Many people ask what tools they need to get started with woodworking. It is an interesting question with no specific or correct answer. Some may say that you need to buy many shop fixtures up front, some might say to start with hand tools. I personally think a mixture of the two is best. Both have their places and there is no one tool that will accomplish every task you need to get done. Of highest emphasis, save yourself the trouble and purchase only the best quality tools. Even if they seem simple, there are huge differences. The extra premium is worth it. They last longer, have better features, and make the whole experience less about the tool and more about getting things done and having a good time. If I were to set up a shop today knowing what I know, this is what I would do.
The first tool I would buy is a set of nice chisels. I would start basic and get only 2-3 sizes like 1/4″, 1/2″, and 1″. You can do so much with a set of sharp chisels including rough cutting and fine joinery. It has always been and continues to be a mainstay.
I would then buy a saw. A general purpose one would get almost everything done at first. If you needed a suggestion, a dovetail or coping saw would be up there especially if you are following my advice for a mix of tools.
The next essential tool would be a hammer or mallet. You need to be able to hit your chisels to do fine and clean chopping, and sometimes you just need a little more force to accomplish your task in assembling or otherwise. Make sure it’s a finishing hammer with a flat face and is comfortable in your hand.
Next you will need a set of screwdrivers.
Engineer square- Doubles as a square, ruler, and level. Great bang for the buck. I prefer a 16″ versus a 12″ if it’s going to be a mainstay.
Clamps- I love handscrews. They are able to acheive serious clamping pressure and various orientations. They are more pricey than quick clamps but you can’t beat them. They can even hold panels vertical when you want to work on the edges. You really cannot have enough clamps. Personally I use handscrews and bar clamps the most.
I would get the following planes. Bench plane, low angle block plane, and shoulder plane. I use planes so often now to tweak things. The more you do woodworking the more you realize it’s less about getting things right to begin with rather than tweaking things to make them work. Planes let you shave off super thin slices to get things flat or even up uneven surfaces. They are easy to whip out and setup.
Scraper- I would get one that is rectangular and a file to sharpen it. It is great for finishing your projects quickly and for smoothing weird grained woods. You can also clean up glue and other things from the surface without the dust of sandpaper.
These are the handtools I use on a regular basis and would consider essential.