View Full Version : What hand tools should I have?

06-11-2014, 04:41 PM

I'm looking to start my senior project over the summer and in my project contract I had written that I would be using only hand tools...

Because of that, what are the basic hand tools that I can use to build my ukulele? I have a hand saw, a chisel, a coping saw, a craft knife set, and an electric drill. I feel like I need a few more tools but I'm not sure what. Since I probably won't be building ukuleles often, I don't want to spend a lot on a bunch of tools that I won't be using for anything else.

Ideas? I want to get a fret saw and maybe a hand plane? :confused:

Any help would be great!


Moore Bettah Ukuleles
06-11-2014, 05:05 PM
Depends on what kind of power tools to have access to. I try to avoid hand tools but my scrapers, rasps and files and indispensable. Also, Exacto blades #11 and #18 (and Exacto razor saw). I don't use a large plane but I like my tiny IBEX plane for brace work. Do a search here, I think there's a comprehensive list posted somewhere.

06-11-2014, 05:11 PM
Kathy Masushita has a great reference site with the hand tools she uses. http://theamateurluthier.com

06-11-2014, 11:03 PM
I use a block plane (Stanley 220 or similar) and scraper (Stanley, Record, Faithful No 80) for soundbox construction. I use a round surform/ cork block and 120/240 grit paper to make my necks. I have about 10 F clamps (mainly 2" x 6") of various types both with conventional screw tightening and some quick grips (I prefer Irvin quick grips for some tasks). You also need a fine kerf (thin) saw to cut the frets and a 2ft rule/straight edge to measure and align the neck/fretboard. But the most important things to have of course are a good mold and a suitable means of bending the sides.


Red Cliff
06-11-2014, 11:36 PM
Also depends on whether you intend to build entirely from scratch or buy some parts pre-made such as bent sides, slotted fretboard etc. If from scratch you might want to start considering what tools you will use to bend the sides (blow torch and a copper pipe is probably the most basic) and if you have a saw with a suitable kerf to cut the fret slots as mentioned by greenscoe.

Aside from that, as someone who builds mainly by hand, I would also think about making a range of sanding blocks of different sizes out of some birch plywood or the like for final flattening of top, sides, back, fretboard etc. As other have said - plenty of clamps, straight edge. Also useful to get a bag of wooden clothes pegs to use as miniature clamps for gluing the linings on.

Beau Hannam Ukuleles
06-12-2014, 04:23 AM
Here is are some tool lists for luthier schools- ive not looked at these and im sure they are pretty comprehensive.


06-14-2014, 07:50 PM
A few handtool suggestions for someone not planning to make a career of building stringed instruments:

A block plane for end grain trimming and a #4 Smoother plane for face thicknessing and smoothing and Shooting Board work. #60 1/2 is a popular block plane and shows up at flea markets and Craigslist frequently for ~$30-60. While you're looking for planes also lookout for wood rasps (old Nicholson #49 and #50 made in USA are the best value), large flat metal bastard and small triangle metal files and a spokeshave. Soak the rasps and files overnight in a cola bath. This will etch the grooves and make it work better than new. Use a glass or Stainless Steel container.

Make a shooting board with 90 and 45 degree fences: http://www.lie-nielsen.com/content/documents/instructions/L-N_51_Shooting_Board_Info.pdf You will use this for precise and square cuts like where the two sides join each other on the butt. If you want to miter binding/purfling a 45 degree option is helpful.

45 degree acrylic drafting triangle. Larger is better. Extremely accurate and can be dropped w/no change to its squareness. Used for setting up jigs. In most office supply and art supply stores. http://www.utrechtart.com/C-Thru-45-90-Inking-Triangle-MP-55703-001-i1015591.utrecht
While there get a white lead pencil if you plan to work w/dark woods.

A generic honing guide like this: http://www.lie-nielsen.com/blade-sharpening/side-clamping-honing-guide/ modified per the video link:
Build this jig for setting blade length to get repeatable angles (ignore the parts about setting up a stone: http://www.lie-nielsen.com/content/documents/instructions/AngleSettingJig.pdf

Sharpening set-up
Go to the nearest countertop shop and get a Granite or Silestone sink cutout. The smooth side will be your flat reference for multiple processes.

Go to your local automotive paint/body work supply store and get 3 sheets of wet/dry sandpaper in grits:220, 400, 800, 1000, 5000. I like the Japanese Silicone Carbide papers. While there pick up some Scotch/3M 1" green masking tape. This is useful when attaching binding due to its elasticity. You will also need a can of spray contact adhesive. 3M medium(#77?) is what I use to adhere the sandpaper to the granite.
Google Scary Sharp and follow the instructions for your plane irons and chisels until you can cut a piece of copy paper on edge with no effort.
A pocket knife is useful.
A combination and/or a double square. Look for Starrett brand at Flea Markets.

Make clamps out of 1" rings of 3" PVC pipe like this: http://www.instructables.com/id/Homemade-Clamps-From-Plastic-Pipe/

Diagonal side cutters for trimming frets flush to the edge of the fretboard.

A fret slotting saw. The flush trimming saw from Harbor Freight leaves a .025" kerf. You'll need to make a jig (like a bridge) with a slot in it to keep it accurate. While there grab a small deadblow hammer for setting frets.

A set of welding torch cleaning files from big box home stores for nut slotting.

A small unworn Phillips head screwdriver for tuner mounting screws.

Most of these tools are things you will need as you go through life. I estimate you can get all of this for ~$150.