I'd like to get into woodworking and am looking at tools in order to make some small simple storage solutions. I love to sew, but a lot of my recent sewing ideas for around the house have included some kind of wooden frame. For example, I would love to be able to make something like this (found on amazon):

fabric hamper with wooden frame

I have done a bit of research but still am unsure exactly what tools I need to start. This is what I have so far:

  • Drill + electric screwdriver: Already have, my husband owns one.
  • Circular saw (What power? Would 1150W be enough? (this one))
  • A workmate bench for securing the wood (like this).

I'm sure there are other things I need too. How do I figure out what other tools I will need for a particular project?

  • 3
    Circular saw, for the kind of project you have shown us, is the wrong tool. Handsaws work just fine. Even if you need plywood cut to size, most lumber yards will do so free or for a small fee.
    – keshlam
    May 16, 2016 at 4:04
  • Steve from Woodworking for Mere Mortals often uses a jigsaw for his limited tools projects.
    – tl8
    May 16, 2016 at 4:22
  • What are your goals with these projects? Do you intend to dimension your own lumber or sort through dimensional lumber stacks to find some straight boards so all you need to do is cut them to length?
    – rob
    May 16, 2016 at 4:36
  • @rob I plan to start with long straight pieces of lumber and cut them to lengths, however some of my later project ideas would need to cut down bigger sheets. Perhaps I'm being too ambitious but since a circular saw is suitable for both I thought that would be better.
    – user2251
    May 16, 2016 at 5:54
  • 1
    I will say that one of those little Workmate style benches is one of the best investments my wife & I made. We've owned ours for more than 20 years, and despite loosing a rubber cap off one of the legs, we still use it frequently even though I've got plenty of counter space in the garage/shop.
    – FreeMan
    May 16, 2016 at 14:24

5 Answers 5


Just to warn you advance, this sort of question is a bit of a rabbit hole. Any one list of tools might suit someone (and that could be you) but run it by 10 other craftsmen and they'll each try to sell you the benefits of their own list which their individual experiences argue are a better starter set.... and I can virtually guarantee that none of them will be exactly the same, which goes to show how individual tool choices can be.

So take any one list as merely a suggestion, no matter who it's from and how much experience they have. It might suit the writer perfectly but an equally experienced other guy or gal might use quite a different set.

Does this list look okay? Anything else I need?

OK so good news first, three entries on your list are fairly universally useful.

Firstly a drill of some kind is a must-have. A power drill and a driver are obviously useful and few modern lists would not include one or both. In case you're not aware a drill which can be run slowly enough (using light finger pressure on the trigger) can function as a driver, and this is what many use instead of having a separate powered screwdriver.

A Workmate is a good inclusion, many would agree that one or a good equivalent (many poor folding benches out there, and Workmates are not nearly as good as they once were) is a sound first/early purchase for the new DIYer or aspiring woodworker. This sort of bench is not your only option, if you had to you could work on a kitchen table with just a couple of clamps, but they have a lot to recommend them and once you own one you'll continually find new ways to use it. As a book I read recently said in essence, "Get a Workmate early, you won't ever outgrow it."

Now the bad, a circular saw seems like a really odd inclusion in a list of first-buy tools. For me one of these would be so far down the list that it wouldn't even register on radar. Although in the hands of an experienced user they are very capable really they're mainly for dealing with big pieces, cutting them down to rough size (note that, not really intended for finished cuts) to begin work on a project. Many woodworkers use theirs for breaking down sheet good such as plywood or MDF and nothing else. And many woodworkers don't own one and have no intention of ever buying one because everything a circular saw might be used for they'd prefer to do with another power saw or a handsaw.

A decent modern panel saw with hardened general-purpose or multi-function teeth (or arguable better, a traditional ripsaw and a cross-cut saw) along with a jigsaw would IMO be a much better use of your money. What you'd lose in terms of speed cutting down large sheet goods you'd more than gain in versatility. Plus all three together could well cost less than a decent circular saw.

You might be put off by the idea of cutting large stock to size with a handsaw, but it's not really as fatiguing as many people assume. As the common advice states, "let the saw do the work". A sharp saw and good technique (not forcing the cut, standing clear of the saw so you're not in your own way, breathing easy as you work) make for a good sawing experience, and usually straighter cuts to boot. Even if you find you do need to take rests after every long cut that's OK, it's not a race :-)

Other tools

Now the most glaring omission from your list is that there are no measuring or marking tools, which any kit must have. Can't cut anything to size or length without 'em. At minimum I'd recommend the following:

  • Tape measure.
  • 12" steel rule (must be steel as wood, plastic or aluminium won't stand up to the use of a marking knife).
  • No. 2 pencil.

