How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck had a gift certificate?
April 5, 2011 6:31 PM   Subscribe

Got a $400 gift certificate to spend at Lie-Nielsen heirloom woodworks. I'm a beginner luthier (solid body electrics) and furniture maker. What are the essential basic hand tools for a hobbiest?

I have access to a full modern woodworking shop with table, band, jig and rotary saws as well as routers, drill press, etc. If I were to throw another 100 on top of the gift certificate, what's the best use of 500 dollars to get me a solid set of tools that will last a lifetime and be of most use over the course of building guitars (including necks), bookshelves, and other furniture?

I'm thinking definitely a set of chisels, probably a rasp but what kind plane? Do I even need a plane? Help!
posted by spicynuts to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Do you have to spend it right away? Since Lie-Nielsen are pretty good quality tools, if you get something from them, you want it to be something you'll actually use regularly. So what tools do you use now? I'm an amateur furniture maker and for hand tools I mostly use chisels and scrapers but I don't regularly use a rasp or plane - I know furniture makers who do use them regularly but it's not how I tend to work. If you don't have a good feel for what you'd actually use, I'd wait a bit until you figure out what tools will work for you and then use the gift certificate to get a really good (whatever tool(s) that turns out to be). Does your shop have hand tools? Maybe you could focus your next project on something that you can try out a variety of planes or try something inlayed?
posted by macfly at 7:27 PM on April 5, 2011

Whenever I am doing small work, I always need a small block plane and am always having to make my own spokeshaves.
posted by Tchad at 7:29 PM on April 5, 2011

As a luthier if you do any edge beading or ever want to clean out the inside of a 90º angle you should have a shoulder plane and probably a rabbet plane as well.

You're not making acoustics but for circular inlays you could get this radius cutter.

Do you have a good caliper? I prefer calipers marked with fractional inches (½", ¼", &c.) rather then 1/100s but they don't have any.

How do you cut in frets? If you do it with a saw, maybe one of these dovetail saws would be nice.

Actually, for shaping out body blanks, one of these drawknives would be cool.
posted by nicwolff at 7:53 PM on April 5, 2011

Sadly I don't think $500 will get you solid set of LN tools. For example LN has a simple block, jack and smoother set for $725 which has already blown your budget.

An often overlooked must have tool is card scrapers. For sure a set of the rectangular ones for cabinets or anything that has a flat surface. The curvy style might be good for guitars.

You probably already know but even a simple cabinet maker needs a few planes1. Bare minimum would be a block plane however I'd say block, a small smoother like a #4 or a jack (these aren't interchangeable but I've got a really mixed bag of tools) and rabbet are the ones I use the most. I also use my #8 jointer quite a bit but mostly because I've only got a small 4" power jointer. I've only got a right hand rabbet (#78) and while it works I sure could use a left hand sometimes. LN don't appear to have a #78 style plane instead they have a series of shoulder planes and a bedrock version of the 101/4. I have a router plane that I don't use much but might be just the thing for cleaning out the bottoms of pickup holes and the like in guitar bodies.

Finally I use my sliding rule and combination squares along with an engineer's square quite a bit but I sure the heck didn't pay retail Starrett prices even though they are very yummy. I find them indispensable when doing power tool set ups.

1 OK maybe not all. I don't know how I'd survive without a block plane but apparently there is a way.
posted by Mitheral at 7:57 PM on April 5, 2011

Best answer: I'd advise you to focus on planes, since there are lots of people out there making reasonably good chisels and saws, but no one touches Lie Nielsen on planes. What's more, I wouldn't get any of the standard planes from Lie-Nielsen. I say this because you can cover the basics with really good old tools via E-bay and the like if you're careful and put some time into tuning them up. (I recommend a regular block, a low angle block, a jack (like the Stanley #5) and a Jointer (like the Stanley #8).

Get the exotic and wonderful stuff from Lie-Nielsen. The stuff that Stanley et al stopped making fifty years or more ago and the tool collectors have driven the price into the stratosphere.

I have a large scraping plane which for smoothing big wide boards - table tops and the like. It's just like a belt sander except that it's faster, quiet and doesn't require you to inhale a pound of sawdust.

