Tools every woodworker can use, whether they’re starting out or stepping up
If you have ever tried to buy a tool for another woodworker or received one as a gift, you know that finding the right item is more akin to selecting a pair of shoes than buying a bathrobe–one size does not fit all. That’s because every woodworker is different: the needs of a beginner are very different than the wants of a sawdust-seasoned veteran.
Selecting a tool that elicits a “hurrah” rather than a “harrumph” will require a bit of espionage on your part, but if you can suss out a little information about the woodworker(s) on your list, we can help you find a gift that fits. Here, we’ve selected a few must-have items for folks on both ends of the woodworking experience curve. “Starting out” tools are perfect for new woodworkers, "home-improvers", and even kids. “Stepping up” tools are aimed at those who are serious about woodworking and looking for features not typically found on entry-level tools. We’ve sprinkled in a few moderately priced items that would work for woodworkers on both ends of the spectrum.
Still searching for that perfect gift? For a few additional ideas, go to woodcraftmagazine.com and click on Online Extras.
Starting Out: Bora 12" Square #158639, $34.99
As a multi-function measuring and marking tool, a combination square is a must-have item. With a weather-resistant stainless steel blade, this square is a handy addition to either a tool pouch or toolbox. As a plus, the head uses rare-earth magnets to hold the rule to the head, rather than a lock nut that can get lost on a jobsite.
Stepping Up: Starrett 12" Square #06R12, $104.99
This square may be pricey, but it’s as close to perfect as you can get. A Starrett combination square’s blade is square to the head within 0.002" for the 12" blade; the rule is straight and parallel within 0.001" per foot. This is a serious woodworker’s tool of choice for doing layouts, checking cuts, and setting up machinery in the workshop.
Starting Out: FastCap 16' Story Pole Tape #826097, $9.39
Although designed for trim carpenters, this tape sports a feature that’s equally handy for those who miscount the lines between the big numbers. Instead, users can make a mark on the 1⁄4"-wide blank strip on the blade and use the tick to mark out the cut. The built-in sharpener is handy you need to restore the point on your marking pencil.
Stepping Up: M1 26' Tape #856136, $39.99
This is the tape to own if there’s a deck, addition, or a kitchen’s worth of cabinets in your woodworker’s future. The patented Sight Scribe allows you to measure and mark without using a pencil: simply extend the retractable scribe, pull the tape to the desired length, and press down on the body to make your mark. The double-sided tape and four-way hook allow you to easily catch a stud or plywood edge and take your measurements from any angle. The blade is stiff enough for use as a straightedge.
Starting Out: Irwin BlueChip Chisel Set #111165, $43.50
“BlueChip” chisels have been a workshop mainstay for decades. The long blades provide ample opportunity for beginners to practice hand-cut joinery and master sharpening. The polypropylene handles are tough enough to survive blows from those who don’t always differentiate between a hammer and a mallet.
Stepping Up: Pfeil Swiss Made Cabinetmaker’s Bench Chisels, #05B54, $209.99
Crafted from the finest tool steel and expertly ground, these chisels are for the discriminating craftsman. The octagonal elm handles are comfortable to hold, although they aren’t meant to withstand hammer blows. Quality doesn’t come cheap, but bear in mind that this set will be handed-down to woodworking offspring.
Stepping Up: DMT 600/1200 Duo-Sharp, #817198, $134.99
Diamonds like these are a woodworker’s best friend. This dual-grit diamond bench stone is perfect for all sorts of chores, such as flattening the backs of plane irons and chisels, sharpening all types of steel (O1, A2, and M2) and carbide, and flattening dished stones.
Starting Out: King 1000/6000 Waterstone, #09C31, $37.99, and Honing Guide, #03A21, $14.99
Here’s an affordable way to sharpen chisels and plane irons. Use the 1000x side to remove small nicks and establish a bevel and then use the 6000x side to hone a razor-sharp edge. The honing guide takes the hassle out of holding chisels and irons at the constant angle. Simply clamp the blade or iron into the jig and then wheel the jig over the stone.
Stocking Stuffer: Granite Surface Plate, #144838 $34.99
OK, it won’t fit into a stocking, but new and old woodworkers alike will appreciate finding this coal-colored lump under the tree. The super flat face of the 9 × 12 × 2" block serves as an ideal base for leveling small plane soles, flattening waterstones, and general sharpening duties.
Stepping Up: WoodRiver 41⁄2 Smoothing Plane #158001, $169.99
A woodworker who already owns a hand plane or two might be ready to forgo scrapers and sandpaper and pick up a smoothing plane for the ultimate surface finish. With a 23⁄8"-wide iron and 10"-long sole, the #41⁄2 is regarded by many woodworkers as their go-to finishing plane. The Bedrock-style frog adjustment anchors the blade to the sole, reducing chatter for super-smooth cuts.
