It’s Never Too Early . . .

. . . to shop for your woodworking Christmas gifts. Here I am suggesting a few ideas for family, friends and any others you might know who are woodworkers with a serious bent. These you can shop early for as they have a permanent shelf life, they never grow old, become dated and whenever they are pulled down to use, the recipient gives a nod of honourable mention in appreciation to the thoughtful giver.

At first glance, you might pass over them. Not really regard them as a serious contender in the quest of taking in tools that might not look the part. There is of course lots of growing snobbism in the world generally and so too has it become so in woodworking. I think the Shinto sawrasp is indeed such a tool. You might compare it to the Surform plane as it was once called “in the day.” That ugly cheese grater that zests lemons and grates carrots for soup so wonderfully. I’m talking the 1960s. It’s hardly a plane but for trimming sheetrock and tackling the bottom of a shed door that’s scraped the path for far too long, it knows no equal. It indeed has its place but not in the furniture-making shop. But its appearance belies its true worth. The Shinto rasp is my first gift of choice for Christmas 2021.


I think that the Shinto rasp has earned credit over the past couple of years with me. The amount I use this tool is the equivalent of 30 years in amateur realms and it is still holding up very well — indeed it’s as close as you can get to a lifetime shaping tool that cannot be resharpened. Also, compared to a bona fide rasp of European origin, it works as well for 95% of shaping work though if you are used to a good quality rasp you will always know that there is a difference between a hand made or hand-stitched rasp and one of these. Truth is, most French-made rasps are second to none and because they are so good they can be prohibitively high for many woodworkers and especially as a present for a younger aged child who might not stay with it. The Shinto costs a mere 15-20% of the cost of a good rasp, a relatively low-cost for a tool that works so very well with lasting qualities built in too. Prices vary between sellers, so shop around. They will cost between £20-30 depending on the length. Two blade lengths are available 11″ (270mm) and 9″ (230mm) roughly. Well worth the money, these tools work extremely well, and with the two-sided coarse and fine you get two rasps in one. Both sizes are handy too. The one I have thoroughly tested is the 11″ version. Downside-info is that they have not come out with a round version yet. That would be most handy, but as most rasp work is done using a flat face, this one works very well for us. Check out the prices as they do vary considerably with some suppliers charging up to 30% more than others. Amazon was not the cheapest!

This is the shorter version with the rubberised handle instead of the wooden one below which is the 11″ version.


A spokeshave was a first tool for each of my boys as they ‘came of woodworking age‘ and that was quite young at three years of age but it was always with full-on supervision. I would say that five is a good age for most children but you as a parent will be the better judge according to their personalities, ability and maturity. My granddaughter was not yet three when `I introduced her to her first spokeshaving task of making a spatula. It’s a hands-on-hands to get them going and the attention span wanes in seconds until they see that shaving magically appear from the spokeshave throat. These restored red versions below, vintage Marples ones, somehow became hers from then on.

You only need a flat-bottomed one. Round bottomed ones are quite difficult to register to the wood surface, especially for little children, and only work with tighter curves the like of which you will not usually need anyway. I say that so that you don’t fall for the ‘buying both to cater to every eventuality‘ thing. I use a round-bottomed about every three years. Not really worth having unless you envisage a particular type of inside curved work on a regular basis. What make? Usually secondhand will be a good option or you can buy a new Stanely 151 model from Amazon as a mass-produced one that works just fine with just a little fettling if needed and of course, sharpening. They do not require upgrades of retrofitted cutting irons so please be warned if the prompt pops up to suggest this or that iron. The standard irons will work perfectly well. I much prefer the adjustable versions especially for children but that is the type “I use all the time and it works great. Don’t be put off by those saying you need this version or that version, thick irons and such like that. You don’t. Beware tools sales staff!

Here’s an example of poor product info from Screwfix, a UK big box store:

“Useful tool for convex curves. Malleable iron handles are designed for lifetime use. Fully adjustable cutter. Manufactured from high quality steel to create and retain a keen cutting edge.

  • 10″ Steel Handle
  • 20° Steel Blade
  • 45° Cutting Angle
  • Bevel Up”

So what’s wrong? It’s a bevel down tool. Each of the tool reviews said it would not work but of course, it would if you knew what to do. If they had the bevel up, as the information wrongly said, there is just no way it would work and how would you know if you never owned one and the sales advise said it is a “bevel-up tool“?


