Woodworking Tools – A Beginners Guide
The following tools are a minimum required to be a basis for a good tool kit for a student or beginner attending our ‘Structured Woodworking’ course. The acquisition of a full, individual tool kit may require many years to accomplish. However, there is basic core without which little can be done. It cannot be over emphasised that tools will be part of your life. The attempt to circumvent this by borrowing, “making do”, or setting about resuscitating some ancient antique will create frustrations for yourself.
Bench Planes: the essential plane is a mid-century 20th century Stanley or Record #6 bench plane. This plane, as for any second hand tool you obtain, should be essentially undamaged and mechanically sound. Cracks in the casting of a plane are usually obvious, but they can be subtle. Look especially carefully at the mouth area of the sole and be suspicious if there seems to be lines or marks that begin and run toward the edge of the body from the corners of the mouth aperture. Remember, it is virtually impossible to successfully repair a cracked plane body. eBay is a great resource for second hand planes and provides an opportunity to score a bargain, there is of course a risk involved in buying on pictures alone. Things to avoid are plastic handles, excessive rust, cracks in handles or more importantly the casting and lastly, stay clear of lesser known / disreputable brands (stick with Stanley, Bailey and Record used planes). Unfortunately the used plane market is generally quite price consistent and sellers and buyers know the value of a used plane, so be cautious of extremely cheap planes.
New planes are a possibly, albeit an expensive option. These might be, either Lie-Nielsen, Veritas or Clifton brand planes. These planes are of excellent quality, but to purchase them would be at least double the outlay of a pre-loved Stanley equivalent. NOTE: NEW STANLEY/BAILEY PLANES ARE POOR QUALITY AND SHOULD BE AVOIDED.
In recent years there has been a new entry into the hand plane market and despite being manufactured and exported out of the China, it is surprisingly high quality option at an affordable price. These planes are modeled after the popular ‘Bedrock’ style, initially produced by Stanley and now produced by Lie Nielsen. A fantastic plane for beginners and even more advanced furniture makers, giving both up market and the used market a run for their money. These planes are sold under a few aliases and can be found in Australia through Jim Davey (http://www.jimdavey-planes-sharpening.com ) branded as ‘Wood River’ or on Ebay, branded as ‘Quangsheng’ or through Fine Tools as ‘Luban’ (http://www.finetools.com.au).
You will necessarily add other plane types to your kit as time progresses:
Block Planes: this can be new or second hand and should be of the low angle adjustable mouth type.
Other Bench planes: planes like the #5 or #4 might be added as identified needs arise during the development of your craftsmanship. Likewise spoke shaves and cabinet scrapers can be added as needed.
Chisels: There are two main styles of paring chisel; Japanese chisels or bevel edge bench chisels.
Bevel edge bench chisels (western) are the most common and most useful chisels found in a furniture makers workshop. The most important elements to a good chisel are that they should be comfortable to hold, maintain a sharp edge, and be easy to hone. The backs of the chisel should be flat or very slightly hollow for ease of sharpening.
There is a wide variety of bevel edge chisels available and after you’ve reviewed reports on each sets credibility of construction, composition of steel and reputation are considered, it ultimately comes down to your budget. There are some chisels that compete well with the their pricier competitors and do just fine as set for beginners, Luban, Irwin Marples and Stanley Sweetheart are three that would suite the purpose, of an initial set, that won’t break the bank. The cream of chisels, in my opinion, comes from Lie-Nielsen, closely followed by Robert Sorby and Veritas (not considering independent tool makers like Blue Spruce), these tools have price tags which reflect their quality and their out of box condition.
Similar in size to Western bench chisels, of laminated steel construction and in general thicker than their Western counterparts. The difference is that Japanese bench chisels come from a framing based application and usually have less beveling on the sides, are slightly heavier, have a shorter blade and a longer handles. They are usually a very high quality chisel, hooped and with hollow ground backs, however like the western equivalent there are cheap and nasty versions to avoid.
Shorter bench (or butt) chisels are also important, but besides an initial one or two, are perhaps best added to your kit as the need arises.
An Engineering Square: Intially a 100mm square of reasonable good quality will be sufficient. later it will be of value to add a 50mm and 150mm to your kit.
A Vernier Caliper: Good quality callipers (eg mitutoyo or starrett brand are expensive). However, practical 150mm/6” instruments reasonable quality and cost can be obtained from such places as Hare & Forbes (Dandenong), Just Tools (Port Melbourne) and carbatec (Springvale)
A Marking Knife – Violin makers or Japanese style (Kiridashi): A marking knife is a simple tool, irreplaceable for marking out joinery. Marking knives can be sourced in a range of styles and quality, from the top of the line, hand crafted versions (eg Chris vesper, Blue Spruce) or the much more economically priced (Carbatec – Kiridashi, Hock – violin makers “Hans Weisshaar”), which function equally as well, despite not looking beautiful. Find a single bevel marking knife, choosing the appropriate left or right handed version to suite the user.
Good Resources for Woodworking Tools in Australia:
This is a growing resource for furniture makers and woodworkers. If you have experiences (positive or negative) with these retailers of woodworking tools or experiences with the tools themselves, leave your comments below. Similarly if you feel I have neglected an important resource, let me know in a comment below or via email and I will add it to the list, for all to view.