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Thread: Starting out with chisels, hand planes, saws, etc...

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Sep 2016
    Henderson NV (Las Vegas)

    Starting out with chisels, hand planes, saws, etc...

    Ok, a little context up front. I just recently retired. I set up my 3 car garage and a little hobby wood shop. I have the basics in a table saw, band saw, jointer, planer, drill press, and combo sander. I also have some quality hand tools i.e. RO Sander, Jigsaw, and loose tenon mortiser. I have been happy creating some basic projects such as workbenches and and a BBQ rolling table etc. All good!

    So I was creating some mortises the other day for another larger project and realized my one cheesy big store chisel is garbage. I would like to get a decent set of chisels, hand planes, hand saws, spoke and card shavers to add to the shop.

    I realize this is a huge rabbit hole and the research I have done so far has left me more confused than ever. For one, as with most tolls the price range is immense. I certainly don't want to go the cheap route and my age and skill level doesn't warrant the top of the line tools.

    So here I am basically asking where do I start? Again, thinking in terms of mid level pricing.

    Is there a good set of basic chisels that are popular with hobbyists?
    Same with hand saws and hand planes. What would you guys suggest as a starting set for both?

    Basically I am just trying to pick your brains and see if there are mid level sets of these tools that will get me started? Just trying to avoid the pitfalls and mistakes others have made going down this rabbit hole. Where would you begin if you were to do it all aver again?

    I have seen many shops with dozens and dozens of chisels, saws, and hand planes and realize you are only limited by your budget and imagination and the collection will certainly grow with time. With that said, I am just looking for a decent starting point.

    Looking forward to your insight,

    Last edited by Craig Shewmake; 07-16-2017 at 8:17 PM.

  2. #2
    For chisels, many people say good things about the Narex chisels. Otherwise, if you want to go top-of-the line, buy just a couple of the Lee Valley PM-V11 chisels and fill in later as you need them.

    If you're going to do a lot of mortises by hand, you probably want to get some pigsticker chisels. You can find very good antique ones on eBay. Again, you don't need many.

    The other approach to mortises is to drill them out and then use your bench chisels to finish them.

    I can't give you any advice on hand saws - I'm mostly a power tool guy for that.

    If you don't have a jointer you may need some hand planes to prepare your stock. Used Stanley Bailey planes are quite sufficient. If you want to improve them, buy a modern blade for them.

    Good luck,


    [Oh, you also need things to sharpen the chisels and planes but that's another rabbit hole.]
    Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.

  3. #3
    Everyone will have a different opinion here - there are a lot of variables. Here's my thoughts.

    Restoring old tools is always an option, if you have time, inclination and a supply of them. If not, buy new tools.

    Chisels: A set of Narex bench chisels from Lee Valley will cost you less than $100.

    Saws: Likewise, a set of 2 Veritas carcass saws will cost you $140. They aren't Bad Axe but I have 3 and they are very functional. Woodcraft has them on sale right now.

    Planes? Hold your breath - new ones cost real money. Veritas is middle of the road and very respectable. Get one of their #4's (a good size to start with for many kinds of work) - it sells just under $300. And get one of Lie Neilson's #102 low angle block planes for $115.

    Edit: Sharpening chisels and planes. Craig, do yourself a favor. Just bite the bullet and buy the Tormek T7 for $700. Otherwise, you'll end up sucked in and will spend a devil of a lot more buying this stone and that gizmo until you find something that suits you. I have spent probably $1500 horsing around with sharpening since I started out using sandpaper. Dumb dumb dumb dumb. Just pay the toll and get it over with. The Tormek is flawless.

    Hope it helps.
    Last edited by Frederick Skelly; 07-16-2017 at 8:54 PM.

  4. #4
    I've had a Tormek for 15 years, and I really find it awesome. As a woodturner, the very quick repeatability means I sharpen when I should.

    For bench chisels, I am a big fan of Two Cherries.


  5. #5
    Join Date
    Sep 2016
    Henderson NV (Las Vegas)
    Thanks for the quick reply. I have seen a lot of recommendations for the Lee Valley Chisels. Most my work for now with mortises will be cleaning up and squaring the edges as opposed to total hand made. As for the saws, I too have all the power tools but wanted a small set of hand ones for quick work.

    I do have a jointer and love it. I just wanted to get some planes mostly for small fishes work. Boy they are expensive though.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Sep 2016
    Henderson NV (Las Vegas)
    Thanks Fred. The reason I posted today was to here things like your recommendation for the Tormek. I know how easy it is to waste money going down unknown paths and wish to avoid that. Not just for the monetary reasons. but time as well.