I have been trialing these chisels solidly in daily use for almost three months now and I find them to have excellent quality and give good value for money without compromising the functionality you might expect from say a premium chisel. MHG chisels are excellent value for money at around £60 for a boxed set of six with totally useable sizes inside the box. Others can be added individually for around £10 each to fill in any gaps. These chisels are made by the same makers as my everyday-use Aldi chisels. They have those wonderful, indestructible hornbeam wooden handles that just fit any hand perfectly. I might not like the shiny, steel-looking ferrules but they are fine and I will live with them as I continue to use them long term. Again, these chisels are unfussy and unfanciful and hard to beat when it comes to functionality, edge retention, steel hardness and sharpenability and so on. Comparing these chisels to what are considered premium chisels will be a matter of personal preference to each individual. I will say this, thinking through my past and trialing different chisels from the higher-end market, of the two hundred or so Aldi chisels I have used in my classes for 10 years to date, I have never seen a snapped Aldi chisel, I have never had a handle turn loose of the tang and I have never cut my fingers on the side bevels. I have done all of the above with so-called premium chisels. MHG’s main-line production chisels, the former producer of Aldi chisels when they stocked them, are better chisels through and through and are indeed lifetime chisels.


I do recommend that you totally adopt the Thorex or Thor 712R hammer as a replacement for a wooden mallet. This is the best chisel hammer there is bar none. I have been recommending for over two decades to date and have used one myself for even longer, indeed, I use them for all of my everyday work. These hammers will treat the wooden handles of your chisels with the absolute kindness they deserve yet they will deliver the power-blow right where you need it dead-center on the centre of percussion. Think sweet spot on a baseball strike or the sledgehammer on a steel marquee peg. They are available at Amazon at the mere cost of £18 for a lifetime tool and that is with a nice wooden handle of ash too.

You can buy lighter versions for smaller people and lighter work too, but this one is not too heavy at all.

And then, of course, there is my book Essential Woodworking Hand Tools. I may as well plug it now and avoid disappointment for those you will buy for. Going off what people say, this has become their most used resource at the workbench when they are struggling to understand more about the tools they are using.

It took me 53 years of experimentation and research at my workbench to bring all of the ingredients to do this, the writing, searching decades of notes, drawing the innards of planes, hands on the tools and such. It’s my life’s work to be a solution for woodworkers yet to come and much more, so I am very glad that `I was able to do this. We are the only suppliers of my books now and we ship internationally so the price is always guaranteed to be the same. We have just a couple of thousand left so please order early here. They will love it!


  1. Hi Paul, thank you for this interesting post. I own all the hand tools (and the book) you listed above but not the shinto rasp, so I wanted to buy one but I have a doubt. Do you know if there is any difference between the 11” shinto rasp with the dark red handle you work with and the 11” shinto rasp wich seems to have a light red handle and a black ferrule. Not sure if you could help me. Again, thanks for everything you do. Giorgio.

    1. I bought recently the larger one with the plastic handle, I think it is how all the new ones come, although there might be left over stocks with the wooden one in some places. The new handle is smaller, not as confortable as the old one. Still a great tool.

  2. I think the black ferrule is only on the rubberized handle but I don’t think the rasp bit is any different.

  3. A comment on the Thorex hammer – I agree this is a great tool – just avoid the nylon handle version – the handle is almost round so it is hard to feel where the hammer head is without having a quick peek – not always convenient.

    1. Thor do some wooden mallets as well with high density compressed wood heads. They are normally sold for sheet metal / aircraft work but can be used for woodwork. The only downside is that they have a round handle so you need to look at the head to see which way it is pointing – round handles on mallets should be limiter to round carving mallets !

  4. I remember as a child, visiting the British Industries Fair (BIF) of 1951, held at Castle Bromwich near Birmingham. The Thor hammer was displayed there, with a heavy metal disc which you could whack with it. The demonstrator said “You can take the hammer home if you can break it by hitting the disk. Needless to say, I could do no damage and went home empty handed. I finally bought my first Thor at about 50 years of age. It replaced all the old wooden mallets I’d used, immediately. It is excellent with woodworking chisels and as a “soft hammer” when metal working. It is an example of a tool which has long had a good name.

  5. Paul
    I would love your book. But on Amazon it is six hundred thirty four dollars and forty nine cents (634.49). Yes the price would be worth it, but I cannot justify this for myself much less a gift to a kid or someone getting into woodworking.

    Is there another place to get it?

    1. Amazon does not stock it because we will not supply them with it. We, Rokesmith, are the only supplier worldwide. The link is in the blog you are responding to. Cost £35 plus shipping.

