A pro’s advice on tools for the novice woodworker
Synopsis: Michael Dunbar explains what tools a novice woodworker should purchase first and how to evaluate them. If he had it to do over again, he’d start off by getting a smooth plane, a tablesaw, a ruler, a mortise gauge, a set of chisels, and a dovetail saw. There are dizzying quantities of these tools available, and his advice points out how they vary, how to select them, and how to use them.
If I had to guess, I’d say that I own about 350 woodworking tools collected over 27 years. Some work better than others, but at one time or another, I’ve used them all. In a given week, I probably use three dozen tools. For the novice woodworker, the tool selection in stores and catalogs can seem baffling, confusing and confounding.
Imagine this: You decide to take up woodworking, and this weekend, you are going with checkbook in hand to the woodworking store to buy some tools. Your budget is limited, and you will only be able to buy a half dozen items. Which ones will they be?
First of all, congratulations. Woodworking is a most satisfying pastime, so varied and multi-faceted you will never complete the twin processes you have undertaken: acquiring tools and learning how to use them. You have begun a lifetime pursuit. Every journey begins with a first step that determines both your direction and the experiences you will have along the way. Likewise, the tools you bring home are going to influence your approach to woodworking for a long time. You want to choose carefully. If I had to start over and acquire new tools—what fun!—here’s what I’d get first.
Smooth plane: This is the most versatile of all woodworking planes, if not all woodworking tools. With a…