Getting Started in Woodworking

Getting Started in Woodworking

Ok, so you’ve dabbled a little in making or repairing ‘stuff’… and now that you’re getting a bit more serious, where do you work: the basement… garage… spare bedroom? How do you fit everything you need in the space you have? What do you need besides the hand-me-downs you’ve collected over the years? Do you upgrade or is what you have sufficient to get you started?

Getting started in woodworking can seem like a daunting task. From specialty woodworking tools to identifying and understanding the different types of wood, there is so much to know that even the old-timers are still developing their craft. But learning and experimenting are what woodworking is all about. Get started on the right foot with some essential basics about safety, tools, and lumber as well as the traditional layout and measuring techniques.

What’s Woodworking?

Woodworking means a lot of things, but here’s reasonably boring definition I came up with that most hobbyists will probably agree with.

Woodworking is a productive craft that involves cutting, shaping, and joining wood to create decorative and/or useful things.

There is nothing physically demanding about woodworking and you can build at your own pace. The basic concepts are simple to learn, yet it’s a hobby that will always remain fresh and challenging as your skills evolve. If you love problem-solving, you will love woodworking. I’ve been at this for over 40 years and face new challenges with every project I build. It’s part of the process. It’s also rewarding to produce really cool stuff for your home using your hands and brain. In general, woodworking is a very solitary experience: if you are a bit introverted and love taking on tasks from start to finish, you will love woodworking.

Woodworking Hand Tools & Power Tools You’ll Need

If this new endeavor isn’t career-related, I’d recommend you start small when it comes to purchasing tools and equipment.
Considering how long the average person sticks with a new hobby, I wouldn’t go and empty the savings account or load up the credit card with power tool purchases until you’re fully committed.

Although, if interested in buying a few essential woodworking tools to get started, here’s a list of recommended tools every woodworker must own.

Keep in mind that while this woodworking tools list is priority-based, the tools you’ll need will likely depend on the woodworking projects you’re attempting to build.

Either way, you should be prepared to spend a few dollars to fit out a highly functional workshop. Woodworkers will typically house hand tools, power tools, and equipment like air compressors and extraction fans.

Simply put, if you want to tackle a larger scale woodworking project, you’re going to be making use of power tools like a circular saw, miter saw, table saw, power drill, and other tools like hand planes.

Is Woodworking Hard to Learn?

Woodworking is a rewarding hobby and a career. However, many believe it’s too difficult to become a proficient woodworker, or that you need some special abilities. So is woodworking hard to learn?

When starting a new hobby, remember – you’re a beginner. Focus on learning the craft, not being an expert on your first day.

Woodworking isn’t hard to learn, but it takes hard work to become a master. If you are passionate about constructing projects, you’ll leap over any barrier in your path. For success, remember three things: passion, patience, and perseverance.

How to Learn Woodworking

Woodworkers are made, not born. Remember this as you begin your journey. When most people become discouraged, it’s because they expected too much of themselves.

There is no reason to expect to do something perfectly the first time you try (or even the second, third, fourth, and fifth times). Begin by planning to have some failures. Failure is helpful and natural. Ask any master craftsmen about a time they screwed something up, and they will have plenty of stories to share.

The proper mental framework is essential to your success. Before buying tools and making elaborate plans, your mind needs to be in the right place.

6 Tips for Woodworking for Beginners:

1. Create a simple woodworking setup

Figure out a simple setup for your woodworking space. You don’t need a fancy and expensive workshop or garage to start woodworking. In fact, we’ve never had a workshop or garage (though I do dream of having one haha).

In our current town home, we always setup a temporary workshop table in our backyard with a pair of sawhorses and a plywood board from the home improvement store.

When we lived in our Charleston apartment, we did a lot of apartment woodworking on the ground of our little apartment patio. Sometimes we would use the sawhorses and plywood there too.

Now, if you do have a garage or shed space, I’d recommend setting up a space there since then you won’t have to take it down and set it up each time!

2. Learn how to read a tape measure

I know this seems really simple and you may already know how to read a tape measure so just hear me out on this one!
Often times with woodworking you need to make exact measurements and cuts and it’s rarely pretty even numbers like 15 inches or 15 ½ inches. It’s usually like 15 ⅝ inches or 15 9/16 inches. So, really knowing how to read a tape measure in its entirety is important.

3. Understand lumber dimensions and species

First, let’s start with the fact that there are many different types of wood species which are categorized as softwoods and hardwoods.

Softwood examples include pine, cedar, spruce, fir, etc. Hardwood examples include oak, walnut, maple, birch, cherry, mahogany, etc.

I could write a whole post on wood species as each species has unique characteristics and traits. But, one of the most common types of wood used in DIY projects and furniture building is pine wood (a softwood).

