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A Guide to Wooden Furniture Restoration Tools

Primary Tools:Saws, Chisels, Planes, Screwdrivers, Drills

Saws, chisels, planes, screwdrivers, and drills are must-have tools for any at-home workshop.

Saws: Hacksaw, backsaw or cabinet saw, coping saw or fretsaw. Although a hacksaw is designed for metal, it can accurately cut small pieces of wood. The thin blade makes a narrow saw kerf -- a big advantage. And a hacksaw can be used for enlarging screw slots (or making new screw slots) and for cutting spring wire, bolts, nails, screws, and other metal parts.


A backsaw or cabinet saw is especially designed for cabinetmaking. It's the tool to use for making wood joints, cutting miters, and other fine, accurate work. Buy a backsaw or cabinet saw with 14 to 16 teeth per inch; the saw should be from 10 to 12 inches long. Both saws are designed for cutting across the grain of wood. However, they may be used for "ripping" (cutting with the grain), since most furniture pieces are not large enough for a ripsaw, the standard ripping tool.

For scrolls, holes, and other intricate cuts, the best tool is a coping saw. You can buy a variety of blades for this saw: rough, medium, and fine blades and blades for metal and plastic. By adjusting pins in the saw frame, you can change the angle of the blade to cut 90-degree corners without removing the saw from the material. Its power tool counterpart is a saber saw or portable electric jigsaw.

Chisels: Assortment of butt chisels, firmer chisel, in-cannelled and out-cannelled gouges.

For all-around use, an assortment of butt chisels (1/8-, 1/4-, 1/2-, and 3/4-inch-wide blades) is the best buy. You should also have one firmer chisel with a 1/2-inch beveled edge. This tool goes into corners that a butt chisel can't reach. In- and out-cannelled gouges are really chisels; they're called gouges because they're rounded in cross-section. You'll use these gouges for smoothing and hollowing inside and outside curves.

Any chisel should be driven with the butt of your hand, a rubber hammer, or a wooden mallet. Never use a metal hammer to drive a chisel; a metal hammer will smash the chisel handle.

Planes: Smoothing plane, block plane. A smoothing plane is best used for smoothing and squaring wood with the grain. You'll need this tool to match and cut furniture joints. You can also use it to unstick doors and windows and for other household chores. A block plane is designed to cut and smooth across the wood grain, such as the end of a board.

Screwdrivers: A four-piece assortment of standard slot screwdrivers and Phillips-head screwdrivers will handle most screw driving and drawing jobs furniture repairers/refinishers will need.

Screwdrivers are for screws. Do not use them to open cans, as marking tools, or for drills. And don't hit the handles with a hammer in an attempt to loosen a tight screw.

Drills: Hand-crank drill and/or variable-speed electric drill; assortment of drill bits and countersinks; screwdriver attachment.

Since most holes in furniture are small, you won't need a regular ratchet hand brace. A hand-crank drill provides plenty of capacity (usually) for most furniture jobs. Drill bits should range in size from 1/16 inch up to 1/4 inch. You should also have small and medium-size countersinks for flathead screws. Counterboring dowel plugs can be done with a drill bit.

If your budget permits, buy a variable-speed electric drill and drill assortment in addition to the hand-crank drill. The variable speed lets you start drilling slowly and then increase the drill RPMs as the drill catches in the wood or other material. With an attachment, you can drive and draw screws -- a great tool if you have lots of drawing and/or driving to do.

Clamps are often forgotten on the check list for must-have tools for a workshop, but they can be used in many ways to save time on a furniture repair or restoration project. Learn the best ways to use clamps in the next section.