Exactly what constitutes a basic tool kit will depend to some extent on what kind of work you intend to do.
Measuring and setting out
In furniture construction and general workshop joinery there is always measuring to be done, whatever the job. For setting out on the bench the best measuring tool is a good quality folding rule. For measuring around the house use a steel tape. A two or three metre long model will meet most requirements. Get one which has both metric and imperial markings but be sure you only work in one or other system.
A square is needed to mark wood for cutting and although a try-square with a blade 200 or 230mm long is used for benchwork, a 300mm adjustable combination square and mitre square with a sliding blade is more useful for other work. For marking out the cutting lines you will need a setting-out, or marking, knife and a pencil sharpened to a chisel point (this is more accurate than a pointed one).
To cut the timber you will need a panel saw 500 or 550mm long with 10 teeth per 25mm. This is a suitable size for general work. For bench work you need a tenon saw. This should have 12 or 14 teeth per 25mm. When sawing, the saw should not be forced to cut but pushed evenly so that it can cut at its own speed.
Bevel-edged chisels are the best choice for bench work, but for general purposes use a firmer chisel which has square sides and is stronger. Widths of 19 and 6mm would enable you to make a start.
There is a wide range of planes available, from small block-planes up to the long trying-planes used for obtaining straight edges. The latter is not often needed now as most timber can be bought planed straight.
A block plane comes in very handy for rough shaping; buy one which has screw adjustment for the blade. It can be held in one hand, with the forefinger resting on the front knob of the plane, and the top of the wedge and the cutting blade in the palm of your hand. The larger, 250mm smoothing plane requires two hands to operate it successfully: one holds the handle at the back and the other holds the front knob. The hand on the knob holds the plane level at the start of the cut and raises it slightly at the end of the cut. Failure to lift the plane in this way will cause the end of the timber to be made slightly rounded as the plane
drops at the end of the cut.
With both these types of plane, adjustment of the blade is made by turning a knob under the blade. This is just in front of the rear handle of the smoothing plane. Side adjustment is made by a lever.
For right-handed people, hold the blade or handle firmly in the right hand, with the left hand resting on the flat blade steadying it and providing an even pressure. This is particularly important with wide plane blades as the edge must be kept square. However, the corners of the plane blades have to be rubbed off a little to prevent them digging into the wood and making marks on the surface.
Use the full width of the stone when sharpening chisels as it will otherwise wear hollow in the middle and be unable to sharpen wide blades properly.
Drilling holes, whether for fixing or for assembling projects, is another essential part of woodwork. An electric drill is a boon for holes up to 9mm, although a simple hand-drill (or wheel brace) will do the job. For holes above this size you have a choice of using flat-bits in an electric drill or buying a carpenter’s swing brace which will take a wide variety of auger bits for making deep holes of almost any size. Adjustable bits are available, and for work in confined spaces, a ratchet brace is useful.
When it comes to assembling furniture and fittings you will need a hammer for driving nails, and a screwdriver or two. Suitable screwdriver lengths would be 150mm and 230mm. You will need tips suitable for cross-head (Supadriv) as well as the traditional slotted-head screws. A ratchet screwdriver will be very useful if you have a lot of screws to insert. A bradawl is essential for making a small hole for starting the screws.
A Warrington-pattern hammer is best for bench use and it should be about 12oz in weight. This is the type with the cross pein at the opposite side of the head to the striking face. This chisel-shaped pein is used for starting small panel-pins held between the finger and thumb. The claw hammer, much favoured by carpenters, is ideal for heavier fixings around the house and is of greater weight, about 20oz. If you have only a Warrington-pattern hammer you will need pincers to pull out nails.
Assembling furniture made with conventional woodworking joints calls for a mallet. This tool used to be essential for use with chisels, but the modern plastic handle is able to withstand the use of a hammer. The wider head of the mallet and its softer nature makes it less likely to mark the timber when projects are being assembled. The main difference in using these tools is that the hammer is swung with a wrist action whereas the mallet is swung from the elbow.
