A Guide to Woodworking Tools

Good tools will last a lifetime and it is better to have a few tools of the right type and quality than a mass of third rate ones. Even in this age of machinery hand tools are indispensable and a woodworker’s basic kit should include the following items.


To start with, choose the bevelled edge firmer pattern as this form enables the worker to get in to close corners and angles when trimming off, and paring off thin shavings when ‘easing’ a sinking, or cut. In the drawing is the handle – these days made principally from high-density plastics material and formerly from boxwood or ash. The ferrule prevents splitting of the handle and is the tang which locates the chisel in its handle. The shoulder prevents the tang from driving further into the handle. The bevel which gives the chisel its name is, while is the grinding bevel and is the honing or sharpening bevel. The tip of an ordinary firmer chisel is shown at and is that of the stouter mortise chisel.

Three sizes of chisel, 25, 13 and 6 mm are suggested as starters. New chisels should be sharpened before use; they are sold with only the grinding bevel applied. This is about 25 degrees, while the cutting bevel is about 30 degrees.


Chisels should be stored in a rack – blade guards, if available, should be used. This is to protect the easily damaged cutting edge. If a chisel has to be struck to do its cutting, hit it with a rubber, or wooden, mallet — never with metal hammers.


Joiners’ mallets are usually made of beech but other hard and dense woods may be used. Choose a medium size one for general use. Some workers make their own with square, rectangular or even round heads.

Marking gauge

The method of setting the gauge is shown in and method of using is shown in. The stock of the gauge, which slides along the bar, is secured with a thumb screw, shown in.

Note that the gauge is tilted with the point just touching the work and held against the face edge. It is pushed away from the user and kept tight against the edge. The line should not be drawn over with a pencil. Always double check the setting before use.


This can be recommended as a tool with many uses without losing its efficiency as a try-square.

It can also be used for angles of 45 degrees and, because the blade is adjustable, it can be adapted for small or confined work which the fixed blade one will not. It can also be used as a marking gauge by holding a pencil against the blade and sliding both square and pencil along the work. Most combination squares have a small spirit level built into the stock.

They should coincide, or be parallel.


It is advisable to have two types: a folding rule of rigid material opening out to 1 m is useful when working on the bench while a flexible one of the steel tape type up to 3 m is very handy when tackling bigger work or when measuring up for a project around the home.

At the present time both imperial and metric units are in use so it is just as well to buy rules with dual scales — metric down one side and imperial down the other.

Tenon saw

This is the general purpose saw used for bench work, including the cutting of most joints in woodwork. As the back of the blade is stiffened with a steel or brass ‘back’ it is used only for straight cuts and care should be taken to prevent buckling of the blade. A popular size is one with a 254 mm blade and 14 points per inch. Larger and smaller blade sizes are available.

Angles and shape of saw teeth affect their cutting. Tenon and most other saws have teeth shaped to the cross-cut pattern. Teeth are bent alternately right and left and the needlelike points scribe a double line across the wood on each stroke. The remaining edges push out the waste matter in the form of ‘dust’. This bending is called the ‘set’ and is shown, exaggerated, at. In practice the setting is only sufficient to allow the blade to run without binding and varies according to the number of teeth there are to the inch. This tooth form will cut with the grain but for extensive with-the-grain cutting the rip saw and rip-form shaped teeth are used. Angles are also different, the teeth edges being flat and chisel-like as shown at – not needle pointed. These chisel points produce small curly shavings and the cutting action with a sharp saw is quite rapid. The cut made by a saw is called the ‘kerf. The kerf made by a cross cutting saw is shown at and that made by the rip saw is shown at.

All saws should be looked after with great care and blade guards should be used when they are not in use. It is also a good idea to hang them up, by the handle, on pegs or hooks.

When a saw becomes ‘dull’, points of the teeth look dull. When they become blunt, they should be re-sharpened. This is a fairly skilful operation and the beginner is advised to send his saws to a ‘saw doctor’ for professional attention. Good hardware stores usually provide this service.


The two most popular types of hammer for woodworking are the Warrington pattern and the claw hammer. Although both are available in different sizes or weights of head the Warrington is generally used for lighter work and the claw for constructional work in heavy timbers. The claw is useful for withdrawing nails.

A 6 oz cross pein Warrington for general use and a 3 1/2oz one for light work – often called a pin-hammer – are to be recommended, and a 10 to 16 oz claw hammer for heavy work.


