20 Most Essential Woodworking Hand Tools That You Must Have

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By definition, woodworking hand tools are any tool that is powered by hand rather than a motor. Categories of woodworking hand tools include jack plane, hand saw, bench chisel, mortise chisel, marking knife, hand drill, etc. Any portable power tools are not hand tools.

If you’re into traditional woodworking and the old-school way without power tools, then you will need some of the most essential woodworking hand tools that all woodworkers must have. These are the best woodworking tools. The list of woodworking hand tools below is in random order.

1. Solid Woodworking Workbench

Woodworking Workbench

Like it or not, you will need a solid surface with 3 feet height to start working. It’s not necessary to have a fancy workbench. A simple one will do.

Make sure the workbench has enough surface area for your work and to secure your workpiece. Make sure it’s solid and sturdy. Find out our top 5 best workbench reviews here.

2. Jack Plane

Stanley Jack Plane

A Jack Plane (or fore plane) is a general-purpose woodworking bench plane, used for dressing timber down to the correct size in preparation for truing and/or edge jointing. It is usually the first plane used on rough stock, but in exceptional cases can be preceded by the scrub plane.

You’ll eventually want to purchase a dedicated smoothing plane (No. 4) and jointer plane (No. 7), but a Jack Plane will let you get started working! A new and sharp low angle Jack Plane would be ideal for beginners and professionals who aren’t up for rehabbing a hand plane.

Read our latest article on the best hand plane tool review here. 

3. Block Plane

Stanley Block Plane

Block planes have become one of the most oft-used tools in a woodworker’s workshop. Some traditional woodworkers even keep them in their aprons!

These little planes can be used to trim your joints, put chamfers on board edges, trim end grain, etc. I would recommend finding a low-angle block plane because the low angle lets you cut difficult grain more easily.

4. Shoulder Plane

Shop Fox Shoulder Plane

The shoulder plane (also bullnose plane) is a plane tool with a blade flush with the edges of the plane, allowing trimming right up to the edge of a workpiece. Like a rebate plane, the shoulder plane’s blade extends, therefore cuts, to the full width of the tool.

The shoulder plane is used to trim the shoulders and faces of tenons. It is used when it is necessary to trim right into the concave corner where two surfaces of the same piece of wood meet perpendicularly. It is also commonly used to clean up dadoes (housings) and tenons for joinery.

5. Hand Saw

Stanley Hand Saw

Hand saws (often called “panel saws”) are long, thin saws with a comfortable wooden handle. They are used for rough dimensioning of your lumber. Although a “panel saw” is technically a smaller handsaw that fits into the panel of a tool chest, I hereafter refer to this type of saw as a “Panel Saw” to differentiate them from the broad category referred to as “hand saws”.

Panel saws come in two tooth configurations: “Rip” (cuts along the grain…like a chisel) and “Cross Cut” (cuts across the grain…like a knife). You will need both.

6. Back Saw

Stanley Back Saw

A backsaw is any hand saw which has a stiffening rib on the edge opposite the cutting edge, allowing for better control and more precise cutting than with other types of saws. Back saws are normally used in woodworking for precise work, such as cutting dovetails, miters, or tenons in cabinetry and joinery.

7. Miter Box and Miter Saw

Stanley Miter Box Saw

A good miter box & miter saw (a very large backsaw) will enable you to cut your wood to very accurate lengths, at accurate angles. This will especially save you a lot of time in trying to square your board ends when building boxes/tool chests.

The long miter saw glides back and forth through a rigid saw frame. The frame’s angles can be changed to enable you to cut perfect miter joints (the joint used for picture frames) and many other joints.

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8. Coping Saw

Stanley Coping Saw

A coping saw is a type of bow saw used to cut intricate external shapes and interior cut-outs in woodworking or carpentry. It is widely used to cut moldings to create coped rather than miter joints.

Coping saw is regularly used for rough cutting shapes in the board, but especially for removing waste from dovetail joints (one of the most common wood joints). An affordable coping saw will work just fine as long as you have plenty of replacement blades on hand.

9. Hand Drill

Rolson Hand Drill

Traditional manual hand drills are useful tools for woodworkers who prefer not to use a power tool. It’s an old-school way but is still useful for woodworking and other tasks where you want to have total control.

10. Wooden or Rubber Mallet

Bora Wooden Mallet

Wooden or rubber mallets are mostly used for hitting your chisels when cutting joints (like dovetail joints or chopping mortises). You should never ever hit a chisel with a metal hammer.

Build or buy a mallet that is made of fair hardwood (e.g. maple, oak, beach wood, etc.) and one that will feel well balanced in your hand.

