Life in the Village and beyond, based around the interests of my life.

Life in the Village and beyond, based around the interests of my life. Sunset at Telegraph Point.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Beginning Woodworking - A Basic Woodworking Starter Kit

I am often asked, particularly by parents who have a child interested in woodworking, what is a sensible basic starter tool kit.  I have thought about this a lot, and have usually referred them to good old Google to see what is recommended elsewhere.

I tried it myself recently, (Googling), and was disappointed with the results.  The kits were either too elaborate, or attempts by commercial enterprises to flog off tools that weren't selling.

Sooooo ........ I have put my limited grey matter to work, and come up with my own basic tool kit list.  These tools are based on what I have seen my grandchildren use in my own workshop, and I have left out tools that they cannot handle.

Having said that, I don't think that there are any essential omissions.  In other words, this starter kit would suit anyone commencing woodwork.

Okey dokey - measuring and marking time.
  • 300mm (12 inch for you foreigners) steel rule
  • Steel retractable tape measure -5m, 8m, 10m ... whatever you can find .... length isn't that important.  Handy to have a stopper button like this one.  I like the metric/imperial tapes, but children should have one or the other - too confusing otherwise.
  • Combination square - 90 and 45 degrees
  • Pencils - HB or H - kids always press too hard
  • Pencil sharpener

Screwing and nailing:
  • Warrington hammer - easier for kids to use than a standard claw hammer, as it isn't as heavy and is better balanced.  There are different sizes in these, so take the kids to the markets and get them to try the hammers before buying.
  • Nail punches - flat ended - 1/8 inch and 1/16 inches wide at the tip
  • Screw drivers - flat bladed and phillips head (posi-drive) -  small and larger in each

Chiseling and sharpening:
  • Four bevelled edge chisels 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, and 1 inch wide.  Older chisels are usually better than the new consumer chisels from the hardware stores.  Again, the markets are your friend.  Best value around at the moment are the older English bevelled edge chisels - anything made in Sheffield.
  • Pocket knife - useful for so many little jobs around the workshop. In Australia you have to be over 18 to own one of these - Jeez, talk about the nanny state!
  • Oilstone - and protective wooden box - for sharpening.
  • Sharpening lubricant - I use a kerosene/oil mix of 3/1, but straight kerosene would probably be OK. Plastic squeeze bottle is from a hair-care store.
  • Beginners might like to use a honing guide - not shown here but follow the link.


 For kids, a shorter hand saw is better than a longer one, as they have more control over the cut.  You won't need all of these saws, but two would be good.
  • An 18-22 inch crosscut saw with around 8-10 teeth per inch is most easily managed.  Number 1 is a Disston American Boy - 18 inch X-cut saw. Number 2 is a 20 inch Warranted Superior X-cut saw probably made by Simonds.  Number 3 is a 22 inch X-cut Spear and Jackson.  Of all three my grandkids prefer the 22 inch saw
  • A tenon saw has a brass or steel spine to stiffen the blade and children handle this easily if it has smaller teeth - say 10-12 per inch. Cross cut of course.  This one - number 4 - is a Tyzack.
  • There are no rip saws shown here, and children struggle to use them anyway.  Most of the timber that kids will use will be milled and dressed. If not, they can ask an adult to use a power tool to do it for them.  Kids faced with hand ripping, will simply lose interest very quickly.  As far as timber is concerned, it's better if it is softwood - lighter and easier to handle.

 Planing and Smoothing:

A hand plane is one tool that kids love using. Since most timber used by children will be dressed, they can start with a block plane - Number 1 above - for all those small jobs.  It is a good size for small hands, and the blade is narrow enough that it isn't too hard to push.  This one is an older Stanley 102 - a great little apron plane.

As kids get older and can handle heavier tools, a smoothing plane like this Stanley Number 4 (actually numbered 2 here) is a logical next choice.  For youngsters, a number 3 sized plane might be better, as it has a narrower blade and is easier to push.  These - the Stanley 4 type - are the most common sized plane everywhere, and once again the older ones are better than the new stuff being sold in hardware stores.  Another trip to the markets!

Number 3 is a jack plane, and is longer at around 14 inches.  It is great for shaving off a lot of wood in a hurry, but may never be needed by youngsters. Older woodworkers will find it to be sooo useful.  This one was made by Carter Tools right here in Australia.


Don't ask me why, but kids love drilling holes.  A decent hand drill with double pinion gears like this one is just the ticket.  Of course there are plenty of cheap cordless power drills around at the moment, but most youngsters don't have the strength to handle them.  OK for older, stronger children though.
A hand drill like this one is great for hand-eye co-ordination, and for the development of fine motor skills.

A decent set of sharp drills is a must.  Kids are prone to break the finer drills in a drill kit, so supervise these if they have to be used.

