The Indian Home Workshop: Essential Tools

he first observation I must make is that a workshop is not essential for a hobbyist woodworker or DIY person. Space is a big constraint in most Indian cities and few can afford the luxury of an exclusive workshop. In most parts of Europe too, I have seen people using whatever space they have for their woodworking without having a dedicated workshop. One enthusiast in Kolkata who had imported a terrific panel saw decided to install the machine in his sitting room. 

However, it is usually only in places like the United States, Australia and some other country where space is not a problem that hobbyists can think of having a dedicated workshop. I have a small workshop because we had a servants’ room that is no longer used and do most of my ripping and other messy stuff in my verandah. Besides, I live in the suburbs where it is cheaper to have a house with spare rooms!
My Home workshop
I do not have much space in my workshop and so have made a habit of stowing away my machines after use. This has the added advantage of keeping my tools clean and in good condition. In north India, dust is a huge problem and can ruin the best of machinery.

What are essential tools depends on what you wish to achieve. For a hobbyist woodworker very few tools are required but if you are going to be doing a lot of woodworking, then a different set of tools will make life easier. I am going to list just the essentials as there is no end to the various tools and accessories available.

Top Six Tools for the Home


Utility Knife

Power drill

Hand saw

Measuring Tape

A.      Measuring Tools
Tape measure
Steel rule
Depth Gauge
Measuring properly and accurately is the key to good woodworking
Hobbyists often do not pay attention to the fact that accurate, good quality measuring tools should be a priority. A vast variety of measuring tools exist for a variety of jobs. I have listed the most basic. Apart from those listed, there are gauges for measuring angles, tension, inclines and so on. Most of these tools are cheap except for a good measuring tape – I have a Stanley – and quality squares which are milled to a high level of tolerance. Squares are very useful for making sure that your measurements and consequently your cuts are perpendicular.

B.      Cutting Tools
Hand saws (Rip and Cross cut)
Circular Saw
Utility Knife

A vast variety of cutting tools are available from the simple hand saw to the complex and expensive panel saw. A hand saw is a must for hobbyists as it is quick and useful for making quick cuts that do not require a great deal of accuracy. A master woodworker can use a hand saw to make perfect cuts but I am not one, so I depend on my circular saw for more accurate cuts. I would love to have a table saw but do not have the funds or the courage to go for one.

C.      Sizing Tools
Hand plane
Wood file/rasp
Belt Sander or plain sandpaper (and plenty of elbow grease!)

The hand plane is a great tool but it requires patience and skill to operate properly. Moreover, to get clean shavings, the blade iron needs to be constantly sharpened, which for a lazy person like me is too painful. I prefer my power planer (see review).

D.      Joint making Tools

E.       Assembly Tools
Screw drivers
Clamps are absolutely necessary for woodworking, especially from the safety point of view. A work piece that is not secured can fly off and cause considerable damage if you are using power tools. The only type readily available in India are the C-clamps. Other clamps like quick grip clamps and so on are not available, though I wish they were.
F.       Finishing Tools or materials
Sandpaper of various grades from 180 to 600
Sanding block made out of a piece of wood or stiff foam
Wood Stain
Shellac or your choice of finish

G.     General Purpose Tools
Screw drivers
Drill Machine
Nail Punches
Centre Punch

Punches are very useful tools whose utility is often overlooked. Nail punches are required for pushing nails below the surface of the wood to give the wood a good look and enable proper finishing. The holes created by nail punches have to filled up with putty or some other material. A centre punch (called a sumbi in Hindi) is used to make a small starter hole in any material that is to be drilled. Buy one that can make holes both in wood and metal.

H.     Sharpening Tools
Water stone

Most hand tools require a fair amount of maintenance to keep them sharp, clean and rust free. Before the Monsoons I douse most of them with WD40 or Mustard oil. Sharpening the plane irons, chisels, saws and knives is a major activity and one that I prefer not to get involved in.

