Hand Tools Option for Hobbyists

Age old tools and methods
Most men have a thing for tools; it feels great collecting them and figuring out what they are capable of. Most times though they end up sitting in boxes, only to be pulled out occasionally for the odd job or a spot of required cleaning. Tools are grown up men's toys. So it is not surprising many individuals who set out to be hobbyist woodworkers or DIY die-hards, end up becoming tool collectors. Nothing wrong with this but if the object is to make things, then a different approach is called for.

When I began experimenting with woodworking a couple of years ago, my principal source of information was the Internet with its woodworking blogs and many online stores. Most of these were US based and the emphasis clearly was on power tools, large roomy workshops and a variety of ingenious jigs, fixtures and work aids. I felt that I could not do proper or good quality woodworking without investing on some of these products. Today, I realise that is not entirely true.

While a number of power tools greatly aid woodworking, only a handful of them are essential. I also discovered that hobbyists in Europe, unlike their American counterparts, do not usually have the luxury of dedicated workshops or an assortment of expensive power tools. In Europe hobbyists tend to use a lot more hand tools and would make do with rudimentary work benches housed in a spare room or area. However, hobbyists in Europe enjoy a great advantage in that they can buy perfectly milled lumber locally, relatively cheaply and easily.

The Indian hobbyist, in comparison, is severely handicapped. He does have much space, expensive power tools or access to good quality milled lumber. Wood can be milled, cut and sized by hand but it is a tedious and difficult process; it is here that power tools excel. A band saw can slice through logs; a planer (jointer in American parlance) can perfectly flatten a surface; thicknessers (planers in the US) can bring down the flattened piece to a consistent desired thickness; and table saws can quickly and precisely cut wood to the sizes desired.

So where does that leave the Indian hobbyist? A decent planer-thicknesser costs more than a couple of lakh rupees, weighs 500 kilos or more and creates a hideous racket when operated. Owning one is rarely feasible. Bench top saws are cheaper and less bulky but even these might not always be an option. One solution is to get the lumber milled and cut to precise dimensions at a woodworking shop found in most areas where lumber is sold. The milling may not be perfect but it would usually be good enough, nothing that a bit of planning and/or sawing could not fix.

The other option is to work with plywood, board, MDF and finger-jointed rubber wood sheets. All these materials do not need to be planed or thicknessed; they only need to be cut to size. The third option is to occasionally take the trouble of milling and cutting wood by hand. This is not so difficult as time consuming, yet also extremely satisfying.

I find that an Indian hobbyist really requires only three power tools: an electric drill, a medium sized hand held router and a smallish circular saw. Sanders, chop saws, jig saws and what have you are entirely optional and frankly not required. It is of course a different matter if one is setting up a woodworking production unit.


Circular Saw

Power Drill

All that is essential for making stuff as a hobby is a set of good quality hand tools, some sort of sharpening system and good technique. That’s it, nothing fancy, no elaborate set ups and expensive purchases. However, it is important to know what tools are essential and which need to be top notch.

Measuring and marking tools
Without these making decent projects in wood is simply not possible. Measuring and marking accurately is the first step in the process. The tools required include a combination square, a decent straightedge, an accurate tape measure, a mortise gauge and a sharp marking knife. Dividers, a calliper, a 3 inch square, a level and a depth gauge would make good add-ons.

Cutting Tools
A large rip saw, a fine toothed backsaw, a set of bevel edged chisels, a couple of mortise chisels (1/4 and 3/8 inch would do fine), a small hack saw, a coping saw, a couple of gouges would be more than enough.

Finishing and Shaping Tools
A hand plane is both a finishing and shaping tool and come in a bewildering assortment of varieties. The essential ones in my view are three: a block plane, a No 4 smoothing plane and a long No 7 or No 8 Jointer plane. A couple of files and rasps, a steel scraper and sanding pads would complete this list.

Sharpening Tools
There are many methods for sharpening hand tools but in India sharpening is almost invariably done with a double sided abrasive stone. There are two grits available on these stones: one rough (225 grit) and the other fine (600 grit). This is enough for most jobs but for super sharpening a different method is called for. One good method is to use a range of sandpapers, ranging from 120 to 2000 grit. The other methods include the use of water stones and diamond stones.  Some methods clearly are more expensive than others. 

Fixing Tools
Just hammers and a few screwdrivers of different sizes will suffice - no need for cordless screwdrivers and automatic nailers.

