I've been baking bread for a few years now, but it is only this summer that I have invested in a bit of specialist bread making equipment. I wish I had done it earlier! The equipment makes a huge difference to the quality of your bread and is not expensive, especially if you use a little ingenuity.
Item 1: baking stone
The purpose of this is to simulate the effect of baking on the floor of a traditional oven. It heats up and retains heat, giving a better crust and helping your bread to rise and cook. If you buy a specialist baking stone it will set you back around GBP30 or more. However, I bought this nice solid granite chopping board (about 1.5cm thick) for GBP10 via Amazon from a company called Betterware. This one came with rubber pads stuck to the bottom, but they came off very easily with the help of a sharp knife and a quick scrub with a pan scourer. I was worried that it might not have great heat retention, but 2 hours after I had turned the oven off it was still pretty hot. The stone should be put in the oven before it is is turned on, and should be left in until it has coolled fully, otherwise it may crack.
Item 2: proving basket or banneton
These can be lined with cloth and made from cane, wicker or artificial materials. As the name suggests, you place your bread in them while it proves, thus preventing the bread from spreading at this stage. I bought this one from a company called Bakery Bits.
Item 3: timer
Okay, it's actually a mobile phone, but it has a timer application on it too, so that's good enough for me. There's nothing worse than going through the whole process of making bread, only to ruin it by taking your eye off the clock at the end.
Item 4: lame or grignette
This is basically a razor blade mounted on a long handle, and is used for slashing the top of the bread just before it is baked. In addition to helping the bread develop a nice, crunchy crust, this also controls where the gas escapes from the bread.
Item 5: peel
A peel is a wooden board or paddle used to transfer the risen loaves smoothly into the oven. If you are transferring wet dough directly onto a baking stone, then it's well worth investing in a super-peel. Otherwise, you may find it's okay to use a combination of stone and baking sheet.
Item 6: water spray
Not sure what was in this one before, but it does the trick. Use this to create a humid environment in your oven by giving it 15 to 20 very quick squirts just before putting your bread in the oven.