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The bad news: There are so many tools on the market, it can be completely overwhelming. How do you pick the best tool for the value? What if you choose the wrong type of tool for the carving you’d like to do? Or worse yet, what if you begin your project, only to realize you’re missing a necessary piece of equipment?
Fortunately, you’re not alone! Every experienced wood carver was once in your shoes, and the following tools all have a devoted following for very good reasons.
You will notice that these tools are all perfect for hand carving. While many who are new to woodworking are tempted to delve into pricey power tools with the mindset they’ll be easier to use, this is often a false assumption.
While having a good quality drill is a necessity for adding the finishing touches to many projects, such as handles and hinges, it’s best to learn how to carve wood by hand before you start exploring motorized sanders, dremels, and other power tools. Not to mention, hand tools are lighter weight than power tools, which makes them excellent for travel and carving wherever you want.
The Best Woodworking Hand Tools
Now, lets dive into the 7 must-have hand tools to get you started in fine woodworking. Whether you’re looking to extend your range of tools or you’re a total beginner, this list of hand tools will find great use for any hobbyist with a passion for woodworking!
1. Narex 4 Piece Chisel Set
Having a good set of chisels is your first priority as a woodworker. After all, without quality tools, you can’t expect to do quality work. This high-quality set will get you far for a very reasonable price.
The set is comprised of four chisels in four different sizes: 6mm (1/4”), 12mm (1/2”), 20mm (13/16”), and 26mm (1 1/32”). They are each just under 12” in length and are made of tempered chrome-manganese steel, which means they will maintain a sharp edge far longer than many chisels on the market.
One major upside of these chisels is the fact they don’t require a mallet to use. Many chisels are soft enough that you’re forced to use a mallet continuously throughout the project.
Of course, mallets can still be used with the Narex chisels. However, when working on fine details and smoothing, being forced to use a mallet can be a huge hindrance. It’s always best to have tools sharp enough to handle the job with or without additional help.
The Narex chisel set is not the cheapest on the market, but it’s also far from overpriced. It’s always best to splurge on the best chisels you can afford, since using low-quality chisels will just give you a huge headache in the long run. Cheap tools are low quality tools, and will be difficult to use, dull easily, and make sloppy cuts.
In essence, the Narex chisel set is an incredible value; no quality is sacrificed, yet they don’t break the bank. What more can you really ask for?
2. Combination Square
A woodworker has the amazing capability to look at an unfinished slab of wood and see a beautiful creation. But what many beginning woodworkers forget is that without precise tools to ensure your work ends up level and square, you are unlikely to wind up with the quality finished product you envisioned.
Combination squares are an absolute necessity if you want your projects to be precise—and trust me, you do! The stainless-steel edging means you can easily wedge it in pretty much any position in the corner of a project. This will help you the test the angles of an existing cut or to mark out a new one. The adjustable angle means you can get the exact size you need without having to rely on multiple combination squares for the same project.
This combination square comes with a 16” ruler and a 6” stainless steel blade for marking exact 90- and 45-degree angles on your project. As an added bonus, it also comes with a liquid bar level to help double check your project is as flat as you think it is.
It also has both standard and metric measurements on it. Therefore, no matter which system you use, this tool has you covered.
Since combination squares are precision tools—arguably the most important one at your disposal—it is naturally incredibly important that they aren’t imprecise. A cheaply made combination square won’t do you any good. It’s always better to spend a little more and make sure you have a tool that will actually work and maintain its precision for the long haul.
Since these tools are very delicate, it’s important you take good care of yours. Just dropping it on a hard floor once can disrupt its alignment, so it pays to be careful. But with a little TLC, this combination square will last you for years and through many projects.
3. Adjustable Block Pane
These tools work by being perfectly smooth across the bottom, except for an indentation where an incredibly sharp blade rests. The interior design of the sharp cutting blade means its safer than many finishing tools, since the only way to really cut yourself is to run it over your hand.
It’s extra important the blade in a block pane is so sharp, since it’s used for making minute adjustments to cabinet doors, door frames, or adjusting the wood width on a finished project. The design of the block pane makes it easy to shave off thin layers until the lay of your wood cutting is perfect.
This block pane has an adjustable knob on top. It is easy to adjust, and doing so changes the depth of the blade, giving you full control of exactly how much or how little wood you take off with each stroke.
