Luthiers, Lets make a list of our most useful shop tools for new and Interested folks here...

 Kurt's note a few days ago about starting up with Luthierie  has had me thinking about this.

Many on this Forum started out such a long time ago, we have some real world experience to give. 

 So how about a list of the absolute 'Must Have for a beginner' tools, including both power tools, and hand tools, and maybe some brands that go with them? 


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Good topic.  I was thinking about this just last week... wondering (if forced to downsize my shop area) what would be the most essential items to start-over with?  

It's bound to be a long, long list... with a lot of favorites from a lot of folks, but that's what this is all about, I s'pose.   OK... I'll start.

Straightedges of all lengths.

The basic fretting tools ( leveling implements, crowning files, fret guards, fretting hammer, tang-nippers, etc.)

A good, wide assortment of nut-files.

Some good vises, preferably 3 or 4 of various sizes.

Clamps... a shop simply cannot have too many clamps!

Replaceables: sandpaper, various tape, glues, paints...  all other miscellaneous potions & lotions! 

Hmmm, this certainly can go on, can't it?  However, in the interest of space, I relinquish the floor.  Something tells me this is going to be an interesting thread....

A dedicated work space of some sort. I know it seems apparent but I've know a couple of people that started rebuilding an instrument in their kitchen. Turns out that this isn't such a good idea when others live in the same space. it is, after all, almost impossible to accomplish anything if you must put away when you aren't working. It's probably better to start in the spare bed room than in the kitchen. Even a portable "Workmate" can work with some inventive tops to clamp into place if you actually have someplace to leave it setup with the mess that isn't always so easy to clean up mid process.

Which brings me to my next, "must have" item; a shop vac. It doesn't have to be big and I suppose a smaller household vacuum might work for a while but shop vac's are made to handle more "chunks" and usually have more room for said "chunks" than household vacs. They just don't cost that much so a shop vac is a "must" to me.


A decent set of calipers and at least one machinist ruler.

Scrapers, I have cabinet scrapers, paint scrapers and some homemade scarpers of various shapes and derivations.  I don't think I have more than a couple of bucks in any of them. An addition point is to invest in some time to learn how to sharpen them. They're worthless without that.  

Feeler guages, allen wrenches, screw drivers ( big and small, standard and phillips, perhaps some torx too.) , some small sized open /box end wrenches. A 1/4 in drive socket set with an extension or two.  

Hammers, I have a standard 16 oz claw hammer, a small tack hammer, a plastic faced fretting hammer and a wooden mallet that I  keep available in that work area. I almost never use the claw hammer, and the fretting hammer isn't used for anything else so that means that I usually use the wooden mallet or the small tack hammer.   It's the the tack hammer that us the most useful to me. Other may disagree but it's light enough that I don't worry about whacking thing too hard, the head is small enough to get into some very small places when I need to "leverage" and it not in my way laying next to whatever I'm working on at the moment. ( O keeping think that I need to get another one and modify one side with a plastic cap. )

GOOD Chisels, various sizes, and a good sharpening system, whatever type you favor. I keep a set of cabinet chisels but I also have a "starter" set of small, short wood carving chisels. I find that I use them all pretty much equally. 

Big clamps, small clamps, weird clamps... ( yeah, I know Mike already mentioned clamps but, as he said, you can't have too many clamps! ).  

Various hand saws, I have back saws, flexible pull saws, a fret saw, razor saw, a well as  a table saw, which I don't really consider a MUST for starting out. I do think that a small back saw, a razor saw and a flexible "Japanese" pull saw are useful enough to be "must haves".

Various sizes/types of hand planes, probably better collected as you go along to fit your needs and budgets.

Something I use all the time is a  very flat surface, by which I mean something that I know is FLAT not just cabinet top flat. I use a couple of old 1/2 X 14 X 16 inch plate glass sheets ( part of a set of small display windows for a demolished jewelry store ) for surfacing small parts that need to be FLAT. It's maybe not a "must have" but I find it so handy that my main work area has one setting out all the time. It's easy to move when I don't need it but most of the time I work directly on that surface.  

A hand piece of some sort. This really isn't something to skimp on too much. If it isn't decent quality, it can be more trouble that it's worth. I have a motor speed controller for mine which is handy enough that I think it's worth recommending one of these as well. It not useful for routing slots but if you use a hand piece to polish,sand or otherwise finish parts, this addition makes it MUCH easier to use. BTW, I have a dremel also that is my "router". Is it possible to have too many routers?  . 

Anyway, that my list for now. 

Great subject! I love hearing and seeing peoples workshops as well as their favorite tools!

I would like to keep my list short and simple. 2 absolute musts:


RAZOR BLADES of your choice... I like an exacto with different blades or a home made violin knife. The further I get into luthier the less I use my Xacto and the more I use my knife.


BENCH SANDER with disc sander. Simple, I use it every day, many mods you can do to set up for different uses. But you can use it for rough shaping nuts and saddles or make shims with it. I like 120 gritt for average use but I use 80 grit alot and 220 the least.


I cant resist... some other things Band Saw, Drill Press, Grinder. small bench top ones are good for starters but big units would be more of a nessicity the deeper you get into the trade.


A few more... Chisels that you know how to sharpen! I have one favorite it was my grandfathers its about 1.5" one average and one micro that would fit a nut slot would be good for starters.

Triangle File for crowning. TAAAAAAAAAAAAPE! soo much tape! :)


GOSH if I went any further it would become less of a must have list. I hope this helps someone.


