Friday, June 9, 2017

Un-Asked-For Advice For "Sven"

I am lucky in that I often get to chat with Jonas from Mulesaw when he is at work. He is chief engineer on the starship "Enterprise," and basically is sent to work for a month on his ship and then gets a month off at home where you and I rarely get to hear from him.

Jonas mentioned to me yesterday that one of the officers on his ship is interested in getting started in woodworking. I don't know this officer's name, but Jonas said he lives in Stockholm, so I'll call him "Sven."

Sven is single (aka: no one to keep him from spending all his money on Lie-Nielsen tools), and started by buying a set of Narex chisels and joined a woodworking club where he can go to use power tools like table saws, jointers, planers, etc.

I thought it might be an interesting mental exercise to recommend to him what tools he should consider.

Especially since I wasn't asked for my opinion.

This is fun because everyone is different, and there are lots of opinions out on the internet (including on this blog) of what a hypothetical "beginner" should buy to do woodworking. This case is a little different, because we know something about him.

Shannon Rogers recently put a video up on his blog, the Renaissance Woodworker, his opinion of what a beginner should put in his kit first, and it looks an awful lot like what I recommend. Since we know that he already has a set of chisels and access to some woodworking machinery, I'll tweak my recommendation especially for Sven.
A great first project could be saw benches.



First, I'll recommend putting all of your new chisels away in the box and not using them, except for the smallest one, a medium one like a 10mm, and a wide one like a 25mm.
Photo credit:
This might seem sacrilegious, focusing on fewer chisels will allow you to keep them in better shape and assist you greatly in your sharpening skills.

I find I very rarely need a chisel that is a specific size, and I have gotten by just fine by using a small number of chisels like this for a few years now.

If you don't believe me, remember I said so when in six months you reach for a chisel out of your nice graduated set and choose one not because it is the exact size you need, but because that one is the least dull of all of them. Keeping seventeen chisels razor sharp and perfectly tuned is much more difficult than keeping three that you use all the time that way.

After you get used to these three chisels, you can then add another one or two into your working set when you have a reason to do so.



I still need to stick with my recommendation of a jack plane being your first plane. If you choose a Lie-Nielsen #5, it will work perfectly right out of the box. Take a close look at a bevel up jack, too. This could be the answer for you. I really like mine and use it to do an awful lot. Stick with one blade for now (It's easy to get caught up in buying three different blades that you don't need). If you get the Veritas, you have the option of the A2 blade (like the Lie-Nielsen), O2, or PM-V11, Lee Valley's proprietary powdered metal blade. I would go for the O2, or maybe the PM-V11 if you want to spend a bit more. You'll also get excellent results out of an A2 blade. At this point, you don't know what you prefer yet, so it probably doesn't matter.

Another option would be to get a good vintage plane. Bailey style planes were made for a long time in Sweden, and those are awesome because they come with a blade made by one of the most fantastic tool steel blade makers of all time, such as E.A. Berg. The plane bodies themselves are of widely varying qualities, in my experience, so if you go this route you would benefit picking out your prospective vintage Swedish plane with the help of an experienced hand tool junkie. I'm sure Bengt would love to help.

I would recommend using this one plane for a while to get the hang of it, and if you think you need more planes, get a smoother (probably a #4, or maybe a #3 if you like that better), and then a #7 jointer (or a #8, if you can find one).
My vintage Sargent planes. A #4 size and a #8 size. They work every bit as good as a Lie-Nielsen now that I've tuned them up.
Jonas said he recommended to you one of Veritas' moving filetster planes. I hadn't really thought of this as a plane for beginners, as they are pretty expensive, and they are not absolutely necessary. If there is money burning a hole in your pocket, you could do worse. This plane works like crazy right out of the box. Adding it to your kit sooner rather than later will have it's biggest reward when doing dovetail joints. Of course dovetails are possible without it, but this plane will make the inside corner of your joint look like you've been making dovetails for decades.

Other Tools


Check out my series of posts about hand saws, sharpening equipment and layout tools. I still stand by those.

Except that I've moved to oil stones. I suppose I need a blog post about those, now.

What else should Sven spend his hard earned Starfleet pay on? I know there are about 50 million more opinions out there. Let's here some in the comments!


