While many of my favourite tools are vintage tools, I have a few modern ones that I like and would recommend. I'll try and document both here with a bit of description.
I'll try and keep this up to date and add to it as time goes on and my preferences change or are added to.
Most of my tool recommendations come by way of Paul Sellers. If you've not watched him on Youtube, you could probably learn a lot about handling and renovating old tools:
Paul Sellers Youtube || Paul Sellers' Website
Being an honest chap I'll be upfront in saying that many of these links are Amazon referral links. That means as an Amazon associate, I'll earn from qualifying purchases if you click through these links.
This is the knife Paul Sellers recommends for marking out cuts. It is a small, lightweight knife and the blade folds around to store inside the handle. There is also storage space for a spare blade in the handle and the black plastic cap at the end locks the blade.
The blades are replaceable, but you can also resharpen them if you have the patience.
Most knifes recommended for marking knives would tend to have a single bevel on the blade to allow you to get right up to your layout tools, but the blades for this type of knife are double bevelled. The size of the knife works in its favour with this regard, allowing very accurate marking even with a double bevel blade as you can hold this knife up much closer to layout tools because of it's narrow width.
A bench plane or smoothing plane is probably one of the most essential tools for a woodworker. A number 4 plane is probably the most well used within the craft due to its size and weight. There is no doubt that there are much better planes than this available, but they are either going to come at much greater cost or much more effort to renovate. A Stanley number 4 like this or even a vintage plane that you will have to renovate may well last you longer into your hobby, but for the starter I think the faithful is a great choice.
With this plane, you will have to do some work. Although the sole of the plane will be pretty smooth, you may wish to follow Mr Seller's instructions on flattening the sole (I didn't and mine works fine). You will have to sharpen your blade, so there is a learning curve there, but once again Paul Sellers will guide you through that on youtube or there are a multitude of instructional videos about using a jig to sharpen blades.
The things I like about this plane are that it comes in a box. It's not a great box, but it makes it a nice gift. People will feel good about giving you a plane in a wooden box. Then further down the line, the box is the ideal size for storing your Dremel - everybody's a winner!
The plane also has very nice (although varnished) rosewood handles. Wooden handles are far superior to plastic ones.
The choice is yours. Buy this for around £25 and learn how your plane works and how to improve it, or spend around £100 on the Stanley and still have to do some work to true things up. I know where I'd prefer to spend that money for a starter!
Although some people will disagree ("experts" always seem to disagree), diamond plates or "stones" are the best way to sharpen your blades. They remain truer for longer and I think you get a more consistent edge using them.
As you'd expect for something that has diamond in the title, you can pay a lot of money for diamond sharpening plates, but again (being a man with a very tight chief financial officer) I have gone cheap and I'm still happy with the results.
These Am-tech plates come in three grits. I've linked the coarse one in the image and title, but there are also fine and extra fine (not sure what's happened to medium, but I'm sure that's what I bought!) all available for less than £8 each on Amazon. They are a good size - quoted as six inch, that's the length and they are 2 inches (5cm) wide.
If you are forking out hundreds for good planes and chisels, you may well consider this a risk, but if you are starting out they are ideal. I've had mine for at least 4 years and they are still sharpening well. I'd consider the prices for these good value even if they only lasted 12 months.
Once again, a Paul Sellers tip is to make a wooden board to mount these in so you've got all three next to each other. After that, I go up onto a leather strop loaded with Chromium Oxide powder mixed with multipurpose oil (which is also available as a wax bar to load the leather).
For me, a combination square is more of a measuring tool than a layout tool and as such, I've not spent much time getting this square accurate and I know there is a little error in it. But I use one of three accurate squares for marking out lines that need to be square to an edge, so that is not a huge problem for me (I'll use this one for marking out on things like sheds that don't matter so much.
Where this combination square excels is the speed and ease at which it can be set accurately and that is all down to the strong rare earth magnets that hold the ruler in place. They are strong enough to hold tight, but loose enough that you can nudge the ruler along by fractions of a MM.
Even though you may struggle to get this one, you should have a combination square and it should be reasonably accurate. This Irwin Combination Square appears to get good reviews on the whole and it would be the general route I'd take. Again, there's no need to spend silly money on these things. Often the things which knock them out of square is some paint that hasn't been cleared up - even if it hasn't been machined square, it doesn't take much to get it accurate.
(Wranglerstar has a good instructional video about squaring a combination square)
You'll definitely need some chisels. No need to go wild on them, but don't get rubbish ones. Here's another place where you will be able to find some vintage ones, but the chances of them being cared for are pretty low.
A couple of years ago, I got a set of Narex mortise chisels for Christmas and they are great chisels at a very competitive price. While I wouldn't say you need a set of mortise chisels (mortises can be comfortably cut with bevel edge chisels), my experience with the Narex chisels has convinced me that this is the brand I'd buy if I was replacing my cheap ones.
