Woodworking Beginner’s Guide: Getting Started
When you’re taking up a new hobby like woodworking, it can be hard to know where to start. In this woodworking guide for beginners you’ll learn the answers to some of your most pressing questions:
- What hand tools do I need?
- What impact does wood type have on woodworking techniques?
- How do I make accurate cuts?
- What are the best building projects to begin with?
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll answer all those questions and more, covering all the basics you need to know to get started with woodworking.
Is Woodworking for You?
Woodworking is a skill best developed through experimentation and learning as you go. Don’t worry if it doesn’t all make sense straight away, and fear not if your previous attempts with a drill or saw have left much to be desired.
No one is born a natural woodworker, but pretty much anyone can learn to master at least the basics. Like any manual skill, it takes hands-on practice to understand how wood works, learn which tool does what, and develop the muscle memory that will see your woodworking skills improve.
With a few essential tips and tricks up your sleeve, it’ll all start to come together. And, before you know it, you’ll be building furniture and planning how to make the most out of your working space!
What Exactly Is Woodworking?
Woodworking is the practice of creating useful or attractive items by joining, sawing, and shaping wood. You can use wood to create a whole host of things for the house, including furniture, storage units, cutting boards, and even toys and chess pieces.
Woodworking can be divided into a number of categories that take in different forms of the craft. Here are some of the most common:
- Joinery and cabinet making: Using a variety of wood joints, woodworkers can create everything from kitchen cabinets to doors and windows.
- Furniture making: This skilled craft utilizes similar techniques to joinery to build functional and beautiful chairs, tables, and much more.
- Carving and whittling: The simplest and arguably most pleasurable form of woodworking. With just a sharp knife and the right wood, you can carve chess sets, garden ornaments, and toys.
- Construction and building: Larger-scale building projects, such as building a shed, laying flooring, or even building a log cabin. It can all be done with wood!
The Basics of Working With Wood
As with many crafts, the key to a successful woodworking project is preparation. If you want to make sure you can enjoy your woodworking endeavors without setbacks, it’s a good idea to make sure you’ve taken time to familiarize yourself with what you’ll need. Before you mark a line, drill a hole, or start sawing, make sure you’ve covered the following.
- Familiarize yourself with the instructions: If you’re following instructions for your project, read them through carefully. They’ve been provided to help you make the most of your materials and time. It only takes one missed step to throw you off course entirely!
- Check your tools and materials: If your chosen project comes with a list of tools and materials, gather everything on the list, and buy in anything you don’t have. Getting stuck in is more enjoyable if you know you won’t have to stop in the middle to head to the store to pick up a single tool. If you aren’t using instructions and want to improvise, just visualize your finished project and try to work out what materials you need to reach the finish line. At the least, make sure you’ve gathered the basic tools we’ll discuss in future chapters.
- Check your techniques: Check which techniques you’ll need for the project you’re planning. It’s best to avoid tasks that require complicated techniques with a tool that you’ve never used before. Instead, use scrap wood to practice any new techniques you come across to make sure your finished product comes out well.
Once you’ve completed all of these steps, you’ll be ready to make a start on your new project.
What Woodworking Projects Are Good for Beginners?
There are loads of smaller projects you can try when you start woodworking, including:
- Building your own woodworking accessories is an excellent way to make simple rough and ready projects like a workbench or sawhorses that can aid your future endeavors.
- Storage solutions like DIY shelving are great first projects for beginning woodworkers as the main skills you’ll need are sawing and drilling. These can really improve your attention to detail and are a great asset to the home, taking just a few hours to put together.
- Full-sized furniture like a coffee table: This project also relies on the use of a drill and saw, but in addition, you’ll need to learn about jointing and pick up a spirit level to make sure your surface sits perfectly flat.
Before you know it, you’ll be able to take on more complex projects like a children’s swing set. Every part of this project will need to be cut, jointed and measured to perfection to ensure your child’s safety when using the swing. You will have to drill holes, and the seats will need sanded and smoothed to avoid any nasty splinters. This type of project can take up to a few days to complete.
