Woodworking Tools

The Independent Expert Report

David Savage looking through woodworking tools

Please, please, do not buy woodworking tools until you have read this:
(Woodworking tool manufacturers: watch out)


My name is David Savage, I have been a furniture designer maker for over half of my life. For thirty years I wrote for magazines including Fine Woodworking, The Woodworker, Good Woodworking, British Woodworking and others. I consider it my pleasure and responsibility to share woodworking tips and advice with aspiring furniture makers.

Every time I wrote the critical truth about tools that my experience at the bench taught me the magazine got a call from an angry advertiser and I then got a call from my editor, saying something along the lines of

“You can’t say that, not about this woodworking tool manufacturer – try and be more positive.”

Look, the bottom line is this…

  • When woodworking tools are manufactured below what we regard as an acceptable standard of quality we will say so on this page.
  • We have the expertise, knowledge and experience to make these judgements and we are fed up with seeing people new to woodworking struggle with poor hand tools.
  • We are fed up of seeing people believe it is their fault that they cannot plane or chisel or scribe when it is the manufacturer at fault.
  • When woodworking tool manufacturers are selling chisels that are bent like steel bananas, selling planes that are nowhere near flat and plane irons that cannot be properly sharpened –  this is not acceptable.
  • People, don’t blame yourselves when you can’t make that damn tool work — chances are these guys are, at least, partly to blame.

Woodworking tools - Furniture maker David Savage prepares a bench plane

This page is here to get around that problem, we don’t have advertisers. This page is here to help you understand how to choose woodworking tools and our own, independently produced, woodworking DVDs will help to teach you how to use those woodworking tools properly. Since 1983 we have had hundreds of students come to us to help them to learn furniture making. We have seen them spending hundreds of thousands on woodworking tools, power tools and hand tools. We’ve seen some A LOT of them make mistakes. Wasting time flattening planes soles, wasting money buying tools that were not necessary.

Do not waste your money


This page is to help you to avoid wasting money on woodworking tools that you don’t need and, instead, spending what you have to spend on woodworking tools that are going to do a good job for you. Hopefully, you are only going to buy something once. You may as well try and buy the best you can. Our advice is impartial, we are not linked financially in any way with any tool manufacturing organisation and we receive no free samples that may blur our judgement or colour our opinion.

Our knowledge is expert, gained over decades of experience in handling these tools and working with them ourselves — making our living with them. Our objective is to get the best tools in your hands and to show you how to use them properly. Not only do we offer you this information for free, but we can also offer you our fantastic instructional DVD — a 30-minute expert guide to woodworking tools that will tell you the features to look out for, explain terminology and recommend the best brands for each piece of kit.


Woodworking Tools - An indication of an unflat block plane foot

Forged High Carbon Steel

Let’s start with the most important part — the cutting edge. All your work your effort is through this point, this sharpened steel wedge. You need to have the best steel to save yourself the effort and to truly gain more control.

My experience tells me that “high carbon” steel takes a sharper edge than the A2 kind of steel offered by most modern woodworking tool manufacturers.

Don’t worry about manufacturers that claim their steel holds its edge for so long. What you really want is SHARP. My experience tells me that “high carbon steel” takes a sharper edge than the A2 kind of steel offered by most modern woodworking tool manufacturers. High carbon steel was at best forged, hammered in a hot state. However modern steels even modern high carbon steels are “cold rolled”. This gives a ‘tougher’ edge that is lacking a bit of the hardness of genuine forged high carbon steel. Yet it is good steel and it is common in many brands of western chisels, including Sorby Marples, Stanley and many others. As a steel it is acceptable — but only just —that edge is still just a bit too dull for me. The ‘best’ forged high carbon steel now seems to come from Britain, France and China.

If you can find genuine forged high carbon steel you should definitely try it. Clifton makes a really good genuine forged steel blade, “The Victor” plane blade is forged in Sheffield, I have these in my own planes and replaced an A2 blade from lie Neilsen to great effect. If you know how to sharpen woodworking tools properly without a set of training wheels then it should give you the very best edge most easily. Other sources are blades from Ron Hock, he worked with Jim Krenov to develop blades for his students and, I believe, imports steel from France. I have also bought small spokeshaves from Lee Valley that were made in China to a very high standard of steel.