  1. A small but not important detail is that Sven is technically called Mikael, not that it matters much regarding what tools he should buy though :-)

    I know that the Veritas rabbet plane might not be the first choice, but it is such a nice plane to work with e.g shiplapping back boards etc.
    I think that you are spot on regarding the "use 3 chisels only" approach. That is pretty much how I do at home. The only difference is if I occasionally make some dovetails where a different sized chisel fits perfectly for chopping out the waste.


    1. Thanks, Jonas!

      His middle name is probably Sven. But that's the only detail you found inaccurate? :)

      Once I started only using a few chisels rather than a whole set is how much less time I spent either 1) sharpening, or 2) using a chisel that isn't sharp enough.


  2. So O1, A2 and PM-V11 all give excellent results...
    ...but it's a lot easier to sharpen O1. A2 and PM-V11 pretty much need waterstones which can be messy, but O1 you can sharpen on oilstones or diamond stones readily and easily.

    As to tools in general, you didn't mention saws at all, and Christopher Schwartz will be around in a few minutes to slap you :D
    Get the saw cut right, and the chisels aren't used as much. Get the saw cut wrong and they're not used at all because you've made firewood :D
    Cheap panel saws (rip and cross-cut), maybe a tenon saw, and a saw file. Table saws and other power saws are useful because we all have too many fingers, but for accuracy and fun, you want a handsaw.

    Also, the most important tool in the workshop, namely, a workshop. If you don't have space to do this stuff, you can't do this stuff.

    And then there's the second-most important tool in the workshop, your workbench. You can make it yourself (I did and I know nothing) and it's a pretty decent first project because if you screw it up, nobody will ever know, it'll probably still work fine, and you should really make more later anyway as you learn what works for you and what doesn't.

    Third most important, but the very first thing you should buy, a first aid kit. Buy one, throw out half of it, and refill it with spares from St.John's Ambulance, going heavy on the finger dressings and plasters because that's where your new tools are going to stab you most often.

    After that, it's dependant on what you build, and that's decided by how much space you have which brings us back to the first most important thing again...

    1. Haha! Perfect! The Frau constantly gives me grief for bleeding and needing a Band-Aid. I've found the fabric ones are indispensable in the shop.

      One can get away with a lot if you have a creative, open mind as far as a shop. I've gotten away with a 100 sq. meter shop for years, and now my shop is also a home office. I've built a couple of projects without any bench, which is possible but not as nice as with one. Now all I have is a pair of saw benches, which improves everything a million percent.

      If you check out my link for a basic tool kit, you'll see I do indeed recommend saws. Right now my tool chest only has a Ryoba saw, a turning saw, and a flush cut saw. Panel saws and back saws are great, but they can also be a big source of frustration for a beginner without a source for good ones or the knowledge to resharpen.


    2. Oh, you can get away with a lot less than 100 square metres :D
      My little shed is 8`x6` which is about 4.5 square metres :D And I lose a square metre of that to a washing machine :D

      You can still do fun stuff like that:

    3. Haha! Did I say square meters? I meant square feet. My keller is about half the size of yours. But, my office is a nice, bright space. I can't complain.

  3. A carcass saw is essential whether a cheap pull saw or a inexpensive Veritas carcass saw.
    I'll offer an inexpensive sharpening setup, that I've largely switched to lately:
    -Cheapo eclipse guide and shop made repeatable angle stops
    -Ø8" diamond lapping plates from amazon in 240-600-1200 grits from Amazon. I have these stuck to a flat surface (~$50 for all)
    -Green honing stick. I use on piece of MDF.

    I'd get a feel for what he wants to make, chairs? cabinetry? spoons? this guides the next steps.

    1. Good point about what projects he's interested in making. That will definitely shape his long term tool purchases.

      Do you have a link for those diamond plates?

    2. Ultex do some nice cheap stones:

      They usually go for £25-30 each but they regularly go on sale for around £10 (which is when I bought my four). For a hobbyist, they're more than adequate; by the time a hobbyist needs to replace one, a professional might need to replace a DMT.

    3. Thanks, good link. I'll keep an eye out for them in Spain.

    4. 8 inch Grit 1200 Quality Electroplated Diamond coated Flat Lap Disk wheel This is one of them can go from there

  4. I just went through this exercise for myself to outline what I want to take over to my dads or going to a class. It's not a bare bones minimum but more along the lines of what I would like to have so I can more or less do the kinds of things I normally do at home and not feel inconvienced when working elsewhere. Though I certainly like the beginner lists, I'm kind of curious what most folks would consider phase 2 and phase 3 of their tool purchases. What I use at home is slightl larger than this list but not dramatically so. I have been woodworking for about two years now and only use handtools.

