Monday, February 28, 2011

Beginner's Tool Kit

I've read a few articles on making tool cabinets over the years, and believe me, I'm reading a few at the moment... But they all tend to have one laughable idea in common - you should decide what tools you need to put in it. Hah! Are they mad? I could be here for years. But it happens to coincide with my re-re-re-reading of Woodworker annuals, and an article that crops up a couple of times over the years. Viz: a starting tool kit for a beginner. It's a question that crops up on the fora pretty regularly too; indeed it just did again while I was prepping this blog post. I imagine Charles Hayward got asked the question more than most and it struck me it'd be a place to, um, well... start. Then I thought "Y'know, I reckon I have all these. Be kinda fun to see what it actually looks like."

Yes, I got sorta side-tracked again... The most surprising thing is I didn't actually have all the specified tools after all.

The Essential Tool Kit, 1939, as chosen by Charles Hayward:

Small, isn't it? Want a list? Or course you do. Hayward first, then what I had available to fill the slot in brackets.

Handsaw, x-cut, 22", 8-9 ppi. (Spearior 88 22", 10ppi - all my panel saws are 10ppi, oddly enough)
Back saw, 10", 14-16ppi. (Could have used an Onions "Governor" brand 10", 13ppi but...)
Tenon saw, 14", 14 ppi & Dovetail saw, 8", 20ppi (Douglas & Sons 14", 13ppi & L-N, 9", 15ppi
Jack plane, wood, 2" cutter (A B Salmen, marked Late Chas Nurse, Technical jack, 2" cutter)
Smoother, metal, 2 3/8" cutter & Fore plane, metal, 18" long
Smoother, wood, 2 3/8" cutter & Trying, wood, 22" long
(Plane choice can be mixed and matched, and as I don't actually have a #6 (!), I went with the metal smoother, Stanley #4 1/2, and the wooden trying plane, an Atkins & Sons with 2 1/2" cutter)

Chisels, firmer, 1/4" & 3/4" (Hales Bros. and an unknown)
Screwdriver, 8" cabinet (Spear & Jackson)
Screwdriver, 3" ratchet (Yankee #15A - seems to be the variety shown in the accompanying drawing)
Hammer, Warrington No.4 (Stanley 8oz Warrington)
Mallet, 5" (Coachbuilder's mallet, may be 5" if you measure it at the right point...)
Pincers (Um, yep. J W Ward, Sheffield)
Nail punch, fine (2mm)
Gauge, cutting ("BugBeared" Nurse & Co)
Bradawl, medium (The text extolls the virtues of the birdcage awl, and I concur)

Brace, ratchet, 8 or 10" sweep (Stanley #901 10" - might as well start the beginner with a nice one...)
Bits: Twist, 3/8" (The text suggests a dowel bit, so one Marples example)
Countersink (Text says snail, so one J Howarth example)
Shell, about 3/16" (For screw holes apparently; mine is unmarked)
Centre, 3/4" (Text says "One or two" but sticking with the list, here's an Alfrid brand 3/4" improved pattern variety)
Square, try, 6" (The wooden stock variety are given the thumbs down and I only had an engineer's 6" all metal)
Oilstone, 7", India or carborundum, medium, or combination fine and coarse (Um... 8" slate, fine - I like the box, 'kay?)
Scraper, 5" (Scraper, 6", Roberts & Lee)
Rule, 2ft, folding (Text suggest 2 or 3 ft, so I went with a Rabone 1380 3ft)

The main thing I'm thinking is "Two chisels?!" at this point. What about you? But that's the bare essentials; Hayward then lists the tools that are likely to follow, some of them quite quickly.

That looks more like it. The chisel and measuring/marking departments both look much healthier.

So the "extras":

Bowsaw, 12" (Marples, 12")
Bullnose plane (Drawing shows an infill, but all I can offer is a Preston #1355. It's a hard life)
Rebate plane, metal (Marples 78)
Toothing plane, 2" cutter (Friends, I do not own one! First failure)
Spokshave, wood, 2 1/4" blade (It's wood, but 2 3/4" blade. Lee Valley kit)
Plough (Text says the 040/043 sort are fine, but the larger is better, so a Record 044 it is)
Chisels, firmer, 1/8" & 1/2" (Marples and one of the Sorbys - it's hard to make out which one)
Chisel, bevelled edge, 1 1/2" (C Johnson and with a thinness of blade you wouldn't believe)
Chisel, mortise, 5/16" (I know why I got it into my head it should be a sash mortise chisel, but I'm utterly wrong. It's shown as an Oval Bolstered, which I have in 5/16". But this is 1/4". These days, with 3/4" stuff being more common than 7/8-1", a 1/4" is probably more useful anyway)
Gouge, outside ground, size to suit (I threw in a Ward & Payne 3/8", which I find rather handy myself)
Hammer, pattern maker's, fine (Basically something for fine work. This is the best I can do, but it needs a new handle)

