Woodworking For Beginners
The ability to craft lumber into useful or beautiful things is one many people would love to have. Unfortunately, few of them know where to begin learning the craft of woodworking. If you want to be the kind of woodworker who can build their own shop machines from wood or fine furniture, but lumber types and woodworking tools feels like foreign language, we’ll get you started in woodworking.
Woodworking for a reason
Most woodworking projects for beginners involve birdhouses, window planters, and boxes. All three are good things, assuming you’re a birdwatcher, gardener, or you need storage space. When it comes to building carpentry skills, however, building items you want works much better than simply practicing on random projects. Putting the final touches on a chair you wanted for your garden or a custom music box you designed as a gift for a friend is far more satisfying than gluing the last piece on a generic bird-house.
How to start Woodworking
When you take your first steps into woodworking, you want a project that fits three criteria.
- The project needs to let you learn.
- The project should be something that keeps your interest.
- The project needs to be manageable.
Some beginner woodworking projects that you might find good first projects are toolboxes , garden chairs , patio tables , super simple bookshelves, and similar items. Of course, if you’re interested in learning woodworking for enjoyment rather than practicality, projects like wooden automobiles, jigsaw puzzles, or jewelry boxes might appeal to you. On the other extreme, if you need to learn large scale wood-working, projects such as framing a partition wall or building a backyard shed.
First Woodworking Project: The Adirondack Chair
One of the best projects might be the Adirondack chair. There are many versions that range from simple afternoon projects to gorgeous examples of the woodworkers trade. Regardless of the pattern you choose or the depth of detail you decide on, the Adirondack chair matches our three criteria exceptionally well. This plan for the Adirondack chair is one of the fancier versions, but is still within grasp of a capable beginner.
Why is it such a great beginner’s woodworking project?
- The Adirondack chair requires you to build skills such as wood allotment, measuring, cutting, shaping, assembly, and many more.
- Building one of these chairs is highly engaging: it comes together at just the right pace to keep a beginner’s interest and the finished project is attractive and useful.
- The difficulty of building an Adirondack chair depends on how difficult you want it to be. There are super-simple versions that you can build in an afternoon and versions that might take an experienced carpenter several days.
The first question every beginning woodworker asks is “what tools do I need?” Woodworking is the same as any other trade; it’s not the tools that really count. With enough patience, a carpenter can create beautiful and delicate pieces without ever using a power tool. However, that doesn’t mean that the right tools don’t speed up the job!
With a little searching on the Internet, it’s not hard to find articles on which tools are best for beginning woodworkers. This “Beginning Woodworking” article from WoodGears.ca is an excellent one (with explanations included).
Of course, if you’re in a hurry to get started, here’s a quick list of starting tools everyone should have:
No good woodworker ever builds anything without measuring it nine ways from Sunday. Steel rulers are best for beginners, because they can also be used as straight-edges.
For a beginner, this should be a handsaw, a jigsaw, or a circle saw. A high-quality handsaw is enough for most small wood projects and is much less expensive than a good quality power saw.
The drill will likely see more use than any other tool you own, so get a good one. Don’t go for the cordless drill at first; the batteries run down and they’re less powerful. A good quality corded drill isn’t too expensive and will last forever.
Even if you don’t use glue, clamps are indispensable tools. Holding workpieces stationary makes measuring, cutting, drilling, and even sanding much easier.
Various grades of sandpaper are used for different jobs, from actually shaping workpieces to putting the last glass-smooth polish on lacquered surfaces.
Chisels aren’t just used for cutting slots; a sharp edge is useful for everything from removing excess wood to removing excess dried glue.
Of course, this isn’t a comprehensive list by any means, but it’s enough to get you on the right road. Once you’re familiar with woodworking basics, you’ll probably want to move on to tools that let you work more efficiently. The most important power tools, according to most woodworkers, are the table saw and the drill press. However, since both are comparatively pricey, they’re not the best tools for the first time woodworker. If you're ready to move on to the next level, be sure to check out our reviews on the best router table and our wood router reviews.
Woodworking is extremely simple, for the most part. Common sense and patience will take you a long way; following plans and learning from other woodworkers - in person or via articles and videos - will take you even further. That doesn’t mean you have to figure everything out by yourself, though. Woodworkers develop tricks over years of experience and, most of the time, they’ll share them.
- Driving nails and screws can split lumber, if you’re not careful. To keep nails from cracking lumber, dull the tip of the nail with your hammer before driving it. This changes the profile from an wedge into a punch; instead of pushing the wood out of the way, it simply punches a hole in it. If screws are splitting your boards, drill pilot holes with a drill bit about half the size of your screws.
- Never mark your boards with pens or markers. The ink sinks into the woodgrain and requires deep sanding to remove it. Even if you intend to paint over the wood, always use pencils to mark out your pieces.
- Measurements are your best friends. The cost of buying a new piece of lumber because you mis-cut the first one isn’t just the price of the board: a bad cut means time wasted. Time is a woodworker’s most precious tool.
- Choose the right wood... for your tools. You’ll hear “choose the right wood for the job” all the time, but the right wood for the job could be teak. Teak is hard on tools and hard on woodworkers. Make sure your tools can handle the materials you choose. In other words, don’t try to open your own sawmill with a handsaw.
- Lay masking tape along cutting lines. The tape will help reduce ‘tear-out’, which is when the saw rips small chunks of wood from the edge of the piece, leaving unsightly gaps. Masking tape is also great for keeping glue off surfaces it’s not supposed to contact.
- Build your own jigs. Every woodworker has tasks that he does more often than others. Woodworkers who build a lot of picture frames often have table-saw jigs for cutting perfect 45 degree angles. Cabinet-makers have jigs for cutting finger joints rapidly and accurately. When you find yourself wishing you could get a repetitive task done faster, you probably can. Figure out how to build a jig that will speed up the job.
Sources for the Beginning Woodworker
Woodworking isn’t something that can be learned from one article, or one book. Even the most experienced carpenters learn new techniques or tricks and are always looking for them. Practice alone isn’t enough to build your skill; the more sources of woodworking knowledge you have handy, the better off you are. This small collection of woodworking links is your springboard to bigger and better things:
- Matthias Wandel’s WoodGears.ca is an absolute treasure trove of techniques and incredible projects.
- The How-To section of Fine Woodworking is a great place to learn carpentry skills, especially if you enjoy hand-tool.
- Encyclopedic websites such as Wikipedia have entries on Woodworking that are practically carpenter’s road-maps.
- The Family Handyman carpentry section is a good collection of basic how-to articles for the home carpenter.
- Popular Woodworking has articles on everything from using handsaws to the most complex of joinery techniques.
Whether you decide to start with small woodworking projects in your garage for fun, or with ambitious home improvement projects, these websites everything you’ll need to know . More importantly, they’ll get you on the right track to finding your own library of resources to fall back on.
Dive into Woodworking
With all this information at your disposal, what are you waiting for? Even if you don’t have the tools on hand, a quick trip to the local hardware store and twenty-five dollars is enough to get you started. A determined beginner with a hand-saw is dangerous enough, but when glue or nails are tossed into the mix, there’s no telling what you could build.