Today I want to talk about basic hand tools, which are new, cheap and practical.
There’s been a huge interest in the second hand tool market in recent years. Second hand prices are variable, but on the whole they’re popular because they’re cheap.
Cheap is an awful word, easily taken to mean low quality, even when that’s not the intension. When we’re getting started cheap is good, because we need to get a feel for things.
Simple Quality, Not Cheap & Nasty
This discussion is for Joe who asked a question a couple of weeks ago. He has exciting news, that a decent grant has been made available to transform his high school woodworking classes in to being traditional and hand tool based. (I hope we’re getting back to you quick enough Joe!).
This is a US high school setting up with basic tool kits for students from 12 – 13yrs upwards.
In this case it’s school policy that states that the tools have to be new. Though I’m sure Joe isn’t in a unique spot in his hunt. Many people will prefer to go new, and get set up with some basic hand tools that are both affordable and functional.
The second hand tool market can be unreliable, and if we hope to see the use of hand tools increase in the future, then we should never shun the idea of supporting new manufacturers – good working tools is where it all starts.
This isn’t a discussion for exotic works of art, nor cheap rubbish that won’t last.
Finding new, basic hand tools, that are built to do the job, do it well and nothing more, is perhaps one of the least talked about areas of tool buying.
Joe is fortunate to have some of the basics already, and with generous donations from Stanley as well. In my hand tools list below I’ve focused on what Joe’s still looking to buy, for the new woodworking kits.
The Basic Hand Tools List:
I believe the key to getting started, is to resist buying everything super cheap. Instead, buy tools of a moderate quality that will last well, but keep this to only the very minimum tools.
When you get going, you’ll realise that you need very few tools, and that extra quality will pay off as you learn.
Hand saws –
There aren’t all that many options for panel saws under $200, but in my opinion Pax (Thomas Flinn) make the most cost effective working examples.
The blades are excellent and though I’ve always noted that the handle on the cheaper models is questionable (you feel a little like you need to wear a gardening glove to hold it) I think it’s a fair compromise.
I also wouldn’t dismiss the hard point saw route. For the intended purpose, this is the most cost effective route, and will save the feeling of ‘oh bugger’ I’ve got 20 saws to sharpen, every now and then!
Small tenon / dovetail saws –
I really don’t think you’re going to do better than the Veritas.
These seem to have been designed for this placement in the market where they meet the right balance of quality and price. I’ve used them and they are excellent, with the added benefit that the steel is harder than normal so they stay sharp for a bit longer. A great addition to any tool kit.
Small Bench planes –
The brief here is that they are lighter than a No. 4 Sweetheart plane so that students of all ages can handle them.
My first instinct is to say get some irons and have the students build their own wooden planes – a nice project as well as cheap and light weight tool.
If you feel that wooden planes are not the easiest to learn with (getting going probably requires a longer attention span) then I suppose we’re looking at the Bailey pattern planes.
Many modern plane manufacturers go down the ‘well built’ heavy route which makes for beautiful solid tools, whereas the Bailey pattern is much more economic with materials. A No. 3 would be very practical for small hands & I’ve found one here by ‘Faithful’ so they are still made at this size. They won’t ever perform perfectly out of the box but for very little work these cheaper tools can all work very well. The irons in these will be thin so quick to sharpen & repair; a massive benefit to the teacher.
If the budget can stretch then the planes are a good place to put it. Any of the small Veritas or Lie Nielsen examples will be fantastic and you’re not going to have any of the fettling to worry about.
Scrub planes –
Since we’re getting in to specialist tools here I think any of the dedicated ones are pretty pricey. The best bet would probably be to camber up a cheaper Bailey pattern plane. Perhaps it’s possible to just double up on the irons for the bench planes – not the ideal scrub plane but functional and good for saving money.
Marking gauges –
These are another fantastic project tool, or there are many available cheaply that still function very well, I know a lot of the Marples ones are spoken highly of. For children I suppose the less gimmicks on it the better so I’d avoid the wheel gauges.
Consider getting the cutting gauges instead of the pin as the knife edge can go across the grain better, although it’s easily possible to convert the pin to more of a knife edge.
Your Choice When It Comes To Basic Hand Tools?
This list may seem a little unorthodox but don’t forget we’re on a budget and can’t go second hand.
My recommendations are always limited to my own experience. I’d be most grateful if you could put your own thoughts on getting started with hand tools in to the comments. I’m sure that Joe would appreciate all of the opinions that we can muster.
How would you go about setting up a basic set of hand tools?
P.S Chapter Two of the Spoon Rack has gone up today and we’ve made a start on the joinery. Don’t forget to check out our new Premium Video Series if you haven’t already.