Pine is an affordable and readily available option at your local home improvement store and it comes in many sizes. I highly recommend using pine for beginner woodworking projects. Then, as you improve your skill, try working with some different wood species!

4. Try to always use straight wood boards

When it comes time to pick out the wood boards for your woodworking project, try to use the straightest boards you can find and avoid warped or bowed boards. This may require a bit of picking and digging through the wood pile at the store, but it will make a huge difference when your actually building and it will save you a lot of headaches!

Often times at first glance a board looks straight and the fact that it is actually bowed or has some warping isn’t always obvious. So the trick to knowing for sure, is to hold the board up towards your face, with the other end on the ground, and look at it at a downward angle (as shown in the below photo). This method will allow you to see if it is bowing at all.

Keep in mind, there are no perfect boards, but try to always use the straighter boards and avoid warping boards.

Also, Brandon and I have found that when it comes to picking out lumber at Home Depot and Lowes, they tend to stock up on fresh boards a few days before the weekend starts (so Thursday/Friday). And then, on Sundays and Mondays, the boards are usually really picked over and there isn’t a good selection. Just another tip to keep in mind!

5. Learn how to use a few essential tools

When it comes to woodworking for beginners, I think it’s important to just learn how to use a few of the most essential woodworking tools for beginners.

There are so many awesome tools available on the market today, it can be quite overwhelming as well as expensive to try to buy them all and know how to use them. Once you learn the basics of the most essential tools you will be able to start building in no time and feel comfortable learning any other new tools in the future.

You can check out what tools I think are best for beginners here! I do want to mention my most favorite tool, which has really helped me to build many of my DIY furniture projects, which is the Kreg Jig. See my tutorial on how to use a Kreg Jig for more details on this tool as well as how to use it!

6. Sand your wood

Finally, properly preparing your wood surface is super important. It will make a huge difference when it comes times to stain, paint, or finish your wood.

There are a lot of tips for wood surface preparation, but sanding the wood is one of the most important steps. And I find it really helpful to do the bulk of my sanding before I start ripping (cutting) and building with my wood since it’s still in whole pieces. You can check out my simple, beginner tips for how to sand wood here.

Once your wood has been sanded well, you can have fun with picking out a stain or paint color for your woodworking project! For help with picking the right stain color, check out 10 favorite wood stain colors and 5 grey wood stain options. And if you need help with learning how to stain wood, see my how to stain wood tutorial.

Safety Tips For Woodworking

Safety should always be #1, make sure you protect yourself. Wear your PPE – Personal Protective Equipment.

Eyes

Always protect your eyes! You never know when something will fly back, most likely it won’t be big chunks, but little fine particles. You don’t want to lose sight of things when your working with power tools. It’s important to grab some safety glasses that are comfortable or else you may be tempted not to wear them.

An overall great pair of safety glasses are these SecureFit 400 series glasses. They are lightweight and very flexible. The nose piece is adjustable and they are just snug enough above the ear that they won’t fall off when you’re bending down to work.

Ears

Unless you want to be saying ‘What’ for the rest of your life, protect those ears. Loud noises for prolonged periods of time can cause permanent hearing loss, and power tools make loud noises. Grab a pair of earmuffs that are comfortable for you. These Pro-Grade Earmuffs lower the noise level to 30 dB, have a nice adjustable headband and super soft ear cushioning. If you don’t like wearing the earmuff, at least grab some ear plugs.

Nose/Lungs

Grab a mask when you are doing things that create small particles like sanding and painting. Let’s just say you can avoid some unpleasant colored boogers with this easy step. Don’t ask, I’ll spare you the details, just grab a mask.

The Eyes, Ears and Lungs are the 3 main areas that you want to make sure you protect. Depending on the job you’re doing also consider wearing gloves and heavy duty shoes. I’ve had a few friends really get hurt from dropping a piece of wood/furniture on their foot. And I don’t know how many slivers that I’ve pulled out of my fingers.

Tools to Get Started in Woodworking

You don’t need a heap of advanced tools to be a competent woodworker. You can construct much with just a hammer, some nails, and a handsaw.

Some people enjoy learning woodworking techniques with no electric tools; however, most will start with a few simple battery-powered tools.

Remember, don’t buy tools if you don’t know how to use them. Also, the saying, buy nice or buy twice, usually proves true with woodworking tools. While you don’t want to throw endless amounts of cash at your tools, you want to get the most value for your money.

Here’s a list of basic woodworking tools:

  • Hand saw
  • Circular saw
  • Hammer
  • Cordless drill
  • Chisels
  • Electric sander
  • Clamps
  • Safety gear (glasses, gloves, masks)
  • Rasp
  • Hand screwdrivers

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