This question came up and although it's a common type of question, it is not very well-suited to the SE format. I put it on hold as too broad because there are many equally valid answers which will vary depending on the types of projects and each person's experience and budget.

How do I know what tools I need?

These types of questions have endless discussion threads on other sites. How can we address them in a way that sufficiently limits their scope?

One thought that comes to mind is to not actually suggest any tools or types of tools, but instead offer generic suggestions on how to determine what tools are necessary to build a given project.

  • I edited my question roughly but I'm still not sure if it fits the format here. Thanks for looking to improve it. :)
    – user2251
    Commented May 16, 2016 at 22:44
  • Another idea. What about narrowing it down to exclude sheets of wood but only long narrow pieces instead that can be cut to shorter lengths.
    – user2251
    Commented May 16, 2016 at 22:48
  • The edit does make it more appropriate for the site, although it unfortunately invalidates the existing answers which is a separate problem. Yes, narrowing the scope to a single operation or technique would certainly help. Ultimately, doing any woodworking project involves breaking it down into smaller components, figuring out how the parts fit together, and figuring out the steps required to make each part. Understanding the most common options for tools and techniques to produce each part would be much more manageable within the limitations of the SE format.
    – rob Mod
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 3:28

6 Answers 6


The best way to handle this question, unfortunately, really is the sort of discussion or poll that is anathema on Stack Exchange... Or a fully curated article, which is not against SE policy but which doesn't leverage out strengths and can already be found many places on the web.

SE has picked, and defends, its niche. With the advantages thereof come costs. There are good questions we may want to answer but that our normal process can't handle, and the exceptional process requires that someone make an exceptional effort.

I'm sorry, but given how hard SE has worked to beat it's "answerable questions only" policy into folks, including myself, I'm gonna have to say "this is what you said you wanted; live with it." Otherwise your ability to defend the policies for other, less desirable, cases takes a big hole below the waterline and starts sinking rapidly.

Great question, but very much not an SE Question as SE has positioned itself. The correct answer within the rules is to close it but invite the OP to ask specific questions about tools and tasks.

I've been trying to ignore it precisely because I didn't want to be a rules lawyer about something that is mostly harmless... But you asked, and that's my official answer as I understand SE policy and goals. And it's their system.

Related: http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/09/good-subjective-bad-subjective/ ... But reading that, I have real trouble concluding that this question would fly without being a lot more specific.


The question as it is currently written is too broad.

There are too many potential needs of beginner tool sets as the current answers have shown. It all depends what you are trying to do and there is no one stop shop for that. I think this question would be fine if it was narrowed down to the tools potentially used in this one particular project. If we suggested people get [X] tools when they might not end up needing them I would feel we would be doing the users an injustice.

I look at that question as for this one project.

What tools do I need [as a beginner] doing this specific project?

That is how everyone usually starts. There is one project they try to do themselves and then from there the tool collection builds over time. In the case of woodworkers it is an endless road where we keep collecting. Most of these questions stem from a particular project or endeavor. I think we should just limit it to that and reference this Meta in the future for when this comes up again.

If the OP would be more satisfied with advice I would bring them into Chat and start up a conversation there.

  • Yes, I think this is going in the right direction but could be broken down even further. In fact, we've had some questions which started out as How do I build this project--specifically, these parts? and they were further broken down into multiple questions in the format, How do I make this part of this project?
    – rob Mod
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 3:34
  • @rob I guess that all depends on the complexity of the project and materials available. If more questions can come as a result I suppose that would have to come on a case by case basis.
    – Matt
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 10:29
  • I agree although the folding clothes hamper is on the upper end of what we can answer in a single question, and even that requires a scope limitation otherwise we could get a pretty good start on outfitting a power tool shop with a table saw/bandsaw, drill press, and more if it's within budget. As I mentioned in comments on Ashlar's answer, on its face this project looks like an easy build that can be built with minimal tools, but it could require a more tools if your motivation is learning joinery or building something from a single board, vs. I just want to say I built something.
    – rob Mod
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 13:44

I think that a "how do I know what I need?" question would be a good way of handling all kinds of beginner tool questions. I would be interested to know the answer and I'm sure others would too. I have no problem editing my question or asking a new one.

