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Ideal beginner's toolbox on a limited budget. Non-electric preferred.  RSS feed

 
D. Logan
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So I am curious about what the best choices in woodworking tools would be for someone who is just beginning to develop the skills involved with the craft. Funds would be limited and at least for me, I have a strong preference for non-electric tools when possible. Not only what would be the best tools to start a collection with, but also what would be a good way to obtain them aside from ebay, pawn shops and antique shops?
 
John Elliott
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Swap meets and flea markets? Often you see people bring all the old tools out of their garage that grandpa handed down to them and that haven't seen any use for 40 years. Hand saws, chisels, planes, drills, and all other manner of hand tools that are hard to give away because most people can't even tell what they are. An old fashioned brace-and-bit falls into that category, and all the people want for it is a couple of bucks.
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hi D.L.,

I taught (teach) several aspects of "green woodworking" and related subjects, so I love your question. The buying and using of old tools is great...no matter the source. However, I have seen much frustration ensue over getting them adjusted, and "work ready." As often a beginner with limited budgets, also have limited traditional skill sets as well in understanding these tools and sharpening them. You must be patient with yourself, as tuning these old tools up will be very time consuming. Sharpening (and the proper tools of sharpening) should be your first acquisition. So many folks buy chickens before building a proper "chicken coop." Traditional tools are the same way, as there is no reason to own them, if you can't keep them properly honed.

What books have you read on the subject thus far, and what do you think your first few projects will be?

Regards,

j
 
D. Logan
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The majority of books I read are lost to my memory since I had originally read them in high school when I was very active in scouting. I fell out of focus and didn't really get interested again in woodworking specifically until the last few years as my desire for learning self-sufficient skills has grown beyond just survivalism. I've read the first five Foxfire books and paid great attention to the various non-electric projects and old fashioned woodworking skills. I have also begun to watch episodes of the Woodwright's Shop (my father used to watch it heavily, but at the time I paid very little attention) and wish the first season was online since he does a lot of the basics in that first season. Most of my other reading has been online or watching videos such as the construction of a woodworking bench and the like. I do get smanterings from other books such as the Back to Basics by Abigail Gehring.

Since I long ago lost the woodcarving tools I used to own as a youth, I figured I would focus on something larger. With my current ideas of doing a commercial greenhouse venture, I have considered making my first project one of a pergola for training plants up as a living shade-tent area. I have also considered trying to do an earth-sheltered greenhouse assuming I can figure out a loophole in city ordinances and/or coax the officials to sign off on it. I would love to do some hand-carved bowls and eventually make my own workbench and maybe even craft other things like a shaving horse. A foot-powered lathe is another one that I still find fascinating from the Foxfire books.
 
Jim Dickie
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Flea markets and swap meets are great sources of old tools, but unless you are able to rehab and sharpen them, they aren't going to do you much good. You can always find lots of chisels and planes at these places, and they can be brought back to life. I wouldn't waste my time on any saws though, unless they are relatively rust-free. If a saw is rusty, you will have to re-file and re-set the teeth, which requires a good deal of expertise and some specialized tools.

In my experience, the best saws are the Japanese styles. They are very economical (less than $60 for a very high quality saw), easy to use because the cut on the pull stroke, and stay sharp for a long time. If I had to pick one, and only one saw, it would be a ryoba saw, which has rip teeth on one side and crosscut on the other, so its two saws in one.

With most other hand tools, you almost always get what you pay for, and of course its hard to recommend anything without knowing what you want to do. What kind of woodworking do you want to do? Cabinet making? Rustic furniture? Carving? Turning?
 
D. Logan
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Jim Dickie wrote:With most other hand tools, you almost always get what you pay for, and of course its hard to recommend anything without knowing what you want to do. What kind of woodworking do you want to do? Cabinet making? Rustic furniture? Carving? Turning?


I am leaning towards the creation of some simple furniture and varied tools (which could mean anything from handles to fence posts) mostly, though also some outbuilding creation is probably going to be involved at some point. A few carved bowls, especially a large old-fashioned biscuit bowl would be nice to manage as well.
 
