Carpentry and woodworking are skill sets that require in-depth knowledge of the tools, machines, and proper techniques to create high-quality commercial products.
Getting yourself familiar with the toolset is the first step toward getting started in the field.
I prepared a list of different tools used in carpentry and woodworking that you need to know.
I sorted these essential carpentry tools according to their class into Hand Tools, Power Tools, Measuring Tools, Bench Tools, and Safety Equipment and prepared relevant information on what the tool does, how to operate it, and what to look out for when buying one.
At the end of this article, you will also find some tips and guidelines for carpentry workshop safety.
You guessed it, I’m starting the list with the most basic tool, but equally important as any other. This pencil is quite different from ordinary graphite pencils. It’s made bigger for a more comfortable grip and a much stronger lead core to mark rough surfaces such as stone, wood, or concrete.
It is used to create draw lines, mark areas for cutting, or make notches in the material when measuring and planning. You can find them in either hexagonal shape or flat, but they’re usually not round.
The hexagonal or flat design prevents them from rolling away.
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The hammer has been the carpenter’s signature tool for most of history. Usually attached to his belt or laid on the workbench, it’s always within reach to hit a nail. A carpenter should have a hammer that sits firmly in his hand and is comfortable to swing with elbow motion.
I recommend going with a claw hammer with a 16 to 25 oz. head and a handle coated in plastic or rubber for a better grip. Claw hammers are the most practical for carpentry as the claw tail can pull out nails and act as a pry bar for wood boards.
Hammers with round heads are usually superior in terms of hit pressure when driving a nail, but also safety, as without sharp edges, they won’t scratch the wood around the nail. Be careful not to use the hammer for driving wood boards into place when jointing. The mallet is much better suited for that job and won’t damage the wood surface.
If you are a field carpenter, consider going for a stainless-steel hammer with a lacquered or coated handle. While slightly pricier, such a hammer will be protected from the elements and last a long time in pristine condition.
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See a claw hammer in action:
- More About Claw Hammers @ Wikipedia
You should make sure to have a set of screwdrivers for any work involving construction or furnishing. Philips head and a flat-head set of screwdrivers of various sizes will suffice for almost every project, but other types can be seen in a carpenter’s line of work, especially in North America.
It’s a good idea to use exact-matching screws and screwdrivers, as a blade too wide could damage the screw. Also, screwdrivers with longer shanks allow you to apply more torque when turning the screw while also using less force.
If you are from the US, having an additional set of square-head screwdrivers will leave you better prepared for fieldwork, as square screws are standard there. Likewise, if you are from Canada, make sure to pick up a Robertson set.
Note: The Robertson and square head screwdrivers are often confused for one another, but they do have distinct differences.
A good finishing touch for your set of screwdrivers is to either purchase or craft a wall holder for them and hang them on the workshop wall. Many larger sets come with such holders and the screwdrivers are arranged according to size and type.
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While a knife isn’t a tool directly used in carpentry as much as others on the list, it’s still an essential piece of the arsenal. The utility knife has plenty of uses – cutting boxes, strings, marking pieces of wood, stripping excess material, opening cans of wood paint, etc. Carpenters always keep it in their pocket.
Your utility knife should be lightweight, easy to grip, and have a replaceable stainless-steel blade, such as the American Stanley blade. Sheathed blades with a retractable design, such as the boxcutter design, are safer and more convenient, with better protection.
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See a utility knife in action:
Mallets are similar to hammers, but perform better at specific tasks, especially jointing. The mallet will be your best friend when it comes to pushing planks into place and creating a tight fit, like with tongues and bevels of floorboards or when doing furniture assembly.
When using chisels or other hand tools that require force, it’s a good idea to drive them with a mallet. Compared to the hammer’s usual metal head, the wood or rubber head of the mallet will not deform or break the chisel handle.
Your mallet should have a comfortable handle that allows you to grip it firmly. As mallets weigh considerably less than hammers, make sure to purchase one that can apply sufficient force when swung naturally.
