Industry News - 12 Essential Woodworking Tools For Beginners: Start Your Woodshop Right
Industry News - 12 Essential Woodworking Tools For Beginners: Start Your Woodshop Right
Industry News - 12 Essential Woodworking Tools For Beginners: Start Your Woodshop Right

They say that the tools don’t make the craftsman, but the truth is they make a big difference. Starting off your journey with the right set of basic woodworking tools for beginners will not only improve your experience with the craft, it will save you a lot of money in the long run.

Let me also say right off the bat that this list is for true beginners. It does not contain thousands of dollars of machinery that will fill up a two-car garage. Instead, it focuses on just the essentials that every beginner (or intermediate) woodworker needs.

Woodworking can be a challenging hobby or profession, but getting started does not have to be expensive! You can get started with just a few hundred dollars of quality tools that will last you for years to come.

Below I’ve listed the 12 basic woodworking tools for beginners, including layout tools, hand tools, and small power tools. I’ve also noted a few extras (yes, you will need pencils), but the odds are you already have most of them.

Essential woodworking tools for beginners

Marking gauge
Combination square
Hand saw
Smoothing plane
Chisel set
Sharpening stones
Circular saw
Power drill
Random orbital sander

Essential woodworking tool: Marking gauge

Marking gauges have been a staple of woodworking tool boxes for centuries. Along with a simple combination square (see below), it forms the basis for any kind of joinery work — fine or rough.

Why you need one
What’s great about marking gauges is not just how useful they are for both basic and advanced joinery, but also how easy they are to use.

You will need one for mortise and tenon joints, dovetails, rabbets, thicknessing, and countless other tasks. It’s such an essential woodworking tool for beginners to learn the basics of joinery that it should be one of the very first tools you buy.

Plus, they’re super cheap.

Essential woodworking tool: Combination square

The next tool on the list is another layout tool, and it’s even more essential than the first. What makes the combination square an ideal choice over other types of squares is its ease of use and versatility.

Why you need one
Like a marking gauge, a good combination square is a must-have tool for woodworking beginners. It allows you to mark and cut at both 90 and 45 degrees, which are the most important angles in woodworking.

Everything from cutting a board to length to joining edges to making mortise and tenon joints requires perfect 90-degree angles, and 45-degree angles are equally important for corner joints and countless other cuts. Even if you plan on going the power tool route, a good combination square is a must.

While a sharp pencil can mark lines from your combination square just fine, I’d recommend picking up a decent marking knife as well. I’d recommend the Stanley 10-049 locking pocket knife. It cuts precise lines, takes up very little space, and offers an incredible value for the price. I’ve used one for nearly a decade and it hasn’t let me down.

Essential woodworking tool: Clamps

Ah, clamps. Ask any woodworker and they’ll tell you that you can never have enough of them. When you’re just getting started however, there is a minimum you’ll need to get work done.

Why you need them
When you first start woodworking, you need clamps for everything. Holding your work, gluing panels, final assembly, a third hand you always seem to need… the list goes on and on.

But before you go buy a set of 24 or more clamps from the nearest big box store, you should know that as a beginner you can get by with about 8 specific clamps.

Your main workhorses will be pipe clamps, which are sold in sets of fixtures. These fixtures are attached to standard sizes of galvanized pipe that you can buy in any home improvement store. This also means you can swap out the pipes for longer or shorter lengths, making them useful in just about any situation in woodworking.

That said, pipe clamps are large and heavy, which is why a few quality bar clamps should be your next purchase. These will cover most daily tasks in the woodshop, especially until you have a decent workbench and vise.

Essential woodworking tool: Hand saw

In an age of high-tech power tools and extreme precision machinery, it can be easy to forget about the humble hand saw, which is one of the most basic woodworking tools that every workshop needs.

Why you need one
These simple tools (in many varieties) were once used for everything from rip cuts down the length of a board to delicate joinery.

Many hand tool purists would recommend buying anywhere from 2 to 5 hand saws, but for the beginner doing everything with hand tools is simply too time-consuming, labor-intensive, and outright expensive.

While there are still some manufacturers making beautiful premium hand saws, the truth is most cheap traditional saws simply aren’t worth your time.

Thankfully, there is an exception, and it comes from the other side of the planet. Japanese pull saws are fantastic tools that are cheap to buy and provide excellent results. Plus, they’re versatile and very easy to use for beginners, and the blades are simple and cheap to replace.

Essential woodworking tool: Smoothing plane

The smoothing plane is an iconic tool for woodworkers, and for good reason.

Why you need one
Many guides will recommend beginners run out and buy a power joiner/planer, but to me, this is absolute nonsense. Not only do they take up a lot of space and cost a lot of money, but they’re also complete overkill for someone just learning the craft.

When it comes to just the essential woodworking tools for beginners, all of your planing can be done with a single quality smoothing plane.

As an added bonus, learning to be proficient with a smoothing plane will cut down dramatically on sanding time, which let’s be honest, is the worst part of woodworking.

Essential woodworking tool: Mallet

A mallet is one of those woodworking tools that makes a great beginner project, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still buy one early on.