Old forged steel blades

Beware of “old steel”; a double-edged sword, this is wonderful stuff, hard as good tool steel can be, and romantic too, however it can be so damned hard that it, often, cannot actually be flattened easily enough to make good contact on a sharpening stone. Those old guys didn’t have the quality control to be sure that every blade was flat so many of them are not. Getting an old blade flat is a tough job, however, once you get it flat then you’ve got a real tool for life but boy that’s an awful lot of real effort. (I will talk about flatness later it’s very important.)

A2 Steel

A2 steel is popular with many modern woodworking tool manufacturers. Products like Lie-Nielsen chisels are hardened to ‘Rockwell 60-62’, then cryogenically treated and double tempered”. They are without doubt made with a tough steel and this toughness enables them to hold an edge for absolutely ages. Yet, for me, that edge is just a bit too dull. Many of my students buy these chisels and I honestly don’t discourage them. They are a teeny bit tricky to learn to put an edge on but that’s not a problem. I prefer teaching people new to this woodworking game with a high carbon blade as the burr comes away really sweetly. Once you get the idea it is no problem to sharpen these A2 blades.

Furniture Maker David Savage with woodworking tools

Woodworking Tools Badly Made

Woodworking tool manufacturers need to be aware that they cannot continue to make products more inferior than those of their forefathers. Or they cannot do this and maintain a market share. Stanley and Record are brands that have suffered from ‘dumbing down’ their product range. Veritas, Clifton and lie Neilsen have taken a share of the market that was in the hands of the big boys. Yet there is still a possibility for better to be had and we want it. Woodworking Tools should work straight out of the box, it is not your fault if that tool doesn’t cut, it is theirs and they should, all of them, be made to do better.

Woodworking Bench Planes

A cabinet maker's bench plane

Under my bench right now I have three bench planes; a long one, a medium length one and a short one. The long plane is used for ‘trueing’ edges and dead flat surfaces. The medium sized one is an everyday bench plane and the short one is used for smoothing finished carcasses and for final trueing up of surfaces. A Number 6 is for, a reasonably well-built person, the standard everyday plane, quite frequently referred to as a “Jack plane”.

If you are a strong person then you may go for Number 7, or if you are relatively light of frame a Number 5 or 5 1/2. The number is usually the indication of the length of the plane, though some planes are slightly narrower than others, so just get that one plane to start off with, then. later on, you can add in a Number 7 or Number 8 plane or a long jointing plane for jointing edges and flattening dead flat surfaces. Finally you can add a smoothing plane such as a Number 4 or 4 1/2 plane.


It is always best to start off somewhere in the middle. We’ve seen many students buying hundreds of planes over the years and it has become clear to us that the Lie Neilson brand and the Clifton brand are the two to go for. Veritas have made some interesting new planes, however their bench planes have given a couple of our students problems with flatness and with the adjustment mechanism. When they get this sorted (and I am sure they will) we may start recommending them also.

A furniture maker using a bench plane

We have had students who have had problems with the Clifton planes not being as flat as their own specification demands but (having spoken directly with the manufacturers) we are assured that those problems have now been overcome. However I think if I were buying a plane right now I would be buying a Lie Neilson plane. They are the most expensive available but they have been reliably flat which is the essential quality that we are looking for in a plane and the machining of the blades and back irons have been acceptable. I would, however, change the blade to a forged high carbon steel blade from Clifton. The ‘Victor’ blade fits really well.

We say — Don’t waste your time. Buy a decent plane and learn how to use it properly.

In our sharpening area we have a large granite surface plate — the kind usually used by engineers. We bought this when we had to argue with some tool suppliers that their planes were not as flat as they said. This surface is flat within a measured number of microns and has a warrantee signed by an inspector to prove it; we check all of our new tools on this surface. Lee Neilson and Clifton have been the most reliable suppliers though we have had planes of both returned for being outside their own specification. You can buy less expensive planes but you will spend an awful lot of time faffing around with flatness and making the blade sit securely within the mechanism of the plane body.

