I enjoyed doing woodwork back in high school, but I haven't been able to do any since I started college. I want to get into it, but I lack the tools I had at the school shop, and similarly the space. Any recommendations/advice for starting with a college students budget and limited space?

EDIT: To be more precise on what my budget and space constraints are, my funds are probably sub $300 for now and space is a small shed (probably 8' X 6' usable space) on the property I rent. I don't know what kind of projects I want to do exactly, I really just want to explore and work with my hands. Graphus' answer seems like it will be a good starting place, but if these details help at all feel free to give your own answer.

EDIT2: After some thought, my initial interest is in building furniture to use in my home. I usually go for function over form, but want to move away from that and make pieces that are both useful, and look good. My past experience was mostly power tools so my hand tool experience is limited. I feel I'd be able to learn to use them and deal with the longer time it takes to make things.

  • 5
    This is kind of broad. Narrow it down with what type of woodworking you plan on doing maybe? There are OOODLES of tools you could start with.
    – Matt
    Apr 22, 2015 at 23:13
  • I have to agree with Matt, you need to narrow down what kind of projects you want/plan on doing for us to give you a good list
    – bowlturner
    Apr 23, 2015 at 1:38
  • Some suggestions ... do you want to do turning, furniture, small jewelry boxes? Do you want to mill your own wood (probably not in a small space with a limited budget). Honestly there's a huge amount you could do with just a bandsaw and a cordless drill.
    – Daniel B.
    Apr 23, 2015 at 14:01
  • The main thing is I don't have an X in mind at the moment so it is hard to ask for a specific problem. I was looking for things that will be useful for many projects. Apr 23, 2015 at 18:17
  • Look for a Maker Workshop nearby Apr 23, 2015 at 18:49

2 Answers 2


If you want to build furniture, you can certainly go the hand tool route, as Graphus suggested, or you can try to get by with a few power tools such as a circular saw, router, combination square, and a drill. Either way, it's really hard to build anything besides plywood projects without a way to dimension your own lumber, because even the "dimensional" lumber in a store is usually not very straight or flat.

However, you don't necessarily have to buy all of your own tools in order to get started in woodworking, as Carl Carlson suggested.

Find a friend with a shop

Find any local woodworking club(s) and go to a couple meetings. You may make some friends who are willing to share their shops with you. Most of the guys in my woodworking club are retired, and I get the impression that a few of them spend more time in other people's shops than they do in their own, to the point that they even keep their own tools in someone else's shop. On top of that, most of the guys are happy to trade their time and expertise for a 6-pack of beer or a cheap bottle of wine--to be consumed afterward and not while any of the tools are in use, of course. I'm not a drinker myself, but I know $300 will buy a lot more beer than it will tools. If you're too young or don't like the idea of dealing in mind-altering substances, you may be able to come up with something else you can trade for shop time.

Find a community shop

My local university offers use of a small basic woodshop to the public for $5/day or $35/semester (student rates are $4 and $30, respectively), and has lockers available for rent.

Some towns also have MakerSpaces which can range in style from that of a traditional hobby club to a commercial environment more reminiscent of a gym membership. (The gym-like type may be similar to the Maker Workshop that Carl Carlson mentioned; one popular example is TechShop.) MakerSpaces try to cater to a broader range of hobbyists and DIY enthusiasts, commonly called "Makers." Typically there is a monthly membership fee of around $25-$100, though some commercial shops with more exotic equipment charge even more. The membership fee gets you a space in which you can work on your projects, and some MakerSpaces also let you check out tools.

Talk to an existing woodworking business

Look for a local cabinet shop or other established woodworking business. If you find one that's looking for help, they'll probably be happy to hire you part-time and train you to use their equipment, and may even let you work on your own projects after-hours or when business is slow. Even if they aren't hiring, you may be able to rent the shop at slow times or after-hours.


I agree with the comments above that this question is a little too broad, but "college student's budget" and "limited space" give at least a starting point and I can offer a few pointers based on that.

Not only for budget reasons you're looking at primarily a hand-tool approach.

