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blog-lie-nielsen-snowTo those of us who are interested in fine furniture, the name of Parnham will come as no surprise. Merely to mention the name evokes heady thoughts of that last couple of decades of the 20th century, when The School for Craftsmanship in Wood, later known as Parnham College – or just Parnham – began to turn out craftsmen of extraordinary talent, many of whom have gone on to form the solid groundwork of contemporary workshops and teaching schools found throughout the UK.

Parnham, at Beaminster in Dorset, was started in 1977 under the guidance and auspices of John Makepeace, assisted by Robert Ingham who became the Principal until he resigned in 1997 to pursue another direction in his career. It was Robert, as Principal, who instigated the ‘Teaching and Making’ programme at Parnham and to this end, he recommended to all the students the purchase of a core kit of high quality hand tools, which were largely supplied by us here at Axminster.

There’s been a recent rekindling in the idea of resurrecting this core kit of high quality hand tools, which an accredited ‘bona fide’ student would be able to purchase at the beginning with the intention of adding to it as time and finances permitted, so that by the end of the course, he or she would have a very comprehensive hand tool kit with which would, in part, form a sound basis for a future workshop.

As part of the development of this concept, I’ve been doing some initial research by asking many leading and very well known teaching workshops and colleges to supply me with a list of what they would regard as a basic, core kit of high quality hand tools. All who I’ve communicated with have been enthusiastic and have willingly supplied me with their recommendations, but as may be expected, there have been different and diverse views on what could be included as part of the core tool kit. It’s my intention to compare all the recommendations in detail and to distil the ‘common denominators’ so that we at Axminster could eventually offer a top quality, core hand tool kit.

L to R: Lie-Nielsen No. 5 1/2 Jack Plane and Veritas No. 4 Smoothing Plane
L to R: Lie-Nielsen No. 5 1/2 Jack Plane and Veritas No. 4 Smoothing Plane

From briefly looking at the lists sent into me over the last few days, I’ve already begun to see a loose pattern of ideas, briefly summarised as ‘Marking Tools’ and ‘Cutting Tools’, with many of them indicating that a No.5½ heavy jack plane would be a suitable for inclusion.

I would be very interested if you, as a reader of the Blog, would be kind enough to let me know, via the comments box, your recommendations for a core kit of high quality hand tools. I should mention that at this stage it’s not crucial if we don’t stock the particular item(s) that you refer to, but certainly the recommendation for a No.5½ heavy jack would be an excellent place to start.

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Mitch PeacockRob StoakleyMatt EstleaAlex Jeffries Recent comment authors
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Alex Jeffries
Alex Jeffries

I’m far from an experienced woodworker, but here goes with planes. I’d start with a no. 7. Instead of a no. 5, I get by very well with a no. 62 bevel-up (effectively the same length as a no. 5, but with an adjustable mouth and easy to get a range of blade angles with extra blades). For hogging off wood, a scrub plane (I love my ECE scrub). Next comes a no. 4. For a block plane, I’d go for a Veritas skew block. Another versatile plane that you can use as a standard block and as a rebate plane. For even finer work, perhaps a no. 103 block or even a squirrel tail no. 100. A spokeshave (flat soled only). A router plane (square blade is all that’s needed). Could a simple quirk beading plane be considered a basic (it is for me), so maybe one of those although I’m not sure where you would source them in bulk numbers.

Alex Jeffries
Alex Jeffries

I forgot to add a shoulder plane. I’d go with the Clifton 3-in-1 no. 3110.

Matt Estlea
Matt Estlea

I’ve been trying to start this reply for about 20 minutes. The question is harder to answer than I expected…

– Lie Nielsen No.62.
1 Blade at 25°
1 Blade at 40° – 50°
1 Toothed Blade
– Rip Dovetail Saw
– Crosscut Carcass Saw
– Rip Tenon Saw
– 3-5 Bevel Edged Chisels
– 1-3 Mortice Chisels
– Shoulder Plane
– Block Plane (Standard or preferably skewed)
– Wheel marking gauge x2
– Marking Knife
– Coping or Fret Saw with Pegas Blades
– Sliding Bevel and set of squares

Nice to Have:
– Lie-Nielsen No.3 or No.4
– No.7 or No.8
– Veritas Router Plane
– Mortice Gauge
– Cabinet Scrapers + Burnisher
– Skew rebate plane
– Rip and crosscut panel Saws
– Veritas journeymans Brass mallet


Rob Stoakley
Rob Stoakley

Many thanks indeed for the comments thus far. As Matt has mentioned, this is not an easy task but I’ll add my 2€’s worth should we receive a few more replies. Thanks again.

Rob Stoakley
Rob Stoakley

The core list of quality hand tools that I’ve condensed from the replies of those who took part in the survey is shown below. My thanks also to all those individuals, firms and colleges who took the time and effort to respond to my request. The list assumes that the student will be working in an environment where a fully equipped machine ‘shop would be available.

Heavy Jack 5½
Block plane 60½

Set of 5, O1

Square 150mm
150mm rule
600mm rule
Wheel marking gauge
Marking knife

Piercing saw

Card scraper set

Safety specs
Ear defenders
Dust masks

Mitch Peacock
Mitch Peacock

Good lists everyone, but I would add a well balanced hammer or mallet for using those mortice chisels, as using a heavy 5 1/2 jack would be a shame.

Rob Stoakley
Rob Stoakley

Thanks for that Mitch, but a hammer or mallet isn’t one of those really essential ‘core’ items, but something that could be added a little later. You could build an impressive piece using just the tools indicated below.

Mitch Peacock
Mitch Peacock

I was eluding to Matt’s list, since he included mortice chisels, an essential in my book.

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