Tool List – What to Buy? (Or Wait to Try)


With a handful of classes coming up in the near and not-so-near future, I’ve been sending out tool lists. And given that some of the classes are beginner-oriented, I’m getting questions about what specific tools to buy as new-to-woodworking students stock their kits.

Here are the upcoming classes in which there is still room (at last check):
• Dovetailed Silverware Tray Class at Lie-Nielsen Toolworks, Warren, Maine, May 19-20 (caveat – as you’ll see under the workshop listing, Lie-Nielsen of course recommends the products the company makes and/or carries – and they are all very good).

Build a Traditional Traveling Tool Chest, at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking, Port Townsend, Wash., June 4-8.

Now I’m not terribly comfortable telling people how to spend their hard-earned cash (unless you’re thinking of spending it on a class with me – do that!). My tool kit is perforce subject to personal preference; for me, that includes not only how well a tool performs and feels in my hand (though these two considerations are of the utmost importance), but in some cases how it looks (I cannot, for example, resist any blue-handled item that Dave Jeske of Blue Spruce Toolworks offers), and even who made it. (I will always recommend a Tite-Mark cutting gauge over quite similar though less-expensive items because Kevin Drake of Glen-Drake Toolworks came up with the tool – so he gets my money, no matter how many imitations there are, how little they cost and how well they perform…unless they outperform the Tite-Mark, which I’ve yet to experience.)

I’ve used many makes of most hand tools you’d find in a typical furniture maker’s kit, and there are many that are good, even great – yet they aren’t my personal favorites. What appeals to me (for whatever reason) might not appeal to you (for whatever reason). I’d rather people try out a hand tool for themselves if at all possible before making a buying decision.

The above is a long-winded way of excusing what follows: My take-them-with-a-full-shaker-of-salt recommendations for buying new most of the items I’ve put on any recent tool list (and in most cases, why).  Note that I have nothing against vintage tools and have many – it’s just darn-near impossible to source them for a group, because the conditions and numbers available will vary from toolmonger to yard sale to flea market.

I think – unless you want to spend semi-serious or serious cash – the “best” dividers are to be found at yard sales, flea markets and other secondhand markets (yes, I know that contradicts what I just said above). So as far as new ones, I like the Starrett 8″ “Toolmakers’ Spring-Type Caliper and Divider” in the “semi-serious cash range,” and in the “serious cash” range, the Crucible Tools “Improved Pattern Dividers.” (Yes, of course I’m biased – but they are excellent and gorgeous.) In the “beyond-serious-but-my-gods-are-they-gorgeous cash” range, get a hand-forged pair from Peter Ross or Seth Gould. (I don’t have these last two…but someday…). And for the second pair (that I like to have on hand for dovetail layout though it’s not strictly necessary), get a small pair of any make.

Cutting or Marking Gauge
Wheel-type Cutting Gauge: Tite-Mark (see above). Traditional Marking Gauge: Hamilton Woodworks.

Dovetail Template
Woodjoy “Precision Dovetail Template.” I have many jigs for dovetail layout and they all work well. But this is one of the first tools I ever bought, so I’m perhaps emotionally attached to it. But it’s both good and inexpensive. (You can, of course, also use a sliding bevel gauge instead – my favorite is from Chris Vesper of Vesper Tools.)

Marking Knife
I have a ridiculous number of marking knives. My favorite is a spear-point knife, from Blue Spruce Toolworks. My second favorite is the Czeck Edge Tools “Kerf Cadet.” My favorite budget knife (and it’s very good – I’m just not fond of a plastic-y handle) is the Veritas “Workshop Striking Knife.”

Dovetail Saw
This one is so very difficult. A dovetail saw should be a good fit for you, and my hands are much smaller than average…which is why I most often reach for my Bad Axe 10″ (15 ppi) saw. One can order from Bad Axe with a semi-custom handle (mine is a “small”). I can’t urge you enough to try out a few different makes before buying a dovetail saw. But if budget is a concern, don’t overlook the Veritas Dovetail saw – it’s very good though non-traditional in appearance, and less than $100 – and the $125 Lie-Nielsen dovetail saws (tapered or not – though I prefer non-tapered) – are very good and traditional in form.