Miscellaneous Tools
Clamps of all kinds are absolutely essential for any kind of woodworking and a few basic ones should be purchased at the outset. A nail set (used for hammering nails below the surface), a nail remover tool and so on are useful. 

A hobbyist is usually in no hurry to complete projects and is not into churning out pieces by the dozen. The aim is to derive satisfaction from producing something useful, pleasing or aesthetic. For this, nothing beats the hand tools approach.

Unlike power tools that generate huge amounts of wood chips, fine dust and so on, with hand tools there is no need for complex dust extraction systems nor is there any need to have large areas (preferably sound proof) within which to work. Working with hand tools is also much safer – thousands of accidents take place in the west because of power tools. People routinely loose body parts and receive serious injuries. According to one statistic, power tools are the cause of 400,000 emergency room visits every year in the US alone. So why go down that route? Learn to make good use of hand tools and you could be surprised at how easy is to make great projects in wood.

Indranil Banerjie
11 May 2013


  1. Hello sir,

    I am a S/W professional working in Bangalore. I came across your blog while searching for guidance about powertool in India for wood working.

    I am new to wood working. I Have been always wanted to build with wood. Could you please guide me with power tools selection. Initially i am planning to build simple coffee table with Plywood and veneer.Butt joins with screews.

    Which Circular saw and electric drill would you suggest for working with plywood.

  2. Akhil: There are a number of companies that make excellent power tools, including drills and circular saws. Check my blog on power tool companies at http://indiandiy.blogspot.in/search/label/Power Tool Companies

    You could then go to their websites and check out their products. Best wishes.

  3. Thanks Sir, I had been to Bosch DIY center in Bangalore over weekend. I was interested in GKS 190(7 inch cutter). Salesman said I could go for GDC M34. He said its smaller with 4 inch blade and easier handle. But when looked up online GDC 34M is marble cutter.

    Do marble cutters work for plywood as well or it has to be fitted with different blade?

    Sorry i am troubling you lot. This is my first time in DIY of any sort.


  4. Akhil: Hardly any trouble! I am mystified as to why a Bosch salesman should suggest you buy a marble cutter instead of a circular saw. The two saws use very different kinds of blades. The salesman either is ignorant, as is often the case, or wants to get rid of unwanted inventory. Please stick to a circular saw. The GKS 190 is fine but there are a lot of other excellent options.

  5. Hi Indranil,

    With regards to the Marble cutter vs the circular saw, there is a very good reason for why the salesman had referred Akhil to buy a marble cutter. Usually the case is that they ask you what sort of wood and what of work you are going to be doing, not all but most do, and if your answer is that you are going to be working predominantly with plywood and lighter wood which goes to a maximum of an inch and a half, then most of the time they would recommend you to get a marble cutter and then fix a zero insert on it. Now the RPM of the cutter and the blades that are available make this cutter ideal to cut plywood. However, a circular saw is usually recommended if you intend to do heavy duty cutting of solid wood more than a inch thick, which most DIY and basic carpenters do not do. Just because they are called marble cutters and were in fact primarily designed for marble i would not discount them. As you know i had picked up a Makita 5 inch marble cutter and have inserted a zero insert. They are pretty good for straight cuts in plywood and in fact last evening while building a linen box/trundle combo i had had to make a cut of an edge of about 3-4 mm, and i had done this using my marble cutter with an torpedo level as an edge guide and it came out pretty well, even though i am not really adept at using the marble cutter as of yet and am still in the process of learning.

    Hope this clears up something and sorry am still not able to post pictures on here or i would to show you how i went about fixing a zero insert on my marble cutter, though i finally went with laminated plywood instead of acrylic due to the heat factor.

    Akhil, there are 2 sizes available 4 and 5 inch. With the 5 inch if you put a thicker insert then you have more stability and you can still use a 4 inch blade for thinner plywoods.


  6. Dear Akhil, to specifically answer your questions with regards to the marble cutter. A 4-inch marble cutter is pretty compact and easy to handle when compared to a 5-inch marble cutter. Though safety precautions when handling power tools still apply as this is a sharp metallic blade spinning at about 10k RPM.