    I'll check out other recommendations as well.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Sep 2016
    Henderson NV (Las Vegas)
    Since a lathe (yet another researching project) is on my radar I think getting a proper and well recommended sharpening system is a must. Looking up the two cherries...

    Thanks for the reply!!!

  8. #8
    A really solid middle of the road chisel set is by Ashley Iles. They have very thin lands, which are excellent for cutting dovetails; however, I'm not sure if they're stout enough for chopping deep mortises. OTOH, they'd be excellent for any clean up work.
    I second the mention of the LV saw set for a starter; but I've rehabbed old Disston's and love them.

    I also affirm the vintage Stanley Bailey hand planes; but buy some already restored. Sharpening is a key skill to acquire; as others above have indicated, the Tormek is stupid-proof and works well. Nevertheless, it's expensive and until I got one, I would never have thought it worth that high cost; but it's not fast and not the only method that works. Sandpaper, quality oil stones, water stones, ceramic stones, and more work also. What you gain in speed for some is at the expense of a shorter life; or what you gain in great finishes means sacrificing all speed for fixing nicks. In the end, most any system of sharpening becomes expensive over time so the Tormek (or the even better knife maker belt machines ~$2k) becomes more affordable (well, maybe not the knife machine--but it's blazingly fast).

    Like you, I started mostly with power tools, and I still have a TS and bandsaw. Fighting the micro dust issue pushed me down the road toward handtools, and now they are taking over, especially after my good friend lost two fingers on his bandsaw and the surgeon of our local club did his lecture on TS injuries. Yikes, I want to keep all ten digits. That said, I've had a couple of nasty cuts with chisels or lathe turning tools. Sober and careful must remain my governing shop words.

    Best wishes on your shop and shop time. I'm still a few years shy of 60, so I'm taking notes on how you guys are handling these retired days.

  9. #9
    Buy your tools as slowly as you can. there is no good starter set of saws or planes.

    Veritas and lie Nielsen are great places to shop. You can trust all of their tools for quality if you can afford them. Saws and planes are expensive and I suggest you buy them one at a time.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    Austin Texas
    My thoughts on chisels - I won't name a particular brand (there are several that will do the job) but do recommend that you buy decent quality upfront rather than more big store cheesers. The Narex brand has been touted by many as a very good lower cost alternative to higher priced brands and I also believe that the Ashley Iles fit the description of a lower cost "good" chisel. I will suggest that you do not need to buy a full (all sizes) set of a particular brand and may want to consider starting with say a 1/4", 1/2" and perhaps either a 3/4" or 1" for wider work and then add chisels to the set as the need for other sizes come up. You may or may not want to stay with the same brand after starting out. Not all chisels feel right in everyone's hands and the feel of the chisel is as important as the steel in my opinion.

    As for saws, the Veritas saws have also been held up as very good saws for way less money than some of the higher priced brands. As far as it goes, lots of the Lee Valley/Veritas stuff is considered to be of good/very good quality and lower priced than some of the boutique brand stuff, especially for starting out and not sure about staying with the hand tool ride all the way.

    As mentioned above, you will need to get into sharpening very soon after buying tools, so do some reading on older sharpening threads to see what you want to try. This is important, because chisels and plane irons (not saws nearly as quickly) will soon need sharpening and nothing like dull tools will drive you away quicker from hand tool work.

    Planes - it seems to break down into two basic camps: Buy new or refurbish older (metal) Stanleys, with a lower percentage of folks trying out wooden planes. As already said above, (and duck now for the alternatives to come at you hard and fast), get a general smoothing plane like a number 4 because you have some power equipment to get you through the main milling stages. There is a DVD called Corse, Medium and Fine (I think) by Christopher Schwarz that describes the basic evolution of working wood for a project. Your call on buying new or refurbishing. Money, personal likes/dislikes and patience levels will dictate your own preference.

    Buy an item and try it out for a while to get familiar with it before buying a bunch of more stuff. To repeat, if you don't get comfortable with sharpening, you will not enjoy hand tool working and this needs to start soon in the evolution. If there is any way at all, find someone local that has started down the hand tool path in front of you and see if you can get a "hands on" tool tryout and their thoughts on why they went the way they did. A guy named Paul Sellers has some good "how to get started" type videos on You tube (plus others for sale) that are a good starting point for information on using the tools. Enjoy.
    Last edited by David Eisenhauer; 07-16-2017 at 10:36 PM.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Feb 2016
    Edmonton, Alberta
    Hi Craig,

    If you are certain you will do woodworking for a while, you're better off buying the best tools you can afford at the beginning. Doesn't mean you need to buy them all at once, or that they need to be top of the line.