11. Bench Chisel Set

Narex Bench Chisel Set

I use chisels perhaps more than any other tool in my workshop, so it’s a good idea to not cheap out here. A high-quality set of bevel edge bench chisels (new or vintage) will last you many years (likely your entire life) and will be used on nearly every project. I’ve used some decent affordable plastic handle bench chisels, but highly prefer lighter wooden handle chisels with excellent steel.

Start with at least four basic chisels: 1/4 inch, 3/8 inch, 1/2 inch, and 3/4 inch. A good set of 5-7 bench chisels (they don’t have to match) will get you going right away. Down the road, you’ll eventually add some specialty chisels (like paring chisels, fishtail chisels, etc) but bench chisels will work for just about everything.

Read our latest article on the best wood chisels set review here.

12. Mortise Chisel Set

Narex Mortise Chisel Set

Mortise chisels are used for ‘chopping out’ joints (chiseling away the waste wood). They are particularly useful for cutting mortise joints as they are strong enough to withstand heavy blows with a mallet.

The handle is normally made of ash or beech with a steel hoop at the top to stop it from splitting. To start off you only need either a 1/4 inch or 3/8 inch mortise chisel (or some size close to those). You don’t need a whole set of mortise chisels.

13. Combination Square

Irwin Combination Square

An indispensable tool for penciling or knifing a line at 45 and 90 degrees. It’s important to get a good one because it will be accurate straight out of the box and it will stay that way. The 12 inch is perhaps the most common variety.

14. Bevel Square

Johnson Level & Tool Bevel Square

A sliding bevel square (or “bevel gauge”) is used for scribing angles on your workpiece. Once set, a good sliding bevel square should be able to repeat that angle over and over again, like when you are laying out dovetails on a board face.

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15. Dividers (Compass)

Toolmaker's Dividers Compass

Dividers (or compass) are used for taking and repeating a measurement over and over again on a workpiece. Traditional woodworkers rarely take measurements with a tape measure when doing fine joinery work, but rather take a measurement with dividers then transfer that arbitrary (yet accurate) measurement to another workpiece.

This removes a degree of inaccuracy. Dividers are also used for scribing arcs and much more. You should definitely have at least two pairs of dividers.

16. Wood Marking Gauge

Kakuri Wood Marking Gauge

Marking gauges excel at cutting a line parallel to the edge of a board, which is vital for laying out accurate tenons, mortises, and the baseline for dovetail joints.

17. Wood Marking Knife

Narex Wood Marking Knife

A marking knife is used for marking where you will be cutting with your saws. For getting into tight spots (like dovetails) and making very accurate lines (which is vital for tight-fitting joints) you need just the right marking knife.

Marking knives are often better than pencils for laying out joinery locations. A cut line is better than a pencil line because it provides a precise location and line for starting a chisel or handsaw.

18. Tape Measure

Stanley Tape Measure

This is pretty straightforward. You need to measure your wood piece before marking, sawing, and chiseling. Get a good quality one.

19. Wood Clamps

Bora Wood Clamp

Woodworking clamps hold your freshly glued up joints together until the glue hardens. To start off with I would recommend buying at least one quality “hand screw clamp” (around 10 or 12 inches) and a few bar-type clamps. Find out which is the best woodworking clamp here.

20. Tools Sharpening System

Stanley Tools Sharpening System

Having very sharp tools is one of the most important aspects of proper traditional woodworking. It requires skill to do this.

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That’s it! The above are the basic woodworking hand tools that you’ll need. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of buying good quality woodworking tools. Not just a good quality tool that performs better and more precisely, it will last a lifetime.

Invest in better quality woodworking tools and it will make your life easier. Turn your woodworking ideas and woodworking projects into masterpieces. All the best to you and Happy Woodworking!

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5 thoughts on “20 Most Essential Woodworking Hand Tools That You Must Have”

  1. Pingback: Top 5 Video Guide On How To Make A Woodworking DIY Workbench

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  3. Great list! Basically covers all the stuff a beginner must know how to use and when to use. I’d also like to add scroll saw blades. They can be very handy when needed. I’ve found good quality blades from D & D Woodcrafts that last a long time.

  4. Hey Suresh,
    What a fantastic list of woodworking hand tools!

    Woodworking is an excellent profession. Anyone looking forward to starting this as a hobby or as a profession this article will give them an overview of different woodworking tools. From beginners to experts, everyone will love this article.

    I am going to share this article with my woodworking friends, and they will love to read this.

  5. Another great article, nice work. I have always believed that working with hand tools helps develop your “Eye” for the work you do. Even if that’s not true, it does at the very least help you to appreciate your power tools more! Thank you for taking the time to write this up, I will go ahead and bookmark it so that I have it handy next time I need to purchase a new saw or plane.

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