Coping Saw
The last tool I ordered before parting ways with Popular Woodworking was Dave Jeske’s new coping saw (Blue Spruce Toolworks) , after trying it out at a show. Amazing – but not quite yet available. I know I’ll regret some of the money I didn’t save in 2017…but not this. I’ll have to use it a while before seeing if it performs on par with or better than the Knew Concepts coping saw I’ve long loved. For now, the Knew Concepts is my recommendation. (With a little work, though, you can make a hardware store coping saw perform well enough.) Regardless of the saw, kit it out with Pegas blades.

Bevel-edge Chisels
My absolute favorites are a Japanese make that I can never remember (so I had a reminder on my computer at PW that I could look up. Oops.), but I also don’t think they are easily available. So among chisels you can actually get, I like the Lie-Nielsen Bevel-edge Socket Chisels. Get only the ones you need instead of a set, and they won’t be shocking to your wallet.

I like the 16-ounce Blue Spruce Toolworks round mallet for chopping out dovetails. I regret to inform you that it is no longer offered in blue.

Crosscut-filed backsaw or panel saw
This one is also difficult; my favorites are vintage and/or no longer available. So among new (and still available) ones, I’d go with the Lie-Nielsen panel saws and the Veritas tenon or carcase saw (I’m inexplicably budget-conscious on these backsaws).

Router Plane
For a large router plane, it’s a toss-up here for me between the Lie-Nielsen and Veritas. The Walke-Moore Tools one is awfully nice looking and I like the idea of the different blade positions, but I’ve not used it enough to weigh in on performance. For a small router plane, I prefer the curved grips on the Lie-Nielsen.

Smooth Plane
Lie-Nielsen, No. 3 (though sometimes the No. 2 and sometimes the No. 4).

Block Plane
I like a small one – one that can fit in an apron (and my hand). I use my Lie-Nielsen No. 102 low-angle block plane most often, but my Veritas sees a lot of use, too (note: the Veritas blade is tapered at the back, so you can’t hold it in an Eclipse-style honing guide).

Gramercy rasps from Tools for Working Wood (using their nomenclature, I’d go with the 10″ 16 tpi).  But I’m awfully fond of Auriou rasps, too, which are available from a number of woodworking retailers.

If there’s a tool I’ve not mentioned above, it’s likely because it’s too prosaic and I wouldn’t recommend using other than the one you almost certainly already have (hammer, drill, combination square) or because mine is vintage and that’s what I’d recommend (jack plane, brace, tongue-and-groove plane). Or because I’ve not used enough examples of those currently available to feel comfortable stating a preference, or because you typically have to order the one I’d recommend and wait…and you likely wouldn’t have it in time for the class (wooden rabbet plane, wooden spokeshave).

About fitz

Woodworker, writer, editor, teacher, ailurophile, Shakespearean. Will write for air-dried walnut.
This entry was posted in Classes, Woodworking. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Tool List – What to Buy? (Or Wait to Try)

  1. Eric Dobson says:

    A bit of misrepresentation of the fancy dividers. Crucible is listed as “serious”, Seth Gould as ”beyond serious”, implying they’re notably more expensive. Gould’s are actually priced less than Crucible.

  2. potomacker says:

    I don’t know how readily available this saw is in the states, but it’s my standard bench saw model. And it has a blue handle!

  3. John Verreault says:

    Happy New Year Megan,
    Your choice for a smoother is understandable but you should also consider the Veritas small bevel-up smoother ( which is comparable to a #3 and has a great selection of blades. Just my 2 cents worth on the topic.

  4. wilburpan says:

    If you have a question about Japanese chisels, you know how to get a hold of me. *grin*

  5. Great list Megan.

    A bit off topic but do you think you’ll offer the Dutch Tool chest class at LAP headquarters later this year? I’d love to take your Feb class but I can’t make it that weekend.

  6. Megan, any chance of you running a Travel tool chest build at the LAP facilities this year?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s