Port Townsend School of Woodworking
Preserving the Tradition

Hand Tool Recommendations from Garrett Hack


Tool Recommendations

From Garrett Hack

The school has a whole kit of the necessary tools for you to use, and others in the shop. But I feel strongly that if you are going to be serious about working wood, you need some good tools. You’ll better understand how they work, how to tune them, and how to keep them sharp.

These are the essentials.


#4 Bench plane
You might like a heftier #4-1/2, a slightly longer #5, or a smaller #3, but get one good plane of this size. Lie Nielsen, or Lee Valley are good choices, as is an older Stanley. For the Stanley you might buy a replacement iron (Hock or Lie Nielsen). If you were to bring 2 planes, a #5 size would be useful. Both Lie Nielsen and Lee Valley make very nice low-angle planes in this size (LN #62).

Block Plane.
I think very highly of the Lie Nielsen #60-1/2 low angle block plane. They also make a #102 that is nice. Lee Valley makes several, all good tools. Most of the older Stanleys or Records will work, but not as sweetly.

A range of sizes is nice. Most any will do if the steel is halfway decent and the handles suit you. Inexpensive and good are the Ashley Iles bench chisels; more expensive and very good are the LV (PMV11 steel) and LN chisels.  Flea market chisels are fine, and Japanese chisels are also worth trying if they interest you. A 5/16” chisel will be very useful. Lie-Nielsen makes one or you could grind down a 3/8."

round or square for driving your chisels, or a brass hammer if you prefer.

A 6” or 12” is fine. If you are going to buy a good square only once a Starrett is hard to beat.

Bevel gauge.
Most are okay, old or new, wood or iron.  Older Stanleys and the Veritas (Lee Valley, with the lever lock) are good.  A small bevel will work, but a 6” or longer blade is more useful. Most important is that the blade locks securely.

Marking knife.
Just a knife, and a pencil too.

Mortising or marking gauge.
 Marking gauges have a single pin (best if honed to a tiny knife), mortising gauges two. Some gauges do both — the beam has two pins on one side (one adjustable) and one on the other. Brass wear plates or fancy rosewood aren’t as important as a gauge that feels good in your hand (balanced) and the fence locks positively.

Shoulder rabbet plane.
For refining tenons or small rabbets. You don’t need a very big plane for common furniture work. My favorite is the Clifton medium shoulder plane #410. Both LN and LV make some nice shoulder planes.
A bullnose shoulder rabbet  (Stanley #90) with a very short sole ahead of the blade is a specialized tool and not the best choice for adjusting a tenon shoulder. The Lie-Nielsen rabbet block plane will work, nearly as well as a shoulder plane.

Card scraper (or the #80 cabinet scraper if you prefer).
 I like thicker scrapers over the very flexible thin ones. One should last nearly a lifetime. This is a tool you should know how to sharpen and use effectively.

Fine toothed dovetail or small backsaw.
Today there are so many saws to choose from, with different shapes of handle, # of teeth, etc.  LN or LV make some nice ones. Buy a saw that feels good (balanced), that cuts smoothly and makes a fine kerf.

Mill file and round chain saw file.
We’ll use them to make scratch stocks. Any size fine, but not worn out.

Sharpening Stones

Bring what you use, whatever it is.

Waterstones are what most of us are using today because they are effective, many grits are available, and they are easy to maintain. You can get fairly inexpensive Norton stones (220, 1000, 4000, 8000, either as single stones or as a two stone, 4 grit combo), KING, Shapton, and many others. In my experience they are all similar, although I love my Shaptons that come either as solid “colored” stones, or thinner stones laminated to plate glass (and less expensive too). I use 1500, 2000, 5000, 8000.

You need stones roughly in this range of grits:

a coarse stone  320-1000 grit  (can be a diamond “stone”, useful for other sharpening as well)
a medium stone 1000 - 1500 grit
a fine stone 4000 grit
and a very fine stone 8000 grit or higher

For flattening and maintaining any of your stones, buy an extra-coarse diamond plate (1/4” steel) from DMT or similar quality manufacturer. These last a very long time and are flat. The “polka-dot” diamond stones are not flat, but will work in a pinch. Less expensive is to lay a sheet of wet and dry paper (220) on a thick glass or granite surface and work your stones on that. Just be careful to avoid contamination between grits, or from the wet/dry itself.


Longer Plane.
This tool will be useful for jointing edges at the class and into the future. It could be a #5, #6, #7, or #8.

Smooth Plane.
Eventually, if you are going to use planes a lot you will want a dedicated smoothing plane.  Some possibilities: Your #4 tuned as a smoother, a #4-1/2, a Lee Valley low angle smoother, or older wooden coffin shaped smoother, or if you want to go really big time, a new smoother from a one-off maker.

I use many spokeshaves, mainly for shaping curves. The older Stanley #52 and #53 are my favorites. LN also makes some, as does Lee Valley. The heavier bodied “Boggs” shaves are the best of these.

Useful for sizing parts. I often use an old Stanley rule with a caliper end.          

That’s all you really need, but bring other tools if you have them and think you would like to use or learn more about them.