I had purchased a Skil grinder thinking that I will use it to sharpen my tools but soon learnt that was a bad idea. I use it to sharpen some gardening tools, axes and so but not my woodworking tools. I also use the grinder as a buffer for polishing metal. Otherwise it is a bad investment.
My sharpening system: Various grades of sandpaper stuck on a thick slab of glass. Gives perfect edges every time!

I do most of my sharpening with sandpaper of different grits – 80, 120, 220, 400, 600 and 1200 – stuck on a piece of half inch glass for most of my sharpening works. I go from a lowest grit to the highest progressively and clean up the sandpapers with a brush as I go along. With this system, which I picked up from a video on sharpening, my hand tools get a mirror polish on their edges.

I also have a set of cheap but effective diamond stones I got from abroad and a small diamond stone file for sharpening my tungsten carbide router bits.

Metal files are also useful for sharpening saw teeth, scrapers and so on.

19 February 2012


  1. Very detailed account of the tools that are needed for a hobbyist... Like you said, space is a constraint, and I mostly use the balcony or the guest room for my hobby... Ofcourse I need to clean up once my work is done to enable the space to be used for its original purpose.

    Because of the space, and the fact I live in an apartment, my woodworking tools are mostly hand tools except for the electric drill...

  2. I saw your website. Great work! Your tool list is right too. We often get caught up with tools and don't realise that doing something is more important than what tools you have. Great examples in your site too. Let DIY people in India unite!

  3. That is a great list of tools needed. I think I should really invest in some good measuring tools. Why did you say a skil grinder did not work to sharpen tools? Was it too crude?. What about the 'emery stones' that are available in hardware shops? I use one of them to sharpen my chisels, but I am not sure if it is actually sharp enough.
    Space is a great constraint for me. Could you also mention what kind of clamps are a must? The only claps available in the hardware shop nearby seem to be thin ones that will pinch the wood really bad.

  4. Grinder Problem: It shaves off a lot of metal and requires very precise placement of the blade or else it won't really sharpen. Besides, the grinding wheel generates a lot of heat and can sometimes ruin the temper of a steel blade.

    Emery stones - I suppose you mean the carborundum ones with two grits? They are fine.

    There are a huge variety of clamps available - check the net and see the pix of my clamps I just added to this post.

  5. Anonymous13 May, 2012

    hi indira!! myself kuldip singh from india but now i m stettle in also hobbyist woodworker.please check my youtube page.
    hope you would like it.

  6. With regards to the clamps sections. The G/C clamps are readily available but the other types are not. While visiting I came across Dremel 2505 Bar Clamps which spread to about 4 inches and cost about 1k. Since this site is based in chennai I should be visiting shortly to pick up the Bosch XTi kit as I need a countersink bit, which is hard to get separately. When am there will check on these clamps. They also have a work table which folds. My uncle has one like this he picked up abroad, he says its pretty good. I dont know how the skil one would be though.

  7. To Karl Moses: Regarding the folding table, you must mean the benchmate which is a pretty useful thing. I saw it once at a store but it was not for sale. Let us know more about it. As for the Dremel clamps, please check how strong they are; I suspect their clamping pressure is not much and 1k is a lot. Try the Irwin Quick Grip clamps on amazon, they might work out cheaper. I got a whole set of them.

  8. Hi,

    Came across your website when looking for DIY techniques in wood working in india...

    I am looking to pick up simple woodworking - plan to start with making wooden blocks in various sizes (as toys) for my kids! will appreciate any advice on the basic setup i will need to start off. I am guessing i will need a worktable, steel rules, handsaw and sandpaper. Can you also please advise on the type of wood and colours to use for these?

    I am a total n00b - look forward to any advice i can get...

    Raghu (Pune)

  9. Raghu: A worktable of some sort would be required but it could be any table, even a dining table. To prevent it being ruined, lay out a piece of MDF or plywood on top of it while working. To make simple blocks, you would need clamps or a vice of some sort to hold the pieces while you cut them (check out my blog on 3 Easy Work Holding Solutions). You will of course need a saw, maybe a coping saw would be useful if you wish to cut shapes. Plenty of sandpaper and some sort of finish. Best of luck.


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