Gauge, marking (User-made cam action - seemed appropriate as the design is given a couple of times in the Woodworker)
Gauge, mortise (Screw adjust is advised, so herewith one modern abomination from Crown)
Bits: Twist, 1/4" & 1/2" (The 1/4" is advised for boring mortises. A couple of nice strong Irwins seemed appropriate)
Centre, 1", or as required. (Don't seem to have an 1", so 15/16" instead)
Square, try, 12" (The hate against wooden stocks presumably continues, but this Robert Sorby is really all metal with a wooden infill)
Square, mitre, 10" (Um. Er. I don't have one. Failure number two)
Bevel 8" (8" by Moi)
Rasp & File (Unspecified. I went with Grobet 10" 2nd cut cabinet rasp and 8" bastard cut half round file)
Sash cramps, pair, 3ft, or as needed (They're on the floor, okay...?)
G cramps, 6".
Handscrews (Text favours handscrews over G cramps, so a pair of those)

In addition, the tyro is directed to make his own mitre block (8"), mitre box, shooting board (about 3ft) , straight edge (4ft), square (2ft blade), parallel strips (winding sticks), oilstone case, veneering hammer, and bench hook.

So now what are you thinking? (Apart from "I'm not brave enough to be a beginner woodworker in Charles Haywood's world") I'm thinking how it reminds me of the scarcity of tools in young Thomas' kit in The Joiner and Cabinet Maker, but more so. (Interestingly, just 15 short years later in the 1954 magazine, this has already changed a surprising amount.) I'm thinking how every forum discussion guides beginners away from bullnose planes too. But mainly I'm thinking there's a dovetail saw but virtually all firmer chisels.

At least there's one bevelled edge chisel, and a beauty. But even then the text says "not a necessity but no man who has once had one would like to be without it. It is a really splendid tool for paring" Well said, Charles - it is, indeed, and this woman has no plans to be without it either. But in a time where the bevelled edged chisel is king, the preponderance of firmers is a little hard to get your head around. Thought-provoking though, if not necessarily provoking the thoughts I'd intended. But it did highlight that I have that beautiful chisel, and I don't use it nearly as often as I might because it's hidden away in a drawer, and thus how important good tool storage is.


  1. Hi Alf,
    I really like reading required tool lists. It's interesting to see how the priorities are different amongst the various authors. As an aside I tried to buy some back issue woodworker magazines but it cost 3 times the cost of mags to ship across the pond to the USA.

  2. Ralph, even here the shipping tends to put a painful increase on the cost of the mags themselves. And honestly, it's not often that anything in woodworking is cheaper over here than it is in North America - count your blessings ;)

  3. Hi Alf,
    I think the only things I would add are, dividers, trammel heads, marking knives, and maybe a plumb bob.

  4. Alf,
    Uncertainty about what tools will eventually go where, led me to design the inside of my tool cabinet so that everything can be taken out and/or rearranged. I shall soon be re-doing a couple of the chisel racks but that is all I have so far wanted to do - apart from what goes in which drawer. That changes a lot but then you don't see it (neither do I some of the time and it drives me barmy knowing I have some widget but where the heck did I put it??).

  5. Mark, interesting additions. No idea why, but I never seem to use a plumb bob. Starting to wonder what I'm missing- apart from the actual plumb bob (because goodness knows where that is!)

    Chris, the "I know I have that widget but where is it?" factor is what worries me about hiding things too much. It's a delicate balance, isn't it?

  6. Old tools and reading older posts kind of go together. With the vast quantity of articles and comments it's taking longer to go through the roster. Anyway on to the reason for this ramble.
    I use plumb bobs in general woodworking. They are very useful as a quick way to define a location for construction as in plumbing (is that where the name for the tool or the job came from?) or an angle in cabinet making. Gravity is a constant. In a world where few things are, having it on your side is a bonus.
    That little weight on a string will never lie.


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