Woodworking Without Power Tools – Going Old School in Your Wood Shop

If you're just getting started with woodworking, you may not know exactly what tools you need to have first. In addition, you may not have the extra money to invest in lots of power tools up front. Don't let that deter you from working with wood, however! 

Getting Started With No Tools​

There are plenty of ideas out there for you to get started with little-to-no tools in your repertoire. One way of looking at this is that by not having lots of money or lots of tools, you can see more clearly what tools you really will use as you begin doing some simple, DIY projects.

Woodworking Hand Tools

Perhaps you could start by going to your local library or a used bookstore to locate some books about woodworking for beginners. A couple of those books include Aldren A. Watson's "Hand Tools" and Robert Wearing's "The Essential Woodworker."

Many people say, "Why in the world would you buy tools when you can borrow them?". If you lack tools, you can always borrow them, learn how to use them and what types of projects they would be needed for​, and then figure out from there what direction you want to take in moving forward.

The Down Side of No Power Tools

I hope you're "all in" and really wanting to go at this with no power tools, but you need to have the motivation from the get-go. So, be on the lookout for some issues and warning signs that you are losing your passion and hunger for doing some woodworking with no power tools.

  • ​Be realistic about your limitations.
  • You do need skills to do this- and these skills will help you once you do purchase power tools. Power tools will NOT make up for lack of skill.
  • Don't practice too much- just get right into applied work and projects - you're more likely to be bought in and invested from the beginning.
  • Learn how to fix mistakes without losing your stride and desire to improve.

The Upside of No Tools

  • ​The human machine goes beyond any power tool limitations.
  • You can do any woodworking job with a plane, saw and chisel-once you are  comfortable using them-without the need for any additional tools. 
  • You don't have to spend a lot of money.
  • You can work in a very small space because you don't need the extra space for all of the power tools.
  • You'll have much more appreciation for the hand tools once you purchase power tools to make your work easier.
  • Learning these fundamental skills with non-power tools will inevitably make you a much more skilled woodworker.

First Project Ideas

  • ​Bookshelves - who doesn't need a bookshelf. Stick to 2-3 shelves if you can, as they're easier. Making the center shelf fixed, you can make the others adjustable. 
  • Side Table -making this a square or cube- you can get lots of ideas for how to do this type of table/plant stand. 
  • Wall Shelf - think of a box that you hang on the wall.
  • Stool - a simple, 4-legged stool for the house- you'll make it unique using hand tools, which is what people are looking for these days. 

Tools You'll Need for First Projects

  • Jack plane
  • Panel saw (It can be a rip saw or a crosscut saw)
  • 1-3 chisels (1/4, 3/8, or 1/2″)
  • Back saw (a Carcass Saw is a good choice)
  • Combo square

The Unplugged Workshop

So many woodworkers value hard work without the use of power tools. This book, "The Unplugged Woodshop" is ​a great starting gift to buy yourself. 

"For the growing number of woodworkers who are opting out of power tools and returning to hand tools, The Unplugged Workshop is a refreshing concept and a welcome change." Written by custom furniture maker and hand tool expert Tom Fidgen, this is definitely worth checking out if you're really going old school in the wood shop. 

If you give up and decide you need power tools, check out our saw reviews here.

About Russ Thompson

Hey I'm Russ and I have been a contractor for over 20 years. I know what the cost of having the right tools and materials for the job. My passion for woodworking and helping others by workshops in my wood shop. I have beginner classes all the way up expert trade classes. Check out my bio for more.

1 thought on “Woodworking Without Power Tools – Going Old School in Your Wood Shop”

  1. I have an antique carpenters workbench (est 1900) and an Emmert adjustable pattern makers vise. Any ideas on a good way to find someone who might be able to put this to good use?


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