    2. Buy it – you won’t regret it. This is the book I always turn to when I have questions about a tool. Basically, a tool bible. Bought it from Rokesmith and it was mailed to me in Western Canada without any problems. All the best.

      1. While mine came around the world to New Zealand. Such interesting reading; just buy it as Paul suggests and you’ll have something to delve into over your winter.

  6. Fully agree on the MHG chisels. I’ve got the ones which have tapered edges nearly up to the back, which makes corner work so much easier and precise. I’ll take your tip on that hammer, looks splendid !

  7. Hi Paul, I really enjoy your teaching methods so much I ordered your reprinted book and DVD set. I received an empty box in the mail. I have sent emails and messages via your site but have not had a response yet concerning my order that arrived in my mail as an empty box. Maybe you could address this with your team.. Thank you, Brian Haddow Order # 11611.

  8. I remember that back in the 50’s in Canada, my father had a tool identical to the 11” Shinto wooden handled rasp. It had no identifying marks, as I recall, perhaps because in those distant days Japanese products were considered cheap and easily breakable. Nevertheless, the tool is easily recognizable, even as to the colour of the handle. My brother inherited both my father’s aptitude and, quite rightly, many of his tools. Next time I speak with him I’ll ask if he still has it.

  9. Thanks Paul for this list. For my 10 year old, little by little we have been building her a set of woodworking tools that work. This year, the Thor hammer is on the list as I sure love mine. The one tool I didn’t see on the list, was your marking knife. I have both the Stanley one and a red handled one (forget name) that you had blogged about three or four years ago. I’ve got a few premium marking knives but I never use them as that marking knives you have recommended.

    Speaking of my daughter’s tools, I started two days ago making her a simple smallish tool chest for storing them out of scrap baltic birch ply wood (20″ long x 10″ wide x 12″ high). I debated making it more fancy but decided to save that for a full sized one down the road for when she wants to help make it. I asked her what color she wants it. She wants me to paint it like a “tiger.” As such, mostly black with touches of orange and white on top panels and skirt boards. The inside will just be shellac. To personalize it, I am going to put paint on my hands and put hand prints on the inside panel and then have her to the same. I will send photos to your website when done.

    1. Sorry, the cat distracted me as I was typing. I meant to say that the marking knives you have recommended are far superior to the more costly (as in 10X more costly) marking knives I have tried.

  10. This isn’t a comment. I need a question answered. I have access to four 4×4 ft. Sheets of Baltic birch plywood. Could I lay them flat and alternate the grain to increase strength and would it be as strong as cutting strips for the laminated work bench top. I live in a very small town in southern New Mexico and there are several of us that follow your posts quite frequently. Thanks much!

    1. I did a laminated birch plywood top a while ago and it’s held up perfectly in our harsh climate. With a periodic slathering of boiled linseed oil it looks great too!
      You neighbor in Southwest Texas.

  11. i did a great table and used the shinto rasp on the curved legs
    it worked out very well
    i highly recommend it

    1. I have to agree with Paul sellers that Shinto is missing the boat by not coming out with a rounded file, it sure seems feasible. The 11 inch that I use has served me well.

        1. They aren’t //exactly// the same, but iwasaki carving files are a wonderful match-up for those jobs the saw rasp “falls flat” on due to being… well, flat.

          I’ve got a skew neck rounded coarse, a regular rounded medium, and one of their reverse toothed backwards curved and rounded fine (roughly 100 ~ 150 ~ 250 grit equivalents I think?) and I can’t imagine not having them readily at hand.

          The site has some great images of the little microstructures they put on their teeth which might seem like a gimmick but seriously they are absolutely that good:

        2. Bah, guess the link got the comment eaten. As I was saying though, iwasaki makes carving files that come in half-round and flat with a few different types including weird ones like the reverse toothed backwards curved half-round I use on handle curves.

          The teeth have little chip-breaker like structures and work more like a row of little planes than a typical rasp, and wonderfully fill in where the shinto falls flat… due to being flat.

  12. Hey Paul….I was wondering….if I order your book, would you mind signing it ??? would mean the world the me

  13. Hi Paul, I have most of those tools and am pleased with them. I just bought my Christmas present, a Stanley 45, it came with 22 blades, one short rod was missing and the knob falls off. The nickel plating is pretty worn but other than that is in good workable condition, I’m looking forward to learning how to use it. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience with us.

