If you have the room, a double sided work bench is nice, where you can work on both sides of the table from the center of the room, or have a partner working with you. If it’s up against the wall, make sure that it doesn’t get so deep that you can’t reach stuff that gets pushed toward the wall. Then it just ends up being a piled mess, and you can’t work on your work table. It’s up to you as to whether you have storage under your work bench or not. Just remember that you’ve got to reach everything you store under the bench.
#20: The Tool Storage System
Tool storage is totally up to your own personal style. Some people are just messy, and leave things piles around. They simply remember that they left the moisture meter on the router table. However, think about your organizational system. You may want to build locking cabinets or open shelves. Many woodworkers display fasteners in Mason jars that they twist into lids that have been nailed to an overhead board. Others have spent too many hours picking fasteners out of the shattered remains of Mason jars, and don’t like that method.
If you use a peg board for hand tools over your workbench, remember to build the workbench narrow enough for you to reach the peg board. A rolling mechanic’s tool box may be the solution to your hand tool storage, and a tackle box for fasteners. Other’s have hardware store-style bins for the many pieces that accompany woodworking. However you choose to organize your tools and accessories, remember that your time on task is aided when you can find all of your tools. It’s also easier to take care of expensive equipment when you have easy access to it. And keeping your fasteners sorted and easily accessible may save you a trip to the hardware store.