A couple of other tools that will be of direct use in making the item pictured in your Question:

  • A block plane
  • Bevel gauge.
  • A sanding block.
  • A pack of quality sandpaper.

On the block plane my main recommendation would be a low-angle one (blade held at 12-15°) with an adjustable mouth. Note that if you get a plane now or plan to get any chisels in the future you will need some stuff for sharpening from day one. Most tools are not sharp enough to use straight from the maker and will anyway require re-sharpening quite soon after you begin using them (within hours or days, depending on the wood you're using and the amount of use to which they're put). Read a bit more on sharpening in this previous Q&A.

You can make your own sanding block very easily but there are numerous inexpensive ones available to buy that work well.

Good sandpaper is quite a bit more expensive than cheap sandpaper but more than pays for itself. The difference in how long the paper lasts can be extraordinary. You might also like to look into Abranet which is an abrasive-impregnated mesh.

Optional but desirable now, definitely useful in the future:

  • Starter set of 3-5 chisels (buy in Aldi or Harbor Freight, cheapest available but useable).
  • Marking gauge.
  • Boxcutter, X-acto knife or Stanley knife, to use as a marking knife. Any sharp small blade will do for this initially, so if you happen to have a pocketknife in the house already that'll do.
  • A card scraper or the standard set of three.
  • Fine-toothed pull saw (makes extremely good cross-cuts that you may decide do not need to be sanded). Inexpensive ones of these (sub-$20) with hardened teeth can work very well and will give long service.

I posted a more complete list of tools in a previous Answer here: What is the best way to get started with limited funds and space? that you may find of further use.

Last but not least, a few things I recommend you build for yourself straight away to help with using hand tools:

  • Thank you for your answer! I'm surprised about the circular saw, honestly. I did quite a bit of research and watched a few youtube videos about first tool choices and a lot of them said curcular saw. I will definitely reconsider now (I'm glad i asked!). I was a bit unsure about using a handsaw but perhaps my handsaw experience has been with cheap saws that don't do the job properly.
    – user2251
    May 16, 2016 at 16:28
  • If you are cutting large pieces and many of them, with only straight lines -- a circular saw is a good thing to have. But it's really not very useful for small pieces, which seems to be where you want to start. This is part of why the list depends so strongly on what you are trying to do...
    – keshlam
    May 17, 2016 at 5:23
  • @stacey, the thing is if you're breaking down a lot of plywood from full 8'x4' sheets to smaller project pieces then a circular saw is certainly useful, but not a must-have. It's very common in Europe for the DIYer not to have a circular saw, and if doing this with a power saw a jigsaw would be the most common tool I think, but many will still use a hand saw. I don't have any powered saws so how I do it. While sheet goods are very abrasive, the modern panel saws with impulse-hardened (also called hardpoint saws) are much tougher than their predecessors and stand up to this well.
    – Graphus
    May 17, 2016 at 7:35

I recommend buying the tools you need when you actually need them. That avoids spending money on one tool that would be better spent on another ... Or on material for more projects.

A circular saw, for the kind of project you have shown us, is the wrong tool. Handsaws work just fine. Even if you need plywood cut to size, most lumber yards will do simple rectangular cuts free or for a small fee.

  • While I understand what you mean, as a beginner it's difficult to know exactly what I need for a specific project. While "buy when you need them" is a good idea, it relies on the fact that I know what I need. What about when I don't know what I need?
    – user2251
    May 26, 2016 at 17:21
  • Ask us a more specific question. (Note that you have some specific ideas for the laundry bag holder in other answers.) Or look up plans for the project or similar ones on sites like Instructables and see how they did it. Or start with a minimal toolkit (drill, handsaw, screwdrivers and hammer can do a lot) and add tools when something seems impossible or unreasonably hard to do well with what you've got.
    – keshlam
    May 26, 2016 at 22:24

Beyond the most basic level homeowner hand tools (hammer, screw drivers, pliers, handsaw, hand drill, etc.) I would recommend simple woodworking tools including:

  • Bench chisels. A simple 4 piece set including 1/4" through 1". A wider 1 1/4" to 1 1/2" chisel is often useful as well. Eventually you will want a mallet to assist with chiseling especially in hardwoods.
  • Rasp and files. A course wood rasp and an assortment of files are also good to have for work such as hand shaping wood, rounding edges or smoothing inside corners.
  • A sanding block and an assortment of various grade sandpapers.
  • Handplane(s). If you are doing projects regularly a 9" long (jack) plane and a shorter hand (block) plane are very useful. It will take a little practice to use them effectively, but it can really speed up production and improve the results once you get the hang of it.
  • A tablesaw. I would recommend a decent portable contractor saw for both household projects and simpler woodworking projects. As your projects become fancier you would want a heavier stationary tablesaw, but if it is not in the budget now, a good quality contractor saw will perform better than a circle saw.
  • A Japanese style (cuts on the pull stroke) handsaw. I have an inexpensive ($20 +/-) handsaws from big box retailers and can perform a lot of detailed cutting work with it. (I think it is easier to cut true to a line on the pull stroke)
  • An 18" to 24" ruler marked to 32nd's of an inch. Precise measurement is often key to good project results.
  • A tri-square for marking perpendicular and 45 degree lines. Also a couple draftsman triangles are helpful.
  • A solid workbench with a flush face top and legs on the workside with a woodworking side mount vise. Holding the work firmly in place while working on it is very important to good results. My first workbench was made from a solid core door top and well braced 2x4 framed legs. It still moved a little when planing, but got me through a lot of projects for many years.