    With respect to blades there are quite a few available as most carpenters use either a marble cutter or a table saw to cut plywood, though predominantly marble cutters as they are much more portable. CUMI makes wood blades and so does Bosch, they have about 40 teeth or so, though the Bosch ones tend to be a bit more costlier than the CUMI ones. These are the 2 brands that i use so i am mentioning them. I am pretty sure there are many more brands out there. Also i have a guy, who sharpens these blades when they get blunt for about 1 ruppee per tooth, so they cost me 40 buck to get sharp again.

    To roundup if you are going to be cutting plywood of an inch or less, than a 4 inch cutter would make sense, though you would still need to get an insert put in to cut in a straight line. I had gone in for the 5 inch as i put in a thicker insert so that it cuts down on blade wobble which is something inherent with marble cutters, there is a tine bit of blade wobble, i have seen it across a lot of brands.

    Hope this provides with you some info on what you are looking for.

  7. Akhil,

    As far as drills are concerned, you need to figure out what you are going to use the drill for. If it is predominantly woodwork, then a 10 mm drill would suffice. If you are also going to be drilling into concrete too, then a 13 mm hammer drill would be idea. You can also go in for a Rotary Hammer, thought that will be heavier and is used only for concrete.

    What i would suggest is a 13 hammer drill for both wood and concrete and maybe a cordless drill for mostly woodwork. You can pick up a 13 mm bosch kit for about 4500 which comes packaged with bits and also some handtools or a locally sourced one which would cheaper. Cordless drills on the other hand are much costlier, unless you go in for a chinese knock off which will cost you about 2200 with a couple of batteries thrown in. Hope this helps.


  8. Karl: I would still advice you not to use a marble cutter to cut wood. Why use a machine designed to cut stone to cut wood? By the way, I have yet to find a Bosch blade for cutting wood that will fit into a marble cutter! The geometry of wood cutting and marble cutting/stone cutting blades is very different, and there are some safety issues involved such as binding. Besides, the marble cutter will not even cut one and half inch thick wood while a circular saw GKS 190 can cut almost 3 inches deep. The marble cutter will barely cut 3/4 inch thick wood at 45 degrees. Perhaps the biggest negative is the high speed a marble cutter runs at (12,000 rpm), which is twice the speed of a circular saw (5,500 rpm). A table saw runs even slower at about 3600 rpm. The higher the cutting speed the lower the life of the blade and greater the heat generated during cutting. That is why marble cutters have provision for cooling the cutter with water. Not so in the case of slower running circular saws. I would advice Akhil to stick with a circular saw for cutting wood cleanly and safely.

  9. Karl: Perhaps you were right after all about the marble cutters.

    Here is a post from a fellow woodworker:

    "There the trainer also suggested that most of the small time carpenters prefer marble cutter for cutting plywood and being compact it is easier for them to carry in their bag and they dont have to keep changing the depth of cut. So he says for my proposed online shop, i can market marble cutter fitted with a woodcutting blade(bosch has got 4" and 5" wood cutting blades, specially fit into these. In fact, he said, carpenters want a fixed marble cutter model (without angle adjustment) so that they are sure of getting a 90 degree cut and they dont want any depth adjustment, as most of the time they would be ripping or cross cutting 19mm ply or MDF."

    1. Actually, many "professional", fine cabinet maker carpenters prefer a marble cutter to a professional saw - apart from the 90 degree stuff there are couple of other reasons aswell; atleast I got to know these from one

      a. consumables (blades" for the 4 or 5" "marble cutters are much cheaper - usually 1/4 or 1/5 the cost of a 7.25" saw and generally both last the same amount of time (??? ). He also mentioned that 7.25" blades are not as easily available as 4" or 5" blades and I agree - not that one needs to change blades often - but they are quite difficult to procure atleast here. Most shops do not stock them or one has to pre-order - takes about a week.

      b. Light weight being a major factor - the carpenter said - weight makes a BIG difference especially when cutting "large" sheets of MDF or plywood - smaller weight means less wobble (?)

      c. By and far the MOST important reason he mentioned was the placement of the MOtor - on the right (which according to him was a BIG plus - it is quite suited for right hand use and also it was easy to see the kerf/cut line as one goes - ironically this "right-optimised" motor placement is tagged "left-hand-saw" by most european/american manufacturers including milwaukee, ryobi etc.

      As for the carpenter - he is a traditional carpenter with atleast 4 generations traceable to traditional wood working. He is a professional who has done a lot of commercial carpentry for big restaurants, malls, showrooms in Mumbai and also fine cabinetry contract work (wardrobe, modular kitchen etc.) for builders like Raheja, Kolte Patil, Rustomjee etc. (Big names in Mumbai).