A Veritas Bench Plane

York Pitch

When buying bench planes it is vitally important for you to understand what is meant by ‘normal’ pitch and what is meant by ‘York’ pitch. The overall cutting angle that the blade is set to the sole of the plane is usually 45 degrees. This is standard/normal and is completely fine. The front plane below is at standard pitch. Look at the smoother plane behind it and notice this has a slightly higher pitch at approximately 50 degrees. This is ‘York’ pitch and is useful for finishing difficult grained timber such as cherry. You can buy a different ‘frog’ (the block of steel that the blade sits on) to give you ‘York’ pitch.

Close up of a Bench Plane

Low Angle Bench Planes

We’ve had our fair share of these low angle bench planes in our workshops over the years. Again these are Lie Neilson and Veritas planes and we can recommend these only partially. The attraction of these planes is that the blade is set at a very low angle with support for the cutting edge blade being quite close to the cutting edge. These blades have the bevel facing up and do not have a back iron which makes the planes more simple in construction. These planes give an exceptionally high-quality finish to the timber — even on very figured timber. They are, however, not a replacement for a general bench plane. The adjustment of these planes is very critical. They need setting up once and then they need to be left alone. We would only recommend one of these planes as an addition to your armoury, at most. Maybe purchased after a few months on the job. The favourite in the workshop seems to be a Number 6 or a Number 7 low angle plane, again manufactured by Lie Neilson though Veritas are also good and recommended.


A low angle Bench Plane


These are a few of the chisels in my tool box, I use all kinds and many brands of chisels. In the 1980s I was one of the first western woodworkers to advocate using Japanese chisels and one of the first to stop using them as the only solution. Now my tools are a mix of western and Japanese and I am currently working with a Japanese blacksmith to develop a lighter western style chisel but with the very hard sharp cutting edge that some Japanese chisel makers can provide.

A drawer of furniture makers' chisels

We are definitely still waiting for the ideal cabinet maker’s set of chisels. The essential quality of a chisel is a flat back. This is the jigged surface that one uses and puts on the job to gain flatness. A bent chisel is of no use whatsoever no matter how sharp it is, or how nice the lovely handle is.

Sorby Bevel Edged Chisels

Until very recently I think Sorby have been a tool supplier that has gained a lot of our custom. The Sorby box wood handled cabinetmaker’s chisels are very nice, light, well shaped blades with fairly good quality steel. The lightness, the quality of the shaping of the steel and the quality of the grinding and shaping of the blade is really of paramount importance.

Woodworking tool tips

Many manufacturers make what they call bevel edged chisels and the shaping of the blade is no-where near the quality that is wanted.

Crown so-called “Bevel Edge Chisels”

To call this blade from Crown a “bevel-edged chisel” is pushing it a little. Although it is technically bevel edged (it has bevels) compared to the Sorby blade above, it is what I call a “firmer chisel”. That is, it is a chisel that is cheaper to make (more profitable to sell) but ultimately not good for you. You need the bevel to go right down to the corner where the cut is made, you need the sight line.

Steel Bananas

The problem we have encountered with the Sorby blades is FLATNESS or, rather, a lack of it. As far as we can see it seems that somewhere towards the end of the process of manufacture heat is being introduced to the blade after it has been flattened. This is because it seems to have once been flat and then another process introduces heat to part of the blade and the whole blade then seems to have bent slightly.

What arrives in the customer’s hand is a blade that, in our experience, three times out of five is curving from the tip of the blade in a convex pattern towards the handle of the tool, so if the blade is put on a flat surface it will touch near the heel of the handle and touch at the point of the blade with a hollow in the centre of the blade. This hollowing may only be half a millimetre over the whole length of the blade but it should be dead flat.

