I am starting to get more serious about woodworking and am embarking on a project for my church (A readers' stand with six sides and a rotating top with 3 book holders). I go to a Greek Orthodox church where a traditional aesthetic is important so the project should conform to some traditional standards of finery; although it doesn't have to be ornate by any means.

Up to this point I have only done more rustic projects for my own home using a lot of pallet wood (changing table, crib, shelves, coffee table, etc...). I've gotten away with using a crappy chop saw, a circular saw, a kreg jig and a drill for construction. As you might guess perfect joints and such were not part of the aesthetic. This sort of stuff isn't quite appropriate for a sacred space though.

So I am thinking that I should set myself up with a good traditional hand-tool set (no power) and follow some older traditional American techniques for construction. Does anyone have a recommendation for what basic tools I need and where to get them and also maybe a book?

I'm planning on working with alligator juniper (very dense softwood), oak (dead wood from forest) and ponderosa pine, all from the AZ high country. I'm want to be able to do the following:

  • cut planks from 6" - 18" rounds that are square (3/4" to 2" I should think)
  • square rough lumber stock from yard
  • make good through mortise and tenon joints for 90 deg
  • make whatever basic joint works for 45, 30 and 60 deg
  • plane variable thickness and warped planks

No carving or curves.

I know it'll take longer and be a lot of BST, but that's kind-of the point. I'm hoping I can get a good set of tools to get myself started for less than $1k.

  • 1
    Aside from equipping yourself, be prepared to face some practice projects before diving into projects for show/display. Much of hand tool use is skill based, and those come from practice, not the tool.
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 18:22
  • wranglerstar has a nice set of videos about finding a good set of value hand tools. youtube.com/playlist?list=PL0cmIu4ZDFj7lqXx1Zc60RV1CvWiRDg8A Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 19:56
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    This is very broad and you could get a hundred similar but different recommendations, particularly if people start getting into specifics such as types of saws, planes, etc. A good starting point would be to take a single operation or example project and split each component out to a separate, more specific question. For example, there are many ways to make square joints, but the tools and techniques for a dovetail joint are very different from those for a mortise and tenon joint.
    – rob
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 21:15
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    "I was hoping to generate a broad discussion and just soak up what I could " This isn't the venue for broad discussion, SE is a question-and-answer site. If you want a broad-reaching discussion you need to head to a conventional forum such as SawMillCreek or the Reddit woodworking forum (both of which I highly recommend by the way, in different ways). But you should search first because I know there are a great many threads on "What tools should I get first?" and someone is sure to ask if you'd tried a search first :-)
    – Graphus
    Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 7:46
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    Several stones of progressively finer grits, something to flatten the stones (if you have actual stones instead of diamond plates), possibly a sharpening guide, either a belt sander (and sanding belts) or grinder (and wheel dresser) for reshaping edges, strop, honing compound...
    – rob
    Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 16:50

2 Answers 2


Expense will vary a lot with sources of supply - while there are good new hand tools available, they are often expensive - if you have any flea markets that tend to old tools (or a vendor that does) they are often cheaper for similar quality - but that is a well that's deeper in some geographic regions than others.

You'll need a frame saw - that's often best built by you, and covers the "bandsaw-ish" jobs of making lumber from logs, resawing lumber, etc. without getting into the absurdity of a very hard to source blade (frame saw uses bandsaw blade stock that's easy to come by)

You might also want a froe &/or a set of splitting wedges/gluts for pre-processing your large rounds before the sawing starts.

A mitre box & backsaw help with angles. A shooting board can again be built by you and used with a plane that need not be a "shooting board plane" (but the cheeks should be square to the sole) to make things spiffy.

Jack, smoother, and block planes for a typical start. A roughing plane may also be useful when starting from split or very rough-sawm lumber.

Marking gage (how you get uniform thickness on the other side of a board you have planed flat, with hand planes - and many other joinery jobs)

Chisels. Mallet.

Squares. Winding Sticks. Clamps.

A bench of some sort.


I would not approach it like this.

What I would recommend you do is pick a project you want to work on, and then get the tools you need for that project. Chances are very good that all or almost all of those tools will be needed for the next project, too. Whenever you encounter a task that can only be accomplished (or can be accomplished much easier) with another tool, buy it then.

For example, do you need a miter box? Well, that depends. Does your current project need any miters? If not, then you don't need it. Your next project might not need any either! And by the time you do have a project that requires miters, maybe you'll be comfortable enough sawing by hand that you don't feel you need a miter box anyway. Or maybe (almost definitely) you'll have some scrap wood from another project and decide to make your own to save some money.

I have number of tools sitting in my shop that I didn't have a specific project in mind for, but I saw them and thought, Oh yeah, I'll definitely use that! And they're still sitting there, never used, collecting dust, taking up space. (Massive random orbital sander that I thought would come in handy when I someday decided to do a large panel glue up, I'm looking at you. Meanwhile, my card scrapers take up such little space that half the time I have at least one of them out on my bench even though I'm not using it.)

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