Saturday, December 1, 2012

Essential Tools for Newbies: Part I - Introduction

Well, opinions are like assholes.  Everybody has one.
- Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry

Opinions are like assholes

I have a problem with the thought many writers have regarding their opinion of what a basic hand tool kit should contain.  So, let me tell you what tools you really need when starting out.  :o)

First, a little philisophical drivel:

You will want to do some research before blowing your hard-earned money.  I will venture to make a statement that everyone (including me) who has published a list of what the basic tools really should be, didn't start out doing that way.  We all went and blew a bunch of money on tools that we didn't need first. 

Read books and check out what bloggers are saying.  Find out not only what are the best tools, but learn what tools different basic skills require.  Make informed decisions based on not only your current project, but what projects you are likely to do in the future. 

You will want to read a bunch of books about what interests you in woodworking.  But, beware!  Just because your favorite author uses a $700 tool to make sliding dovetail joints, doesn't mean there is not an economical alternative.  Learn this joint with a saw and a chisel.  If it turns out you decide you want to make this joint 20 times a day, five days a week, that specialty tool may be worth it.  If, on the other hand, it is just for this one project, use your basic tool kit, and perhaps think of an alternative, simpler joint that may work just as good.

So in other words, this really is a list of "Now That I Know a Little Bit, Here Is What I Should Have Done."

If you want to learn to use hand tools effectively, focus on getting good at the fundamentals.  I know, I sound like your piano teacher from when you were a kid.  Nobody likes to learn scales, but once you do, you can make music!

Furniture building  requires tools to perform the following tasks:

  1. dimension wood
  2. straighten wood
  3. prepare surfaces for finish
  4. join wood
That's really all there is to it!  Oh, except you need some way to keep your tools sharp. Without truly sharp tools, you will quickly become frustrated and take up something easy.  Like golf.

Since I have started looking at my tool needs through this lens, I have found that I need a lot less than I thought.  Also, buying a couple single tools here and there makes far more sense than the false economy of buying entire sets (for example:  chisels).  Purchasing only the tools that you really need and use on a consistent basis keeps your shop cleaner and neater.  As a bonus, SWMBO (She Who Must Be Obeyed) doesn't give you the evil eye when you bring home yet another crusty tool that only sits in the shop somewhere not being used.  Make those looks worth it.

The upcoming posts in this series will hopefully teach us (myself included) about what it is we really need, how to conserve your "new tool fund" to get the most out of it by acquiring tools that will last and how to make them last, and also (something I haven't seen that much of) several different alternatives as to what choices you may want to make.

While you are waiting, read The Anarchist's Tool Chest by Christopher Schwarz.  This book, more than any other will help you put the "what tools do I need" question in perspective.


  1. You forgot the part about A*holes that some stink more than others. Looking forward to reading the rest.

  2. Brian, you are hilarious! Does SWMBO read your post?