Woodworking chisels

You’ll need at least one blade in your collection that is dead flat and it’s a damn shame that really good blades like these cannot arrive dead flat in the first place. Failure to give us flat chisels is an unacceptable situation, many of my students do go for the Sorby chisels because they have many good qualities but this now is against our advice and some of them later regret their decision. With a certain amount of care in the fettling of these blades after purchase, you can flatten those backs but it is a pain and it is work that should have been done for you by the manufacturer.

Lie Neilsen Chisels


Lie Neilson make flat bevel edged chisels and we have, grudgingly, recommended those to our students for some time now. They are heavier than I would like to see a bevel edge chisel but the machining is a superior quality. We’ve yet to have a blade supplied to us that hasn’t been up to specification and I’d recommend these chisels in all of the sizes because of this.

The shape and design of these chisels is not the only thing I would like to see improved, however. These are made of A2 steel which is a very hard tough steel that takes a good edge. They do not, in my opinion, take as good an edge as a chisel made in high carbon steel. I have used high carbon Marple chisels for over thirty years and Norris plane irons for a similar time and I know this modern A2 steel is not as sharp.

It holds an edge well but that edge is not as sharp. The other deficiency is that this steel sharpens in a way that does not help the beginner. Don’t be too fussed, we can show you how to sharpen this stuff fine, it’s just that high carbon steel will turn a burr and hone that burr off with ease. With A2 steel the burr comes away in tiny clumps and needs watching. It’s not necessary to have a full set of these expensive chisels but over the course of time, you will need a full set. Don’t buy them all at once, buy them as you need them, but in time seek to acquire a full set of bevel edge cabinetmaker’s chisels.

We know that Lie Neilsen is now offering a high carbon O1 steel version of their chisels. THIS IS TO BE RECOMMENDED. However, they are, in our experience, not always available. The seller will tend to encourage the unwary customer to go for A2 (which IS pretty much always in stock). DON’T DO IT – go for the carbon steel O1 version. That is, if you must have these heavy but well-made chisels.


Japanese chisels
“Ureke Nomi”

An alternative to western chisels are Japanese chisels. Generally their tools are too heavy and clumsy for cabinetmakers. However, if you can find a good supplier, they can be very well made tools. Pictured below are their version of the dovetail chisel ‘Ureke Nomi’ (oo-ray-kay nom-e) they are lighter and shaped similar to our bevel edged chisels.

Japanese Chisels

They are of laminated construction made by hot forging a hard layer to a softer shock absorbing layer. This gives us very hard cutting edge with (if you choose your supplier) a high carbon cutting edge that is better, in my experience than A2 steel. These came from Classic Hand Tools.

Japanese Chisel

Note the underside of this chisel. It’s a feature of this type of blade that they hollow out the centre of the flat area. This is incredibly hard steel which helps you get this area dead flat which is important for sharpening and for use. Don’t worry about wearing back to the hollow its very shallow and a rub on a course polishing stone will bring this hollow back reasonably quickly.

Japanese Chisel

Japanese Toolmakers

We have noticed over the past five years that the standard of Japanese tools that we get here in the U.K has deteriorated. An economic depression has closed a lot of the small tool maker’s workshops. These were literally one or two man workshops. What we are getting now are tools from the larger suppliers and, typically, they can have quality issues. I saw, when I visited Japan, this concern for quality is not lost. This is a quote from a magazine article I wrote shortly after returning: “For me this was a statement of understated quality, a reverence for, and understanding of, the fact that beauty is often hard won. That quality is something more than an advertising message and something beyond the capacity of manufacture.”

Japanese woodworking tools being made

I witnessed this most tellingly when visiting a Japanese toolmaker. This was a man in his 40’s with over twenty years experience. I saw him working with all the skill of an assured craftsman. Fast, dextrous strokes of the hammer. This man, Osasayaki San, worked with his father, a man in his 80’s. He was a man who was not retired, he still turned up for work every day because he just loved the work. As Osasayaki San finished applying the workshop mark and applying my name to the woodworker’s knife that he was finishing for me, he completed his strokes, then holding the knife in two hands in front of his face he showed it to his father.