When projects have been completed there remains the finishing. Whether this is to be paint, varnish or polish a certain amount of preparation is necessary. Hardwoods are the most difficult to prepare because the grain may be twisted, figured or reversed and though this provides a pleasant appearance, it does take some effort to produce a good finish. When this kind of grain is to be polished or varnished it has to be scraped first.
An ordinary scraper is simply a rectangle of metal and it is sharpened with a hard steel rod by first drawing it along the edge of the scraper, square to the sides, and then tilting the rod at a slight angle and drawing it along the edge of the scraper again. This has the effect of first creating a burr on the metal then bending the burr over slightly.
The scraper is held upright with the thumbs at the back: it is pushed forward over the surface of the wood where the burr will take off very fine shavings. It takes a considerable amount of practice to sharpen and use this tool.
The alternative is abrasive paper. There are many grades of abrasive papers and many different types of grit. Very fine ones are used for preparing wood for polish and varnish, but the coarser grades of glasspaper are all that are needed to prepare timber for painting. A comfortable sanding block either cork or cork-faced is ideal for holding these papers on flat surfaces.
An oilstone is required for sharpening these tools and a medium grade provides a suitable edge for a beginner, but later you may want a finer stone in order to hone a keen edge on tools used for benchwork. The cutting edges of chisels and planes have two bevels, one at about 25 degrees made by the grindstone, and the other at about 35 degrees which is the sharpening bevel. Do not raise the handle of chisels and other blades too high when sharpening them or the cutting bevel will become too steep, reducing the ability to cut cleanly.
If you have a workbench you will be able to fix a vice to it so that you can hold timber firmly while working on it. When it comes to assembling the parts you will need other holding devices.
The simplest of holding devices is the bench hook. This can be made out of a piece of 75x50mm timber about 225mm long. It is cut out at each side so that a 50 x 25mm block is left at each end, on opposite sides of the wood. In use, it is placed on the bench so that one of the blocks is downward and hooks against the bench top, and the other faces upward so that the timber to be cut can be held firmly against it.
An alternative form of this hook is made from a broad piece of wood approximately 150mm wide, with a block screwed to opposite sides at opposite ends. Make these blocks about 25mm shorter than the width of the board and you can cross-cut timber held against the stops and when the saw comes through the wood it will not damage the bench top.
Whether you use patent, traditional or home-made cramps using folding wedges, the important part of the operation is holding the members of the structure tightly until the glue has set or screws, nails or other permanent fixings have been employed.
One of the most useful devices is the sash cramp of which there are patent types as well as the simple, traditional cramp. This consists of a long metal bar with a screw-adjustable jaw at one end and a movable jaw which slides along the bar. The latter is fixed at the required point by a pin which passes through holes in the bar. Two of these cramps are needed for pulling up the joints of frames, but four or even more would be ideal for furniture making if you are using traditional cabinet-making methods of construction.
For cramping chairs, frames or other similar constructions there are frame and web cramps. The frame cramp consists of a length of strong nylon cord with four corner blocks and a cleat. The corner blocks are put in position and the cord is passed round the frame over the blocks and tightened on the cleat. This puts an even pressure on all four corners.
Wood firmly together. It has the advantage over the frame cramp that it may have a saw guide incorporated so that the mitres can be cut accurately while they are held in the cramp. The disadvantage is that only one corner is held at a time.
In addition to these traditional cramping devices there are other patent cramps which are designed to perform two or three different cramping actions. There are also portable workbenches which incorporate a cramping mechanism.
You can make a cramp by screwing a block to each end of a length of wood and fitting the framework to be cramped between the blocks. Then drive folding wedges between the framework and the blocks at one end.
Whenever cramps are used there is the danger that the edges of the timber will be marked by the pressure of the jaw, so a piece of waste wood should be placed between the jaw and the workpiece.