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See how carpentry mallets are made:
Hand planers are one of the oldest tools of the trade, and they can be used both as a basic tool for rough work or as a detailer for finishing steps. They are composed of metal blades fastened to a long, flat stock with a diagonal handle for pushing.
Dragging them across a flat surface will shave off strings of wood evenly, perfect for trimming sides of planks and 2X4s. In the hands of a skilled craftsman, they can be used to create round edges by shaving at a 45-degree angle, also known as edge planing.
You can find hand planers of various sizes and weights in the market, and a carpenter usually uses a light hand planer for narrow planks, while the heavy-duty models are best for beams and thick bodies of wood.
Hand planers require frequent maintenance, but the planer’s blade is easy to remove and sharpen, and when attaching it, you will need to align it both horizontally and vertically with screws that hold it in its place. Once set-up, just turn the planer over and check if the bottom is perfectly flat with the blade protruding evenly.
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See in the video below how to use a hand plane:
Chisels are carving tools composed of a sharp metal blade with a variety of shapes and angles, attached to a wooden or metal handle. They are used to either shave away material or outright break parts away when driven by a mallet.
When using a mallet, it’s advisable to have a wooden handle as it’s more elastic than the metal one on the structural level.
If you are in the market for chisels with metal handles, make sure they have rubber coating at the bottom of the handle to absorb mallet and prevent deforming.
Carving is usually done during the working of the wood piece, while finishing touches may involve soft tip chisels or just sanding. Another use for chisels is to shape circular pieces on a woodturning or lathe machine by applying gentle pressure evenly and moving the chisel horizontally to shape the turned wood.
Highly skilled woodworkers can create beautiful works with chisels alone, such as carved paintings, sculptures, and figurines.
Any serious carpenter will possess a whole set of chisels with various blades, usually displayed on his wall with a set holder. It’s important to regularly maintain your chisels, as they are one of the tools most prone to dulling.
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See a chisel in action in the video below:
- Chisels Guide @ ToolsForWorkingWood
The hand saw is your trusty companion in making rough cuts, such as sizing down pieces of wood for further work. It’s a long, straight metal blade with sharp teeth attached to a wooden or metal handle.
Cutting is done by back and forth motion, and the blade has a series of teeth spaced out equally between, and the number of teeth corresponds to the blade’s purpose. Fewer teeth will lead to rough cuts, and having more teeth will make smoother cuts.
Even though the hand saw is not a fixed cutting tool, it’s still possible to create relatively straight cuts with a steady hand. When coupled with a careful sanding technique, the hand saw can accomplish ideal straight and flat cuts.
However, alternative saws are much faster and more practical at the job, while the hand saw is better for outdoor work or cutting on a sawhorse.
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Hand tools can accomplish a large portion of carpentry work given enough knowledge, proficiency, and time, but power tools are a step-up in every aspect. Power tools are necessary to set up a workshop or field practice and take carpentry to a professional level such as commercial woodworking or construction work.
The ideal type and model of a power tool is unique to each carpenter, but generally, all of them will possess the following in their work environment:
The power drill is a very versatile tool used both commercially and on a workshop level. Its uses may seem simple, limited to drilling holes and inserting screws or fasteners, but the drill is backed by a plethora of attachments and drill bits, as well as settings for speed, power, and torque.
Almost all commercial power drills will have two rotation modes and two to three power settings.
A set of drill bits is a staple in the package, and you will usually want to purchase additional drill bits for your specific needs.
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Do All Drills Have Reverse? @ ToolsOwner
Brad Point Drill Bits – Drill Bits For Wood @ToolsOwner
The circular saw is your go-to option for making deep straight cuts. It’s also a relatively simple tool, composed of a round blade attached directly to the motor axis.
Carpenters commonly replace blades to adapt to the type of wood they are working on.
As mentioned, blades with fewer teeth lead to smoother cuts, while having more teeth increases the cutting power at the cost of smoothness. Due to the shape of the saw, it’s pretty easy to keep it straight when cutting with freehand movement, but guiding rails are also commonly employed the ease the process.