    5-1/2 Jack plane with two blades
    1/4" and 3/4" chisel
    Thor hammer
    Dual sided diamond stone
    Marking knife
    Engineering square
    Bevel angle gauge
    Measuring tape
    Induction hardened saw
    Dovetail saw
    Rasp and a file
    Veritas dual marking gauge
    Coping saw
    Router plane
    Digital caliper
    Square awl
    Handmade dovetail 1:7 template
    Oiled rag to lube and protect tools
    Car glass cleaner
    Bit 220 grit sand paper
    Towel to wrap up tools
    Home Depot bucket with sitting lid top

    Plough plane
    Skew rabbet
    Large hand router
    Drill and drill bits
    Cabinet scraper
    Card scraper

    1. This is a good list. I originally intended years ago to compile an intermediate tool list, but realized that an intermediate woodworker needs no list from me. Every woodworker goes about things in his own way, and by the time a few projects are under his belt he'll probably know what tools he likes and what he should next get.

      It's great that you like to keep your tools in a bucket. I have my chair tools in a chest with no dividers, basically a big box. You can put a lot of tools in it that way, but I find it dangerous to root around in there looking for whatever is on the bottom.

    2. Good point about the intermediate woodworker having a pretty good idea about what they need. I do find buckets handy. They sit well behind the driver seat in my car and is make it easier to get to things. I tend to use them for several hobbies.

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  6. 1.Buy or acquire wood
    - Without wood you cannot woodwork
    2.Hammer, nails, square, pencil, knife, ryoba saw
    - most beginners do just fine starting out with a nailed butt joint and are usually unaware of many other joints which they will learn later, though I don't favor them ryobas give decent economy with ripping and crosscutting
    3.2 sided sharpening stone, kerosene, a bit of leather, and honing paste
    - even the best steel will need sharpening someday, my first strop was made with the leather from a used glove and still have it and it still works
    4.a few chisels and something with a soft face to strike them
    agreed with your take, most "sets" of any type of tool is a waste
    5.number 4 or 5 hand plane
    my go to is a number 4 with a bit of camber, but I do a lot of smaller projects and the 5 often seems overkill.

    Or you could do like the rest of us when we were beginners and buy 1 of everything.

    1. Guilty!

      I keep a pair of Veritas winding sticks to remind myself to stay humble about this. Special winding sticks are silly because they can be made so easily.

  7. Great post. My #1 piece of advice is "don't get so much advice!" There are many ways and toolsets to get good results, so watch out for adding them all together. You'll have a lot more extra tools than just chisels (I have several very nice unopened Narex chisels from my set, too). So pick a mentor or two, like Brian and Jonas. I also like to see how many tools can be made myself. Read Brian's blog from the beginning before buying a jointer plane. Btw, Brian, I still really enjoy seeing those beautiful elm saw benches in most of your posts.

    1. I don't remember who said to quit reading so much and actually go build something. Good advice. Every woodworker is going to impose un-asked-for advice on you.

      Thanks for the compliment! Perhaps I should re-visit some of my old posts!

      Those elm saw benches were the perfect thing for me. You'd be amazed how much work can be done on them when they are all you have.

    2. This sure is true. I mostly follow Paul Sellers advice. He's done it for a long time. At this point where I am very much a newbie I just want to concentrate on one teacher.

  8. Almost everything was told here... so I'll just add:
    + 1 for a good square/straight edge/pair of dividers

  9. When I started WW I went the powered route and posted to lumberjacks for advise on equipment. One older guy recommended start with hand tools instead. I remember thinking... crazy old man. Boy was I wrong!

    1. I did a major remodel on my garage while I had a two month work sabbatical. I was all set to fill a shop with power tools (grew up watching Norm and didn't know there was any other way). At this time I started reading about what tools to get and stumbled into hand tools and it just clicked and made sense. I'm not opposed to power tools as any hobby that gets folks away from couch and tv is fine by me. I just like the peace and quiet and working on developing my hand skills.

  10. Paul Sellers publishes a basic toollist for his courses:
    Otherwise he published his book "essential woodworking hand tools" from which you can establish a longer list.