The position and the action was ritual, Father and Son had done this many hundreds, maybe thousands, of times before. This was the completion of another piece of work. The action was what industry would call ‘quality control’. What in this case was a son saying to his father this is my work, am I maintaining our workshop standard with this piece of work, am I doing anything here that might be letting you down?’. The old man looked at the work for maybe 2 or 3 seconds and then gave a deep appreciative grunt and looked away, the ritual was complete. With this I came to understand more fully that quality is not an assurance. It is not even a standard. It’s a state of mind.”

Japanese tool making


We have found that we can get A2 bladed nicely made bevel edged chisels from Blue Spruce Tool Works. Now I know it’s not the steel I want but I like the quality and the options of different handles available direct via their very good website. I will report more once enough people here have bought and used them. (We don’t accept free tools from manufacturers we buy and use them ourselves before we tell you what we find.) Have a look for yourself at Blue Spruce Tool Works.

Cabinetmaker’s Low Angle Block Planes

When buying woodworking tools there are two smaller planes to consider. The first would be the Veritas low angle block plane. These are available either with an A2 steel blade or with a high carbon steel blade. If I had the choice I think I’d go for the latter as I think the high carbon steel makes a slightly sharper edge. This is the g01h tool steel that is listed in the Lee Valley catalogue. If I only had the choice of A2 steel then that wouldn’t worry me unduly as I think this is still a very hhigh-qualityblade.

I would go for the low angle plane of the two planes offered and I don’t think there’s a lot of difference between a Veritas or a Lie Neilson low angle block plane, that is the Number 60 1/2 low angle block plane. The Lee Nielson only comes with A2 steel. There is a very nice Veritas low angle block plane which comes with the option of a high carbon blade as standard. I would highly recommend this. It is available from Lee Valley.

Woodworking Tools

The important things about a block plane are the low angle that the blade is set in the body and the mouth. The low angle is important as it gives you more choices when you later understand about cutting angles, this picture shows how low the angle is set in the body usually 13 degrees or less.

Japanese Chisel

Lie Neilsen low angle block plane with adjustable mouth is popular with our students. The Veritas version is better with the high carbon blade.

The Mouth or Shaving Aperture

The next issue is the mouth. Do not be tempted to buy a block plane without an adjustable mouth. Woodworking tools are offered in lots of variations in an attempt to sell you two tools when one will do the job. The construction of the body is critical, the overhang of the blade beyond the body, to the point it cuts should not be too great otherwise the cutter will chatter or vibrate when working difficult grain. This is due to a lack of support and a lack of stiffness in the blade. This picture shows a well set up block plane with a small opening in front of the blade which is called “the mouth” You need an adjustable mouth to get this small enough. This is important in some situations but not all.

A half inch shoulder plane Plane

Shoulder planes

Shoulder planes are an essential woodworking tool and vital part of the cabinet making armoury. The Lie Neilson 073 large shoulder plane and the 042 medium shoulder plane are exceptionally good tools, however I think that most of our students are now going for the Veritas shoulder planes. These are the large Veritas shoulder plane and the medium Veritas shoulder plane. These have the advantage of having, again, the choice of A2 or 01 blades and a rather nice adjustment mechanism to the blade and a more comfortable plane body. Of these two planes, probably buying the smaller medium sized plane first will be a good idea, adding the larger shoulder plane later on.

A three quarter inch shoulder Plane

When starting out you don’t need a bull nose plane or many other of the ‘specialist’ planes, but you might consider buying a very small shoulder plane, the Lie Neilson 1/2 shoulder plane is a very popular choice. This is what is called a ‘tap and try’ plane and requires a little bit of expertise in use as it’s adjusted in a slightly different way to modern planes which are fitted with screw adjusters. The Tap and Try method was the old fashioned way of adjusting a plane. Literally tap the blade down to increase the cut by tapping the end of the blade. Try it out, gone too far, the shaving is too heavy, then tap again, this time at the back of the body of the plane. Use a small steel hammer as the shock of the tap is important, plastic soft faced hammers are too indistinct. A small Lie Neilson 1/2 shoulder plane will get an awful lot of use just adjusting joints when taking a shaving off here and there to get a perfect fit.

