Top 40 Essential Hand Tools for Every Woodworker – Mastering Woodworking
In our list of 40 hand tools, you’ll find carpenter tools, woodshop tools, woodworking power tools, and the best woodworking tools. Tools for beginner woodworkers to professional woodworkers.
The carpenter tools are split into these four categories:
Woodworking Tools List
#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 counterbalanced by the finished 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.
The most commonly purchased claw hammer is the 20 oz. size. It’s heavy enough to drive nails but easily manipulated when pulling nails easily.
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 ensure the fiberglass and metal handles have a rubberized grip for control and comfort. If you’re 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. You start having problems getting it to roll back up any longer than that.
Since measurements on large-scale projects can be very susceptible to even the most minute measurement variations, you’ll want to ensure the “hook” or tab at the end is firmly attached, with no give. You’ll have as much as 1/8” variation when they get loose 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 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 the wood is harvested in the wet Northeast but 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 pinless moisture meters are the same – look for one that uses technology that is not affected by the surface moisture in the wood, such as Wagner moisture meters with IntelliSense™ technology.
Learn more about Pinless meters in our moisture meter guide.
#5: The Chisel
An assortment of chisels should be part of every workbench. Chisels are not just for woodcarvers. 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 malformed when you hammer on it.
You’ll need a variety of sizes in ¼” increments from ¼” to at least 1½”. The smallest chisels are best for mortise work. The ¾” and 1” will be best for door hinges, and the 1½” 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 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 one side and flat on the backside. The blade will be between 4” and 7” long.
#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 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 means horizontal, and plumb is vertical.
#7: The Screwdriver
Screwdrivers are another must-have in the woodworker’s set of hand tools. 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 “oomph” behind them, they strip out, becoming 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.
Download Our Free Top 40 Woodworking Tools Guide
#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 Layout Square
A layout square, or combination square, comes 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 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 measuring 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, but they also can warp, making them pretty useless.
Ready to use your tools on some fun and easy woodworking projects? Check out our 50 awesome DIY woodworking ideas.
As Sales Manager for Wagner Meters, Ron has more than 35 years of experience with instrumentation and measurement systems in different industries. In previous positions, he has served as Regional Sales Manager, Product and Projects Manager, and Sales Manager for manufacturers involved in measurement instrumentation.
Last updated on February 16th, 2024