Additionally, I imagine there are some tools which may prove useful for many different use cases (measuring tools, etc) and it would be great to learn about those too.


For questions of this nature, which are clearly subjective with myriad correct answers, this community should recognize two things:

  1. These questions are not appropriate and do not play to the strengths of Stack Exchange sites.
  2. Simply closing them or putting them on hold is not particularly welcoming for the poster, many of whom will be new to the site. We need another alternative.

My suggestions are to either convert the question to a list of places where woodworkers can have this discussion or to curate such a list and provide it directly in the comment when putting the question on hold. A list is no longer subjective. Either the individual elements on the list support that sort of discussion or they don't. Thus, I believe it is a fair question to ask on SE sites.

Even if the community ultimately decides even asking for lists of other places where subjective discussions take place is not acceptable, what's the harm in curating one possible list and providing it as a part of closing the question? The benefit is clear: “We don't answer subjective questions, but these places do” is far more welcoming than “We don't answer subjective questions.” If Stack Exchange is neither interested nor well-positioned for this type of discussion, then a curated list of places where these discussions take place could be used in virtually every response to a subjective question of this nature. It's not even like we would be linking to competitor sites because we're actually defining those questions as out of scope.


The idea of closing a question like this being too broad is one I have a bit of a problem agreeing with. With regards to this specific question, I see a user who is just getting started and does not know where to start and he is looking for general advise. There are several answers and, yes, they have a variety of ideas. There is not a single good answer, but the asker is getting a lot of good ideas.

I have not done a search of previous questions and assume that this question is not a repeat. I would keep this question open let others respond. When someone asks a very similar question in the future we should close it as being a duplicate, but the question seems legitimate to me

  • 2
    The problem is precisely that any answer is potentially just as valid as any other, and many answers may not be even remotely applicable to a future question which might get marked as a duplicate. If we were to limit the scope to a specific project or subset of projects (e.g., rectangular picture frames), that would be more reasonable...but "simple projects around the house" is just far too vague. If it is not possible to restrict the scope sufficiently, a common resolution is to simply recommend asking in chat or deferring to other sites which are more centered around discussion than Q&A.
    – rob Mod
    Commented May 16, 2016 at 22:26
  • 1
    OK, he did ask in the discussion forum and I suggested he form a question, which he did. Also he did show a specific project he wanted to accomplish in his question.
    – Ashlar Mod
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 3:46
  • I'm having a little trouble getting my head around this question scope issue. He is asking for what tools to use to make storage containers such as the pictured one, although I agree that when I first read it I interpreted it a bit more broadly. Would deleting the phrase "simple projects around the house" and focusing only on the one project make it acceptable?
    – Ashlar Mod
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 3:55
  • In this case it might, if only because there isn't much to the collapsible clothes hamper. You could buy some 1x2s and dowels, cut to length, drill a few holes, and glue the parts together. For this particular project, listing the motivation for the project and asking for the minimal set of tools within a certain budget would adequately restrict the scope. If the goal is to build it from 1 rough-sawn board, most people would opt to use more tools than if just cutting store-bought parts to length. Likewise, if the motivation is to practice joinery, that will require different tools.
    – rob Mod
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 5:55
  • 1
    There is also often a tradeoff between time & money. More time than money, use one set of tools and improvise a lot more, perhaps building more of your own tools, jigs, and fixtures. More money than time, use a different set of tools and perhaps buy more jigs and fixtures instead of making them yourself.
    – rob Mod
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 5:58

What is the harm in asking broad questions, or those with subjective answers?

Even if there is no single "best" answer, the responses may be useful, especially as ranked. Furthermore, nothing that I've ever seen in woodworking is without a plethora of different approaches, methods, and opinions. There is virtually never a single "best" answer.

See any discussion on sharpening, cutting dovetails, or finishing to see what I mean.

  • It seems like you're trying to ask a new question rather than answer the question at the top of this page, but we have some information in the Help Center which may help address your question. woodworking.stackexchange.com/help/asking
    – rob Mod
    Commented Jan 25, 2017 at 7:03

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