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The jigsaw is probably the simplest power saw found in a carpenter’s workshop. It’s far from the simplest to use, though, as its purpose is cutting abstract, irregular cuts, such as curves and stencil drawings by guiding the blade across a marked path.
Jigsaws perform their operation by retracting a metal blade lined with teeth, powered by an electrical engine.
It’s possible to adjust the depth of the blade, as well as the cutting speed, to allow for more control. The retracting blade allows for speedy cutting, but at the disadvantage of not being suitable for thick material.
It’s safe to say it requires experience to use it properly, but by aligning it with a straight object when cutting, it’s relatively easy to make straight cuts.
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- Are Jigsaw Blades Universal? @ ToolsOwner
Hand-held power sanders are used to strip away uneven material and create a perfectly smooth surface. There are two main types – the palm sander and the orbital sander, both used by hand.
The palm sander is square in shape and operates on a belt model. The grit paper is attached to the belt and sands the wood surface with forward motion. Palm sanders are typically used to sand hardwood floors and square areas by applying a back and forth pattern.
Orbital sanders, are very similar but operate based on a spinning disk. Circular sanding is better for round surfaces and round objects in general.
Disk sanders are a special kind of orbital sander that is fixed to the workbench vertically.
Both types of sanders have their advantages, and you should keep both handy if you work on a variety of different projects.
Remember that 40 to 60 grit paper is for removing significant imperfections and heavy sanding work, while 80 to 120 is for minor imperfections.
360 grit and above are very fine and used for finishing surfaces.
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With constant cutting and sanding in the workshop, a lot of dust and wood shavings are bound to cover the place. Many power tools and bench tools have special bags or compartments to collect sawdust, though these models tend to be pricier.
A more affordable solution is to purchase a sawdust vacuum. You may be wondering what separates a sawdust vacuum from an ordinary vacuum, and it’s the fact that regular vacuums will quickly get clogged and break down. Sawdust vacuums have special filters to prevent dust from entering fans and the engine compartment.
The vacuum will keep your workshop area clean, the air clear, and your house vacuum safe.
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A nail gun or nailer is a power tool used to drive nails into wood under pressure force. Nail guns are commonly pneumatic, powered by gas or air pressure, but there are electric variants, some of which come with batteries for portability.
There are two distinct types you should know about: the framing nailer, used for heavy-duty work, and the finishing nailer, which is suitable for light projects. Nail guns have rails that are adjustable for use in straight and angled modes.
The framing nailer is commonly seen in construction and maintenance work, such as securing carrying beams or 2X4 boards, which require a greater penetration force and bigger nails.
The finishing nailer is a lighter version better suited for smaller projects like cabinets, shelves, and other simple furniture, as well as finishing touches on bigger projects, as its name implies. Generally, finishing nailers fire headless nails which leave a tiny surface mark, and the lower force dramatically reduces the risk of wood splitting.
However, if you are a crafty person who enjoys upholstery or combining materials, it’s good to purchase a staple gun. Staple guns are well suited for attaching fabric to wood, a common practice when building or restoring furniture.
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Exact measurements are paramount to proper cuts and correct stencils. Your measuring toolset should be able to adjust to both small and big objects of various shapes. Also, practical math and geometry skills combined with high-quality measuring equipment are a match made in heaven.
The tape measure is a long, retractable aluminum meter. Carpenters use the tape measure in every step of the project, from planning to building. It’s not only used to measure parts or wood pieces, but also the area where the final product is supposed to fit.
A special tip to keep in mind when purchasing a tape measure is to get one with a big grapple or tongue at the end of the metal tape. Such tape will save you countless headaches from detaching and ruined measurements. If you require fieldwork, picking up a belt attachable tape measure is a great convenience.
The ruler is your reliable straight measuring tool used for stencils, marks, and sketches. Rulers are primarily for measuring small distances on the wood’s surface and drawing straight lines.