The problem with cheap chisels is the quality of the metal used. My B&Q set take a lot of work to keep sharp. My Narex ones take less work. That is why I'd recommend a slightly more expensive set as being better value for money.
I wish I hadn't bought my B&Q chisels, but I didn't know when I bought them.
Since you've got your chisels, you'll want a decent hammer to go with them. Don't use your standard metal hammer - particularly on wooden handled chisels, you'll wreck the handles on them quickly. Even the handles with steel caps will get mashed up and you'll run the risk of developing burrs which is never comfortable.
The Thorex hammer comes with two replaceable caps - a nylon cap that is good for striking chisels and a rubber cap that is good for striking wood during assembly. The rubber cap will protect the wood from developing hammer rash, you can hit it pretty hard without concern using that end of the hammer.
The Thorex is a bit of a staple - you'll see woodworkers using them all over the place and for good reason. It's a well built tool which can be used very flexibly. It's always to hand on my workbench.
Well this is a big subject and one which isn't going to be easy to do in a few words. You can't really get away with one saw. The problem with sawing is that are asking the tool to do significantly different things depending on how you cut wood, but I think you can get away with four wood saws.
This is for cutting across the grain - ie from side to side. When cutting in this direction, you need to sever the wood fibres which run top to bottom (of the tree). Crosscut saws will tend to cut on the left and right of the saw, which removes enough waste for the saw to move through (the kerf).
I use a Clas Ohlson crosscut saw. It's no special saw, but I like it. I don't know if they've changed it since I bought mine as the website lists it as crosscut and ripcut. Mine definitely isn't and rip cutting with mine is hard work.
The teeth on this saw are hardened and are not sharpenable, but they have a good point which severs the fibres cleanly. The thing I like most is the handle, which is partially rubberised and fits my hand very well. Always try the saws in your hand where possible.
This Irwin saw is probably the sort of saw I'd start looking at if I was going for more of a budget non-sharpenable saw. The handle looks reasonable and it is described as a coarse saw. This is exactly what you need for quick crosscutting, where you can come back and tidy up and refine your cuts with a block plane or sandpaper.
Rip cuts are where you cut along the grain - ie from the top to the bottom (or vise versa). With this cut, your saw acts more as a chisel cut, where you want to cut the wood fibre in line with its direction of growth and then push that fibre out of the cut. As such, the teeth are cut much more along the centre of the saw (although not entirely - set is still required to widen the kerf).
I currently have a very sub-par saw for ripping, it's actually a cheap, throwaway saw that I was able to use an aggressive file on to reshape the teeth. It didn't do a great job, but I have an old saw waiting for renovation which will do the job much better.
But, if you want an all rounder, these come highly recommended:
This saw claims to have universal teeth. I can't comment on how good they are at both jobs, but Paul Sellers seemed quite impressed. If you want to buy a single saw, I would definitely recommend this - not because of the universal teeth, but because it's one of very few saws in its price range that advertise itself as being resharpenable. That means you can keep your saw in tip-top shape and not have to replace it when it dulls.
The price of vintage, sharpenable saws in a reasonable condition is currently pretty sky high with good reason, so this is one of those occasions where buying new may be the better option. Paul Sellers has a video about resharpening these saws to the tradition tooth patterns. If I was starting out and I had the money to spend on it, that would be the route I would go down.
While the previous two saws are designed for getting your stock down to size, you will struggle to get accurate results with them if you tried to do your joinery with them.
Your crosscut saw can give you nice square ends and the rip saw combined with a smoothing plane will definitely get you down to dimension along the length of a board, but when you start looking at mortise and tenon joinery (which you will), those saws are just to big to stay within your lines accurately.
That's where the tenon saw comes in.
Again, I'm in the process of replacing my tenon saw with some vintage ones I bought in 2017, but if I was buying new, it'd be this saw:
This is a sharpenable saw which comes in 10 and 12 inch formats. The one you chose will depend on what size saw you are comfortable with.
A good tenon saw will have a softer metal spine - brass in this case, which holds the blade straight for accurate cutting.
This is no critical saw, so no need to spend a fortune, but you'll probably need to cut a curve at some point. That's where this saw comes in.
As long as you can easily replace the blades and the saw keeps the blade in tension, any coping saw will do. Mine is from Wilkinsons. It's ok, but the thread that tensions the blade isn't great.
And finally, definitely not an essential, but as this is meant to be my favourite tools:
This is one of the few premium tools that I own. It isn't essential, but it is the sort of thing that would encourage me to spend on tools.
The dovetail saw is a much finer saw, with a thinner kerf and less set in the teeth. It's for very accurate cutting of dovetail joinery, but also works very nicely as a tenon saw for accurate cuts.