  14. I bought your book several years ago, as soon as it became available. It is still my number one knowledge source about tools. Plus it is just a joy to read and gaze at the illustrations. Books of this quality are uncommon and are treasured. If you should ever write another book with additional information on tools I will buy that also.

    1. I agree with you wholeheartedly about Mr. Sellars fantastic book. While waiting for Paul to somehoe find time to write another book (I dont know how he finds the time to all things he does at the moment but i greatly appreciate it) i would recommend getting a copy of R.A. Salaman’s simarlarly fantastic book ” A Dictionary of Woodworking Tools”. Both of these books are with reach of my workbench and are invaluable resources.

  15. The only tools you suggest that I do not already have(including your book) are the Aldi files, Thorex 712R and the Shinto rasp. Fortunately I have an account and all of it is available off of the site. I have been married to the same woman for 48yrs now and we just get things we need for Christmas so I will give these to her to wrap and give me for Christmas.

  16. One of my favourite tools not mentioned here is the Microplane Rasp that comes in flat and curved. This is rather like a smaller and better Surform blade but has the advantage that rather than tearing as a rasp does leaving a rough surface the teeth actually cut and produce small shavings.

    Just beware of your hands it cuts skin just as well.

    For chisels I like the ones made by Narex partly as they still produce firmer chisels. I still feel guilty if I hit a bevel edge chisel – the influence of my school woodwork teacher 50 years ago ! He said the outer corners of a bevel edge chisel have little support and can be easily damaged if hit. I suppose steels & heat treatment have improved since then but his words still live with me.

  17. Hello Paul. I have two questions for you on the Thorex Mallet. It seems to be sold in different weight? What weight do you reccomend for general bench work? Second is in regards to holdfasts, will the hard face of the mallet be suitable for setting of holdfasts in a bench top without damage? Thanks!

  18. In the days of yore I was an apprentice aircraft fitter and our soft faced hammers had rawhide on one side and lead on the other. Nylon faced hammers are undoubtedly an improvement.

  19. Thanks very much for the gift guide. My only concern is that you mention buying most of these items from Amazon. I would have hoped you would deter from using such a behemoth, tax dodging company, slowly shutting down business after business until they are all that’s left. I understand that you have an international audience, but a quick Google by anyone interested will reveal any number of reputable fair wage paying smaller businesses selling such items.
    I appreciate the time and effort you put into your teaching, this is just one issue that I feel I needed to raise.

    1. I guess that’s what’s called a backhanded compliment that purports to be grateful but introduces other elements and uses my comments section as a vehicle for their own agenda.

  20. Paul,
    I looked for your book on Amazon but they are asking £499 for a copy. I am a pensioner and I have never seen such an expensive book, and I have a huge collection. Surely this cannot be right ?

  21. I would like to get the 6 MHG chisel set, but you did not mention an exact product name and number. The quality you describe and the cost of about $80 USD says the they are a good value. Do you know who provides sales of the set in the USA.
    Thank you for your great educational videos.

  22. I first noticed the MHG chisels being used on the Worlds Best Router Plane project and wondered when and why did they replace the vaunted Aldi chisels? I have long felt that most of Paul’s projects were readily achievable and relatable to those of us equipped with only a modest set of tools and frankly, was always excited to see Paul use the same $10.oo Aldi chisels that so many of us were lucky enough to find. The greatest part of the Paul Sellers mystique is how he brings forth beauty and strength from his brilliant mind to flat ( and not so flat ) boards using low cost tools. For many of us the Aldi chisels were part of that magic transformation, please bring them back to your work bench.

    1. They are still there, but Aldi, because of some buyer in an office somewhere on the globe, lost what they had and stopped selling them. So there is no point me using what others cannot get. I found out that MHG made the Aldi version and they are exactly the same as mine. £60 a set is very inexpensive for a good quality set of six chisels and I am thoroughly testing them out long term.

  23. Hi Paul, great read and always interested in your recommendations regarding tools. Curious to see if I can purchase your book in the uk, I have seen it for sale on Amazon and eBay for around £400…….which is a little too steep for me! Any suggestions? I could of course order from the US but just wondering…..

      1. Thanks Paul. I realise now that this has been answered in an earlier post. I’ll get on and order one. Thanks for your response

  24. Just a brief question about the Shinto rasps: are they cleanable by the same means as files (i.e., by means of rubbing them with a wire brush), or this would damage their saw teeth (otherwise anyway not resharpenable)?

    Thank you!

    1. These are some very tough stuff, I would say up at the file level of hardness. I do mine with a brass brush as per usual and have had no issues at all.

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