When Is It A Luxury?

by | Sep 11, 2015 | 11 comments

I doubt that any two tool kits are the same. They’re brought together in such an individual and accidental way, and with so many varieties of tool, the probability of any two collections matching exactly must be infinitely small.

My tools for example are a fairly ugly lot. I’m no collector, just a gathering of bits and pieces which were fit for purpose at the time, or forced to be so, that I’ve then become fond of and won’t replace. Lumpy my mallet and my chewed on old jack plane are good examples.

I have other old tools from a lovely selection which came from my Granddad. These have such a wonderful patina and warmth to them and I get great pleasure from keeping them in action.

Colen Clenton Brass Square

Well used Colen Clenton Brass Square

Then there’s the ‘woodworker’s gifts’ section of my tool kit. Tools which are much too fine to be in my workshop. When Helen bought me a beautiful square many years ago it took me quite some time to put it to use, but once it clicked and I decided I liked it, it got my usual run it in to the ground treatment. I’m not sure how many of these squares can boast such an aged look; if it wasn’t unique when I received it, it certainly is now.

But however our kits come together the differences in the type of tools which we find essential are certainly much, much smaller. If we build things by hand then we’ll all have planes and saws and marking tools of one type or another, even if their sizes and pedigree are different.
Woodworking by hand is extremely simple and I’m a believer in two things:

– If the skills are there, then you can get by with very few tools.
– If the skills are there, then the specifics of those tools don’t really matter. 

Oh, and a minimal kit helps you build those skills.
Finally, a well conceived minimal kit will probably be the same for anyone looking at starting woodworking.

I’m very much a minimal tool kind of person myself and I have what I’d call my essential kit, (which we’ll talk more about later), but it’s basically the essential tools which I find are required to work well and work efficiently.
Something like a fillister plane gets excluded because that falls in to the luxury category – I can work well instead with a chisel and something to hit it with. A tenon saw of some kind remains essential though, because I want to be able to cut my joinery well straight off the saw.

When considering my ‘essential kit’ I’m always left with one tool that I don’t know where to place.

The router plane is not essential. Anything it can do can be done by alternate methods, and I wasn’t even introduced to it when I was training. But the router plane is so unbloodybelievably good at it’s job, and there’s so many jobs it can do, that if I can’t call it essential, it has to at least be my favourite luxury tool.

Metal router planes, one of my favourite non-essential tool

Metal router planes, one of my favourite non-essential tool

I wouldn’t want to be without one, but there’s something else that I find unique about the router plane. If I’m going to have one then the specifics do matter. If it had to be an old wooden one or a simple one I’ve cobbled together then I would sooner be without it. This is one tool that I’m very specific about, I like a metal router plane which allows me to dial it in for the perfect fitting tenon. This is the only way I feel the tool can have an edge over anything I could do with a chisel. My one bit of engineering sneaking in to my old school woodworking?


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About Richard Maguire

About Richard Maguire

As a professional hand tool woodworker, Richard found hand tools to be the far more efficient solution for a one man workshop. Richard runs 'The English Woodworker' as an online resource and video education for those looking for a fuss free approach to building fine furniture by hand. Learn More About Richard & The English Woodworker.


  1. Paul B

    I was a bit surprised to see the Lie Nielsen rabbet block plane in the spoon rack video. I never considered you to be extravagant, so you owning one was enough set my wallet a-tingling.

  2. Jeff

    Totally in agreement with metal router planes, a complete joy to use.

    What’s your thoughts on minimal work bench/table/workmate?

  3. Peter McLaughlin

    I’d be interested in knowing how you “dial it in for the perfect fitting tenon.” Are you intentionally cutting/sawing a bit proud and then sneaking up on the fit with the router plane? Or is it just a tool in your quiver in the event the tenon needs tweeking? So it’s really two questions? How do you go about it, and is it a regular practice?

  4. Chris

    Having the right tool for the job doesn’t necessarily mean having the specific tool for A job. I started out with basics, and nothing more than a folding table and some clamps to cobble together a makeshift work bench. I managed to get creative, and that creativity is what allows a person to push the boundaries of what a tool is “good for”, no matter what it is.

  5. Jasper

    I started off with one plane. Soon bought a second. Now I have forty. Each is useful, but yes, most work could be done with about seven of them.

    Or just one axe, one adze, one saw, one Lumpy and a handful of nails – if you are going minimal.

    My old wooden router plane isn’t very exact in itself, but combined with a vernier calliper it’s plenty “engineering”.

    My starter tool kit was a bit under-engineered though. For sawing it only had a small cheap backsaw with cross-cut teeth. Try sawing dovetails in hard maple with that…

  6. Steven

    The router plane is th first tool to make me kick myself and exclaim “damn” with each new use.

  7. Mitchell

    …and then there are the tools that you know will be nothing more than dust collectors for as long as you own them, but they are just too damned pretty to pass up.

  8. DenverGeorge

    I have several tools that I’d give up before my router plane. I do lots do rebates, housings and half-lap joints. I know that all of them can be done without benefit of a router plane, but I have no desire to try. As has been said, it just does its job too well to consider using another tool. In terms of the tools I really love to use, it ranks right alongside my jack and my chisels.

  9. Jim Hendricks

    This is REALLY spooky!!

    For years now I have wanted a square by Colen….but have never been able to justify it as I have a Moore and Wright reference square. Two things wrong with that…I should ONLY be using it as a refence square to be cherished and pampered on a shelf in a box to check all other squares against….and secondly..it’s blinkin’ heavy!!

    So…in preparation for my next tool project…I splashed out and treated myself to a Colen Clenton 4″ adjustable “Blackwood” one…it isn’t here yet but I can’t wait!

    Oh…and Richard…just to add fuel to use being related…the new tool I’m making….

    A precision hand router plane!


    See you at Cressing Temple Sunday?


  10. Ian M. Stewart

    Richard, you don’t mention a plough plane in this list as either a luxury or essential. I think that this is an essential, but I have now had and used about five different plough planes and not yet found one that is totally satisfactory. Currently I’m using two, a tiny Rapier three blade plough (similar to the Record 043), and a Record 044C. The plastic handle and stupid nylon collar on the depth guage ruin that one for me, while the Rapier is lovely to use, but has limited capabilities.
    Luxury or essential?

  11. Ocelot

    For tenons, I now leave the stock long, and cut something that looks more like a housing at the end of the piece of wood, with an inch or two of waste. This means that I can use the router plane supported perfectly by the original timber on both sides of this trench (later to be the tenon) . When done, I simply cut off the short, waste end of the housing to leave myself with a tenon. I find this much easier than having to pack one side of a tenon with scrap so that the router plane is dead level.


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