Here's a link to the required tools for students at various lutherie schools:

I tell  you what, I second the razor blade and also pick the bench vise and the LMI rosette cutter/wheel.  Couldn't like without either (there are a ton of other tools I can't live without also).  Let me add a point in the "opposite" direction.  Here are a list of tools that prior to my first build (or shortly after), I either purchased or made and I have either never used, or have used very little.


Cam clamps (I know, some people use them extensively, I don't)

Stewmac bride/saddle locator (the long wire thing with the points at the end)

X-Brace routing jig (scallops)

Template to route headstocks

There are others.

I think anyone planning to build a guitar should find out what they need, when they need it.  I've built or bought some of these because of what I read, but didn't fit my building style.  YMMV.



As tempting as it may be to put together a list, I'll just post a little bit of observation.

Over the last 50 years, I've seen any number of people (including myself) enter the lutherie field, and I simply don't see a correlation between a collection of tools and the initial success of building.  I know some who've bought into the entire StewMac experience, and come up with dismal results, giving up the process altogether.

Others, both young and old, have been "on fire" to do this crap, and simply charged ahead using the tools they had or could borrow or make.   Not surprisingly, those folks are the ones who made real progress right from the start.   Some, like me, took adult shop classes to get access to power tools.

It's all about motivation, not about tools.

So the best tool in in your head and in your heart?

Granted, motivation is number one and it trumps all else.  Nobody's getting rich doing this and the love of the work has to be first & foremost. 

However.... acknowledging that, we still need the tools to go with the desire, and I think that's where Kerry (the OP) was heading in trying to assemble some lists of favorite or most-used tools. 

Just to look at a few favorite electric tools for me:  hand drill, drill-press, bench grinder, disc sander, jig saw, bandsaw, a couple of dremel-type-tools.

On the wish list: one of those discontinued large-table Grizzly "wood mills". 

This is absolutely a good point. I have mixed emotions about this thread for this reason and that it could be nearly endless. At the same time it could be useful, and the "toolie" in me can't resist. Some of Stew Macs stuff is great, but you cant rely on that as your only resource. Fancy high end equipment is great, but some of it costs as much as a new car and takes up about as much space. Ive made do with some pretty " low end" power equipment and tools that were just hanging around, and you can often get them to work just fine if you know how to deal with their shortcomings. Its often less trouble than it sounds like.

Anyway, my contribution is a 7.2 volt lithium cordless driver made by Skil. Its one of my favourite tools and it was worth paying more for it over your average cheapie driver. Its incredibly ergonomic, powerful enough to do a lot of drilling and driving for general shop tasks, the variable speed function allows you to install strings carefully yet (very) quickly, and the clutch is sensitive enough to work well putting pickguard screws in place. Google Skil Screwdriver 2362. Excellent little tool.

Good lighting and some type of magnification.

 I would say that Frank has hit the nail on the head .I started with the tools I already had and would then buy what i thought I realy needed . The first thing you have to do is under stand if you can do the work skill that it takes to do this kind of trade, and remember that its just  not all about tools, You will have to learn how to refinsh your repairs.I Have incounterd guys that started building and repairing but could'nt do any finishing and they found they could not get the kind of money they should have had for the job.      So my point is a shop full of the best tools in the world is not going to make you succeed in this trade. Please don't get me wrong I would be the first guy to help someone on the road into this trade, but the fact,s are just the way they are.  That pretty well covers my list of tools. Good luck in your indever Bill...............

Although previously mentioned, Dan E's repair guide (3rd ed) lists tools recommended for different levels of repair folks.

Along with the lists of tools for various schools (too specialized UNLESS one will attend the related school), it pretty much covers the spectrum.

Anything beyond those lists is just reinventing the wheel.

I'm in the 'use what you have and buy or make what ever else you need' camp, but ONLY when that need arises. I think we all have one or two highly specialized exotic "Boy, that looks great" tools on (or under) our benches that have never been used.

A side benefit (that all of us over age 55 have discovered as many tools weren't available when we started) is that you learn how to craft needed tools. You can also save yourself tons of $$ in the long run making (modifying existing) tools yourself. This will teach problem solving and improvisational skills.

The only other thing I can add is to reinforce that investing in QUALITY tools (especially files) is paramount. Cheap stuff is junk and will fail you at the MOST inopportune time.

btw Kerry, this is a very good idea. We could really use an Introductory Section one mus 'pass through' before registering as a user. That section could also include a request for members to state their skill level and experience and their preferred area of interest (Acoustic, Electric, Both? I'd never realized that so many folks know near nothing about electrics). That alone could eliminate a lot of repetitive posts and allow established members to gauge their responses to the skill level of the poster.

I also see the business beginning to splinter into specialties (set ups, re-fin's, general crack repair, advanced resurrections, etc.) In my area, we have a guy that's great at setups (me) but I no longer whish to refin' anything. I can do, but I'm not great GREAT with bindings. Luckily, there's a guy 20 miles away that can't setup a gtr to save his life but is a wiz at binding & refin's. Another guy is a wiz at guitar/bass electronics, etc. I guess what I'm saying is that networks of "the best crafts people available for specific jobs" are being created all over the country. The "one stop shop" is great but it takes a LONG time to amass all the skills necessary to provide full service. Specializing (especially in the learning stages) is nothing to be ashamed of. MANY of the finest luthiers in the world depend on others for finishing & electronics work. It's a changing dynamic, especially in a world where operating a small business is getting less and less profitable with way too much confusing paperwork for the 'guvmunt'.

Good work, man :)


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