What Hand Tools do I Need?

Continuing on the subject of woodworking hand tools the next step would be “what hand tools do I need”? The latest edition of Fine WoodWorking magazine, Dec. 2010 issue No. 215 had a very good article naming 12 hand tools every furniture maker needs.

I’m sure every furniture maker would have a similar list and I’m no exception. While the FWW article was very good I feel that one very important group of tools was omitted. If you plan to do any shaping of wood, cabriole legs come immediately to mind, you are going to need at least one good rasp and several files. When looking for a good rasp look for an older Nicholson #49. I am told that the newer ones are not as good as the older ones. The best rasps for shaping wood are hand “stitched” (the process of cutting the teeth on a rasp is called stitching). Get one that is 10” long, half round and tapered in width, this is the best general shape and will work well for most shaping jobs encountered in furniture making.

You will also need several files to refine the shape and finish produced by the rasp. Look for Swiss Pattern half round files. These are tapered in width and work well for filing inside curves. You will need a 10” bastard and an 8” mill or second cut. With the above mentioned rasp and these two files you will be able to do most shaping tasks that arise in furniture making. The shape and finish produced by this combination will minimize the sanding necessary to finish fairing any shape you are likely to encounter.

I can hear it now “what tools should I buy first”? There is no clear cut answer to this question. The work that you do will determine what tools you will need first. My recommendation for your first acquisitions are a basic set of bench chisels, ¼” 3/8” ½” and ¾” wide and a good block plane. Learn to sharpen these tools and use them, use them and use them some more. As your skills with these basic tools increase so will your confidence and you will begin to take your woodworking to the next level.


Professional furniture maker and restorer. Dealer and collector of vintage and antique woodworking tools.
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