Metal planes have now almost completely replaced the wooden planes of former years. There are many different planes, quite a number for specialist use, and there is a range of bench planes – the two most frequently in use being the jack plane, about 356 mm long and the smoothing plane, about 230 mm. Different widths of blade are offered, the 51 mm being popular. For a beginner these two can be regarded as interchangeable; apart from the obvious difference in length the other differences are controllable by the user. One is the shape of the cutting edge; some workers have two blades for a jack plane, one for preparing sawn stuff and the other for ‘smoothing’.

This shows the front of the mouth, which prevents the wood from splitting ahead of the blade. The cap iron creases and coils the shaving, and also stiffens the blade. This prevents the blade from ‘chattering’ or vibrating. The cap iron is adjustable and is set very close to the cutting edge for a smoothing plane and rather less for a jack. The jack plane blade should be very slightly rounded or curved, while smoothing, block and similar planes have a straight edge. Corners of a smoothing plane are slightly rounded to prevent 4digging-in’, caused by tilting the blade sideways when honing.

The mouth on a bench plane is adjustable for size; the smaller the mouth the less chance there is of tearing the grain, thus a better surface is made. A small mouth, however, will only allow the passage of fine.thin shavings. As the jack plane is often used for the quick removal of excess wood the shavings may be thicker; this is done by opening the mouth, a simple operation. After preparing work with the jack plane a smoothing plane may be used to bring up a fine finish. It is also used to clean up wide boards, which is why the edges are rounded slightly.

Sharpening planes and chisels

The sharp cutting edges of planes and chisels are imparted in the ‘honing’ process, carried out on an oil-stone, either natural or artificial. This is used with an oil; ideally, neatsfoot oil should be used but a light machine oil is frequently used. Never use an oxidising oil such as linseed. This would form a skin on the stone, clog up the pores and ruin it.

The main purpose of oil is to float away the minute particles of metal as the edge of the blade is worn away, so frequent oiling is needed. The stone may be completely cleaned from time to time with paraffin.

Many grades and shapes of stone are available. For general use a standard flat double-sided stone is best. One side is fine and the other coarse. The coarse side brings the edge up more quickly but it should be finished on the fine side.

For both planes and chisels the grinding angle is about 25 degrees. To produce the cutting edge the angle is increased to about 30 degrees. When sharpening, always maintain as low an angle as possible, providing the tip of the edge is in contact with the stone. It is essential that the angle between blade and stone is consistent as even a slight backwards and forwards rocking action with the hands will produce a rounded bevel on the blade. Sharpening should continue until a slight burr is felt on the back of the blade. The blade is then carefully laid flat on its back and pushed across the stone to remove the burr. After many re-honings the grinding angle will be removed and the area being honed will be increased. Such a blade will need re-grinding.

Never form a bevel on the back of a chisel or plane blade as this will seriously affect the cutting action and will prevent the cap iron of a plane from seating properly. Stropping on a leather strop will remove any final trace of burr for really critical work but that careful back stroke across the oil stone should be sufficient. Ignore the so-called experts who advise stropping on the palm of the hand – it is a silly and dangerous practice.

An excellent general purpose stone which cuts fast and produces a keen edge is the India medium grit. Preferred size is 203 x 52 x 25 mm. The stone should be housed in a box and provided with a lid. Serious workers usually extend the stone at its ends with blocks of hard wood, fitted perfectly level with the stone surface. These blocks enable the stone to be used for the whole of its length, another aid to even wear.

A number of honing guides are available and while they help a novice to keep to the bevel required it is better to practise ‘free-hand’ honing, maintaining an even pressure near the tip with fingers of one hand and holding the top of the blade or handle with the other. Watch that too much pressure is not applied to one side of the blade. This will cause an out-of-square end to the blade.

The purpose of grinding is simply to remove excess metal behind the honing bevel, otherwise honing will become a long, slow process. The most important point to guard against is the danger of overheating your steel when grinding on a modern high speed wheel. Overheating ‘draws’ the temper, causing the steel to go soft and lose its ability to hold a keen cutting edge. During grinding the blade should be frequently dipped in water; the whole operation should be carried out slowly, carefully and with gentle pressure. Sparks from a grinding wheel are really white to red hot fragments of metal — so do not make many.

For cutting mortises there are heavy duty chisels and if you intend to make many mortises it is just as well to obtain the ones you will need. The blade is thicker than that of a firmer chisel and the handle is usually reinforced with a ferrule to take the constant mallet blows it will receive. There is also a shock absorber pad inserted over the shoulder. Note the grinding and honing bevels on the blade. When ‘setting’ a mortise gauge the pins are spaced to suit the chisel being used.

