Basic Carpentry Tools [Woodworking Equipment for Beginners]

Many people become fascinated with masterful woodworking projects well before they actually pick up the basic carpentry tools to try their own hand at the craft. But once that day comes, it can be a bit overwhelming to figure out which tools are necessary to start out with and which are more appropriate for more skillful woodworkers and challenging projects.

What is a Beginner?

While we intuitively know that a beginner is someone still learning the fundamental skills, it can be a bit more difficult to know when the development of those skills progress someone from a beginner to an intermediate woodworker. It does not help that within the woodworking community there are no “official” standards either.
However, there are a few tips to help you identify whether or not you are a beginner. For one, beginners are still learning out to use their tools. Keep in mind, this is not simply how the function but how to clean and care for them as well--also, how to make minor repairs. 

Still, the most telling way to know when you have advanced to an intermediate level of woodworking is by how you approach project plans. If you can comfortably deviate from project plans due to understanding the principles, then you are an intermediate woodworker. To find more resources on project planning and SketchUp technology we recommend you visit Bob Lang’s site.

Power vs Hand

It might seem a bit counter-intuitive, but quite often a beginner should learn woodworking skills by using power tools as opposed to hand tools. Of course, it is never to early to start practicing with hand tools, but it will take a fair amount of time and use before you can use them proficiently without making serious mistakes.

With power tools on the other hand, it can be relatively easy to make sure that you do not make too egregious a mistake to the point where you have to start all over assuming you have measured everything properly and comfortably control the tool itself. 

The Tools

Our list will be omitting a number of tools that are essential, but are not necessarily what beginners think when they hear the word “tool.” This list includes various measuring and scoring tools as well as safety equipment, stands, and fasteners. However, these tools are every bit as important and should be included:

Combination Square
Framing Square
Bevel Gauge
Marking Gauge
Marking Knife
Steel Tape

1. Table Saw

This is the fundamental saw used for making rip cuts to lengthier pieces of wood. This is generally a fairly large power tool, so make sure you have the room in your workshop to accommodate it. It is advised that you select your first entry level table saw with a blade no less than 10” in diameter--this is also the most common, or “standard,” sized table saw.

Ideally, the table saw will be able to accommodate work pieces that are at least 2’ in length and the motor will produce no less than 1 ½ to 2 hp but will preferably generate between 3 to 5 hp. Also while beneficial to all craftsmen, high-quality rip fences and miter gauges are especially beneficial for beginners who are often still learning how to use the tools.

2. Compound Miter Saw

While the table is saw is more than capable of making crosscuts and may even be able to produce some standard bevel or miter cuts, there really is no way to compensate for the freedom and quality of these type of cuts outside of a compound mitre saw other than with hand tools--a project better suited for more skilled woodworkers.

Because of the necessary precision involved in angled cuts, this tool’s table, guides, and scales need to be as accurate and stable as possible. Moreover, the ability to slide the miter saw arm while cutting as well as offering a dual bevel is preferred. In terms of general qualities associated with power saws, 15 amp motors is ideal.

3. Circular Saw

If you own a quality table saw and miter saw, the hand-held skill saw is one of the more versatile power saws and ideal for quick cuts. While the prior two saws are often more accurate, there are few power saws that can match the speed and ease of a hand held circular saw. It doesn't hurt that circular saws are far less expensive than table or compound miter saws and can accomplish many of the same tasks.

When choosing a circular saw, many of the same qualities that define a solid power saw apply. The blade should be at least 6” long and cut at least at a 45 degree bevel. For woodworking purposes, the motor arrangement should be sidewinder and produce at least 10 amps of power. For smaller projects we recommend checking out our Rotorazer Reviews.

4. Jigsaw

The last power saw in your beginner’s workshop should be a great jigsaw. Unfortunately, this is a bit of a give and take tool, because even most of the high-end models are not exceedingly precise. As such, once you develop more skill, you will likely eschew the jigsaw except for rough plunge cuts in lieu of various hand tools.

More compact with a smaller blade, the jigsaw’s motor only needs to produce a minimum of 5 amps of power--though, 7 amps or more is preferred. However, a pendulum model is better than a random orbital for woodworking even if it is a bit more difficult to use for curving cuts.

5. Random Orbital Sander

Unless you intend to sand all of your work pieces by hand, you will definitely need to get a powered sander of some sort. While other sanders can take off more wood quicker, the random orbital sander is better suited for a beginner. Aside from the fact that you are less likely to make a mistake with this sander, it will also help you see in real time how progressive sanding affects the wood.

Much like the jigsaw, a random orbital sander need not be nearly as powerful as the other power saws. Often as few as 3.5 amps are adequate, though 5 amps or more will certainly make an easier go of it. Another important factor is the size of the sanding pad which should be between 5” to 6”.

6. Power Drill

The power drill is one of the most indispensable tools regardless the discipline of construction. From professionals to amateurs, general construction to woodworking, few tools are as useful as a power drill. Whether you need to drill a hole or drive a screw, this tool is accurate and effective.

While corded models are generally more powerful than cordless, this is often one of the few power tools with which opting for the cordless model does not sacrifice much in terms of power while still providing enough freedom and ease to justify it. Still, 18v to 20v is far superior to 10v to 12v.

7. Hand Planers

Of the hand tools you should own from the start, few are more valuable than planers. However, it is exceedingly easy to dig too deep into your workpiece, visibly gouging it. As such, it is recommended that you practice with various planers or scrap before applying it to a project in full.

Of the numerous planers available, a jack plane, often called a “bench plane,” is the most common. This plane can be used to remove rough stock as well joint shorter boards. For angled planing, a low-angle block plane is ideal for beginners and masters alike.

Basic Carpentry Tools

8. Chisel Set

A chisel set is another variety of hand tool that will take practice to use properly. However, chisels require even more skill than planers to prevent gouging, and as such you should practice more on scrap before trying to cut out mortises with them.

While all tools should be quality made, chisels often need this stressed a bit more due to the fact that they can ruin the workpiece much easier. You will also want to make sure you have a quality hammer for chopping cuts.

9. Hand Saw

Much like planers, there are a number of hand saws that are good for beginners to get used to early on. Thankfully, these are often some of the easier hand tools for beginners to pick up since they carry less risk of ruining the work material if used improperly.

Of the hand saws you should eventually acquire, the dovetail, tenon, and coping saws will arguably see the most use. Dovetail and tenon saws will be used for many of the most popular joints while coping saws offer more precision than jigsaws and chisels with fragile sections.

Basic Carpentry Tools: Conclusion

If you are strapped for cash, getting a set of hand tools can be an effective substitute for the cost of the powered tools on this list and will allow you to learn the more refined techniques more easily when the time comes. However, you will also likely waste more material in the beginning, so you have to weigh how important it is to own all of the basic carpentry tools.

Still, a combination of basic power tools and hand tools is the best way to ensure that your development in the world of woodworking follows a natural and easy course. Just remember, when powered or manual, beginners should take their time, measure twice--at least--and not be too hard on themselves if they make a mistake.

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