Starting A Small Woodworking Workshop-Essential Tools

The Small Woodworking ShopHave you finally come around and decided to turn that available room or garage into a small woodworking shop? Plan on building some small projects like boxes, cutting boards or maybe something more ambitious like a chair? Maybe it’s a past time hobby like whittling that funny looking forest elf.

Half the battle is finding the room for a small woodworking shop, the other half, and BIGGER half, is populating the space with all the tools you’ll need for a functioning shop.

In the past I had a shop that was outfitted with all the tools needed to build just about anything I wanted. Forced to move, I liquidated many of the large power tools and downsized to a more modest woodworking shop. Gone were the Jet band saw, cabinet saw, floor standing drill press, joiner, planer, three benches, large cabinet filled with collectable planes and chisels. Thinking back, I am amazed at the woodworking tools I accumulated. What’s the term used these days? Yep, The Slippery Slope of the woodworking realm.

The following is a list of what I consider tools a woodworker should have for a well rounded workshop. Links that have a * I humbly consider essential tools for the shop. There are links to Amazon products that I have researched, own or are praised by other woodworker and believe they are good tools for the money. The links are affiliate links and if you purchase a tool on Amazon using my links I will receive a small compensation. You will not pay a higher price by using the links but it would help me maintain this site. I would appreciate it.

Hand Saws

OldSawOne of the essential hand tools you must have in your shop is a saw. While there are many kinds of saws, the first saw would be a saw that is accurate cutting and positive to use. I have the Shark saw and love it. It cuts smooth and fast on the pull stroke. I found that cutting on the pull stroke was easily mastered with accurate cuts. After using it quite often for over a year the teeth are still sharp. One drawback to this saw is it doesn’t saw with the grain well. It would be nice to have a rip saw for cutting with the grain but normally I use my band saw for ripping boards. The Shark saw will cut plywood with ease.

I use a gents hand saw for dovetail and other joinery work and works well for me. I plan on getting a traditional dovetail saw in the future but lately I have been thinking of making one. If I do, I will go through all of the steps I take here on this site.

Dovetail saw | Back saw | General purpose saw* | Panel Saw

Striking Tools

stockvault-nice-hammer-with-a-walnut131038Really not a lot to say about striking tools but a quality hammer is a must. I have an Estwing hammer that I inherited quite a while ago and as far as hammers go it’s a dream to use with a positive striking force. If you desire a quality hammer get that one.

A solid mallet is also a must have in the shop. It’s necessary to have for all around pounding, especially chisels. A soft-face hammer or mallet is also nice to have where even a wooden mallet may mar a surface.

Hammer* | Mallet*Soft Face Hammer

Measuring Tools

RulerIn woodworking you need to be able to measure as accurately as possible. The tools I list here I own and use on almost daily basis, even for measuring for projects outside of woodworking. The corked backed ruler is nice to have as it doesn’t slide along a surface while drawing a straight line. The 48″ ruler works well not only for measuring but to use as a clamped down straight edge while sawing with a circular or jig saw. The other tools listed help to ensure accuracy in measuring or marking a wooden surface.

Combination square* | 4″ Double square | Sliding bevel square | Marking gauge* | Tape measure | Corked back 24″ ruler* | 48″ Ruler*

Marking Tools

awlOften I use a .05″ leaded mechanical pencil for not only writing but marking boards for joinery or cutting. The one linked to is the one I have. It feels nice in the hand and it doesn’t advance the lead too far helping to prevent easily snapping the thin lead. The thin line makes for more accurate cutting. I also have cheaper brand mechanical pencils that I have placed all around the shop so I don’s have to search very far for one. When accuracy is paramount I use a marketing knife. The cut line a marking knife makes makes registering a chisels edge easier and more accurate. Lastly, the awl is an important tool for making a small dimple in wood or metal so a drill finds its spot right on the mark.


Surface Finishing Tools

sandpaperAh, the beauty of a fine wood worked object beckons just to be touched and feel it’s velvety smooth surface. That surface can be achieved using hand planes, scrapers and even sandpaper. Not necessary in the shop is a cabinet scraper but once you have learned to prepare and use one you will be pleasantly surprised how well they work, preparing a surface for finishing or even removing material for a perfect fit.

Sanding wood has been around for ages. It’s a proven method to prepare a surface before or during applying a final finish on wood. A sanding block helps to keep the sandpaper from making an uneven surface. A sanding block made for that purpose is much better than just wrapping sandpaper around a scrap piece of wood. You can buy sanding blocks or you might try making one of your own like mine.

Cabinet scraper | Sandpaper* | Sandpaper Block*


ChiselBeveled chisels are a must in any woodworking shop. The ones I use are similar to the Marples or Irwin brand and I find they work well and hold an edge for my purposes. The beveled chisels I have listed I have heard good reports concerning them.

Carving chisels are nice to have but when starting not necessary and good ones can be pricey. They can be added to your shop arsenal once you feel a need for them working on that special project. I have been making some of my own and plan on putting together an article in the future about how I am going about making them. Another way to accumulate good chisels is to find them on ebay or tag sales.

