Can You Make Furniture Without Power Tools? Here’s All You Need

A small collection of old hand tools and nails.

All too often, people are inspired to make a simple piece of furniture only to have their hopes dashed when they look up instructions online and find that a long list of expensive power tools is recommended and the instructions are way too complicated. 

They fail before they ever begin because it just seemed too overwhelming. Isn’t there any other way to craft a basic furniture piece?

Can you make furniture without power tools? Many furniture items, such as tables, shelves, bookcases, bed frames, stools, and benches, can be made using only basic hand tools. A saw and hammer are essential, but for more detailed work, chisels, planes, vises, clamps, and a manual drill will be useful as well.

You’ll be surprised by what you can create using just a few humble hand tools and your own two hands. Why let a lack of power tools stop you from pursuing your dreams?

What Types of Furniture Can Be Made Without Power Tools?

Many, many types of furniture can be crafted using only basic hand tools.

In fact, before the invention of the first power tool, a heavy electric drill in 1895, all furniture was made using only tools powered by human hands.

Beds, tables, chairs, rocking chairs, cribs, cabinets, whatever was needed had to be made with manual tools.

Many examples of these handmade pieces are still around today and show the careful, quality craftsmanship that went into each piece.

Why Use Only Hand Tools?

Before electric tools existed, people had no other options but to use what they had. 

Today, there are a multitude of power tools available designed to get the job done quickly and accurately to make our work easier. 

So, why would someone today want to make furniture without the help of power tools? Well, there are several reasons.

  • There is a certain degree of satisfaction and pride that comes from making things by hand, the “old” way.
  • Some people don’t care for the noise of big equipment.
  • Others want to make their own furniture to save money, and buying expensive power tools would defeat that goal.
  • Working with hand tools allows you to improve basic skills and become deeply involved with your project.
  • Some prefer the rustic charm that results when only manual tools are used.

There are a plethora of furniture plans out there for beginners, but you know what? A lot of them call for fairly complex joinery like dovetail joints or mortise and tenon joints.

For someone brand new to woodworking, this can definitely be overwhelming.

The good news is that there are plenty of pieces you can make with just a saw, a hammer, a few nails, some sandpaper, and a bit of creativity.

Once you gain a bit of experience and fall in love with the hobby, you can pick up a few more tools so you can branch out with your skills, but for now, keep it simple and stick to the basics.

Examples of What You Can Make

Using the most basic of tools, you’ll be somewhat limited in terms of fancy joinery and design elements, but all that can come later once you’re more comfortable working with wood

Speaking from experience, you can make attractive, sturdy, functional furniture items with just the basics. 

I personally have made bed frames, bookcases, shelving units, and nightstands with just a saw and a hammer. 

  • Did it take a bit longer than if I had used power tools? Sure.
  • Could the items pass as professionally made? Probably not, but that wasn’t my intention anyway.
  • Did I enjoy the entire process, make pieces that my family uses everyday, and produce items of which I’m proud? Absolutely.
  • Regrets? None.

I’d recommend starting with something that you truly have a use for. That will motivate you to take your time and give it your best shot. 

Look through the following ideas for some inspiration for your first project.

Tables

Tables of all shapes and sizes are possible. Don’t limit yourself. Nightstands, side tables, picnic tables, entryway tables, etc. are all fairly easy to assemble with just a saw and hammer.

Shelves

Shelving isn’t just limited to bookshelves, though that is a great project for a beginner.

You can make shelves for your bathroom to hold soap and towels, DVD and CD shelves, kitchen shelves to store your herbs and spices, and even a basic entertainment center to hold your TV and gaming consoles.

Bed Frames

A simple platform bed or more standard bed frames can be put together in one afternoon, or you could challenge yourself with a canopy bed.

Throw together a simple headboard (those made of reclaimed wood are all the rage now) and you’ll really have something to be proud of.

Stools and Benches

Basic seating doesn’t need to be extravagant or complex, just functional. Four-legged stools are quite easy to make, as are benches.

Top either with a comfortable cushion and no one will be able to guess you made it without power tools.

Tip: To hide the nailheads, drive them slightly below the wood’s surface and use wood filler to cover them up. Sand smooth, then paint or stain.

Basic Tools Needed

As mentioned earlier, you want to keep things simple at first. There’s no need to go out and buy armloads of new tools. 

By starting small and focusing on the most basic of designs, you’ll learn what tools would be most beneficial to you for when you’re ready to progress to more advanced work.

Claw Hammer

You likely already have one of these, but if you don’t, this is a must-have tool. 

I have a variety of different sizes and weights, but I’d have to say that the Estwing 16 ounce is my favorite.

It’s comfortable to drive nails with, great for ripping out the inevitable mistakes, and is made from a single piece of American steel.

Saw

A regular hand saw will be enough to handle most of your needs when you’re first getting started. I personally use a Craftsman

Be aware that after multiple projects, you’ll find that the teeth have dulled somewhat.

I hate to throw things away, but the truth is that it’s often easier to buy a new saw than it is to find someone who knows how to properly sharpen the blade.

Another saw that will be worth having is a backsaw like a carcass or tenon saw. These have a sturdy wood or metal spine on the top of the blade to give the saw rigidity.

Backsaws are ideal for any detailed cutting work, like making dovetail joints.

Additional Hand Tools You’ll Come to Appreciate

Chisels

While you may not need them for your first few projects, eventually you’ll want to add a few different sized chisels to your tool box. 

Chisels are used in conjunction with a mallet for shaping, removing chunks, and creating recessed areas. 

My first set was by Grebstk with beveled-edged chisels ranging in size from ¼ inch to 1 inch, and I still use them today.

Plane

Planes are used to shape, smooth rough patches, or flatten areas on wood, giving your projects  a more professional look.

Most woodworking experts recommend starting out with a basic block plane before progressing to a smoothing plane or a jointer plane.

Vise or Clamps

Having a way to hold boards securely in place is invaluable. A vise that mounts to your workbench will hold your project firmly leaving your hands free to work. I use my Yost vise all the time.

There are many clamps available, such as T-stand, pipe, hand screw, and spring clamps, but for now, a good set of bar clamps should suffice. 

Use these to hold wood when sawing or to hold multiple pieces firmly in place until glue dries. Once you see how useful they are, you won’t want to be without them ever again.

Hand Crank Drill

When you’re ready to graduate from nails to screws, you’ll want a drill.

Although power drills are awesome, a quality manual drill, like the one I use by Frylr, does an outstanding job and only uses muscle power.