Basic carpentry requires fewer tools than you might think, but the most important item is a pair of safety glasses. Carpenters rely mostly on hand tools with some power tools thrown in for efficiency. None of the tools are overly complicated, and carpentry tools haven't changed much over the years. If you haven't used them before, they're easy to learn about and operate safely.
A tool belt is vital for holding small items you need all day. Leather belts comfortably fit around the waist and they can handle the weight. The belt holds all the essentials, including pencils, a hammer and a utility knife. Add a chalk line for marking straight lines across lumber, plywood or panels. It's a good idea to have two chalk lines -- one red and one blue.
Retractable tape measures are among the most important items needed for any woodworking. Choose a tape with large numbers that are easy to read. Some have decimal equivalents or other pertinent information printed on one side for more detailed work. Most carpenters use two tapes: one 12 feet long and easy to handle, and one 25 feet long for big layouts.
Carpenters typically use two types of hammers: framing and trim. Framing hammers are long and heavy. Made with fiberglass, wood or metal handles, they weigh between 22 and 32 ounces and sport a waffled face. Trim hammers are lighter, shorter and have a smooth face that's less likely to cause damage if you miss or drive the nail too deep.
Chisels and Screwdrivers
Chisels are ideal for trimming ends on bad cuts, shaping boards to fit or cutting rough holes. The most common chisel for rough work is 1 inch wide. Phillips and flat-head screwdrivers are used for driving screws, removing errant screws, prying, chipping or in some instances, cutting or countersinking screws or nails.
A cat's paw is used to remove stubborn nails when claw hammers fail. It's pounded with a hammer to undercut and pry out the nail. Cat's paws are stiff and tough enough to use as a pry bar, and come in small sizes.
A framing square is big enough to stretch across lumber and typically is marked with designations for cutting rafters and stair steps. Smaller squares such as the combination square are adjustable, smaller and convenient for marking trim and calculating 45-degree angles. A tri-square is locked at 90 degrees and is more stable than the combination square for laying out 90-degree lines on trim or studs.
Carpenters rely on an assortment of bubble levels to establish vertical and horizontal lines. The typical level centers a bubble inside a see-through port. Smaller, shorter levels work horizontally for a quick check. Longer levels employ vertical and horizontal ports at the same time.
If you're a beginner and don't feel safe with a circular saw, use a standard 30-inch course-cutting handsaw to cut through lumber. Use an 18-inch fine-cutting backsaw for trim or molding.
Power tools may not be for beginners, but a circular saw typically is the most widely used power tool experienced carpenters use. The standard size for carpentry is 7 1/2 inches in blade diameter. Circular saws cut long, straight lines on panels, siding and almost any type of lumber. Other power saws include a reciprocating saw for tight spaces and cutting through nails or screws, and a miter saw for cutting angles. Drill/drivers are used for boring holes and driving screws. Battery powered power tools are becoming the norm, displacing corded models.
If you can afford it and you're comfortable using one, a table saw makes carpentry more accurate and efficient. The 10-inch contractor's saw is somewhat portable and cuts plywood, sheathing, lumber and trim faster and cleaner than any other tool.