We’ll be looking at some of these projects in our chapters on Beginners’ Projects and Advanced Projects. So keep reading!
What Do I Need to Get Started?
Getting started can seem daunting at first, but with the right guidance, it’s really not too difficult. Everybody starts somewhere and it’s often that first step that’s the hardest. Once you’ve taken it, the road won’t necessarily be easy, but the joy of completing your own projects make sure that your efforts will pay of!
Let’s take a quick look at what you’re going to need to get going.
1 – Your Workspace
You need to set up a suitable workspace before you can start any sort of woodworking project. Serious woodworkers tend to work in specially-designed spaces, but the hobbyist can generally make do with a garden shed or a clean corner of their garage.
In good weather, few things are better than woodworking in the sunshine. Just make sure you have somewhere dry to store your tools, materials, and equipment afterward.
Work to Your Needs
When choosing a workspace, consider what you’ll need for the type of work you plan to carry out. This will generally include an appropriate work surface, power for tools and a vacuum cleaner plus ample storage space for lumber and boards as well as your equipment.
Just remember, woodworking is for everyone. If you cannot afford a full-size workshop or studio, just make the most of what you have. You can always grow later on if you find yourself taking on larger, more complicated projects.
Plan For Cleanliness and Efficiency
Keeping your shop clean can be a challenge, so think about the type of flooring – it’s much easier to sweep and vacuum smooth floors. At the same time, be aware that the floor is likely to get scuffed and damaged, so you don’t need anything too fancy.
You can find out more about setting up a workshop in chapter 2.
2 – Your Woodworking Tools
Sourcing your first woodworking tools can feel like a slightly more grown-up version of shopping for a new toy. Take care not to get swept away by the need to buy every tool on the market though.
The best practice is to start with a few essentials like basic hand tools, and build up as you progress onto increasingly complicated projects.
Hand Tools to Look For
We’ll discuss the right tools for your woodworking projects in greater detail in Chapter 3. For now, here’s a quick glance at some of the essentials:
- Combination square
- Panel saw
- Back saw
- Jack plane
Power Tools to Consider
A good supply of hand tools is fantastic, but power tools can make your work faster and more accurate. We’ll take a closer look at this in Chapter 4, but in the meantime, you can check out our reviews of some important woodworking power tools below:
- Circular saw – flexible portable saw
- Miter saw – for cuts at different angles
- Jigsaw – ideal for cutting curves, holes, and notches
- Electric hand planer – helps smoothing and flattening wood
- Drill / driver – essential for every woodworker
- Cordless drill – cordless freedom
- Wood router – create stunning moldings
- Sander – give your pieces a smooth finish
3 – Your Materials
You can’t start any woodworking projects without wood. If you’re just practicing how to cut wood straight, you can do this on more or less any piece of scrap wood. Most joinery workshops or even construction sites will have scraps going spare, but you can find cheap pieces in hardware stores.
Once you actually start working on a project though, you’ll need to look for the specific types of wood you need for your project. Different types of lumber have different densities, wood grain, strength and flexibility. Consequently, the item you’re working on will determine the best wood for you.
We’ll discuss different materials in greater detail in Chapter 5: How to Select the Right Wood.
How to Learn Woodworking
So long as you work safely and enjoy your work, there’s no one correct way to learn woodworking. Some learners will prefer to teach themselves from guides like this one, while others will just use the guides as a supplement to learning and take additional classes.
Hands-on Experience Matters
Reading guides like this are great for letting you know what you’re getting into, while learning a huge array of tips and tricks. However, reading will only get you so far.
You’ll have to get your hands dirty and get stuck in to truly get a feel for how different types of wood behave, how the tools feel, and also what doesn’t work.
