Every trade has its tools, and woodworking is no different. Any craftsman knows that the right tool for the project is critical in manufacturing a quality end product in a timely manner. So here is a tally of the top 40 tools every woodworker should think about owning.
Hand Tools You Must Have
Hand tools get their power from your muscles. They’re power tools, but not electrical power. Here is a pretty comprehensive list of hand tools that every woodworker should think about having in his shop.
#1: The Claw Hammer
Let’s start with perhaps the most basic tool in every household – the claw hammer. The
claw on one side of the head should be well counter balanced by the finish head, which should be somewhat rounded. The other kind of head is the waffle-head. Most commonly used in construction, it leaves a distinctive waffle mark on the wood when you drive the nail. This, of course, is not the proper nail for woodworking.
A poorly balanced claw hammer will twist in your hand, making it difficult to drive nails properly. You normally grip a claw hammer with your hand at the back of the grip, letting the weight of the head do most of the work. All you have to do is direct the driving surface toward the right nail, sparing the ones on your hand.
The most commonly purchased claw hammer is the 20 oz size. It’s heavy enough to easily drive nails, but easily manipulated when pulling nails. While wooden handles are picturesque, they may not stand up to the strain if you have to pull a lot of nails. Hammers with a steel handle, or even fiberglass, will be stronger. However, these won’t absorb the vibrations from driving nails the way a hickory handle will. You’ll also need to make sure the fiberglass and metal handles have a rubberized grip for control and comfort. If you’re going to be driving a lot of nails, the wooden handled hammer will be better for reducing stress on your hand, and wrist, too.
#2: The Tape Measure
The next important hand tool for the woodworker is an accurate tape measure. Get a retractable one that is at least 25 feet long. Any longer than that, and you start having problems getting it to roll back up. Since measurements on large scale projects can be very susceptible to even the most minute measurement variations, you’ll want to make sure the “hook” or tab at the end of the is firmly attached, with no give. When they get loose, you’ll have as much as 1/8” variation in your measurements. This can add up to some severe accuracy problems in the long run.
#3: The Utility Knife
A good utility knife is another asset for the woodworker. There are many different kinds, but the kind that uses disposable blades is the most common. The blade retracts into the grip for safety. The woodworker will use the utility knife when cleaning out mortise joints or scribing wood, as well as many other uses.
#4: The Layout Square
A layout square, or combination square come in 6” and 12” sizes. Most woodworkers use the 6” model, simply because it’s easiest to carry around. Also, most of the stock you’ll use will be no bigger than 6” wide, so 12” is overkill. The layout square is a triangle that you can use to mark square cuts on stock. Once you measure the length of the cut, you line up the layout square with the edge of the board. The short side will give you a straight, square cut across the end grain. You can also measure off angles with the layout square. This helps when you’re trying to measure for a bevel on a table saw, or marking a cut for a miter saw. You can even use your layout square to determine an existing angle. Just be sure to buy one made of metal. The plastic ones are not only fragile, they can warp, making them pretty useless.
#5: The Chisel
An assortment of chisels should be part of every workbench. Chisels are not just for wood carvers. Any woodworker will need chisels to clean out joints and saw cuts. Look for chisels made of High-alloy carbon steel or chromium-vanadium alloyed steel. Hardwood grips are best, especially if they have metal caps on them. This will keep the end of the handle from becoming mal-formed when you hammer on it.
You’ll need a variety of sizes in ¼” increments from ¼” to at least 1 ½”. The smallest chisels are best for mortise work. The ¾” and 1” will be best for door hinges, and the 1 ½” works well for chipping out. You can even get a corner chisel that cuts a notch out of the wood with the blow of a hammer, much like a hole punch.
Most chisels are beveled on the 2 sides and on the cutting edge, but specialty chisels may only be beveled at the cutting edge. This bevel will be at 20 to 25 degrees down the length of the blade on once side, and flat on the backside. The blade will be between 4” and 7” long. Make sure you get chisels with a grip that fits your hand. If the grip is too small, you won’t be able to hold the chisel steady as you work. Be sure to use a mallet or wood hammer when you work, so that you don’t destroy the head on your chisel. Keep track of the edge caps, keep them sharp, and oil the metal now and then after you’ve used them, and they should be good for years. If you don’t have the edge caps, get a roll to keep them in. This will prevent them from bouncing around in your tool box drawers and getting damaged.
Using your chisels involves both hands. This allows for power and control of the chisel as it pares away the wood. If you need a little “umph” behind the chisel, bump it with the heel of the off hand, or strike it with a mallet. A claw hammer will damage the butt end of your chisel, eventually splitting it if you abuse it too often.