Why you need one
You probably have a standard claw hammer somewhere in your house, and you might be tempted to use it instead of a more suitable woodworking mallet. Please don’t do this if you have any love for your tools and want them to last.

Keep your claw hammer for hammering nails and pick up a nice nylon head mallet for everything else in the woodshop.

Whether tapping joinery into its final position during assembly or smashing chisels into hardwood, a good mallet is immensely satisfying to use. Both the tactile feedback and sound will leave you addicted after first use.

Essential woodworking tool: Chisels

Now that you’ve got a great mallet, it’s time to pick up something to (gently) whack with it.

Why you need them
If there’s one beginner’s woodworking tool that’s worth putting some thought into before buying, it’s chisels. There are just so many junk chisels on the market (even from reputable brands!) that can make your early woodworking experience an absolute nightmare.

Buying a good set of 6 chisels and learning how to use and sharpen them will dramatically improve the quality of your work. They can be used for joinery, shaping, paring, carving, and more.

For this list of must-have woodworking tools for beginners, I’m recommending a set of bevel edge chisels, which are versatile and affordable. Other varieties, like mortise chisels or bench chisels, are too specialized to start with and don’t offer many advantages.

Essential woodworking tools: Sharpening stones

A quality plane and chisel will work well out of the box, but you’ll need something to keep them sharp as you use them over the years.

Why you need them
All cutting tools, no matter how well you treat them, will lose their edge over time. Fortunately, quality tools like the ones recommended so far are simple to sharpen with the right sharpening stones.

There are two main types to consider for woodworking: water stones (or whetstones) and diamond plates.

Water stones come in a variety of grits and require only water to sharpen your tools. However, as you use them they will naturally develop a concave in the center of the stone, so you’ll need to flatten them.

The best tool for flattening water stones is a diamond plate. These are more expensive but they can also be used on your tools themselves and last for decades without any maintenance.

I’d recommend buying a set of diamond plates if you can afford it, but those on a budget can make do with a nice set of water stones. I’ve recommended both below.

Essential woodworking tool: Circular saw

Now we’re starting to get into the power tool section of our list of must-have woodworking tools, and it kicks off with one of the most useful items in the entire guide.

Why you need one
Many other buying guides for beginner woodworkers will recommend a table saw as one of your first purchases, but a circular saw is a much better choice. Here’s why:

First of all, circular saws are much cheaper. A good circular saw will cost you a few hundred dollars vs a thousand dollars or more for a decent table saw.

Table saws also tend to be either too small to be used for large projects or too big to fit in small workshops. A good table saw can be great for repeatable cuts and speedy manufacturing, but if you’re just starting off these shouldn’t be your focus.

The best investment you can make as a beginner woodworker is a nice circular saw with a track. The track ensures perfect crosscuts and rip cuts — no matter how long the workpiece is.

Trust me, you won’t miss the table saw. Buy one when you’re ready to commit more money and space to woodworking, but not before.

Essential woodworking tool: Router
Our second essential woodworking power tool for beginners is a router. It’s a bit more difficult to master than a circular saw, but it will quickly become your go-to tool for many tasks.

Why you need one
A power router is one of the most versatile woodworking tools you’ll ever own. Forget about rabbet planes, forget about dado blades, forget about cutting circles and other regular shapes by hand. A router can do all of that and more with ease.

As your skills improve, a router can do even more with the help of jigs. Jig making is an art in its own right though, so don’t worry too much about this as a beginner.

Some routers come with a few basic bits, but you’ll probably want to expand your collection with a router bit set eventually. A router table is another great addition, and you can even build one if you have the time. Learn more about those in the link below.

Essential woodworking tool: Power drill
This is one of the few must-have woodworking tools on the list that you may already have. If not, it’s past time you picked up a power drill.

Why you need one
A power drill is a must-have tool for not just woodworkers, but for anyone who does the occasional DIY work or home repairs.

Assembling IKEA furniture, drilling holes to hang picture frames, mixing paint, and even sanding round surfaces is a breeze with a simple power drill.

The main thing to consider is whether to pick up a corded or cordless model. Corded models tend to be cheaper and more powerful, but cordless models are just so much more convenient.

If you want to go the hand tool route, you can make do with a gimlet tool set, screwdriver set, and a hand drill. Still, you won’t be able to accomplish the same tasks as you can with a simple power drill.

Essential woodworking tool: Random orbital sander
The final must-have woodworking tool for beginners might seem like a luxury, but you’ll be kicking yourself for not buying one as you finish up your first project.

Why you need one
Sanding is one of the most tedious parts of woodworking, and no matter how clean your work is you’ll need to do some sanding before applying a finish.

A good random orbital sander will make the penultimate step of each build much faster and enjoyable. Plus, with great dust filters and a mask, your lungs will thank you as you grow older.

Random orbital sanders are slightly more expensive than belt sanders or other sanders, but it’s worth the extra expense. They offer a better finished product without the swirling patterns that other types leave behind.

That’s it for this guide to the basic woodworking tools beginners will need. Hopefully, you’ve found the right tools to get started on your woodworking journey! Let me know in the comments below which tools you picked up, or if you have any more recommendations.

Article provided by, 12 essential woodworking tools for beginners: Start your woodshop right, published on April 21, 2021.


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