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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While I confess to be a novice as a luthier I was a fitter and turner; fully apprenticed,, time served mastercraftsman, that is 4 years training and 8 years 'on my tools'. So I've some history when it comes to tools. Always buy the best your pocket can afford, buy only what you need and look after them! Second hand bargains are out there, car boot sales and the like have provided quality planes, vices,  along with cheap pliers that can be ground into fret pullers etc.

Excellent advice, Steve.

"Always buy the best your pocket can afford, buy only what you need and look after them!". That is so improtant. Thanks for bringing that up. May I also add to NEVER loan out your tools. Chances are you'll never see them again! I've lost hundreds of dollars of quality hand tools due to my trusting nature and ignorance.

I also add that, as you're beginning, you'll have the time to make/modify tools. As your good reputation and business grows, that free time will disappear. At that point, it's more cost effective to buy most of your tools. Rusty and Hesh have mentioned this in past posts. As a matter of fact, LEARNING how to manage your time and resources is as important as learning how to do quality work.

Let me add just one more item that's indispensable in the modern business world: A device (PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone) that allows you to access information from the web. It's vital for quickly referencing schematics, manuals, specialized info, parts, tools, etc. We live in wondrous info times. Just watch out for amateur and hobby/hack sites. They'll hurt you with B.S. info. Good tip: if you have a question about something made by a specific manufacturer, contact that Manufacturer first. They know more about that product than anyone :) We'd just be guessing.

One of my favorite craftsmen and performers. Notice what he's shaping his neck with about half way through. Something to be said for the whisper of shavings slipping off a sharp edge. Lots more video out there, and the "Building Clapton's Guitar" has a number of revealing although incidental accounts of tools, methods, etc.

I know this thread is to focus on tools but you really need the following in your workspace before getting started:

Depending on your location decide and install HVAC, Humidification/De-humidification and insulate.  Mini Split HVAC units work well and are your best bang for your buck in a moderate climate.  Don't extend your home HVAC to include the shop.

Dust collection:

Shop Vac-You're gonna need a HEPA cartridge filter in your shop vac unless you have it exhaust out side. Otherwise it becomes a nebulizer of fine dust that can travel deep in your lungs.  Cleanstream HEPA filter cartridges by Gore (they also make Goretex fabric) are available online and Home Depot/Lowe's/Sears/etc .  In addition to filtering they can hold a lot of fine dust due to their pleats and increased surface area. Clean them outside with a stiff brush and rinse under cold water.  Mine is 10 years old and still does its job. You can delay filter clogging with a pre-separator made from a small cyclone Clearvue CV06-MiniOneida Dust Deputy or Phil Thien's DIY version.  The plastic trashcan lid w/elbows sold at most woodworking shops doesn't come close to the Thien separator. These are needed if you use a thickness sander with a shop vac.

Matthias Wandel's Dust Collector Blower and small dust collector is an option for a mobile dust collector you can attach to your large machines as you use them.

Air Filtration:

Boxfan with custom fitted high MERV pleated HVAC filters for ~$30 vs JDS Airtech Filter for ~$400-$1200 vs other commercial shop air filters.  Operate for a few hours after you're finished working for the day on a timer.


There are formulae for designing overhead shop lighting.  My advice is to overshoot by ~15%... especially if you are younger than 40 (you'll figure out the younger than 40 part when you're about 45). You also need some oblique lighting like a desk lamp to inspect sanding and finish quality.  If your shop interior is primarily OSB paint it white.  It makes a difference...especially the ceiling.  

Install a Fire Extinguisher, smoke alarm, emergency lighting for power failures and a first aid kit.

Now make or buy a bench and work holding accessories.  

Now you're ready to decide on layout and electrical service.

Sorry but the order of things should be, kettle, teapot, cups and the makings for tea. When you've got these thing you can then start thinking about all the other crap.

Ditto on Steve's comment. What Mark is describing is setting up a production shop.

Most beginners (based upon my experiences and those of others) start working on a kitchen table or a bench in the basement/garage/spare room.  I generated very little dust during the first 7 or 8 years of practice. My collection system was a bench brush and a dust pan. I still have them because even now, you don't need a shotgun to kill a mosquito. :)

Just one other thing we may want to add to any sort of 'recommended by forum members' list for beginners is: 95% of us cannot 'make a living' in lutherie. It will provide some of the most joyous times of your life as well as a few nightmares. Do it because you LOVE IT and don't quit your day job.

Again, Kerry: thanks for suggesting this thread. Most of us old timers would be far more advanced in our current knowledge if this kind of info was available when we started.  Good stuff, man :)

Paul I have recently retired from a 40 year career caring for sick people with lung diseases so I have a different perspective than many here.  The vast majority of Luthiers and Woodworkers use power tools.  These tools generate dust.  The most dangerous dust is invisible and can make it deep into your lungs with a normal breath. It stays suspended in the air for a very long time so coming back in your shop days and weeks later carries a risk.  There are some basic, simple and cheap things we can to do to protect ourselves and optimize the space we have. Someone just starting out probably would not have this information.

A shopvac was mentioned earlier in this thread as one of the tools needed.  I consider them dangerous unless they have a HEPA filter and even then don't move enough air to capture what needs to be captured on a large power tool.

If someone only works with hand tools (not handheld power tools) or works in the open outside air, there is no need for a dust collector or air cleaner. 

No production shop was intended. The commercial equipment linked are alternatives to the simple and cheap versions.  Just some basic safety stuff we should consider whether old or just starting out.


Agreed 100% Mark.

I only pointed out that the post relates to beginning craftsmen. 

I no longer do any finish work due to past unrelated respiratory issues. Man, getting old isn't fun sometimes. Thank gawd for competent Pulmonologists :)

Superior recommendations in a full shop context.

Enjoy your retirement, man. You've EARNED it by doing the GOOD work for all those years :)

Thanks for reminding me of Matthias Wandel, Mark. I've been a big fan of his for several years (no pun intended).

Thanks everyone for their contribution to this list for newbies, it's very helpful.

As a guitar player I've suffered at times with GAS and have to make sure I don't get the same affliction with tools. I have to remember to buy what I need when I need it.I do have enough tools to do setups and re-frets, as well as a few other things. Now I just need some guitars to work on as I've done as much as I can with my own guitars and the couple of project guitars I've purchased. 


I forgot ... there is a fairly complete list of tools in the back of Erlewines' Guitar Player Repair Guide. The first part of the list is for beginners while the entire list is for a basic shop, not including the myriad other woodworking and mechanics tools needed.


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