How to get Started with Hand Tools

If you’re new to woodworking with hand tools, you’re probably excited to get started. You’re eagerly anticipating turning out all kinds of beautiful projects like tables, chairs, bookshelves, and more.

One of the greatest pleasures of woodworking is using hand tools. It brings you closer to the wood. It gives you a sense of tradition. They’re easy to carry and don’t require much storage space, so you can use them wherever you are.

But like many new woodworkers, you might have no idea where to start. Especially when it comes to working with hand tools. You have no idea which tools to buy first or what do with them once you’ve got them.

This article will show you how to get started with hand tools. You’ll find out:

  • What kind of hand tools you need
  • How to use your hand tools
  • Storing your hand tools
  • How to safely handle tools
  • How to get comfortable using your hand tools

By the time you finish reading this article, you’ll have a solid enough grasp of hand tools to get to work on your first projects. Are you ready? Great! Let’s go!

What tools do you need?

The very first thing you need to know about hand tools is which ones to buy. You may think you need to buy a whole bunch of fancy and expensive tools at once before you can get started.

Fortunately, as a beginner, you don’t need as many tools as you think you do. You can make a range of different and beautiful projects with just a handful of tools.

They don’t have to be expensive or flashy, either. You can buy some very simple, useful equipment for your first projects without going broke. And you can always add to your toolbox as you gain more confidence with the ones you already have.

Before you start buying, ask yourself what kind of projects you want to make. This will help you make decisions about the kinds of tools you want to invest in when you’re just starting out.

So, which hand tools should you buy first? To get started, these are the tools you will need at the very least:

  • Hammer and nails
  • Measuring tools
  • Handsaws
  • Marking gauge
  • Chisels and mallet
  • Hand Plane
  • Sharpening tools
  • Workbench with a vise

How to use hand tools

Now that you’ve got all the tools you need, it’s time to learn how to use them! You should have a good understanding of what your tools do before you get started using them. Read below for a detailed list of what your hand tools do.

Hammer and nails

This is pretty obvious, but nails are what hold a piece of woodwork together, and hammers put them in place. However, there are different kinds of hammers and nails that correspond to them.

The size of your hammer should match the size of your nails. This means that bigger nails require bigger hammers. In fact, the majority of hammer injuries result from using the wrong size hammers with the wrong size nails.

Steel hammers are recommended over wooden ones. Wooden hammers fly apart easily if they get dried out and can break if overused.

When using a hammer, hold it near the hammerhead. Use your wrist to strike the nail rather than your whole arm. The more you practice, the more your muscle memory will build up, and the easier it will get.

Hold your nails near the top between your forefinger and your thumb. If you’re right-handed, you’ll do this with your left hand. Gently tap the nail until it goes into the wood, and then strike it in place.

Measuring tool

You’ll need measuring tools to make sure you mark your measurements accurately. Otherwise, your project parts won’t fit together and come out a mess. You should have at least the following measurement tools in your hand tool kit:

  • A good steel ruler with a combination square for perfect angles
  • A folding rule for accurate measurements
  • A machinist square for crosscuts
  • A sliding bevel gauge for odd angles
  • Mechanical pencils for marking your measurements


There are different kinds of handsaws depending on the job you’re doing. The two most basic handsaws are crosscut saws and ripsaws. Crosscut saws are for cutting across the grain on a piece of wood. Ripsaws are for making parallel cuts between grains of wood.

A backsaw is for when you need a more precise cut than a ripsaw or crosscut saw. Different kinds of backsaws include miter saws for cutting angles and dovetail saws for cuts where the wood pieces join together.

A coping saw is for cutting curves and other intricate shapes in wood. It has a thin blade that makes it easy to change directions while still making a clean cut.

Remember how you used to pretend to shoot a gun with your finger when you were a kid? You’ll use that same gesture to hold your handsaw. Point your index finger down the line you’re cutting while holding your elbow and forearm in line with that cut. Use your other hand as a guide by placing the thumb right where the tip of the saw meets the wood.

Don’t grip your saw handle too tightly as this will make your cuts come out uneven. Make sure your blade is straight and not tilted sideways to ensure a straight cut. Also, don’t put too much pressure on the wood. Use a light force as you saw. This will require practice, but you’ll learn as you go.

Marking gauge

Woodworking frequently involves joinery, which is the process of putting wooden pieces together. You’ll need clean, precise cuts in your wooden pieces so that they will join together neatly.

This is where a marking gauge is indispensable. A marking gauge is a precision tool for marking lines clearly, allowing you to make clean, accurate cuts.

A marking gauge has three parts: a cutter, an arm, and a fence. The arm holds the cutter in place, while the fence is placed against the wooden piece you’re marking. Marking gauges also come with locking mechanisms to keep the fence from moving while in use.

Gauges usually have wheels, knives, or pins for marking the wood. Wheel cutters are good for marking lines around corners as well as between or across the grain.

Knife cutters, on the other hand, work well for making lines across the grain. Finally, pin cutters are good for making lines with the grain.

To mark your lines, hold the gauge with a light grip. Place the tip of the cutter so that it is just long enough to make the line. You don’t want it to go into the wood too deep.

Also, ride the gauge along the full edge of the piece and not just the corner. If you just ride along the corner, you won’t get an accurate marking.

You may also want to check out a mortise gauge. A mortise, or mortise and tenon, is a type of joint that connects two pieces of wood. Basically, the mortise is a recess in the wood where the carved tenon will meet that piece. Mortise gauges have two pins for marking both sides of a mortise at the same time.

You could also look into a combination gauge. A combination gauge combines the functions of a marking gauge and a mortise gauge. This makes it a good choice when you’re just starting out with hand tools. As you get more comfortable with a combination gauge, you can start adding different gauges to your toolkit.