      The guy was kind of surprised when I asked him all this and when I showed him my modest collection of tools - he was flabbergasted and said 'Do you get time to do all this sahib?'; Seeing my interest in woodworking, he invited me to his workshop - and I was astonished - almost 80% of the work is done by hand - and when I asked him why dont you use power tools, his reply was very simple but profound - 'Masterpieces that transcend time were (and are still) made by hand using traditional craftsmanship techniques.'


  10. Hi Indranil, Stumbled this blog searching about Endico router! You have very valuable information, Thanks.

    @Akhil: I'll second with Indranil about circular saw. I'm yet to see a good wood cutting blade for marble saw (that includes china-made-bosch sold in India). When my brother got his wardrobes done, the carpenters were using marble cutter with wood cutting blade. He used almost 5 blade before he finished two bedrooms and hall. We always could smell the burnt wood (blackened cuts). I would not suggest! Just my two-cents!
    Also, I'm very much curious to see your butt joint with plywood! My understanding is that ply needs rabbet joint to be strong!!

  11. DV Praveen: Interesting to hear about the use of marble cutters - your observation about them burning wood confirms my suspicions.

  12. Stone is cut through abrasion where as wood is cut by sharp edge. As such a high speed is good for cutting stone. I'm not sure how speed effects wood cutting. I'm sure there is some optimum speed to get good splinter free cuts. Also blade is important. Blade geometry is important. Always get a tool which is accurate and gives more flexibility in terms of range of uses

  13. Indranil, Thank you so much for your posts. I am very new to carpentry. I have 1 cft of Indian Mahagoni with 1/2 inch thickness. I am planning to make a dovetailed box as a gift to mom. I got a saw called the magic saw. There are a number of minute interchangeable blades which has approx 17 tpi, I can put the blade in whichever direction (forwards or backwards). will this do for my job or i have to get a gent saw? I have started practising skills in plywood but unfortunately my neighbours are getting irritated. Could you please suggest some tips for improving my skills? Next, what size chisels are needed and where can i buy them from? Pllease through some light on the planer and sand paper, how to use when to use etc. Please note that am planning only to make small boxes and nothing more than that. One more thing about the 'vice' the setup you have is too much for me. I just want something to hold the stock while I am working ( i do have a big table at home)

  14. To anonymous: I am curious to know where you got Indian mahogany from, what it is and how much it cost?
    As for your box making, the magic saw sounds fine although I am not familiar with it. As long as it cuts cleanly, it should work. Practice by making vertical and angled cuts for dovetails on pieces of scrap. As for chisels, you will need regular bevel chisels but of a few different sizes starting from 1/8 inch. The source will depend on where you are living. Hand planes are a big subject but try tod procure a good No 4 plane, which will do for most work. I will post something on handplanes soon. Lastly, work could be held down for planing with double sided tape - the foam variety for plugging gaps in wondows will work or carpet tape. For cutting dovetails you need to hold your work vertically and for that you will either need some sort of a vice or a clamp to hold it tight against the side of some furniture. Anyway, good luck and best wishes.

  15. To Karl: I have a marble cutter. I have to cut few plywood board. Please suggest how to fix a zero insert on my marble cutter. Also, is their a specific blades available in Indian market to cut through ply and wood.

    1. There are blades specifically for cutting wood that fit marble cutters. They should be available where power tools and accessories are sold.

  16. Shridhar Latkar08 January, 2016

    Thanks Indranil... I am new to this wood work....as a hobby i have my first kit...bosch 13RE drill kit. As a second essential tool i am finding plywood cutter...after searching i was confused between marble cutter (cheaper than circular saw) and circular saw (double the price of marble cutter)..After reading your blog, I am convinced and very much decided to buy circular saw for Wood cutting.

    Kindly suggest me the brand - model to buy a good circular saw for home use only (as a new DIYer)

    Thank you.

    1. My dear Shridhar, I am glad you decided to buy a circular saw rather than a marble cutter for cutting plywood. There are many brads out there with very different price ranges. A lot of Indian manufacturers also make good power tools. Bosch makes very good circular saws but they tend to be expensive. Perhaps you could buy a skil saw to beging with and see how it works for you. A Skil saw should cost less than rs 4,000 and perhaps an even better and cheaper option would be to buy a Cumi circular saw. Check out the power tool dealers in your city before making a decision. All large Indian cities have thriving power tools markets; you should have to find your local one. Best of luck.

