Essential Hand Tools for Woodworking

Carpenter working in his workshop
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Despite the suggestion of many woodworking TV shows, woodworking is not all about large, expensive stationary power tools, like table saws, band saws, and planers. Woodworkers routinely use basic hand tools for measuring, layout, marking, fastening, trimming, chiseling, and many other tasks. A basic set of essential hand tools will help you get started in woodworking and will be just as useful as you develop more skills and acquire more advanced tools.

  • 01 of 10

    Claw Hammer

    Woman hammering nail into wall
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    Everyone has probably used a hammer at some point in their lives. While there are many types of hammers for all kinds of applications, the most versatile woodworking model is the claw hammer with a smooth, slightly rounded "finish" head. Choose one that is not too heavy, but feels good in your hand. A 16-ounce or 20-ounce hammer is a good place to start.

  • 02 of 10

    Layout Square

    A man worker in the carpentry workshop, working with wood.
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    A layout Square (also commonly referred to as a speed square or a rafter square) is an invaluable woodworking tool. Not only is it one of the quickest and easiest tools for marking a straight line for an end cut, but it can also be used to quickly mark any angle up to 45 degrees or measure up to 6 inches. It's a handy tool to keep in your back pocket or nail pouch whenever you're in the shop.

  • 03 of 10

    25-Foot Retractable Tape Measure

    Self-retracting metal tape measure.
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    A standard retractable tape measure is used for all sorts of everyday measuring. For convenience, you can choose a tape measure that has both standard and metric markings, or have a separate tape or ruler for metric measurements. Note that the hook on the end of a tape measure moves slightly back and forth. This is by design and allows you to get the same measurement whether you're hooking the tape over the end of a board or pushing it up against something. The movement accounts for the thickness of the hook.

  • 04 of 10

    Utility Knife

    Close-Up Of Utility Knife On Wooden Table
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    A utility knife with a locking mechanism that uses disposable blades is another vital tool for the woodworker. This versatile cutting device can be used for scribing a mark on a piece of stock, cleaning up a hinge mortise, or any of a hundred other uses when a knife is needed. Look for a heavy-duty utility knife with a metal casing, rather than a lightweight box cutter.

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  • 05 of 10


    Close-Up Of Chisel And Wood Shavings On Table
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    A finely sharpened chisel is perfect for cleaning out waste from joints and mortises. When used with proper technique, a chisel can make extremely precise, clean cuts and notches like no other woodworking tool. Traditional woodworkers and craftspeople keep many types and sizes of chisels, but for getting started, the handiest sizes are 1/4 inch, 1/2 inch, 3/4 inch, and 1 inch.

  • 06 of 10


    Male Carpenter Working With Spirit Level.
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    When you need to know if a piece of stock is perfectly horizontal (level) or vertical (plumb), you need a level. For different sizes of projects and spaces, it's helpful to have one long level (24 or 36 inches) and one torpedo level, which is about 6 to 12 inches long.

  • 07 of 10


    Blue screwdriver on white
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    A power drill-driver is handy for driving screws in many situations, but some projects call for the fine-tune feel of a manual screwdriver. You'll need a few sizes in both flat-head and Phillips. The three most common sizes of Phillips screw tips are, from small to large, #1, #2 (standard), and #3. It also helps to have basic sets of square, Torx, and star drivers.

  • 08 of 10

    Sliding Bevel

    old rusty sliding bevel, isolated on white
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    A sliding bevel is very similar to a square, except that it can be adjusted to any angle and locked in place using a locking mechanism. This is very handy when an angle needs to be duplicated.

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  • 09 of 10

    Nail Sets

    Tools on shelves
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    A nail set is a tapered metal punch that is used to sink nail heads flush or just beneath the wood's surface. A small set of three different nail set sizes will cover you for most sizes of finish nails.

  • 10 of 10

    Block Plane

    Woodworking Block Plane and Chisels Surrounded by Shavings
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    The last absolute necessity every woodworker should have is a small block plane. This traditional woodcraft tool is used for removing thin shavings of wood and is invaluable for cleaning up edges during assemblies.