    I would strongly recommend Ashley Iles Chisels. They are a top quality chisel but don't cost as much as they could. Narex is also a solid choice, and a little cheaper. Like someone already said, you don't need too many sizes to begin with. Start with a 1/4", 3/8" and 1/2".

    Some others have recommended the Veritas backsaws. They are great saws and come sharp and ready to go. However, you can get second hand saws for much cheaper if you're willing to take the time to learn to sharpen, or get them sharpened. A vintage backsaw/panel saw in good shape, properly sharpened is as good as any brand new one.

    Top of the line production planes are Veritas and Lie Nielsen. You won't go wrong with either, and quality wise they are the same. I would disagree with Frederick on calling Veritas mid-level for planes - you'll find no appreciable difference in quality between their's and LN. Mid level would be a Luban or Wood River plane. You can't go wrong buying vintage stanley or record planes, if you're retired and not too busy, you might have time to fettle them into great users. A properly set up old stanley plane is as good as any. If you don't want to spend time restoring old planes and want one new plane that you can use for a lot of purposes - get a Veritas Low Angle Jack plane. Down the line you can invest in new blades and it'll do everything pretty well.

    You mentioned wanting a lathe - if you only plan on turning small items like tool handles, pens and mallets, you can get a mini lathe on craigslist/kijiji pretty easily for a great price. Heck, you can get a full size lathe for a steal quite often, and they often come with a full set of turning tools.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Mar 2015
    For planes, mid-level is basically the old Stanley, Record, Sargent models that are floating around. If you don't know what you are doing, I would recommend posting a wanted to buy in the classifieds here. You may not get any response, but it will cost you nothing, and somebody might be able to help you out with something in usable shape without breaking the bank. Otherwise, you can buy from yard sales, ebay, etc., which is always a crap shoot for someone who does not know what to look for. Or you can pay more from a reputable dealer (Patrick Leach, Jim Bode) and have more confidence you have something that will make a good user, after a little tuning. Lots of folks here will be happy to help you troubleshoot.

    Veritas, Lie-Nielsen, and the other modern manufacturers are not really mid-level in my book. They are more premium lines, which work very well out of the box, but you will pay for that.

    New or used, a basic set of planes that is often recommended would be a smoother, jointer, and jack (Stanley No. 4, 5, 7 for example). Jack set up for more heavy stock removal, jointer set to take a finer shaving and get things really flat, smoother for the super fine shavings everyone loves, and for finishing the surface. I would suggest you start with one, maybe a smoother. Another good first plane would be a low angle block plane. Either way, if you don't like it, you can find out before you buy a bunch of the things. There seem to be a lot of people who like the idea of using planes a lot more than they do actually using them.

    For chisels, you do have low, middle, high options in new manufacture. I would stay away from the hardware store chisels (although they are what I used for years). If you want cheaper, the Narex are often recommended. If you want a middle ground, I would recommend you look at the Ashley Iles bench chisels (not to be confused with the Ray Iles mortise chisels). They are about $30 each, but I like mine a lot. The Lee Valley or Lie Nielsen will be about twice that. Antique chisels can be very good, but when I was looking for chisels last year the good antiques seem to be about $20-$30 each. Premium chisels would be something like the Blue Spruce, which I think are about $100 each.

    As far as saws go, if you have a bandsaw you do not need to be in a hurry. I agree the Veritas saws are very good. It can be hard to find a used backsaw in decent shape (the larger saws seem to be everywhere). If you are looking used, Disston, Atkins, are good names. There are others.

    As far as sharpening, you can spend as much as you want to. Keep in mind that your choice of tools will have an effect on your sharpening choices. If you buy new tools made of supersteels (A2, PMV-11, D2), you will limit the types of stones you can use to sharpen them (oilstones will be out for example). I stick to vintage steel and O1 partly because they are easier to sharpen. I have a grinder, and a 1000/8000 grit Norton stone ($75 on Amazon), plus a stick of green honing compound ($10 from Lee Valley), and really don't know why I would need anything else.

    Somebody asked about sharpening earlier today, and one of the good comments was to stick to whatever system you have for at least a year. It is too easy to decide you need some other gadget to get your tools sharp, when often people have all they really need, and just need more practice.

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Longview WA
    Howdy Craig and welcome to the cave by the Creek.

    I also have some quality hand tools i.e. RO Sander, Jigsaw, and loose tenon mortiser.
    LOL! When you get to be like me even my cordless drill is a power tool unless it has a crank.

    It is difficult to make suggestions of what another woodworker should acquire without knowing more about what they want to do.

    For saws, if it is mostly for joinery the Veritas are about the best bang for the buck. To do any better you will need to learn sharpening and go out and hunt for them. If you are looking for an inexpensive saw to break down longer pieces without having to fire up the table saw there are some usable saws at the big box stores. My last 'cheap' saw came from Home Depot. It was bought for my son about 20 years ago. It is mostly used out in the wood shed on firewood. It was $10 new. Impulse hardened teeth stay sharp longer, but they aren't made to be resharpened.