..... and that is about it.

I really don't think that there are any other essential tools.  With this kit, nearly all woodworking tasks that children will address will be covered.  This same set of woodworking tools would be an excellent starter tool chest for any beginning woodworker.  Of course there are absolute buckets of extra tools that could be added.  These can be acquired as the need arises, and as woodworking skills develop and grow.

Now, there are plenty of other tools that I use regularly, but they aren't essential, just desirable and useful. If you get bitten by the handtool bug, there are dozens of ways of expanding your knowledge and ability to use them well.

Just to inspire you further, here is a chest of handtools that were once owned by a piano maker known as H O Studley.  Feast your eyes on the tool chest that he made for his tools :

Picture courtesy of Fine Woodworking - see link above

OK ....... a woodworking tool kit can be put together piece by piece.  Knowing what's important and what's not, helps us focus on essentials.   My list above can be a guide for birthdays and Xmouse presents as well.

Hope it was of some help.........

.....  and happy woodworking to all ..............


  1. Tom,

    I found this to be very informative even as a teacher of wood work. I was very interested to what you belived to be a basic starter kit so i too can develop something like this for myself.

    I have a proposition for you as well. I am looking to expand the way i deliver the theory content of basic hand tools to my students and i am interested in involving yourself in a short video production. I will give you a call at home soon to see if you are interested. Thanks Brad

    1. Many thanks Brad.
      I look forward to hearing from you.

  2. HO Studley's tool chest...

    Uhhhhhh Tool Porn - it's a work of Art.

  3. Hi Tom,

    I was wondering where you can buy these things online. And how much money you might expect to spend on it. I'm trying to assemble a beginners woodworking package for my boyfriend's birthday in October but I can't really spend much. He's never done woodworking before but he's good with his hands. And he's 26, is it too late to start?

    Thank you

    1. Online purchases of used tools can be a little tricky as you can't inspect the item before buying. You can get lucky if the seller has a good reputation, but even then, he may miss something. For example handsaws need to be straight and without any kinks, and have all their teeth - this can be difficult to see from an online listing.
      There are used tool dealers online as well and the best of these is Hans Brunner, ( )but he isn't always cheap.
      The best place to look is at the Sunday markets, where you can see the tools before buying and also get them for a good price.
      It isn't necessary to have a complete set of tools to start with, and it gives you something to look for as the needs arise.
      Finally - it is never too late to start woodworking. Some of our Hastings Woodworkers Guild members have only begun woodwork after they have retired, and they love it............ and the fastest growing numbers are amongst ladies who have never done woodwork before, but are tired of the other crafts that they have done all their lives.
      Good luck with your quest

  4. Hi Tom
    It,s great to see your interest in getting young people interested in wood work, a subject that is close to my heart.
    I have decided to join the 21st century and start a blog of my own For some time I have been doing fine woodwork/wood inlay, a part of rehabilitation, following a serious car accident that left me in a wheelchair, but have become very isolated over the last few years.
    If you have any suggestions, I would be very appreciative.
    With thanks
    Peter Holmes

    1. Hi Peter,
      Starting your own blog is a great idea. I started because I love woodwork and wanted to share it. There are plenty of blog hosting sites.
      I have found Google Blogger to be very easy to use and the hosting is free.
      One thing to remember is that the blog is for your benefit and the benefits to others are a serendipitous side product. Don't feel under pressure to keep blogging because of a sense of obligation, and you will enjoy it more. You will be more relaxed and it will show in your writing.
      Have fun and do what you enjoy and other people will enjoy it with you.
      Good luck with it and have a look at Ray Sanderson's Blog "Ray and Sue's Wool 'n' Wood" - Ray is wheelchair bound too but loves his woodwork.
      Happy blogging

  5. Great resource. I'm about to re-launch my woodworking hobby having not touched a chisel since school. I recognise about 90% of those tools from our old family garage. Thanks for writing this and making sure I don't go out and buy Makita's back catalogue.

    1. Good on you Dan.
      You will enjoy using quality sharp hand tools.
      There is a place for electron burners in the workshop and you may yet procure some.
      I would be lost without my bandsaw, but I love using old hand tools.
      Happy shavings

  6. I am very happy to have found this information, I am turning 30 this week and I have problems with my motor skills. I have adhd so I am bad at measuring, drawing using a ruler properly and cutting straight, I think If I work at home slowly I can build up my strength and my hand skills, I was wondering is there a book you recommend me to get to start with, I want something that is easy to understand?

    1. There are many books that are an introduction to woodworking. Most of them are designed to sell something, or are not much use at all.
      There are books on boxmaking that might help, and after that you might like to look at books on furniture making.
      My advice is to just grab some wood and make some simple things at first, and progress from there as your skills grow. Happy woodworking to you.