Basics of Woodworking
Starting Woodworking with Hand Tools


We believe that all woodworkers should start woodworking by learning how to use hand tools.

Using a hand tool on wood builds an intimate relationship between the woodworker and the wood.

A hand plane does not cut well when pushed against the grain. Chisels cut very differently in hard woods and softwoods. The feedback is immediate and educational - you learn about wood from your first contact.

A thorough understanding of how to use hand tools effectively and efficiently will influence your decisions about how to grow and develop as a woodworker.

For example:  

  • Are you only making a couple of pieces of furniture each year? You may choose to set up a hand tool workshop like Jim Tolpin describes in his book The New Traditional Woodworker.
  • The knowledge you gain from using hand tools will help you better understand the benefits of different woodworking machines. This will allow you to make better decisions about  the types of machine you purchase.
  • Confidence with hand tools will greatly expand your ability to create great furniture. You will be able to layout, cut and fit even the most complex joints and then add delicate decorative details.

Basics of Hand Tool Woodworking

The basics of woodworking taught in this series of eight weekend classes are intended to give the beginning hand tool woodworker (or a beginning woodworker) a thorough introduction to working with hand tools.

These classes cover the use, sharpening and maintenance of hand tools; hand tool joinery; furniture construction techniques and traditional finishing techniques.

The classes are sequenced in the order we think you need to learn the skills.

In addition to these eight classes, for the beginning woodworker, we  also offer two longer, more comprehensive classes, Handtool Heaven and  Hand Tool Joinery Essentials

For these classes you do not need to bring your own tools - you may use the School's tools and use that experience to influence your purchasing decisions. If you have already acquired some hand tools please bring them along - you get even more from the courses.


Hand Saw Essentials   (Level I)

Using a hand saw is the first skill you need as hand tool woodworker.

Next Class:  October 4-5, 2014

Hand Plane Essentials   (Level I) 

Learn to sharpen, tune and dimension boards with hand planes.

Next Class:  October 11-12, 2014

Hand Cut Dovetails   (Level I) 

Learn to layout and cut dovetails using handsaws and chisels.

Next Class:  October 18-19, 2014

By Hand and By Eye   (Level I) 

Design and construction strategies for the hand tool woodworker. No math, no measurement. 

Perhaps the most important class you can take as a hand tool woodworker.

Next Class:  November 15-16, 2014

Traditional Finishes   (Level I)

Oil, wax and shellac have worked well for centuries. Simple finishes - straight forward techniques.

Hand Cut Mortice and Tenons  (Level I) 

Layout and cut a variety of mortice and tenons with hand saws and mortice chisels.

Next Classes:  October 25-26, 2014

Frame and Panel Essentials   Level II*

Frame and panel construction solves wood movement problems and is a foundationof wood furniture construction.

Carcass Essentials   (Level II)*

Putting it all together. Construction techniques for building free standing furniture.


Longer, more comprehensive basic woodworking hand tool classes cover more basic skills than the 2-day weekend classes:

Handtool Heaven  (Level I)

Jim Tolpin's signature class! Use a hand saw, chisels, and plane to dimension, finish, and join wood while making bench tools.

Next Classes:

May 12-16, 2014
June 23-27, 2014
August 4-8, 2014
September 15-19, 2014

Hand Tool Joinery Essentials
(Level II)*

 Learn the joinery techniques and construction principles to build furniture using only hand tools. Dovetails, draw-bore mortices and tenons, and frame and panel construction.   

Next Classes: August 11-15

* Note: Frame & Panel Essentials,  Carcass Essentials and Hand Tool Joinery Essentials require the level of knowledge you would have acquired in the earlier classes to complete the practical work. If you have the equivalent experience - for example having read Jim's book and completed the practical exercises in the book - you are ready for these classes.


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Port Townsend School of Woodworking and Preservation Trades Copyright © 2007-2014. All rights reserved.

200 Battery Way | Fort Worden | Port Townsend, WA 98368 | (360) 344-4455 | email

The Port Townsend School of Woodworking and Preservation Trades is a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit. Any donations made to the School are tax-deductible to the extent provided by law.