There’s no need to dive head first into a large project . Take your time and start with practicing the basic techniques. Craft simple joints using scrap wood and off-cuts, practice sawing planks to length and width, and get a feel for planing and sanding.
In this way, even if you do make mistakes, the consequences aren’t going to be too bad. Once you have a little hands on experience with your tools and materials, then it’s worth tackling your first larger project.
You can find out more about planning your projects in Chapter 6: Project Planning and Measuring Tips.
Woodworking Classes Near You
If you find you learn best in a group or through face-to-face interaction, you can try looking for woodworking classes in your area. Another option would be getting in touch with a local woodworker or carpenter to see if they’d be willing to give you a quote for lessons.
In case you live in the United States, check out this list of woodworking schools in your state.
If you’re more comfortable learning at your own pace, all you’ll really need to take up the hobby is a guide like this, a supply of wood and a can-do attitude.
What To Expect From This Guide
In the following chapters, you’ll learn about some of the most important skills you’ll need when starting a woodworking project.
- Chapter 1: Getting Started (this chapter)
- Chapter 2: Creating Your Workshop
- Chapter 3: Best Hand Tools
- Chapter 4: Best Power Tools
- Chapter 5: Lumber Selection
- Chapter 6: Project Planning and Measuring Tips
- Chapter 7: Understanding Different Types of Hand Saws
- Chapter 8: How to Cut Wood With a Hand Saw
- Chapter 9: How to Use a Circular Saw
- Chapter 10: How to Use a Jigsaw
- Chapter 11: How to Use a Miter Saw
- Chapter 12: How to Plane Wood by Hand
- Chapter 13: How to Use an Electric Planer
- Chapter 14: Drilling and Boring
- Chapter 15: Using a Router
- Chapter 16: Jointing
- Chapter 17: Fixing, Clamping, and Gluing
- Chapter 18: Sanding Wood
- Chapter 19: Painting and Finishing Touches
- Chapter 20: Beginner Project Ideas
- Chapter 21: Advanced Project Ideas
- Chapter 22: Workshop / Tool Maintenance / Sharpening
Woodworking Techniques & Skills
The majority of people will mess up their first attempt at sawing a piece of wood. Don’t worry, it’s normal! Even seemingly simple tasks are tricky if you haven’t had any training or guidance.
In this woodworking guide for beginners, we’ll go over the basic skills while offering invaluable tricks of the trade. You’ll learn an array of techniques along the way.
Learning the Ropes
As you read through this guide, you’ll learn how the very basics, such as taking accurate measurements, as well as things like how to hold a saw for the best results. We’ll also show you how to select the right wood, and array of decorative techniques you can use in your work.
Practice Makes Perfect
If you’re new to this hobby, you’ll also learn that it’s worth taking the time to learn each of the major woodworking skills properly. This way you can steadily move up to more complicated techniques.
Don’t be tempted to skip the seemingly easy bits, or you might end up struggling further down the line!
Woodworking involves using sharp tools, handling heavy items, and dealing with a lot of dust and spinning blades. A full set of safety equipment will be necessary.
This includes protective sleeves for sharp gear, clothes that are not too loose or long on the sleeves, dust masks, hearing protection, and safety glasses.
Keep your workspace tidy and free of distractions, as tripping up or becoming distracted while handling sharp tools can be disastrous. Make sure all of your power tools are turned off when not in use, especially if you’re changing the blades.
When you’re trying a new woodworking technique or using a new tool or machine, make sure you follow the instructions closely. The established method is generally the safest and most effective and it’s always best to master the basics before free styling.
Use Safety Gear
You should be able to get any safety equipment you need at your local hardware store, but there are also a number of online stores that are worth checking out including Woodcraft, Highland Woodworking and Axminster.
Woodworking is a great hobby to pick up if you love working with your hands. Anyone who is just starting out will need to do their research if they want to learn this skill safely and effectively.
This introduction has really only scratched the surface, but we have so much more to cover. Read on and learn how to create your perfect woodworking workshop in Chapter 2.