There are plenty of other specialized tools and your need for them will vary with the projects you execute, but this list should help cover the basics. Like with most tools, there are always very cheap versions available but I would avoid them since there fabrication, operational ease and tolerances make them unreliable. I would also avoid very expensive ones. While they may be much better in quality, their subtle capabilities will be of lesser value at the skill levels and project complexity you would need in early year woodworking projects.


Something under-appreciated by newcomers is how creative a disciple woodworking is. There are almost always lots of ways to do the same thing. Some ways take longer than others, and some are more precise or are easier. How you will accomplish something often depends on what tools you have at your disposal, instead of vice-versa.

For example, if you were trying to reproduce the frame in your question exactly, you'd need some way of making mortises to slot the horizontal cross members in. That could be accomplished with a hand drill or a drill press by drilling out a series of holes the same width as your mortise, and then using a bench chisel to square up the mortise by cleaning out whatever the drill didn't take care of. Or you could use a plunge router to cut out the whole mortise at once (perhaps with the exception of the corners, depending on the shape of your tenon). Or you could eschew power tools entirely and opt to cut the mortise with the traditional mortising chisels.

But if you don't need an exact copy and are willing to substitute dowels for the horizontal boards, you could simply drill a hole the same width as the dowels. If you want a very clean hole, forstner bits in a drill press would work great. Forstner bits cut very clean holes. The drill press would allow you to set a stop that limits the depth of cut, producing holes of a uniform depth. If you don't have a drill press but do have a plunge router, you could set it up to make a single plunge cut with a bit the same size as your dowel. Plunge routers also allow you to set the depth of the cut. But if all you have is a hand drill with regular bits, you could accomplish a good enough hole for the dowels if you take your time and are careful to keep the drill level and not drill all the way through the wood.

In short, I'm agreeing with keshlam. Buy the tools as you need them. But also be aware there are usually lots of ways to do a thing, and a lot of times you pick the technique you'll use based on the tools you have on hand.


I don't think there's much I can add to the other very good answers, but I can perhaps reinforce a couple of things.

(1) You can do a lot with basic hand tools. Take any online tutorials/blogs/instructional videos with a grain of salt. Some of them would have you believe that you need every power tool under the sun for every simple task. I recently read some instructions on how to make a slotted storage system - basically slats of wood fixed to battens and attached to the wall, with narrow gaps between each slat that you can hook storage bins or custom-made tool racks into. It's a simple project - basically just screw or nail the slats onto the battens and you're done. The instructions started with a list of tools required - a planer/thicknesser, table saw to rip the slats to the right width, eletric mitre saw to cut them to length, and the list went on. Don't get me wrong, I'd love to have all those tools, but I don't have the space or the budget, and even if I did, I could make the same thing just as quickly by buying wood that's already planed and cross-cutting with a hand-saw.

(2) As others have said, buy things as you need them for each project and as your skill level develops. My first project was to build a wardrobe to fit into an oddly shaped room. I designed a simple open frame held together with mortise and tenon joints, and plywood shelves. I started with a cheap hand saw to cut the boards, and some chisels that I already had, and not much more. Later, when adding the shelves, I bought a block plane to trim them for an exact fit. After learning to use the plane, I now know that If I'd had it earlier, I could have used it to smooth the ends of some of the boards and save myself some time sanding, but at the start of the project I wouldn't have had the skill to do that anyway.

The lesson is, start with basic tools and as you develop your skills and find things that you can't do with the tools you have, you will find out which other tools you need.

(3) As others have said, there are always more than one way to do anything with woodwork. For example, to curve the edges of the boards in your picture, you could use a coping saw to cut the curve. Or, you could make rough straight cuts with a tenon saw (for example) and then round it over with a rasp or a block plane, or sandpaper and patience. Or you could use a belt sander. You could probably do it with a router if you really wanted to. This does make it difficult for a beginner to pick the right tool. I suggest looking through some books on woodworking - maybe see what your local library has. That way, you can get an idea of what each tool is capable of before deciding what to buy, and you may even find out about some tools that you didn't know existed.

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