1 inch shoulder plane

Scraper Planes

Tool makers show us a vast range of planes that we don’t really need; screw block planes, bronze edged planes, convex sole planes, small chisel planes, beading planes, chisel planes — the list goes on an on — none of these are really necessary to your tool kit. You can get them at a later stage, if you really need them, but you can manage without them and you can do 99% of all woodwork without them. For over 30 years I have been making furniture and I’ve only just bought a large scraper plane.

A cabinet scraper

The Lie Neilson 112 large scraper plane is a very nice tool, however it is possible to mange without it as I have over 30 years. The 212 small cabinetmaker’s scraper plane is very nice; a couple of my cabinetmakers have them and say nice things about them. Yet for over 30 years I’ve managed to get by with just a cheap Stanley 80 scraper. Which is simply a handle that holds a cabinet scraper and does an extremely fine job of turning a cabinet scraper into a kind of plane. These are very inexpensive but are largely being replaced by the more expensive scraper planes. The Lie Neilson 112 large scraper plane is an example of this. We’ve only just bought one and don’t really feel that we’ve actually benefited very much from it.


In this workshop we do an awful lot of work with spoke shaves. Until about 1900 most spoke shaves had wooden bodies, hand forged low angle blades fitted into the holes in the body and were adjusted by tapping the ends of the tangs. These have been replaced very largely by a metal version of those planes and made by companies like Veritas, Clifton and Lee Valley, however in our opinion the old wooden ones are almost always more sensitive and with a high quality of steel iron. Many spoke shaves will have seen very little work and are in plentiful supply in second hand tool shops. Look carefully at the mouth and look look carefully at how much of the blade is left usable. A very nice modern wooden bodied spoke shave is available from Lee Valley, it’s called their contour plane, made in China with an exceptionally hard high carbon blade, very highly recommended.

A spokeshave in action

I learned recently about some lovely looking spokeshaves. Made in a “Mom and Pop” set up in the U.S, who are forging stainless steel bodies and fitting heavyweight high carbon steel blades. I have not seen these first hand and I am not a great fan of the Stanley and Record type of spokeshave that they are based upon but with a heavier blade and a closed-mouth, they may work well. Small suppliers like this need all our support.

Japanese water stone sharpening stone

Sharpening Stones

I was one of the early adopters of Japanese water stones for honing edges on tool steel. They are fast, they give a superb edge and are relatively cheap. These are the manufactured stones by King rather than the natural stones. The stones we have and use every day are 1200 grit and 8000 grit the first for turning a burr the second for polishing it off. When you are setting tools up you may need a coarse stone and I have a couple of 400 grit stones that students wear out with monotonous regularity. This has been the way of it for a long time now and I haven’t seen anything better coming along. We usually advise students to get a 6000 grit polishing stone and wear that out before spending on an expensive 8000 grit stone

Japanese water stone sharpening stone

Norton water stones have a range of 220 grit 1000 grit to turn a burr and either 4000 grit or the ultimate 8000 grit. I have seen these in use as a guy on one of our woodworking short courses showed me what he had bought and they seemed to cut very well. They are more expensive than King stones but come in a nice waterproof box that helps to keep them damp see them at Norton Stones.

My thanks goes to Alex at Classic Hand tools for telling me more about these – they are stockists in the U.K, and you can find them at Classic Hand Tools.


Largely, around the bench, there are only three saws that can be of use to you. One would be a relatively cheap hard-pointed saw either made by Jack or Stanley, many of these saws are sold as tradesman’s saws, they are cheap, efficient and cannot be more highly recommended. I have a handmade pre-war Disston panel saw that was recommended as the very height of saw makers art. This is not as good as these cheap, modern throwaway saws. I hate to say it but its true. The more expensive handmade Disston saws these days don’t perform the job as well as these modern hard point saws.