To overcome the tendency for frames to bend or twist under pressure, you should fit a cramp both on the top and underneath the workpiece so that they pull against each other. Frames can also be squared up by cramps. When one diagonal of the frame is longer than the other, the cramps are moved so that they are angled the same way as the frame is leaning. When the cramps are tightened it will have the effect of pulling the frame into the square position.
The start of any project, after the initial measuring up, is the setting out of the various parts. This must be done accurately if the completed work is to be satisfactory.
The web cramp consists of nylon webbing passed through a ratchet lever device which is used to tighten it. Web cramps are useful for holding together objects with irregular shapes.
Another useful tool is the G-cramp. This, as its name suggests, is in the shape of a letter G. It has a long, threaded jaw with a swivel head to grip at most angles. These cramps are made in a wide range of sizes from about 75mm to 300mm or more. Again, two would be useful, but four or more of various sizes would be the ideal.
One specialised type of cramp which is useful if you are making picture frames, or similar constructions, is the mitre cramp. This metal corner device has two screw-operated jaws which hold both pieces of a wooden rule, either folding or straight, a chisel-pointed pencil, a setting-out (or marking) knife and a square are the essential tools, but others will be needed for special joints in timber.
Use the rule on its edge for greater accuracy and use the knife in place of the pencil where possible. There are in fact only five places where the pencil must be used: all rough measuring; where a cut line would be seen on the surface of the wood; for most curves; for lines which are at an angle to the grain of the wood, because a knife would tend to follow the grain; when marking out chamfers, because the cut would show as a damaged edge.
The first task on setting out is to determine which is the best side of the wood for use as the face and this should be marked so that it is easily recognisable. One edge must also be chosen as the face edge and all setting out is done from these surfaces.
Setting out dowel joints
Dowel joints, which are used a great deal when working on chipboards and block-boards, are simply marked in pencil for position. The dowel holes can be drilled by means of a jig, of which there are two or three types, providing that they are at the ends of the boards. When dowel holes are needed in the middle of the board a different approach is necessary.
Accurate measurement will provide the position of one set of holes, but to get the other set in exactly the right position to match them it is necessary to use dowel marking pins. These are simply two short, sharp metal points separated by a ridge, like a washer. One point is pressed into each marked position, then the second piece of board is placed on the points in the exact position that it is required. The points mark this piece so that when they are removed the holes can be drilled, using a vertical drill-stand, and will match perfectly.
For accurate setting out of joints a gauge should be used where possible. A marking gauge with one spur will do for most setting out when depths of cut are being marked for halved joints and for housings and similar joints. This gauge can also be used for marking mortise and tenon joints, but because it has only one spur, when all the joints have been marked with one groove, the gauge has to be reset to mark the other side of the mortise and tenon.
Marking out these joints for furniture where there are a lot of tenons is much easier and far more accurate if a mortise gauge, which has two spurs, is used. With this gauge the two spurs are set at the mortise width first, usually by placing the
chisel to be used between the two points and adjusting them using the screw at the end of the stem. When they are correctly positioned, the stock is set on the stem so that the mortise will be marked in the required position which is usually in the centre of the wood. Whichever gauge is used, it is important that the marking is done with the stock against one face surface of the wood.
Setting out batches
Where a number of pieces of timber, for the legs of a table, for example, are to be set out the same, they should be cramped together to hold them while the edges are marked. These marks are later squared round the sides of the wood when they have been separated again. When pieces have to be set out as pairs they are placed with their face sides together and their face edges upwards and set out as before.
Where a large number of pieces of timber are required to be set out in the same way, it is often best to set out a pattern piece and cramp it to a small number of pieces. Then set them out in batches rather than try to set them all out at once. If there are complicated joints to make, they can be drawn out full size on a length of timber or plywood so that the piece for the pattern can be laid on the drawing and the joint positions marked directly on to it.
Whatever you are making, the setting out is the most important part of the job; if you don’t set out accurately you cannot expect a well-fitting final product.