Ne•an•der•thal  \nēˈan-dər-thôl: a rapidly growing species of knuckle-dragging hominids found in quiet woodworking shops where power tools have been spurned in favor of manual alternatives

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While you may not get rid of your stock of sandpaper altogether, a smoothing plane, such as this No. 4 from Lie-Nielsen, will make you think twice about using anything below 220 grit.

Ne*an*der*thal \nēˈan-dər-thôl — n 1: (Homo neanderthalensis) a rapidly growing species of knuckle-dragging hominids found in quiet woodworking shops where power tools have been spurned in favor of manual alternatives.

Unless you have been living in a cave, you've noticed all the chatter about hand-tool woodworking these days. Five years ago, I turned off my powered machines and committed completely to the Neanderthal route. (I have four power outlets in my shop, and three of them are for my stereo—which I can now hear.)

But I found that shopping for hand tools involves the same slippery slope as power tools: If you're not careful, you'll end up with a shop full of shiny iron and no money left to purchase wood. If you have a power-tool-centric shop and find yourself hand-tool curious, here are three hand tools that will get your foot in the cave door while perfectly supplementing the power-tool shop.

Shannon Rogers
Shannon Rogers with his hand-tool trifecta

Smooth moves with a smoothing plane

You don't need a bevy of bench planes until you want to try your hand at milling rough stock by hand. For now, pick up a decent smoothing plane [top]. Smoothers can be adjusted to take both light and medium cuts to break a sharp edge, fine-tune an end or angle using a shooting board, or smooth a surface. Two areas where you'll see instant benefits from a smoother: You'll cut your sanding time in half or more. And, with a reliable vise, you'll drop the risk-to-life-and-limb approach to tweaking small parts on the tablesaw and router table.

The all-in-one joinery tool: A carcass saw

Next, pick up a backsaw—more specifically a carcass saw [below]. This 12–14" crosscut handsaw cuts boards to length precisely. And with surprisingly little practice, you'll be cutting any kind of joint you can dream up—from dadoes and half-laps to tenons and dovetails—all without fussing with a shopful of specialized power-tool jigs. With a carcass saw, if you can see the line, you can saw the line.

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How long does it take to set up your mitersaw to cut a compound angle? With a carcass saw, you can skip the fussing. Simply lay out your line, then saw to it.

Chisels are a shop's best friend

Not a single woodworking project leaves my bench that hasn't had multiple touches with a chisel. Of course, I'm cheating a bit, because finding a single chisel to do many jobs is tough. But a small set consisting of 14 ", 38 ", 12 ", and 112  " widths lets you cut many joints or refine a fit after your power tools rough it out. The narrow ones square off routed mortises or clean up tenon shoulders. The wider ones work like planes to smooth tenon cheeks or bust out the meat of a dado [below]. And they require no jigs, setup, or instruction manual; only a little quiet practice.

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Practice making a dado or rabbet using nothing but a chisel, and you'll learn volumes about just how powerful and efficient this small, all-purpose tool can be.