Furniture building student using a dovetail saw

Most of the work around a bench will not however be done by a traditional saw like that but by a small back saw. The dovetail saw is the tool of choice for small delicate work, and the half tenon or small carcass saw would be the general saw for almost all the work you you do. In this case either Adria or Lie Neilson are the recommended suppliers. When you are buying a carcass saw buy it in rip cut with a 14 tpi blade. The coarse one is a bit too coarse and the cross cut saw is not really necessary. With your dovetail saw that will already be set as a rip cut pattern. Again don’t be confused by the toolmakers insistence that you need all kinds of other gent saws, inlay saws, jewellers saws or razor saws. Most of them will not be used. You might want to find yourself a small coping saw or an adjustable piercing saw, these are used for clearing waste when cutting joints, but apart from that aren’t used very much around the workshop. Also a decent hacksaw or junior hacksaw would be useful.

Marking and Measuring tools

We recommend that students buy three steel rules, a 1m rule, a 600 mm rule and a 300 mm rule, and a 150 mm rule. The latter rule is most useful for tucking in an apron pocket and inevitable gets used for scraping off glue around joints and gets lost between our floorboards. The key thing with these rules is that they are all consistently giving you the same measurements. You’d be amazed at how variable a set of rules can be and one rule in your set that’s giving a false reading can be like a traitor in the camp.


The conventional wisdom is that one needs two or three gauges because one may need to have a gauge set up for a particular job. This is true, I have a half a dozen on a rack at the end of my bench. Cheap gauges can be found in second hand tool shops and brought up to required spec.

David Savage's woodworking gauge

Cutting gauges and marking gauges are sold incorrectly. “You need cutting gauges to mark across the grain and marking gauges to mark with the grain” Rubbish, you need as few tools about your person as you can do with. Faffing about, finding cutting gauges for this and marking for that is a waste of time. We find that simple marking gauges from Marples can be fiddled with, sharpened, and made to scribe a nice clean line with and across the grain. So three simple gauges will do it.

A basic marking gauge

Popular in the workshop are the Titemark gauges, these are nice people with small hands seem to get on with them. They are however expensive. Cutting gauges tend to a better job more easily than marking gauges so that’s what tends to get used more here. The gauge I have used most is a Cullen marking gauge from Classic Hand Tools its expensive but good tools are. Get your spelling wrong and you could pay even more for a Clenton cutting gauge which is nice but just silly. The key thing is that everyone is different, what fits in your hand won’t fit in mine.

Mortice gauges are needed you need one gauge get one where the movable pin is controlled by a screw on the end of the stock. This tool may cost you a lot and secondhand ones in rosewood are available and often cheaper and better than new ones.


Another traitor in the camp that could cause you trouble is a square that isn’t square. We’ve always recommended our students to have engineering quality squares, in this case of full metal construction with a BS99 standard marking on it. 6inch square and a 3inch square is probably enough to start with.

Make sure they are exceptionally high quality though without being to the engineering inspectors standard, or examination standard. Good quality engineering squares should do the job for you. Almost inevitably squares with wooden handles don’t seem to be able to hold the squareness that is necessary for quality work.

Woodworking tools an engineer's square

Marking Knives

Marking knives are of extreme importance. Most manufacturers make a marking knife that is made with a very low grade of steel. When you are running a marking knife down the side of a square, the blade can very quickly lose it’s edge if it isn’t made of high calibre steel.

Blue Spruce Marking Knife

A nice marking knife we’ve found supplied by Blue Spruce Toolmakers is their Cocabolo handled marking knife. This is an expensive tool but well worth the extra money spent on it. Highly recommended when my knife came it was in a lovely card box with soft wood to protect the tool, very eco-sensitive. Get their knives at Blue Spruce Toolworks.

More content than you can shake a stick at

A tale of sash cramps and grinding wheels

Read article

Carbon Steel

Read article

Hand tools for a cabinet maker

Read article


Find Out More


Find Out More

Sweet Chestnut

Find Out More

Low angle bench plane

Read More

Bench plane

Read More


Read More