15 Essential Hand Tools Used for Building Hardwood Furniture

Woodworking is a popular activity especially among those who love designing and creating wood-based items and pieces. Woodworking includes cabinet and furniture making, woodcarving and carpentry.

Although many people talk about woodworking as a fun and easy activity, the truth is that one’s success at working wood depends on several factors. First, the beauty, strength, and overall quality of a furniture piece depend largely on the type of wood used.

Woodworkers use two main types of wood. Softwoods are derived from evergreen coniferous trees and are relatively more affordable. They include cedar, fir, pine, and redwood among others. On the other hand, hardwoods are gotten from broad-leaved trees and are considered harder than softwoods. However, these trees also take longer to grow and are therefore more expensive.

Woodworkers often use a hardwood such as poplar and red oak. Others include walnut, maple and mahogany wood. Despite the high cost of hardwoods, many woodworkers love using them for their designs because they are available in a wide range of colors, grain patterns, and even textures.

(Source: Wood and Shop)

Secondly, the quality of a woodwork product is highly dependent on the type and quality of hand tools used. According to many woodwork experts, using quality tools while working on both softwood and hardwood furniture has a positive impact on the quality of the finished product.

There are numerous hand tools in the market, and first-time woodworkers may often get confused over what to buy first or last. While it is true hand tools do not come cheap, it is also true that hardwood does not come cheap either. On this note, anyone who can afford to use hardwood for woodwork furniture projects is also likely to afford most of the basic woodworking tools.

In any case, those who cannot afford new hand tools may even source for these tools from second-hand dealers and garage sales among other avenues. That aside, here are 15 essential hand tools suitable for making hardwood furniture and working on other woodwork projects.

1. Solid Wooden Workbench

A woodworker without a wooden workbench is an incomplete woodworker. The workshop is centered on the workbench. After all, woodworkers use workbenches to secure hardwood in place to facilitate other tasks such as sawing and planning.

There is a wide variety of ready-made wooden workbenches on the market. However, one can also choose to make his/her wooden workbench. This is a good option especially when one wants to customize the bench based on needs and projected uses. Regardless of the options one chooses, a heavy and sturdy workbench that has the solid top, as well as strong supportive legs, is highly recommended.

2. Folding Rule/ Tape Measure

Folding rules are widely considered predecessors to tape measures. They are particularly useful in helping to take rough/approximate measurements. Most experts recommend using a 24-inch wooden rule as it is easy to use and can also fit in the pocket. Small tape measures also serve the same function of measuring. One can choose to have either one or both of these measuring tools.

3. Marking Gauge

No matter what kind of hardwood furniture one is building, they must take measurements and in most cases, transfer and repeat measurements. A marking gauge is extremely useful in making certain reference marks for measurements and also for transferring measurements e.g. the depth of a mortise or an exact layout of the baseline for the dovetail joints.

Experts suggest using a wheel marking gauge which woodworkers can use to take even two measurements at the same time. It is also possible to make a marking gauge for oneself.

4. Marking Knife

It is not uncommon for hardwood furniture makers to use pencils to mark out locations for joinery. However, there is a consensus that marking knives are a much better and much more accurate way of marking precise lines for fitting joints, starting a chisel or even cutting through with a saw.

5. Dividers (Compass)


Every woodworker requires at least two pairs of dividers in his/her toolbox. These are also measurement tools used to take and repeat a single measurement repeatedly on a workpiece. As a matter of fact, many traditional woodworkers rarely use tape measures when doing their joinery work.

Dividers are also useful in inscribing arcs and in cutting dovetails. Not only do they make measurement transfer faster and more precise, but dividers are also useful for woodworkers who cannot see well or cannot read numbers well.

6. Saws

Saws are some of the most basic tools in woodwork and particularly when making hardwood furniture. There are different types of saws, and each type of saw is ideal for specific applications and uses. According to many woodwork experts, the following are must-have saws:

-Panel saws

These are long, thin and have comfortable handles. They are best used for rough dimensioning lumber. It is advisable to have two different handsaws; “rip” saws and “cross-cut” saws. While the former is used to cut along the grain of the wood like a chisel, the latter is used to cut across the grain in a movement similar to that of a knife.

-Back Saws

While typical panel saws are used for rough dimensioning, backsaws are used for making more precise and more accurate cutting. Back saws also come in a wide range of varieties. Dovetail saws, for example, have fine “rip” teeth and are primarily used to cut dovetails.

Carcass saws, on the other hand, have “cross cut” teeth which are used for precise and accurate cuts across the grain of lumber. Tenon saws are mid-sized backsaws used for making deeper cuts along the grain of the lumber e.g. tenon cheeks.

Another important type of backsaw is the miter saw. This is a large backsaw that is used to cut the wood into accurate lengths and precise angles. Experts recommend using it in either a miter box or in a metal frame which can accommodate cuttings at different angles. The quality of hardwood furniture is positively influenced when crosscuts and miter joints are cleanly and accurately cut.