If you're doing tenons, rabbets or dados, a shoulder plane is a handy thing to have. Stanley is still making the 90, 92 and 93 and there are some other brands out there that are apparently worth having but if you're aiming high, Lie Nielsen is the brand to go with.

Lie Nielsen's side rabbet planes keep calling to me - I've resisted thus far, but it's only a matter of time.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:00 PM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I like macfly's idea to wait a bit and see what you'll use because as Mitheral said, $500 won't go that far at LN. I'd want to get something they make that nobody else touches. I'm not exactly sure what that tool is, they do indeed make beautiful tools.

As a beginner I think you'd be making a huge mistake spending a fortune on something like their chisels or scrapers. You want quality serviceable tools now, like a set of Marples chisels and a Sandvik card scraper. These aren't throw-away tools, they would last you a lifetime. My guess is that you'd get a set of 6 Marples for what you'd pay for one 1 inch LN.

I have a LN low angle jack plane and low angle block plane, both great tools and a pleasure to use. But I've used the Lee Valley versions of both these tools and they're as good if not better. The Lee Valley Low Angle Jack is $35 cheaper than the LN and replacemnent blades are also less expensive.

I have a couple of suggestions. Why not go to Fine WoodWorking's online site and get a subscription. I think it's like $15 for a year but there's a free trial for 14 days. Search their online articles for suggestions on basic hand tool sets, and find reviews on different types of planes and chisel sets. They really have a wealth of info there.

Then maybe go to Sawmill Creek Forums and post your original question there. You'll get great answers. They have a whole host of different forums, you might try the one called Neanderthal's one of their forums devoted to hand tools.

Armed with this information you'll be able to spend your money more wisely and be less likely ending up buying an expensive plane that collects dust.
posted by PaulBGoode at 12:05 AM on April 6, 2011

I've got this little guy (adjustable mouth block plane) and it's a joy to use. It smoothens end grain and can be used on all kinds of small bits and pieces.
Another great investment would be a good book on sharpening tools, and a selection of Japanese waterstones.
Other than that, yes, a set of chisels (I have some Japanese ones which needed some getting used to, and are easily spoiled if not sharpened in the proper way) is great to have.
posted by Namlit at 1:28 AM on April 6, 2011

Good advice above. Lie Nielsen started out and built its reputation as a maker of exceptionally fine planes, and that's the only part of their product line that is head and shoulders above any competitor. As a beginner, I think I'd buy their #60-1/2 adjustable mouth block plane with the first $165, and to go with that I'd buy the Norton 1000/4000 grit combination waterstone ($50) for sharpening my beautiful new plane. The rest I'd put away somewhere safe until I knew a bit more about my needs and interests. This is enough money to buy you a few of what will become your favorite tools, but nothing that could be called a "set."
posted by jon1270 at 1:59 AM on April 6, 2011

On further thought, I'd also put a Starrett 12" combination square in the basket. And maybe a Tite-Mark marking gauge.

As I shop vicariously for you, I'm looking for general-purpose tools and passing over the many lovely but highly specialized things that Lie Nielsen offers. I did industrial woodwork (foundry patternmaking) for about 9 years before studying furniture making here, where one of my fellow students (and next-door neighbor) was this guy. These tools are useful for all of those sorts of work.

I should maybe disclose that I also went to school with Kevin Drake, maker of the Tite-Mark gauge, but I haven't talked to him in more than 10 years.
posted by jon1270 at 3:35 AM on April 6, 2011

Response by poster: This is all great advice, MeFites! Much appreciated.
posted by spicynuts at 5:54 AM on April 6, 2011

Don't forget to get a good sharpening stone as well. A poor quality plane or chisel can give good results if they are sharpened properly but a top quality (and L-N is as good as it gets) dull plane won't give good results no matter how skillful you are.

I use a series of combination japanese water stones to get my tools sharp (and most of them are old stanley tools from relatives old barns or gunshows). These stones aren't real expensive but a few sharp tools will go a lot farther than a whole bunch of dull ones.
BTW the top quality chisels from the hardware store seem to be about 95% the quality of much more expensive chisels from Woodcraft (never tried the L-N ones). The biggest difference is how often the edge needs to be touched up to retain sharpness.
posted by bartonlong at 10:32 AM on April 6, 2011

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