Beveled chisels* | Wood Carving chisels


Surface_of_a_fileI almost would say that files are a necessity, but using course sandpaper attached to a dowel or flat stock will work well on wood or even metal using wet/dry sandpaper. I have used that technique in the past with acceptable results.


Hand Planes

Hand_PlaneA finely tuned hand plane is an amazing tool to use. Fact, the hand plane can remove or finish wood like no other tool. I would be lost without my Stanley low angle block plane. With its iron surgically sharp and mouth closed up it shaves feathery thin shavings that brings a grin every time it happens. As stated earlier you can have excellent results with old planes you find on ebay or tag sales. Stanley and Miller Falls are popular brands of hand planes to look for.

Low angle block plane* | Smoothing plane

Tool Sharpening

SharpeningJigWell with tools made out of metal and need to be sharp to work well it stands to good reason to learn how to keep them sharp and the tools to do it with. I have found that using automotive wet/dry sandpaper mounted onto something flat works quite well. Once you have your tools sharp it becomes easier to maintain that sharpness and you will find that the sandpaper last a long time before having to replace them. I have my paper mounted on granite 12″ x 12″ floor tiles. You can buy single floor tiles at the big box stores. The ceramic tiles will work as opposed to the more expensive granite I use. Only reason I use the granite tiles is I had a bunch left over from installing a granite floor entryway. You could also use mdf providing its sealed well and flat.

Ceramic Tile | Glass plate sharpening system* | Wet/Dry sandpaper*


Wood_ClampThe age old saying in woodworking is “you can never have enough clamps” and once you get involved in woodworking full force you will begin to realize how true that is. Starting out I would purchase clamps in sizes 12″ to 36″ or larger if you plan on building bigger projects. Some woodworkers overlook spring clamps but for me they are invaluable often, especially if you work on small items. In the past I had many pipe clamps. I found them very useful because I could stock different lengths of threaded pipe for longer or shorter clamps. My shop is small now and to store them would be a problem.

The wood screw clamps I use frequently as they can be used in clamping situations that won’t work well with other clamps, like clamping objects on my drill press table. They are another tool that I found I couldn’t be without.

Bar Clamps* | Spring Clamps | Wood Screw Clamps*


woodworking_benchA good, sturdy workbench is the “anchor” for any woodworking shop, small or large shop. The bench I have listed has some good reviews and is inexpensive for a small workbench. When assembling that bench use glue on all mating pieces to ensure a strong bench. You might find that you may like to build your bench, and actually that is preferred because you can design it to work with the kind of woodworking you plan on doing. There are many designs of benches online you can search for that will give you a good ideas in designing your own.

Sturdy Workbench*

Power Tools

Drill_PressFor those who wish to do all of their woodworking by using hand tools only can skip this section. I personally do a lot of my woodworking with hand tools and enjoy that mode of woodworking but for certain operations I go to my power tools.

I love my band saw, period. It’s a small capacity saw but because I build projects on the small size this saw is perfect for me. It’s strong enough that with the correct blade I can cut 12/4 stock comfortably. Its dust collection capability is great and that is important to me working in a small shop. Set up properly it runs smooth and quiet, another plus when working in an apartment woodworking shop. For more information on the saw listed take a look at my article about this saw.

The drill press I have listed is the one I use frequently for over two years without a problem. Negligible run out with a strong motor. It’s also quiet running, an important issue for me. You can view my article on this drill press here.

The jig saw I use when I need to cut curves or in shapes where the band saw won’t cut. With a straight edge it will cut a straight line when I’d rather not use my circular saw.

My DeWalt circular saw is similar to the one I list here. Mine is and older version and I imagine that the newer model is better. The one I have is an amazing tool in my estimation. It will cut 3/4 plywood like it’s not even there. Scary actually how powerful it is. The one I have is on the heavier side but the one listed claims “lightweight”. Also to it’s advantage there are great reviews about it.

If you can swing it, for a handheld drill get one with a 1/2″ capability chuck. Trust me it will come in handy. The one I have listed here by Black and Decker has that capability. Why a corded drill as opposed to a battery operated one? They are more reliable and if you don’t need a drill that is portable, like outside construction, I don’t see a need for one. The Black and Decker one has many positive reviews and would be the one I would purchase if the one I have fails on me.

Last is the router. The one I have listed is the one I previously owned at my other shop. Very nice router with a superb build and finish. It was used extensively and often in a shop build router table. One of the drawbacks with a router is they are very noisy.

Band Saw* | Drill Press* | Jig Saw | Circular Saw | Handheld Drill* | Router

Well that about wraps it up for the essential (and non essential) tools required, in my estimation, to starting a modest sized woodworking shop.

I didn’t list any of the accessories that may be needed like drills or saw blades and the like. I may review products I have purchased or find favorable with other woodworkers at a later time.

If you feel that I have missed an essential tool for the modest woodworking shop or a concern about a tool I have listed I would appreciate it if you could leave a suggestion in a comment. Thank you.