I have finally decided to work toward developing pseudo-Neanderthal woodworking skills. Set on using more hand tools for certain projects (don’t worry, I plan to continue to use power tools heavily in the future as well), I jotted down a list of the tools I thought I needed or wanted to buy, and did some research.
After reading up on a few things, I revised my list, added up the numbers… and then almost fainted. Okay, so barring a winning lottery ticket, I needed to revise the list further to separate my wants from more reasonably needs. I did a bit more research, drafted a new list, and again suffered from bottom-line sticker-shock.
I don’t ever recall been faced with making such difficult tool-selection decisions before. Sure, I typically obsess a little over brand and tool selection unnecessarily, but my choices are usually based on personal preference and features and not so much about function.
I suppose that the same can be true about power tools, mechanics and general use tools, but to a much greater extent. The main problem is knowing which hand planes I will definitely need and where there will be an overlap in function. I’m okay foregoing a purchase if a bit of elbow grease (or quick power tool use) can ease a hand tool’s absence, but it turns out that there’s not much overlap after all.
I considered drawing parallels between making woodworking hand tool choices to making power tool choices, but that’s not an entirely fair analogy. With power tools, different bits, blades, and accessories often allow for a wider range of applications. Although, it is true that there can be as much differentiation between tool style and functions.
On second thought, maybe comparing woodworking tools to power tools is not so far-fetched after all. I can see how the fundamental differences between a selection of planes may be comparable to the difference between cordless drills, drivers, hammer drills, and impact drivers. But, darn it, that doesn’t make me feel better about the potential drain on my wallet.
One option that experienced woodworkers often recommend is for newcomers to find decent quality older or used tools to tune up back to high performing working condition. Unfortunately this route requires considerable legwork, elbow grease, and time. To do this one must first track down a decent quality tool on eBay or locally at a swap meet or similar, then the tool will require a bit of restoration. Sometimes the tools are in need of replacement parts as well. Still, while this may help lower the costs of getting started full-swing, it doesn’t make the selection process any easier.
I more or less made up my mind as to what I needed, throwing in a few wants as well. I’m sure I made a few wrong choices, but only time will tell.
The most frustrating part is that I started off knowing the type of joinery and work I plan on doing, and this did little to make things easier. In fact, it probably made things worse. Knowing that separate costly hand tools were needed to replace the function of a few power tools and small selection of bits and blades was the hardest part to get past. On the plus side, this makes me appreciate my electric router a whole lot more.
I think something that may help you is deciding what part of the build you want to do by hand. I started a hand tool school with the intention of teaching folks how to move from lumber yard to finishing booth without once flipping a power switch. The reality is that I never expected everyone to go that route. Milling and dimensioning stock entirely by hand can be very grueling and takes a lot of practice to get it right. That being said, many prefer to move to hand tools when cutting and fitting joinery. With that later approach the number of hand planes needs really drops off and most of the work can be done with a good backsaw and a few chisels.
To use your router analogy, a plow plane is great at cutting grooves and the occasional rabbet but that is all. A chisel and saw can cut that groove, a dado, dovetail, tenon, filister, bridle, etc, etc. Even better, these fundamental tools will deepen your skill set and allow you to do more with less. Then you can start to add the specialty tools to speed up these specific tasks.
Nothing is worse than dropping a lot of money on many tools only to become frustrated by not knowing how to use them and they get put on the shelf. Good luck and welcome to hand tool fun! Happy shavings!
You NEED this book: http://www.lostartpress.com/product/a1aeb796-1199-45c3-b9ca-99acd1d22b1a.aspx
If I would have had this book when I started down the hand-tool path, I would have saved a LOT of money.
Joe 'the Pro' Sainz
Jason beat me to the punch on the suggestion of Schwarz’s Anarchist Tool Chest. It does a great job of getting down to the bare bones list that you’ll need. It also does a great job of cementing something that I’ve learned over the past couple of years: If you try to go down the restoration route, you’ll spend all your time restoring tools, and not building stuff.