Remember that metal rulers are superior to their plastic counterparts, as they will remain straight and durable for a very long time.
A special kind of ruler used in carpentry is the Layout Square.
It acts in the same way as the cornerstone in construction. It ensures a perfect 90-degree angle on corners.
The importance of flat and stable carpentry products can’t be underestimated. Levels have been around since the dawn of time in one form or another, beginning with ropes, pendulums, water bottles, until it was finally perfected into the levels we know today.
The modern level is a flat metal bar marked with inches and meters, with small capsules of liquid at the edges and the very center. When the surface is ideally level, the air bubble inside the capsules will align with the lines on them.
Carpenters typically have two to three levels of different sizes. It’s important to use the level closest to the actual length or width of the measured surface.
The moisture meter is slightly different from the other entries in this section. This meter tracks the humidity level inside of wood. It helps carpenters prepare for every step of the workflow, from initial cuts to finishing touches, especially in areas such as floor carpentry.
Meters can be invasive, with a pin inserted into the wood, or non-invasive, with scanning done without penetration.
Wood must have a specific humidity level before it can be worked on properly, as the end product should contain anywhere from 7% to 19% water content, depending on the project’s purpose.
Freshly cut wood may be as high as 200% in humidity, meaning its moisture contributes to two-thirds of its weight. On the other hand, wood too dry is often brittle and prone to damage, making it unsuitable for most woodworking.
The workbench is where most of the workshop work gets done. It’s a table typically outfitted with small cabinets for hand tools and accessories, a vise, and a variety of bench power tools. Benches can be purchased, but most season professionals build and improve their own benches to fit their requirements.
There are numerous guides and instructions on building or setting up a workbench, tailored to your occupation, job requirements, and things like available space and height.
Also, remember to have light sources installed directly above the working area.
A staple machine in the workshop is the table saw, seen in most woodwork relying on long straight cuts.
Table saws function similarly to circular saws, even having the same RPM values, with the addition that they’re fixed to the underside of the table. They are used for squaring lumber to a size necessary to be workable.
Table saws come installed with a long metal bar for contact with lumber that ensures the wood is pushed through the saw in a straight motion.
The cutting power is dependent on the type of blade used and the corresponding number of teeth on it, as with previous entries in the list. Some advanced table saws have adjustable angles, up to 45 degrees.
The bench grinder is a fixed rotary sanding tool commonly used with angles that can’t be covered adequately by other machines.
They function like a rotating barrel coated in grit paper, power by an electrical motor. They also find common use with metal tools, and carpenters generally use the grinder as their sharpening stone.
Usually, grinders are operated by hand, and remember only to fasten items to a holder if there is no risk of detaching, as the grinder will send the object flying across the room. With lower grit values, it’s entirely possible to grind out significant portions of the wood and create deep angles and arcs, followed by the switch to high grit paper for smoothing.
Compared to other rotary machines like table saws and woodturners, the grinder’s RPM is slightly lower, and it’s important not to cause exceptional friction when using it, as it may cause the material to catch fire from the heat.
The woodturning machine, also known as a lathe, is a machine used for rotating wood pieces to allow for a variety of operations such as shaving, sanding, drilling, and cutting. It’s the woodworker’s version if the ceramic potter’s wheel.
Before the wood is attached, a hole needs to be created on the bottom end to fit the turning point. When the work is finished, the excess ‘holder’ of the crafted piece is cut off, and the bottom sanded. Chisels and sanding paper are applied while the wood object is spinning to maintain an equal level of depth.
Due to the nature of the fast rotation, it’s used to create symmetrical objects such as round boxes, cups, vases, urns, legs and pegs, and even ornaments such as decorations, keychains, or chess figurines.
The band saw is not really considered a staple machine in the workshop, but it offers a ton of versatility that other tools can’t contribute to.
The saws are a pair of wheels holding a rotating blade powered by a motor, and the machine is usually mounted on the bench.
