Jeff Strong, of Lamy, New Mexico is not only an accomplished craftsman and woodworker, but is also author of Drums For Dummies and Home Recording For Dummies. Jeff began creating sawdust at a very early age while assisting his father, a master craftsman, build fine furniture. He has designed and build countless pieces of furniture and has recently completed the designs for a commercial line of furniture blending Arts and Crafts and Asian infuences which has already secured representation with a gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
As someone who is just progressing past being a “beginner” (just getting into building furniture) in the woodworking community, I would say there are a number of changes I would make to your list. First, I would say that a power jointer/thicknesser does not belong on the list by any means. They are way too large of an investment and take up a lot of space (not to mention you can buy your stock at the desired dimensions). I also strongly disagree with the concept of joinery devices. As someone new to the trade, I feel this is a very important skill that must be developed, not skipped over by buying devices power devices that achieve a single goal. I think the jigsaw should be replaced by a good bandsaw. I just purchased my first major power tool and it was a 14″ bandsaw and not a tablesaw for space reasons as well as versatility. The bandsaw allows me to resaw, cut curves, (now that it is adjusted for drift) rip pieces of stock accurately that are thicker than a table saw could handle, etc. Once the cut is complete, a handplane can remove any saw marks and square/flatten a surface. It is also really useful for cutting tenons and dovetails. Handsaws can be used for crosscutting and anything else the bandsaw cannot handle. As for a bench, if you are getting into woodworking, this should be your first real project (and it is not expensive to make). You are also missing a good vise to be attached to the bench.
Dividers (or compass) are used for taking and repeating a measurement over and over again on a work piece. Traditional woodworkers rarely take measurements with a tape measure when doing fine joinery work, but rather take a measurement with dividers then transfer that arbitrary (yet accurate) measurement to another work piece. This removes a degree of inaccuracy.
The key to making furniture is having a plan. (Or is that the key to life? I always forget.) The good news for beginning woodworkers is that you don’t need to develop the plan; you need only to follow it. Project plans are abundant and easily found (check out Chapter 21 for some project-plan resources). After you get familiar with the way plans are written, you can build just about anything (depending on your skills, of course).
A marking knife is used for marking where you will be cutting with your saws. For getting into tight spots (like dovetails) and making very accurate lines (which is vital for tight fitting joints) you need just the right marking knife. You would think that any old knife would work, but you would be wrong. Years ago I purchased several that didn’t work well.
When I started out woodworking I’d watch television shows and read magazines pushing all kinds of fancy new tools and think “If only I had a shop full of those tools I could build anything.” I spent a long time saving my pennies, reading the reviews and trying out the latest tools. The models seemed to change with the seasons. New project? Time for a new bit, jig or gizmo. Realizing that earlier craftsmen didn’t have access to all of these modern wonders yet they produced far more intricate work, I began to approach woodworking by more ancient means.
Your first backsaws should be (1) a dovetail saw, with fine rip teeth, used for cutting joinery along the grain (like dovetails), (2) a “carcass saw” used for cutting across the grain (fine cross cut teeth), and (3) a larger tenon saw used for cutting deeper cuts, like tenon cheeks, along the grain (rip teeth). All three saws are used very, very often in my workshop. You could certainly get by with just a larger dovetail saw and a carcass saw at first, if you don’t plan on immediately cutting large tenons. Buying backsaws can be very confusing because there is no standardized naming system, and a dovetail saw can be turned into a carcass saw (and vice-a-versa) by sharpening it differently. And practically everybody that’s selling antique saws mixes the names up. My buyer’s guide really clears this confusion up and will help you know what to look for.
Basic woodworking tools are different from beginner woodworking tools. For one thing, I don’t like to use the word “beginner” unless I am using it accurately. It’s not a very useful label, in my opinion, because it implies that there are clear-cut and hierarchical steps in your growth as a woodworker. Who wants to return to grade school during his or her valuable shop time? So I only use the word “beginner” when I’m talking about someone who is touching woodworking tools for the first time.
The very affordable coping saw (often around $20) is regularly used for rough cutting shapes in the board, but especially for removing waste from dovetail joints (one of the most common wood joints). An affordable coping saw will work just fine as long as you have plenty of replacement blades on hand (also very affordable). Read my hand saw buying guide for more detail on brands & features to look for when purchasing a coping saw.