    Narex chisels have already been mentioned and many folks have spoken well of them. My 1/4" mortise chisel came is a Narex and it works fine. For me the handle size might not suit me for their bench chisels. One of my most used sets are old Buck Brothers socket chisels. If this set of modern American made Buck Bros. tang chisels is as good as the old Buck Brothers They would get my recommendation. Currently they are on sale at $89.99 for a 9 piece set, $64.99 for a 6 piece set.

    My 1-1/4" & 1-1/2" chisels get used often, not so much the 2". My preference is to maintain different sets of chisels for different uses. My Buck Brothers chisels are mostly for paring and the bevel is ~15-20. My Witherby chisels are for heavier work and the bevel is in the 25-30 range. There is also a set of shorter 'butt' chisels for hinge mortises and other close work. There are a few mortise chisels and a bunch of other heavy chisels for chopping and other heavy cutting. Many people can get by with only one or two sets.

    Hand planes is another matter. My choice when available is old Stanley/Bailey planes. If you are comfortable doing the work needed to get one back in shape they can be had very inexpensively if you are willing to hunt for them. Buy them from a hunter and you will pay a little more. The #4 & #5 are the most common sizes found. You may be able to get by with just those sizes. It might be possible to find them in a pawn shop. Most people can get things done with just two or three planes. A #6, #7 or #8 would be a handy size to have if you are going to work longer pieces. If you work smaller pieces then a #3 & #5-1/4 might be better.

    If you want to learn more about the different planes and their uses, check > < Patrick Leach's Blood & Gore has a lot of information. If you like a good read and enjoy seeing pictures of tools you haven't seen sign up for his monthly list. It is amazing how much free information he gives away.

    Keep an eye or place a "want to buy" add in the SMC Classifieds. Craigslist might be another good source.

    For new planes my preference would be Lee Valley or Lie-Nielsen, both are North American makers who have earned their customers respect and appreciation.

    There are some other, lower priced, planes but my experience with them is nil.

    Many people like a wheel grinder, like the Tormek, for their chisels and plane irons. These types of grinders produce what is known as a hollow grind. It is easier when freehand sharpening as it registers unmistakably on the stone. My grinder, the Veritas Mk II Power Sharpening System, makes a flat bevel. Since the abrasive sheets are different thickness the machine automatically makes a secondary bevel. With a little ingenuity it easy to undo this 'feature'. Also if one isn't attentive to the details a flat abrasive disk can cause a slight skew to a blade. Another easy to counteract anomaly.

    Once one becomes accustomed to honing a flat bevel it isn't difficult.

    My use of the Veritas Mk II has changed over the years. At first a lot of tools were being bought and restored. Now it is not used as often. One thing positive about working with a single flat bevel is it doesn't have to be reground as long as one can maintain the bevel. With a secondary bevel or a hollow grind the blade will have to be taken back to the grinder to keep a hollow grind or to renew the bevel if the secondary bevel becomes to large.

    Last edited by Jim Koepke; 07-16-2017 at 11:27 PM. Reason: spelling
    "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
    - Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Feb 2017
    I am just starting down the hand tool rabbit hole myself. I've now got more vintage tools in need of restoration than I care to mention. So much so, that I've been selling some off and having a bit of a talk with myself. However, plane restoration has been an invaluable education. I also do own one new Woodriver plane, and while I like it, I think I like my Stanleys a bit better.

    As I watched videos and read a lot online, I came to the realization that I wanted sharpening to be fast, easy, and not messy, so I chose diamond plates and a strop after watching Paul Sellers. I'm happy that I landed there and have felt no need to explore the endless options available.

    I'm nowhere near retirement age, but I recently had a second shoulder reconstruction and am just dealing with the arthritis until I'm old enough for replacement. I mention this to say that I've found the Japanese saws to be much more comfortable and easier for me to use than western saws. An added benefit there is not needing sharpening equipment (or skill) right off the bat. When they dull, I'll pop a new blade in.

    I guess my first suggestion is find a #5 to restore and make her sing. They're cheap and plentiful, and it's a low cost education. Build from there.
    Second suggestion: show restraint! You don't need all the tools right away. I'm just now figuring this out. Ha.

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Sep 2016
    Henderson NV (Las Vegas)
    Thank You all for the detailed responses. They give me a lot of information and places to start looking and shopping. These forums here at Sawmill are such a treasure trove of information and all you guys just see to go above and beyond with your responses. It is noticed and so very welcome so thank you...

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