In my latest book I have distilled down the tools I use into categories depending on the section in the book. In one category, where we are carving and shaping wood, I have isolated the simplest tools I use for a variety of tasks such as bowl carving, making spoons, scraping  and so on. The next category is the joinery section we use for a range of jointed projects and the last category are tools I associate with sharpening alone. Each category has between 9-10 tools I consider basic but essential to my work and so too for those getting started in real woodworking where they want to establish good hand skills instead of limiting themselves to what the machine can do for them. The lists are:

Shaping tools

Four-way rasp



Coping saw

Scraper set

Hand saw

Tenon saw

Chisel set

Chisel hammer or mallet

Smoothing plane


Joinery tools

Combination square

Tape measure

Sliding bevel

Layout knife

Combination gauge

Tenon saw

Chisel set

Chisel hammer or mallet

Smoothing plane

Hand router


Sharpening tools

Flat file

Saw set


Buffing compound

Sharpening atone (Whetstone)

Saw file


Nail punch (set)


Many of these you may already have. I have already begun my minimalist list here on previous blogs to get you started in the looking-buying process. As time permits I will try to complete the list.

I buy lots from eBay, second hand from garage sales and flea markets and places like that. I would rather pay more from a garage sale than see it go to landfill or be unused for the remainder of its life. $20-30 is not too much to pay for a plane you can use for 50 years and more and neither is it too much to pay for an old Henry Disston saw. My work is all about getting you doing it for yourself so I will rarely advocate buying disposable tools such as throwaway saws and knives. I want you to be able to sharpen your tools and hone your skills in the process.

I promise to only give you the truth s best I know it and to the best of my ability. After that you can make your own educated decisions as to which method, technique or tool is best suited to you, but at least it will be educated.


  1. Jeremy on 30 December 2011 at 9:23 pm

    Thanks for the list Paul. I just ordered the DVD/book collection today. I have to still get some tools from these list’s, but can’t wait to get started. Thanks.

    • Paul Sellers on 31 December 2011 at 5:59 am

      I’m so glad. The book and the DVDs are only the beginning. You will be able to transform wood into beautiful things as you follow the plan outlined. As you grow you will be come proficient and understand your wood and your tools in a way machinists never do. Its an adventure of discovering the nature of the real wood and the qualities each tools has and then you discover things about your own character you never knew existed.

  2. MattR on 20 May 2012 at 5:19 pm

    Hi Paul
    Where can i find the buffing compound? I recall that green  lump you have in your workshop, but I have no idea where to find one.
    Many thanks

  3. Ali Mirza on 5 December 2014 at 7:01 pm

    Hi Matt
    I bought this product from Amazon uk for £5.30 free pp, you can also buy on Ebay. its called polishing compound or jewellers rouge. Good luck

  4. Joe Shelton on 25 September 2015 at 6:01 am


    Thank you for all of your time help. I have a question about wood vises. I am looking at an old Wilton and an old Morgan. In your experience, does one have an advantage over the other? They both have the bench dog that pops up and are in decent condition. Thank you again and I appreciate an input you have.


  5. Alexander on 2 October 2015 at 12:16 am

    Great list. For beginners and non English as a first language speakers it would be great if each instrument could have a photo next to it.

  6. Gregor on 23 June 2016 at 10:36 pm

    Hi Paul,
    Do I have to buy a jack plane and smoothing plane?Is it possible to buy one of them?Which one is most essantial?
    Thank You

    • Paul Sellers on 24 June 2016 at 12:49 am

      The #4 or #3 smoothing plane is the single most useful in the bench plane range. I recommend choosing older models by Stanley and Record secondhand from the pre 1970s era ideally. Short, light and flexible and extremely versatile, it is like the Arabian bloodline of horses of bench planes rather than the emerging range offered by makers that are heavy draught horse types that though strong and powerful are highly restricted by weight and body mass. The jack plane should be the next bench plane type you can consider when you have worked with the shorter plane to see if you need a longer plane. At least 95% of my daily work I accomplish with a basic, non retrofitted Stanley plane with its standard cutting iron; the one that came with the plane. Thinner irons work exceptionally well and were developed by the master designer of this plane Leonard Bailey back in the 1860s. Again, don’t fall for advertising jargon by makers and sales outlets that there is a need for thicker irons to prevent chatter resulting with thin cutting irons. There is no need. My bench planes have never chattered. If you need more in depth information on this and what I consider the core essential tools I would recommend my new book Essential Woodworking Hand Tools. It is available with a three-DVD set and gives great detail about the plane.

  7. James Byrd on 7 January 2017 at 3:06 am

    Hey paul, what would be the minimum set you would recommend someone starting out with?

    I currently have

    Cheap Power Tools
    Miter Saw
    Table Saw
    Jig Saw

    Antique Hand Tools
    Disston D-8
    Stanley #4
    ~1950 Miller Falls 9 1/4″ plane

    New Cheap Tools
    6 pc Harbor Freight Chisels
    A few harbor freight clamps
    Assortment of Wet/Dry Sandpaper
    10″ Harbor Freight flush cut pull saw ( I heard I had to tape the bottom to use it as a flush saw oddly enough)
    No 33 Bench plane from Harbor Freight. (I plan to convert this to a scrub plane)
    Harbor Freight Combination Square
    TEKTON 30812 Double-Faced Soft Mallet, 35 mm

    Good New Hand tools
    1/8″ Narex Chisel
    Ultra Sharp II Diamond Sharpening Stone Kit
    Woodstock D2902 1-Pound Extra Fine Buffing Compound, Green
    Leather Scraps

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