The best part of using a block pane is the quality of finish it leaves behind. Many cutting tools leave a rough finish that needs to be sanded. Sanding is still preferred by many. However, it isn’t needed with a block pane since it peels off thin layers of wood and leaves a perfectly smooth surface underneath.
In fact, the block pane can be considered a finishing tool on its own. One of its main uses in many shops is to remove the wavy lines left behind by mill-cut lumber. The result is a perfectly smooth piece of wood primed and ready for finishing.
And, aside from using it on a perfectly flat surface, they are also the ideal tool for creating an angle or bevel such as on the edge of a counter or cabinet door.
4. Japanese Pull Saw
While any hand saw can technically be used to quickly cut a piece of wood, if you want precision and true control over your cuts, you will want to invest in a Japanese pull saw.
The main trait that differentiates these from a standard western hand saw is the fact Japanese pull saws cut on the pull stroke—just as the name suggests. If you think about this logically, it gives you far greater control to guide a blade backwards than it does to force one forward through wood. The serrated backwards-facing blades of the pull saw use gravity to smoothly work through the wood, saving you from having to use as much force as a western hand saw requires.
Another bonus is Japanese pull saws have incredibly tiny, extra-sharp teeth. The cuts they make tend to be incredibly smooth, and are the easiest saws for novices to use, thanks to requiring less force and ensuring greater control.
Your first glimpse at a Japanese pull saw may throw you for a loop, since the handle is very long, which puts your hands much further away from the wood you’re cutting than a standard western saw. But the reason for the long handle quickly becomes clear as soon as you start to cutting; it grants greater leverage. It’s tough to go back to a western saw after using one of these!
One thing to be aware of is all those delicate, sharp teeth on the blade are very fragile. This isn’t a saw you want to throw in a box with a bunch of other tools to be crushed until you need it. Take care of your pull saw and it will maintain its fine edge and precision for many years to come.
5. Wet Sharpener Stone
Keeping your blades sharp is part and parcel to becoming a woodworker. If you’ve never sharpened a blade before, it can sound like a daunting task. However, with this wet sharpener stone, or whetstone, is exceptionally easy to use with a very minimal learning curve.
To use this whetstone, all you do is soak it to ensure a smooth sharpening surface. The water will help minimize friction. After it’s done soaking, place it on a clean, dry surface (to ensure it won’t slip) and then smoothly run your blade back and forth over it. Make sure to sharpen each side.
Something you need to be aware of when using this whetstone, particularly if you’ve never used one before, is it’s very important to make sure you’re getting the angle of the blade right. If you don’t pay attention to the angle of the blade, you can unbalance it, creating a plane where there wasn’t one before. But if you do carefully run it over the whetstone at the right angle for your individual blade, you will enjoy exceptionally sharp blades.
However, you do need to be aware that sharpening your knives is one of the riskiest parts of woodworking. Always be careful and wear protective gloves if you are unsure of your ability to control an extra-sharp blade. Fortunately, this whetstone comes with a non-slip base for increased safety, but nothing is infallible, so it pays to be very careful it doesn’t slip at an inopportune moment.
If you’re in the very last stages of your project, and prepared to connect it together, you don’t want to rely on just your hands to keep it steady. Instead, it’s worth your while to utilize a heavy-duty clamp to ensure it all stays lined up.
Clamps are used to securely hold your project in place. This is important when applying fasteners such as bolts, hinges, or glue. This clamp applies 140 lbs of force, which is useful both for ensuring glue sets and the pieces do not move when drilling.
This particular clamp comes with padded feet to make sure your piece will not be scratched during the clamping process, and it’s easy to operate with just one hand, leaving your other to carefully adjust the lay of the project.
This drill comes with 30 attachments and is very lightweight and compact. Its size makes it easy for novices, including youths, to manipulate when compared to some of the bulkier drills on the market.
It can be used one-handed and will quickly and cleanly drill the holes you need to finish up your new work of art.
There are so many tools on the market that as your interest in woodworking increases, so will your toolkit. But the tools mentioned above will get you off to a fantastic start, giving you the versatility you need to tackle any project.
Whether your goal is an artful carving or a practical cabinet, you can benefit from these tools. Happy carving!