In addition to the cost of power tools working with hand tools is quieter (so people who share a floor or walls with your room won't be disturbed by loud motors late at night) and will generate less dust. Hand-tool processes tend to generate flakes and shavings and little dust (which is also coarser), much easier to clean up than large volumes of fine dust as generated by power sanding for example. Fine dusts are also more of a health hazard if you're working in or adjacent to where you sleep.

You need a good solid surface to work on. There are a couple of simple approaches adopted for this for those without a dedicated working space, one being modification of an existing piece of furniture (e.g. a stout kitchen table) with a lift-on/lift-off woodworking surface. The second is by building a smaller knock-down woodworking bench which can either fold flat to be stored leaning against a wall, or break down into pieces which can then be slid under the bed, behind the sofa etc.

Two examples of the first approach are given in the following images:

Benchtop for kitchen table

Source: Woodwork magazine.

Milkman's workbench

Source: LostArt Press.

And a good example of the second is this, the Apartment Workbench:

enter image description here

Source: Close Grain blog. Full build instructions and parts list at this link.

Some discussion on the requirements of the casual woodworker can also be found in a classic book on woodworking which is available free on Project Gutenberg: Woodworking for Beginners, by Charles G. Wheeler. This book is a wealth of information for the hand-tools-only approach to woodworking so well worth downloading to your hard drive to refer to as you like.

Now to tools. There are a great many tools you can get but what is required is probably mostly driven by the nature of what you're making. The above book gives a good idea of the hand tools required for a large amount of work to be successfully carried out, but you don't need all of these immediately.

One common piece of advice given today is to buy tools as you need them for specific projects, eventually building up a collection that will allow you to do a wide range of projects. Buying tools secondhand, e.g. from flea markets, car-boot sales, estate sales, thrift stores and sites such as Craigslist is a good way to get older and vintage/antique tools that can be extremely good value (often better made than modern equivalents) and can perform excellently with a little cleanup and fettling.

My minimum list for smaller projects would be something like this:

  • at least one saw
  • some cheap chisels (e.g. from Harbor Freight)
  • low-angle block plane
  • some sharpening supplies for the chisels and the plane's blade (commonly referred to as an iron)
  • a strop (can be made very simply and inexpensively)
  • a drill of some kind and a range of bits to drill holes in common sizes
  • a pencil
  • steel rule (both for measuring and for use as a straightedge)
  • a carpenter's square
  • one or more card scrapers (minimise the use of sandpaper)
  • some clamps (the more the better, literally buy as many as you can afford)
  • woodworking adhesive
  • abrasive papers (wet & dry types are not intended for wood but can be washed clean when they become clogged with sanding dust and dried for re-use)

Sharpening supplies are a must. Most edged woodworking tools are not supplied sharp and must be sharpened before first use, and regularly maintained afterwards to keep them properly sharp. A sharp tool works better and is actually safer because it requires less force in use. Periodic stropping is the best way to maintain sharpness quickly and easily.

I would list these as desirable but not immediately essential:

  • a marking knife (a craft knife or boxcutter can work adequately here)
  • a smoothing plane (Stanley type no. 3, 4 or 4 1/2)
  • a bevel gauge
  • a marking gauge (this can be made by the woodworker, many plans available for free online)
  • a flat-bottomed spokeshave

Rather than this answer running even longer, ask a follow-up question about jigs that the woodworker can make for improving the efficiency of handwork operations and I'll provide a pictorial list. This will include a bench hook (sawing aid) and a shooting board (planing aid).

  • 2
    FWIW: Sjöberg Smartvise looks nice. It is more "limited space" than "limited funds" though.
    – LosManos
    Apr 23, 2015 at 13:12
  • Where did you find the work bench from LostArt press
    – LosManos
    Apr 24, 2015 at 6:46
  • 1
    @LosManos I looked for it by name until I found a suitable image, it's called the Milkman's Workbench. I believe Chris Schwarz has updated the design a little from the first model so you may want to look for that. Also it's possible to make one which doesn't rely on wooden screws, instead you use wedges with a shallow angle.
    – Graphus
    Apr 24, 2015 at 8:22
  • I'd recommend an even stronger version of "sharpening supplies are a must", particularly if you go with cheap tools like chisels. Trying to work with dull hand tools is horribly frustrating. Apr 24, 2015 at 21:05

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