Starting Out: WoodRiver Low Angle Block Plane #151125, $99.99
A block plane belongs in every tool pouch and on every workbench. Unlike other bench planes, the block plane can be used one-handed. This attribute makes it handy for situations where you don’t have clamps or hold-downs. Block planes are also available with standard angle (20°) beds, but the lower 12° bed allows easier shaving of end grain. (If they already have the low-angle, treat them to a standard-angle.)
At the Bench
Starting Out: VIKA TwoFold Workbench and Scaffold #149184 $174.99
This dual-faced, adjustable-height table is a whole-house workstation: it can serve as a workbench, a workstation for bench-top tools, and even as a scaffold. For those who can’t yet afford permanent shop space, the bench can be folded up and stowed away when the job is done.
Stepping Up: Sjöbergs Duo Workbench, #145896, $649.99
The perfect gift for the woodworker who does not have the time (or inclination) to build his or her own bench. This traditional workbench features a solid beech top, dog holes, vises, and the sturdiness to stand up to heavy hand-planing without racking. The vises can be positioned to suit right- or left-handed woodworkers.
Starting Out: Freeman 18-Gauge Brad Nailer, #415927, $69.99
If the woodworker on your list has a compressor and is still swinging a hammer, it’s time to get them a gun. An 18-gauge nailer is the go-to gun for assembling drawers, attaching face frames, and making jigs. The smaller 18-gauge brads provide almost as much holding power as 16-gauge finish nails but are less visible and less likely to split the wood.
Stepping Up: Grex 23-Gauge Pin Nailer #836279, $199.99
A pin nailer’s ability to tack together stock that larger guns would turn to splinters makes it a welcome addition even in a stocked shop. The pins can secure parts while the adhesive sets or hold pieces together more securely than double-stick tape.
Starting Out: Kreg R3 Jig Jr. #147643, $39.99; Automaxx Clamp, #158503, $29.99
An easy and affordable introduction to pocket-hole joinery. The R3 handles stock from 1⁄2"-11⁄2" thick.
To hold the jig to your workpiece, consider adding Kreg’s newest face clamp. Once set, the Automaxx automatically adjusts to provide consistent clamping pressure on stock up to 27⁄8" thick.
Stepping Up: Kreg Jig K5 Pocket Hole System, #158631, $139.99
This is a cabinetmaker’s joinery system. The K5 can hold workpieces from 1⁄2"-11⁄2" thick with uniform pressure without adjusting the clamp–simply slide the clamp against the back of the workpiece and then pull down on the front toggle to lock it in place. The jig includes a guide block for setting the drill-bit stop collar and a quick-release drill guide block to ensure consistently-spaced pocket holes. The swiveling dust-collection port and storage compartments in the support wings make pocket-hole drilling a cleaner operation, and it helps keep track of parts.
Starting Out: Rockwell 3RILL 12V Li-Ion Cordless Drill #849073, $129.99
If you’re not sure what chores a drill is destined to do, consider a drill/driver that does it all. With a flick of a switch, the 3RILL can apply 800 inch pounds of torque in impact mode to drive a lag bolt or 3 inch pounds of force to finesse in a small screw. With a lifetime replacement battery program, this drill won’t let you down.
Stepping Up: Festool CXS Li-Ion 10.8V Cordless Drill Multi-Chuck Set, #564274 $295
Serious cabinetmakers and installers would appreciate a CXS because of its unique ability to fit where other drills can’t. The super-compact drill features a FastFix chuck system that enables it to use a Centrotec chuck, a keyless chuck, or the right angle chuck for gaining access to tight spaces.
Stocking Stuffer: SNAPPY 5-Piece Essentials Set #158795, $29.99
A handy assortment of pop-in/pop-out drills, drivers, and countersinks for general work, such as installing hardware, building jigs, and assembling cabinets.
Stepping Up: Bessey REVO Parallel Jaw Clamp 40"pair, #14951, $115.98
Even discriminating cabinetmaker-types will appreciate another pair of parallel jaw clamps. This clamp features impact- and glue-resistant heads and an internal frame that ensures that the heads remain perpendicular to the bar. Rail protection pieces prevent workpieces from getting stuck to the rail. In addition, the heads can be reversed to spread parts apart.
Starting Out: Bessey H-Series 3⁄4" Pipe Clamps, #147892; $14.99, 12" F-style Clamps, #146981, $10.99
Woodworkers never have enough clamps, but setting a beginner up with a few pipe clamps and F-style clamps is a solid start. Pipe clamps attach to any 3⁄4" pipe; extending their reach is as simple as purchasing another piece of pipe. Bessey’s H-series clamps sport long legs that keep them from tipping over while providing handle clearance at the same time. F-style clamps are used not only for assembly but also for holding workpieces to your bench, or to jigs, for machining operations.