The specialty of this machine is cutting curves and irregular shapes, even in very thick material.
This feature makes the band saw the go-to option for things such as decorative objects and curved furniture elements.
It can also be used to saw lumber into thinner slabs with smooth cuts.
The drill press, also known as pedestal drill, is a much superior alternative to regular power drills when it comes to creating deep, wide, and completely straight holes.
It’s a fixed rotator with attachable drill bits attached to a pole that can be carefully moved and adjusted with a handle.
The height of the attached drill bit to the base of the machine is known as the drill’s swing. With the typical drill press having a swing of 15 inches and more, it’s possible to drill deep holes even in complete lumber.
It’s paramount to make the drill press completely fixed and stable and prevent wobbling. A drill press that’s out of balance can cause irregular drilling, wood breaking, and even a safety hazard in the work area.
The miter saw is a sophisticated cutting tool that allows you to cut wood at various angles. The saw itself is circular, and it’s attached to an adjustable arm that can pivot left and right to produce cuts at any angle.
The machine is outfitted with various metered tracks and marked angles to make exact adjustments easy to locate and fix the saw in place. Some advanced miter saws also come with lasers that mark cuts for additional clarity.
One of the most common uses for the miter saw is framing, as wood pieces cut at 45-degree angles are easy to attach at a 90-degree corner of the frame. Keep in mind that the miter saw is a circular saw intended for short cuts, and cutting lumber by length will require a different type.
- Why A Mitter Saw Not Cutting Straight? @ ToolsOwner
The surface planer is a large sanding machine typically used to smooth large surface areas efficiently and evenly. Also, surface planers are commonly used to reduce the thickness of a wood board through a thorough sanding process. It does so by pulling the board through a set of blades using rollers and belts. It’s like a hand planer, but on a massive scale.
Surface planers excel at creating very fine adjustments, down to even one-sixteenth of an inch. They also offer you flexibility with your timber, as the thickness planer lets you use your materials for different projects with variance in thickness. A common use for this machinery is sanding doors, tables, cutting boards, and other large, flat surfaces.
It is highly recommended to use a jointer before the planer in cases where there are bows and imperfections on the plank’s surface. You may be able to find and purchase a sander combined with a jointer into one machine.
There are a couple of essential safety items used in any carpentry workshop. I will just name them as they are self-explanatory but you can read below some safety tips and guidelines when operating woodworking tools:
With all of the core tools of carpentry out of the way, I must remind you that safety is the number one priority. Woodworking comes with its own set of potential hazards, and the outcomes of accidents can even be lethal. To stay safe in your workplace, remember to follow safety guidelines, and wear protective equipment when required.
Follow Safety Guidelines
You should make sure your workshop or outdoor work environment is sufficiently supplied with power. Most power tools used in carpentry require plenty of power, so make sure not to blow a fuse or create a fire hazard.
On that note, the machines typically operate at very high sound levels, most over 85 dB, some reaching over 100 dB. Ear protection such as noise-canceling headphones or earbuds will preserve your hearing over the course of your career.
Staying Safe from Physical Injury
Another common hazard present in the work area is physical injury. You should take the following precaution steps to protect yourself:
- Do not wear long sleeves or gloves around rotating machines; getting any fabric caught in the rotor can be deadly.
- Wear appropriate eye or face protection when cutting, sanding, or breaking wood. Splinters and small wood specks could fly away into your eyes and cause serious injury.
- Also, keep your work area clean with a vacuum and proper ventilation to protect your airways. Wood dust particles and fumes from paint and lacquer can be dangerous to breathe in. If you are directly exposed, make sure to wear an appropriate mask or air filter.
- Finally, wearing steel toe boots will save your toes if something falls on your foot, which happens commonly in this line of work.
Follow all of these safety tips and stay safe. With good health, you can expect a long and enjoyable career in carpentry. I hope my list of essential carpentry tools equipped you with the knowledge to get started.
Good luck, and stay tuned for new articles.
Cheers, tools owners!