Alder Burns
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As a gardener/homesteader, and setting aside basic firewood tools (chain and bow saws, hatchet, axe, maul, sledgehammer and wedges), the most important woodworking tool I possess is the drawknife. This enables one to quickly and efficiently peel bark off of saplings and poles (which alone increases their durability outdoors, and is essential to prepare them for other uses), and is also good for rough shaping work....more accurate than a hatchet, and quicker than a chisel in many cases. I probably use my drawknife about as often as any of the basic carpenter's tools like a crosscut saw or an electric drill.
For such a useful thing, it is very hard to find. Plenty of people don't even know what it is. But if you find one at a flea market or some such, clean it up and sharpen t and it's good to go!
 
Jim Dickie
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If you want to do any amount of bowl carving or other types of carving that will require removal of large amounts of stock, I can't recommend an angle grinder and chainsaw-tooth wheel in place of the abrasive wheel. I've used the Arbortech brand, but there are a few different brands and style available. I'm sure you could buy a used grinder for $20 or so.

These can remove stock in a hurry on even the hardest woods, but leave a fairly smooth finish. Your alternative with hand tools (for hollowing a bowl anyway) would be chisels, gouges and orders of magnitude more time.

http://www.leevalley.com/en/Wood/page.aspx?p=44838&cat=1,130,43409,43424&ap=1

Lee Valley also sells drawknives, which as mentioned above are an indispensable tool for log/rustic building.

 
R Scott
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Read the anarchist's toolbox (I think). Lots of detail on what was in an old tradesman's toolchest. There is a "Woodwright's Shop" episode on it, too, available online (but I can't find the link right now).

The "general homesteader" kit IMO should include as basics:

Saws: crosscut, rip, dovetail or japanese pull saw, cope (in that order of importance and acquisition).

Hammers: basic 16 oz claw, heavy mallet, 3 lb sledge. After that, framing hammers, big sledges, ball peen and small detail hammers depending on the work you are doing.

Screwdrivers: BEST grade ones, don't scrimp here. A cheap screwdriver will destroy screws and the items they are in very quickly.

Chisels: Go for a few good ones, a 1/4, 1/2, and 1" cover everything a generalist will need. Until you get into timberframing, then you need the big boys.

Planes and shaves: A jack plane and a small block plane do most of what you need. A drawknife is required to make handles or spindles, a spokeshave finishes them nice.

Wrenches: You want best grade adjustables if you use them at all, and better grade combo wrenches. Now that the "real" vicegrips are made in China, too, there isn't much difference between them and the copies. Diamond, Crescent, or Klein brand for pliers and cutters.

Hole makers: a good brace runs $3 at habitat or flea market here, but the bits are priceless. I snag every auger bit I see.

And MOST important of all: SHARPENING GEAR AND SKILLS!!! Premium files and stones for the planes and chisels, plus good ones for deburring and sharpening shovels and garden tools.
 
Peter Ellis
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Another voice for the importance of learning to sharpen your tools well. Used planes of serviceable quality are available, but the iron will almost certainly need to be cleaned up and resharpened. Even if you managed to buy one in perfect condition, you will be needing to hone it after a bit of use.

Same story with chisels, drawknives and spokeshaves. All can be found used and useable, but all will need sharpening, if not when you buy them, after you've used them a bit.

I am another fan of the Japanese saw with crosscut on one side and rip on the other, I find them very useful.

Make that shaving horse as one of your earliest projects! You will find it an aid in many subsequent efforts. It is, itself, one of the essential tools in your kit.

I find, as others have noted, that braces are pretty easy to find, and bits for them in decent condition harder. I too tend to buy them whenever I see them. There are a number of varieties of brace, and some meaningful differences in them. Pay attention to the design of the chuck, and to whether the brace is ratcheting, or not. They're all good, but some differences in best application.

Don't forget a good quality knife. It can be amazing how much can be done with a bit of whittling to make that piece fit right.

If you want to get into real green wood working, with riven boards taken right out of logs, then you will need a froe. To go along with the froe, you need a brake. The brake is a home build, and there are many variations. I got my froe from Lehman's, and it works - even though I managed to bend it - - oak is strong stuff!

Sharpening hand saws - above my level. For that, I figure I find someone who knows how and make a deal to get it done
 
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