    2. Shridhar Latkar08 January, 2016

      Thank you Indranil Sir, I have short listed Bosch GKS 7000 Rs.5472. other brands feedback were not satisfactory compared to bosch. so decided to go with bosch...but costlier. I am in touch with Amazon.in very day..hopes price may come down. As you said to check out with local dealers.....i had learnt prices are very high compared to amazon.in.

      Thank you again for your valuable suggestion.

      If you feel any thing / ideas / advice to buy circular saw ....please reply.

  17. Shridhar Latkar09 January, 2016

    Dear Indranil, just i found Planet Power EC 4R 110mm, Wood Cutter for Rs.2,200/- is it good decision? pl suggest

  18. Shridhar, I cannot say as I have no knowledge of the particular make. However, you won't go very wrong as Rs 2,200 is not much:) Also check the power of the saw - it should be above 1k watts to be effective.

  19. Hi shridhar,

    Have been using EC4 for last 2 years and it's an stable and a perfect cutter. If your need is repetitively plywood cutting with only straight cut, portability with cost focus just go for it, will vouch for planet power ec 4.

    But if you are a hobbyist like most of us here are I would recommend you to go for circular saw even better would be table saw, apart from easy of use, angled cuts it also offers protection and height adjustment which cutters do not offer and today price difference is marginal check out tolexo I bought few stuff at a good price from them.

  20. Hi All,

    I have found this blog and felt happy that we too have wood working hobbyists in India like me :) I have recently started wood working as a hobby.. I have been using local marble cutter with wood cutting blade it works amazing.. I am able to cut sharp and smooth edges of BWP Plywood. I will be happy to be part of this blog and interact and get suggestions.

    1. Imran, welcome to woodworking! Best of luck and if there is anyway I can help do not hesitate to ask.

  21. Hi Indranil,
    I have been reading all your blogs with gr8 interest. Recently I bought a B-CM5 Bull Power Tools - for wood working with Wood cutting blade. However, I later realised that the seller handed me a Marble cutter eventhough I asked for wood cutting saw machine.

    I tried cutting MDF - it generated lot of smoke and wood getting burnt. Initially I thought it could be MDF then I tried Plywood still that also gets burnt. speed is 14000 RPM. Since I have already spend 2200 rupees, I want to effectively use it rather than dump it to the corner of my house. This product does not have warranty card nor that seller has given me proper bill with no details of phone numbers nor any CST details. So it is just a katcha bill. I am not aware of any service centers in India for Bull Power Tools. I tried googling on the internet but could not find this product blogs at all. Similar kind of tool I saw from Planet which matches in look and design but I am not sure.

    Moreover, my 5 inch blade is cutting the front guard of the saw machine. Should I be using 100 mm which 4 inch which is recommended in 3 pages printed brochure and would not rub against the front guard for the blade.

    Why so much of smoke generation and why my wood gets burned - Is it blade or saw cutting machine to do something bad in this matter. Please need your useful suggestions in this.


    1. You clearly have been conned. A marble cutter, in my opinion, is a lousy choice for cutting wood. The only thing you could do to use it would be to buy a Bosch carbide blade which will cut wood as well as anything else> These blades cost 40-50 rupees each and are worth it.

  22. Sir, is this a reason my wood gets burnt. and why so much of smoke gets generated. pls answer. I know somewhere I have got cheated but I have to live with it. Thanks for your prompt response

  23. Hi Indranil -

    I went out to get a circular saw, but then saw this Bosch GDC 120 cutter and got it as it is much smaller, costs lesser and I figured, would suffice for my purposes. Now I am a little concerned, primarily because it does not have the kind of base plate / shoe that circular saws have - I overlooked this when buying it. Without that kind of shoe, I cannot guide it against a long piece of wood for straight cuts.

    This question is for anyone who has used a marble cutter for ply/wood: how are you guiding it?

    Another question: is there a significant difference in noise levels between circular saw and marble cutter, when used to cut ply/wood?

    As for the 'burning' issue, I'll find out when I start using it; right now the problem of guiding it is holding me back. I'll need to make a number of 3' long cuts and I don't think I can do such a long cut free-hand.


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