The other thing I’ve learned recently (although it’s not quite sunk in yet) is that you don’t need to buy full sets of stuff right away. The best example is with chisels, we all want a full, beautiful set of Lie-Nielsen chisels. We all should just buy a 1/4″ at first and start working, and pickup the rest later. You aren’t saving much money buying the set anyway.
Have fun traveling down the slippery slope, I know I am.
@Shannon, While most of my recent order was intended for personal use, a part of me knew that I should take a risk or two so that I can learn from the experience and share such lessons here on ToolGuyd, or elsewhere.
I did a LOT of research, and, although I consider myself a beginner, I think I have a good understanding of what I will need and what I merely want.
One thing that I was constantly aware of is how woodworking tools usually have a good resale value if I realize that I made a mistake with my initial tool selection.
@Jason, Joe, I ordered a copy of the book with the rest of the gear. =)
@Joe, I do agree that nobody really needs a full set of tools right away. That’s the path I usually follow as well – buying things in chunks gradually over time. In this case, I went a little nuts, and over-bought a little. But as mentioned, my reasons for doing this vary.
I actually skimped out on chisels. Way back a few years ago, I couldn’t justify a full set of chisels, so that’s what I did – I bought a cheap set of Stanleys (3 for $10), and a single higher-grade made-in-England Stanley FatMax in 1/4″. Then I picked up a decent 3-piece Craftsman set as well. But I kept finding that I needed sizes I didn’t have, and overlapping with smaller chisels was a huge pain not to mention inaccurate. I then went with a small set of Narex chisels, and plan to purchase a larger set once they’re restocked at Lee Valley.
From what I’ve heard and then experienced firsthand, Narex chisels are very decent quality. One day I do hope to be able to justify the cost of a set of Lie-Nielsen chisels or similar, but I need more joinery experience to learn what my likes, dislikes, needs, and wants are. Right now I would rather add functionality with mortise and/or skew chisels than upgrade the good but not spectacular chisels I currently own.
Sometimes I do buy individual tools, but in the past I have bought sets at huge savings – mainly with respect to wrenches, sockets, and screwdrivers.
Joe 'the Pro' Sainz
Glad I’m not the only one who’s been hammering the page everyday to see what the “new” Narex chisels are. I’ve heard that its just thinner (better) bevel edges. I think I’ll pickup a set to check them out when they’re back in stock too. I grabbed one 1/2″ Narex mortise chisel when I was in Calgary last week, and although I haven’t had a chance to chop with it yet, it looks very solid (especially for the price).
Oh, and in case you can’t wait for the book, and if you haven’t seen this already:
That’s the first two chapters of ATC. Schwarz sent it out the the mailing list. It includes the overall list of tools.
I assume that the new chisels will look something like the new premium ones at Highland Woodworking, with thinner, wider beveled edges, but with the Narex/LV handle design.
The PDF sample doesn’t seem to be working for me. Oh well, I should have my copy in a week or so.
What you want to buy – is a direct function of what you plan to do by hand versus machine. If you plan to create glue-up panels by hand then a loneger plane (no.7) might be in the cards. If you will be dealing with end-grain – then a quality block plane would be of value. If it’s smoothing – rather than sanding – then a no.4 would be a good investment. My experienec is that Lie Nielsen’s work with minimal tuneup (if any) and some quick honing – right out of the box.
On chisels – if you want to try your hand at chopping mortises – then a Ray Isles mortise chisel – would be better than a bevel-edged chisel. A good quality back saw or maybe a Dozuki – with some skill building to cut true to a line – would also be handy for hand dovetailing
I went with Veritas/Lee Valley for planes given their reputation and slightly more affordable prices.
Overall, I went a bit overboard with my purchase, and hopefully I didn’t make too many wrong choices.
The Ray Iles mortising chisels that fred mentioned are simply outstanding. I have several cast steel pigstickers (all Wm. Butcher) and the RI chisels are better in every way. The vintage examples I have were all quite less expensive, but the Ray Iles offerings are a better value if you want to actually work wood instead of fettle tools.