Hand Tool Joinery Essentials

Abel Dances with Jim Tolpin



In this Hand Tool Joinery Essentials course we will build a traditional joiner’s tote designed to carry a basic set of hand tools to a job site. In designing and constructing this tote, we get to enter into the world of the pre-industrial artisan in which nearly all the dimensioning, joinery and smoothing was done with hand tools. No routers, power sanders or table saw are used or needed in this project. 

Even the design process follows ancient geometry-based proportioning schemes that are ultimately based on the proportions and constraints of the human body (rather than number-driven dimensions that often relate primarily to pre-sized lumber). We generate component and joint layouts with dividers and story sticks--no dimensional numbers used or needed. This tote does not rely on fasteners or glue for structural integrity, but rather makes use of traditional joints such as mortise and tenons and tight-fitting, through dovetails. We do all the smoothing with hand planes on the planer surfaces and spokeshaves on the curved. The finish is a non-toxic oil and wax mixture.

You will be working from pre-dimensioned pieces so that you can focus on the layout and joinery.

Please Note:  You need some experience with hand tools to take this class. Please see the prerequisites section.

Class Description

Principles and techniques presented in this project:

  • Creating a design to the traditional system in which proportions and curves are linked to whole-number ratios...and ultimately to the form of the human body.. 
  • Creating patterns and a story stick; using them for layout.
  • Rough cutting components from stock; Truing faces and jointing edges of workpieces. (Principles only---Students will be provided with pre-dimensioned stock)
  • Sharpening plane blades and chisels.
  • Use of a shooting board
  • Cutting and smoothing a curve. 
  • Chamfering corners along a curved edge.
  • Making an angled through-mortise fixed with tusk pin..
  • Making a multiple, through dovetail joined corner.
  • Creating decorative chamfers and beads..
  • Making a rabbet joint.
  • Making a shouldered stub tenon in a stopped dado.
  • Smoothing surfaces with a plane to a mirror finish.
  • Applying an oil/wax finish. 

Note:  The tote is designed to optionally carry a sliding-lid box to contain small layout tools. Plans and a cutlist for this box will be provided. Students will leave with a full kit of parts to complete the tool tote and top box at home.


The School's workbenches and teaching tools provide high quality hand tools for all the activities in this class. If you have started to build your own kit of hand tools we encourage you  to bring them to the class. 

More about this class

Class Description and Daily Schedule 
Opens in Google Drive where you can view or print the document. The documents are live and subject to change. We will give you printed copies on the first day of class.


This class should not be your first time working with hand tools. If you have self studied and completed many of the projects in Jim Tolpin's "The New Traditional Woodworker" or have taken hand tool classes elsewhere or have other equivalent experience then this will be a great class for you.

Students who have taken Jim’s Hand Tool Heaven class or the Hand Saw Essentials and Hand Plane Essentials classes in our Basics Of Woodworking program will find this a great class to add joinery skills to their repertoire.

Class Information and Registration

Class starts at 9:00am on the first day.


Please read our What to Expect page for general information about the School.

Please also read our Registration Policy.

Class size: 10

Cost: $ 700

Materials Charge: $150*
*charge covers components for tool tote and top box

When you click on the Register link you will be able to register for the class or, if the class is full, sign up for the wait list.