It's fairly pricey, so I'm unlikely to replace the rest of my saws with it's siblings, but if I could, I would!
The pistol grip handle is really comfortable and the spine brings good weight to the saw.
You can find the whole range at Axminster Tools. Or you can just go there to dream...
I'd been searching for a reasonably priced, but well reviewed drill press for some time, but most of the sub £100 drills got pretty poor reviews for chuck wobble or shoddy materials. Understand that this is no precision engineering tool, but it seems well built for the money.
If you've been through the same process that I had, you'll probably recognise this drill as looking the same as the similarly priced drills. I don't know if Clarke have slightly higher QA standards than the other companies buying/reselling this model, but I've found little to complain about so far.
The chuck seems sturdy and there isn't excessive wobble in it (I'm not going to measure it with a depth gauge & straight edge for extreme accuracy - if that's what you're after, you're not going to find the drill you want anywhere near this price range), the table is sturdy enough for wood work and I dare say it'd be sturdy enough for light metal work too.
This drill is comparatively dinky though. The chuck has 50mm of travel which will mean that you are likely to need to reposition for the deeper holes. For my shed, it's a pretty ideal size.
It has 5 speeds which you can adjust using the pulleys in the top of the drill - pretty standard. The table also tilts up to 45 degrees left and right.
I was struck by the fact that most reviews for this drill seem to be positive and I can only back that up. I'd say this was a very low risk investment! I'm building an addon table to increase the size of the standard adjustable table and to allow me to add a fence for accurate drilling.
My collection is a healthy balance of new tools and reconditioned vintage tools. A page of my favourite tools, therefore, would not be complete without a list of tools that I think are worth looking out for on the second hand markets.
Photos will follow...
This was the first vintage tool that I bought and the one that got me hooked. It was a featured tool on a Paul Seller's build video where he was cutting grooves for a panel in a clock.
It's a simple tool and I think it looks pretty good - the one I bought only needed the blades sharpening, but came as a complete set (all bar the original box!). It is used to cut grooves along the grain, but can be adjusted for cutting rebates and potentially (with a bit of extra work) tongues for tongue and groove joinery. This was a really affordable tool when I bought it although a quick search shows the price has crept up for complete sets since I bought mine. It appears to be considered as the poorer brother to the stanley combination planes in that it is limited to working with the grain and that will keep the price down a bit.
When compared with the bigger brothers from Stanley, what it looses in functionality, it gains in simplicity and ease of use. There is only a fence and blade depth to adjust on this and that makes it a tool that I go back to using again and again.
There is something quite satisfying about using a brace and bit rather than an electric drill. I'd become familiar with them at church where we would use them to drive awkward screws mostly, but I liked the idea of being able to maintain more control when boring holes too. There are loads of examples of modern braces, a quick Amazon search will bring back a few results, but for the same money or less, you can normally find some good examples of complete brace and bit sets.
My first brace came with a set of bits in a shoebox of tools that I bought from somebody who found them in their cellar. I paid £35 for the box and it came with the brace and bits, chisels and gouges, a useful caliper-type ruler and a few other bits. I immediately made £10 back as the carpenter at work bought the gouges off me as soon as he saw them and that meant I had more than just the brace and bits for less than I would have paid for a reasonable new one.
The bits needed (and still need) a bit of work to sharpen them up - they are functional, but the brace is used very regularly and it does allow much more controlled hole boring. My first project for the brace was a joiners mallet, where I needed to control the angle of a wedged mortise through the head of the mallet; something that would have been hard to achieve with the power of a cordless drill.
Stanley Number 7 Plane
Following the success of the Record 44, I went about searching for a Stanley No7 jointing plane. I quickly found that usable examples were out of my price range, with heavily rusted planes going on ebay for £75+ - the sort of plane that would take 2-3 days work of hard work to bring back to a usable state. Still, I kept searching and eventually found another crate full of tools sold as part of a cellar/garage clearance, which clearly contained a No7 plane that was in not too bad condition. The whole crate of tools cost me £55, so I consider that good value!
The plane took about a day of work to remove the rust and sharpen the blade and it is now one of my favourite planes.
Paul Sellers doesn't recommend this sort of plane due to a tendency to twist along its length - not something I've noticed at all in my use of it! He would suggest that you use the older wooden planes for jointing as the significantly greater dimensions mean that they are more rigid. I have a couple of wooden planes that came in the same box, but I don't think they are as easy to set and adjust - maybe that's something that I'll learn over time.
Until then, the No7 plane is a beast. There are times where I'll reach for this plane because of it's extra mass - if I'm trying to plane through some awkward grain or past a knot, there are times where the big Stanley is unparalleled in its abilities.