-Coping Saw

Hardwood furniture often features intricate shapes and exquisite curves. Coping saws come in handy when making turning cuts or curvy cuts on wood. Coping saws are also used to remove waste from dovetail joints. However, using a coping saw effectively takes a lot of skill, control, and practice.

7. Chisels


No workshop is complete without chisels. Indeed they are some of the most used tools in the process of making hardwood furniture. Beveled edged bench chisels are especially useful for a wide range of woodwork applications.

According to woodwork professionals, the best chisels are those that are comfortable to hold, have a good edge and are easy to sharpen. It is wise to settle on chisels that have a wooden handle rather than those with plastic handles. They are used for a wide range of tasks including paring and light chopping.

Although bench chisels are the most essential for beginners due to the flexibility in their use, it is always a welcome idea to purchase specialty chisels such as mortise chisels and paring chisels. It is worth noting that paring chisels are light, long and thin; woodworkers are advised not to mallet them. Mortise chisels are used to chop rectangular holes into the side of a board to insert tenons. 1/4” or 3/8” mortise chisels will both work just fine.

8. Wooden Joiner’s Mallet

Several tasks in the process of making hardwood furniture require hitting a chisel into the wood. A wooden mallet is a preferred tool when it comes to doing the hitting. They are also the tool of choice for tasks such as joining pieces of wood together or even driving in dowels.

Wooden mallets are preferred because they are tough and hard but at the same time, forgiving on the surface receiving the hitting. Best of all, it is easy to make a wooden mallet at home.

9. Woodwork Planes

How smooth a surface is can determine how good a piece of hardwood furniture will look like a finished product. There are some basic woodworking planes that everyone should have.

-Jack Hand Plane

Anyone serious about woodwork is likely to use this tool often enough to keep it on the workbench permanently. It is one of the most versatile tools, and it can perform a range of functions including those of specialized tools such as jointer planes (try planes) and smoothing planes.

-Block Planes

These tools are gaining popularity among woodworkers. Many people particularly like the fact that they are small and therefore more portable. They are also quite versatile and can perform functions such as trimming joints, trimming end grain and putting chamfers on board edges among other tasks. Most experts recommend getting a block plane that is the low angle as it will make it easier to cut difficult grain.

-Shoulder Plane

One of the telltale features of fine hardwood furniture is wood joinery. Shoulder planes are useful in improving the quality of the joinery by helping to smoothen out tenons, rabbets, dadoes, and even grooves hence facilitating a perfect fit and at the same time, keeping the corners crisp.

10. Sliding Bevel Square

Also known as a bevel gauge, this tool is used to inscribe angles on the wooden workpiece. Additionally, one can use them to transfer angle measurements from plans to the actual workpieces. This makes them an ideal tool to use when drawing out dovetails. It is advisable to get a bevel square that can hold an angle well.

11. Combination Square

When building hardwood furniture, one is often required to pencil or knife a line at precise 45 degrees and 90-degree angles. Combination squares are an indispensable tool when it comes to drawing outlines at these angles and also in drawing out dovetail joints, measuring mortise depths, laying out lines for mitering and ripping as well as checking the flatness of boards among other functions.

Getting a good combination is paramount because of accuracy. Using an inaccurate combination square is likely to have an adverse impact on how well joinery fits in together.

Experts warn against going for combination squares that are used or cheap as the accuracy of these squares is normally compromised. One can start with either a 12 inch or 6-inch combination square.

12. Card Scraper

Card Scraper

Making hardwood furniture often involves using lumber such as tiger maple which in most cases, present the challenge of dealing with the tricky grain. A card scraper is an effective tool with which to smooth out any tricky grain from the workpiece. In addition to that, card scrapers are also useful when working with curved wood and even when working with wood veneers. Luckily for woodworkers, card scrapers are inexpensive, easy to sharpen and quite durable.

13. Spokeshave

This is a valuable hand tool particularly for woodworkers who plan on making curved hardwood furniture parts. It is especially useful in smoothing out curved parts such as the legs, spindles and furniture panels.

Many experts recommend fitting spokeshaves with low angle blades to enhance the effectiveness of the tool on end grain. Spokeshaves ideally use either flat soles or curved soles. Curved soles are desirable when one wants to achieve a tighter or more precise inside radius.

14. Woodworking Clamps

Many people forget or ignore to buy woodworking clamps. The truth is that it is not even enough to buy one or two clamps. On the contrary, many woodworking pros suggest buying as many different clamps as one can afford. Clamps are particularly useful in keeping freshly glued up joints in place until the glue hardens sufficiently.

15. Sharpening Supplies and Tools

Many hand tools used in building hardwood furniture require constant and regular sharpening for them to work effectively. In fact, blunt tools are likely to lead to substandard finished products. Tools such as chisels hand planes, hand saws, and even scrapers all need sharpening.

There is much debate on the best sharpening tools to use, but a good tool to start with is a water stone. The softness of these sharpening stones makes it easier to sharpen tools. Another basic sharpening tool is a mill bastard file.

Mill-bastard files are also versatile tools in that woodworkers can use them to shape hardwood furniture parts and even to round over tenons.

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