Additional tools

There is really no such thing as a complete kit of woodworking tools, so vast is the subject and so wide is the range of tools used to fashion the raw material into the many different projects that can be undertaken. However, the following are some of the tools most likely to be needed to augment the basic kit.


The two types of brace in use are the ‘plain’ and ‘ratchet’. A useful size is one with a 254 mm sweep. The ratchet mechanism enables drilling in spaces where a complete revolution of the handle is not possible. By adjusting the ratchet drive a forward or reverse movement of the bit is possible, or the drive can be locked to give drive in both directions, like a plain brace.

The jaws of a brace will grip normal tapered square shanks of joiners’ bits or the rounded shanks of morse pattern ones. Some popular types of bit are: Jennings pattern, screw-nosed centre bit id, flat bit for power drills, lip and spur drill, snail countersink, wood or metal countersink to fit all drills and double ended screwdriver bit for the brace, which provides a powerful screwdriving force.


Although this is strictly an engineer’s tool the wheelbrace is useful to a woodworker for boring small holes with standard twist and morse pattern drills. It can also be used for various metalworking jobs associated with woodworking. A chuck size of 8 mm is to be preferred.

Brace bits

Many different types and patterns are available but the Jennings pattern is a good, all-round boring tool. It cuts a clean, deep hole and does not wander when knots or wild grain is encountered. The spurs, screws and cutting edges of bits must be protected, and kept sharp with a fine file. Wrapping them in baize-lined canvas is a good and simple way of looking after the bits; tool rolls made from canvas and baize can be bought if your stock builds up but bits should be purchased as the need arises – it is possible to buy a large set and never use half of them.

For large holes or occasional use the screw-nosed centre bit is a cheaper alternative to a Jennings but the bit should be withdrawn frequently to clear the hole being bored.

Other types of bit include the expansive, which can be adjusted within a good size range to bore various diameters in soft wood, and the Forstner, used for shallow and overlapping holes, and for ‘blind’ holes where a lead screw would penetrate the surface.

Two types of bit have been specially developed over recent years for use in power drills. They are the flat bit and the lip-and-spur bit, which is particularly suitable for making the smaller holes used for dowel joints. They fit in the various dowel jigs available without wobbling or wandering. It is, however, essential that metric drills are used in metric jigs, and imperial in imperial ones.

TOOLS Screwdrivers

At least two cross-point screwdrivers and perhaps two Pozidriv ones will be needed. Drivers must be selected to fit the screw size. There is a large range of cross points but only four Pozidriv. Although the drivers are sized according to the length of blade the critical dimension is the width and thickness of the cross-point tip. Also, if the fit is ‘sloppy’ the driver can slip out of the slot, with unfortunate results. It is a good idea to file off the corners of a cross-point driver and use a file to dress the tip so that it is a good fit in the screw slot.

With Pozidriv such problems do not arise; sizes 2 and 3 will drive a good range of screws but they should have pilot holes to assist entry.


Rather like a small screwdriver, the bradawl is used to bore pilot holes for smaller screws. To use one, the blade is placed across the grain, then the tool is twisted in the hand and pushed into the wood. They are easily sharpened with a smooth file. The birdcage pattern, with square, tapered and pointed blade, is preferred by some workers and is especially handy when using small screws.

Cutting gauge

Because of its blade profile the cutting gauge can also be used for ‘slitting’ or cutting strips of veneer and thin plywood.

Dovetail saw

For fine work the dovetail saw is ideal. This is a smaller version of the back saw, but only about 203 mm in length and with smaller teeth and thinner blade.

Panel saw

This is used for cutting sheet material such ashardboard, plywood and composite boards, or wood which is not too thick. Although the teeth are sharpened and formed primarily for cross-cut use the saw will function reasonably well in any grain direction. Popular size is 560 mm long with 9 points to the inch.

Saws for curves

The blade is held taut with the spring-steel frame. Lever bars, which can be turned to adjust the blade in the frame, must always be aligned the same way to avoid blade distortion and bad cutting. A section of the blade is shown at, illustrating the directional slope of the teeth and anchor pin, which fits in a slot in the lever bar. Tension of the saw is given by the handle, which is threaded to the lever bar arm.

Experts argue as to whether the teeth should point away from the handle, thus giving the cut on the forward stroke, or towards the handle, when the cut will be on the backward stroke. In practice users find which method is applicable to a particular job. This saw is well suited to cutting out the waste on common dovetail joints.


These are really a kind of planing tool and remove shavings in a similar manner to a plane. They are used to smooth or round off the edges of curved work. There are many types but are divided into flat-faced and round-faced patterns.

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