Chisels are valuable tools for smoothing out rough joints when you’re doing joinery. They can also be used to cut mortises and square out round corners as well as to scrape glue off the wood.

A ¾ inch chisel is a basic, all-purpose chisel, which is best for beginners. If you have the budget for it, you might also want to invest in a ½ inch chisel and 1-inch chisel.

The two most basic cuts when using a chisel are the paring cut and the chopping cut.

The paring cut is for shaving wood to clean up the rough edges of a sawn joint. When making a paring cut, hold the chisel in a horizontal position. Hold the chisel with your dominant hand while using your non-dominant hand to guide it along the surface of the wood and keep it level.

As you’re working on a paring cut, try not to take off big chunks of wood. You just need to take off little, thin shavings to get the wood nice and smooth.

The chopping cut is for cutting down into a flat piece of wood. For a chopping cut, hold the chisel vertically. You’ll also need a mallet to strike the chisel with as you’re cutting.

Make sure you hold the chisel straight on the surface of the wood. To drive the chisel into the wood, it only takes a few firm taps. Tapping too many times causes the chisel to move as you’re chopping and your cutting won’t be as clean.

Hand Plane

Hand planes are used for smoothing out rough board surfaces. They come in a few different types for different purposes.

Bench planes are for smoothening wooden surfaces and straightening edges. Block planes are used on smaller surfaces and edges.

There are also specialty planes for specific tasks. Rabbet planes and shoulder planes have their blades flush up against them. This allows you to trim wood right up to the edge of your workpiece.

When using a hand plane, first make sure the blade is sharp. Next, set the blade at the correct angle. Adjust the blade so that it just barely touches the wood’s surface.

When you begin your first stroke, apply pressure to the front handle of the plane. Equalize the pressure in the middle of your stroke before applying it the back handle of the plane at the end of the stroke. This will give you a straight and not arched stroke.

Sharpening tools

Sharp hand tools are absolutely necessary for safe and accurate woodworking. Sharpening might seem tedious and time-consuming, but it’s worth your while to keep your tools in tip-top condition.

For sharpening your hand tools, you’ll need:

  • A grinder for correcting chisel and plane blades
  • Waterstones and oil sharpening stones
  • Honing guides
  • Handsaw vises
  • Saw files
  • Slip stones

Workbench with a vise

A workbench is where you’ll be doing your work, and a vise is what holds your work in place. A bench vise has two jaws that hold the wood steady while you work. For holding larger workpieces, bench vises can be used in conjunction with bench dogs placed in holes cut into the workbench.

How to Store Your Hand Tools

It’s important to properly store your hand tools when you’re not using them. Storing your tools the right way keeps them in excellent working order for as long as possible. It also helps you identify which tools are in need of repair so you can fix or replace them right away.

  • First, wipe down your tools after you’re done using them. This gets rid of any excess moisture on your tools and prevents rust. That means that soap and water is definitely not the way to go! The best way to clean your tools, therefore, is with a little bit of oil on a soft cloth.
  • Second, it’s a good idea to keep your tools in a chest that has some kind of safety lining. A lining such as foam in your tool chest helps prevent your tool from damage when not in use.
  • Another good solution for tool storage is a pegboard on the wall. This helps you keep your tools safe from damage and within easy reach. It’s also handy for finding the right tool when you need it.
  • If your tool came in any kind of bag or container, use that for storage, too. That’s a great way to be good to your tools so they’ll stay in optimal shape.
  • Finally, while it’s optional, it’s beneficial to keep a record of your tools and what condition they’re in. When the time comes to replace a tool—as it inevitably will—knowing the condition of your tools will save you time since you’ll know exactly what to look for.

Safety guidelines for hand tools

Woodworking with hand tools is fun! But as the saying goes, accidents will happen. You’ll be working with sharp saws and other cutting tools, so there’s always the possibility of getting cut. Not only that, but you also run the risk of wooden or metal splinters flying into your eyes as you’re working.

So, when you’re using your hand tools, safety comes first. Here’s how to keep yourself safe while you’re working.

  • Always wear safety glasses.
  • Keep your tools in good shape.
  • Use the right tool for the right job.
  • Never use broken or damaged tools.
  • Keep your cutting tools sharp.
  • Don’t leave hand tools on the ground where you could trip over them.
  • Be aware of your surroundings and any other people who might be working with you.

There are many other safety concerns, but these are some of the most essential guidelines. Follow these basic safety rules to protect yourself as you work with hand tools.

Understanding tools

To get the most out of your hand tools, you need some education in their proper use. Fortunately, there are lots of ways you can find out how to use your hand tools well.

Take classes

With a little searching, you can find classes at local woodworking shops and schools in your area. Adult education centers frequently offer beginners courses in woodworking, too. This provides you with a good opportunity for some hands-on experience in working with hand tools.

Go online

If you can’t find woodworking classes near you, you can always go online. There are plenty of woodworking tutorials on YouTube as well as other sites like Craftsy, Skillshare, and Udemy. With online courses, you can learn from experts right in the comfort of your own home!

Ask a friend

If you happen to know someone who works with hand tools, why not ask them? Your woodworking buddy will most likely be happy to share their tips and expertise with you. Plus, it’ll give you guys a chance to hang out together and share a common interest!

Build up confidence

Even the hand tool experts were beginners once. So don’t be discouraged if your results are less than perfect at first. You learn by doing, and doing involves making mistakes.

So be patient. Keep practicing. The more you practice using your hand tools, the more confident you’ll get. And the more confident you get, the more you’ll enjoy using your tools to craft gorgeous projects.

By now you’ve hopefully gotten a good understanding of how to get started with hand tools. Now that you know what tools you need and how to use them, you can start making the beautiful wooden projects you’ve been dreaming of. Have fun!


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