When you sharpen your chisel, you may want to use stones rather than a grinder. You need a set of stones of increasingly fine grit to hone the blades properly. Start with the coarser grade, and end with the finest grade. You may have to moisten the stone with oil for best results. Also, remember to hone the blades away from your body.
#6: The Level
Every woodworker needs a couple of levels. You probably won’t need one of the 6 foot levels used in construction, but a 48” is a good length for many of the woodworking projects you’ll do. Usually, you’ll also need an 8” level, too, usually known as a torpedo level. You’ll check the level and plum of your construction. Level is horizontal, and plumb is vertical.
Most quality levels are made of either brass-edged wood or of metal. There will be a bubble reading for level, and another one for plumb. When the bubble is exactly between the lines, you have a level or plumb surface. You can also get string levels and laser levels, but the woodworker will use these types of levels the most often.
#7: The Screwdriver
Screwdrivers are another must have in the woodworker’s set of hand tools. Not only will you need Phillips and slot, or flathead screwdrivers, you’ll need star drivers and Torx drivers, too. A quality construction is vital to a good set of screwdrivers. So many of them are made out of soft metal, and the first time you put any “umph” behind them, they strip out, becoming absolutely useless.
You’ll need a long screwdriver with a square blade that is very heavy duty. This gives you a lot of torque. You’ll also need a small and medium slot screwdriver. For working on cabinets or tight places in woodworking, you’ll need a screwdriver with a thin shank so that you can reach screws that are inside of deep holes. This is accomplished with a cabinet screwdriver. Get a couple of medium Phillips head screwdrivers, and a stubby one, too, for those tight places. You may also want a ratcheting screwdriver.
If your slot screwdrivers are high quality material, you’ll be able to grind them flat when they get worn. Beware, though, that too much heat will change the temper of the metal, weakening it so that it won’t drive or draw screws. By the way, some of Dad’s tips for getting the most out of his screwdrivers:
- Use the right size blade for the screw.
- For stubborn screws, fit the driver into the screw, put as much downward pressure as you can on the screwdriver, and strike the end with a hammer. This more often than not will pop the screw loose. It also helps with screws that have stripped out.
- Put beeswax on the threads of screws before you drive screws into hardwood. If you don’t have beeswax, use soap. It makes the screws drive more easily.
- You’ll get more driving force with a shorter shank.
- Use a crescent wrench on the blade to get more torque.
- Some people can magnetize a screwdriver by holding it up and striking it with a metal bar. It realigns the molecules, making it magnetic. You can also break your screwdrivers doing this, so be careful!
- Get a pry bar. Keep it with your screwdrivers, and every time you need a pry bar, leave your screwdrivers alone!
#8: The Nail Set
The next hand tool every woodworker should have is a nail set. In fact, you should have several sizes. They look like awls, and you use them to drive nail heads into the wood so they are flush or right below the surface. This allows you to fill the holes and prepare for staining or painting. The nail setter will usually have either a convex or concave surface to grip the nail better and keep it from sliding off and marring the wood.
#9: The Sliding Bevel
If you’re going to be measuring a bunch of angles, a sliding bevel, or T Bevel, will be a handy tool. This is adjustable, and you can lock it at the angle you want to mark, making it much more time-savvy to mark multiple angles.
#10: The Moisture Meter
A quality wood moisture meter is vital to the long-term success of any woodworking project you put together. Lumber mills try to dry their batches of lumber according to the intended end product destination. That is, if wood is harvested in the wet Northeast, but is going to be shipped to the arid Southwest, it will be dried more than wood kept in the Northeast for use by woodworkers. The success of your woodworking project, from wood flooring to kitchen cabinets to fine furniture, depends on the correct moisture content levels of the woods you use for your area of the country.
Some moisture meters have pins that penetrate the surface of the wood. This can leave tiny holes that mar the surface and require filling. Others are pin-less. They have sensing plates that scan the wood beneath. However, not all pin-less moisture meters are the same – look for one that uses technology that is not affected by the surface moisture on the wood, such as Wagner Meters IntelliSense Technology Moisture Meters.
Your moisture meter should have settings on it that will account for different species of wood. For instance, oak is a hardwood, but ebony is an even harder density wood. If you are planning an inlay job using both types of wood, you will need to know the moisture content levels of each of the two species so that your inlay glue joints will stay intact. These different wood species have different specific gravities, which must be used or programmed into the moisture meter.
Therefore, you must measure each species of wood you are using in your woodworking project to verify that they are at the correct moisture content before you manufacture it into your end product.