6 The Round-Up archive

Tuesday 9 March 2010

Matt Long concludes his series on buying a basic toolkit

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In this, the final Build a Basic Toolkit feature, I will pull all the threads from the previous articles together and throw in whatever else your kit will need as well.

Measuring and marking

For basic woodworking, marking out and measuring is as essential as it gets. It is impossible to get flat surfaces and right angles, never mind cutting to length or mitre, without the appropriate gear. The first place to start is with a marking tool. Here we have a carpenter's knife marking out with a combination square. Carpenters' pencils are another favourite. The knife produces more accurate results, and begins the timber cutting process, but the pencil is more versatile.

Measuring length accurately is of primary importance. The most accurate method is with a steel rule. Preferably your rule should have metric and imperial markings, and you should consider investing in a small rule with very fine gradations. You should also invest in a tape measure, but not for very accurate work.

A spirit level is also a must. Not only will it provide a level and vertical orientation for so many jobs, but it is also a good straightedge, though you will want to make your own long straightedge as your carpentry skills improve.

I've already briefly mentioned the combination square. This is a very useful tool with an integral steel rule and sliding parts for measuring and marking various angles. I also recommend that you invest in a good tri-square, a combination square is often not as accurate as a good tri-square. When buying a square you should always check it for accuracy, draw a right angled line from a straightedge, then reverse the square to see if the line and square edge match. The sort with a brass or steel insert along the inside of the wooden stock are usually the most accurate and will last the longest.

A sliding bevel and a good protractor are also essential. It is amazing how often you will want to cut angles that are neither square nor 45 degrees. A protractor measures an angle out, and a sliding bevel is a good tool for transferring this angle onto your timber. It will lock at any angle so you can repeat any number of marks at this angle. It can also take an existing angle and transfer it.

A mortise marking gauge is another essential for your basic toolkit. You can use this to mark out your mortise and tenons, but it also can be used as a regular marking gauge, with the single prong on the reverse side to the mortise prongs.


I suggest four patterns of saws: a handsaw, panel saw, back saw and coping saw. A decent handsaw has about seven teeth per inch and is for rough cutting of timber, and a panel saw at around 10tpi will, as suggested by the name, be ideal for cutting thin materials.

You will also need a good back saw. A back saw has a reinforced back to allow it to have a fine blade. These saws are ideal for tenons and dovetails. Lastly, I would suggest a coping saw, one of the family of bow saws. Here, a very fine blade is held in tension by a square metal frame, allowing very intricate cuts.


The next type of tool you will need is a chisel. Of the myriad different patterns of chisel, I would recommend getting a decent set of bevel edged chisels. They will perform perfectly well for most chiselling jobs, and you can pick up a set relatively cheaply. Either go for a set with impact resistant resin handles, or go for a set with wooden handles, but with a metal strengthening ring around the top of the handle, to prevent the wood splitting if you are using the chisels with percussive instruments such as a mallet or hammer.


Your next need for a basic toolkit will be planes. First off, buy a smoothing plane, and possibly a block plane, and you will be able to perform most planing operations well enough. Depending on what jobs you are doing, you may well consider larger planes such as a Jack plane, and more specialist planes such as a rebate plane, though many buy the more specialist tools as collectors' items. The longer the plane the better it will produce a flat finish, so if you are going to be jointing a lot of boards for tabletops and the like, then get a Jack plane rather than a smoother. A block plane is great for finishing small areas of jobs, and particularly end-grain, so is a near essential when finishing off joints, and tidying up for finishing.


Another essential is a sharpening kit. The bare minimum you will need is a fine oil stone for honing chisels and plane blades. This will do to start, but as you sharpen your chisels and planes more and more, yo u will soon be trying to take too much off the ground bevel (around 25 degrees) to make the honed or micro bevel (35 degrees). Eventually then, you will need to invest in a grinding wheel of some description but to get started, an oil stone will do, although there are more high tech variations today, such as diamond plates.

Hole boring

The next type of tool you will need is for making holes. To get you started, I recommend getting a good set of flat bits to be used in a drill/driver. For smaller diameter holes, you will need a good set of brad point twist bits. I would recommend getting a good set of masonry bits as well, you never know when they will come in handy. You might want to consider getting a brace and bit too, I find it is an unbeatable way of drilling very accurate holes by hand.

A bradawl is essential. Whether you will use it to start off small screws by making a deep hole in the timber, or merely to mark out centre points for larger holes, it is a very versatile and useful piece of kit.


Given the above advice on buying bits, you will need a drill. These days, by far and away the best solution is to buy a cordless, combi drill/driver. There are versions on the market to suit every pocket. As always, buy the best you can afford. Always get a variable speed drill with hammer action and a torque collar, this way you can use it to drive every type of bit imagineable. Don't forget to buy a good set of bits as well. The Metabo LTX and bit set shown above, are top of the range and will serve you well.

Always remember to get a good set of screwdrivers. You never know when your drill/driver will run out of juice or you need a less bulky tool to drive home those screws. A good set of flat, Phillips and Pozidriv screwdrivers will always stand you in good stead.


Any toolkit is going to need a hammer, at the very least. If you get a good quality claw hammer it will last a very long time and will take the place of a mallet, nail pliers and will even (guess what) drive home nails. If you intend to do a lot of cutting out of mortises with your chisels, then you will probably want to invest in a mallet as well, as it is kinder on your chisels.


There are a huge variety of clamps you can buy, G-clamps, F-clamps and sash clamps, to name but a few. What you need will depend on what you intend doing, as with most of the tools outlined here. I would recommend a good starting point would be a set of modern one-handed bar clamps. They come in a variety of lengths and are suitable for most jobs.


I've concentrated mainly on handtools in this series. Apart from the combi drill/driver there is another powertool you will struggle to do without, the router. It is invaluable, whether you are cutting rebates, slots, mouldings, circles, plug holes, or just putting an edge on timber. For an in-depth look at routing see Ron Fox's excellent articles. I have also omitted to have a look at abrasives and sanders in this series of articles, but will return to this topic at a later time. And don't forget your safety gear as well. Eye and ear protection are a must!

Woodworkers Institute

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