Woodworking Beginner’s Guide: The Basics
When you’re taking up a new hobby like woodworking, it can be hard to know where to start. In this woodworking beginner’s guide you’ll learn the answers to some of your most pressing questions: What impact does wood type have on woodworking techniques? What tools are worth getting now, and what tools can wait until later? What are the best beginners’ projects? We’ll cover all the basics you need to know to get started with woodworking.
Fear not. Woodworking is a skill best developed through experimentation and learning as you go. Let’s get started with a quick rundown of your essential tools, techniques and safety tips.
What Is Woodworking?
Woodworking is more or less exactly what it sounds like. It is the practice of creating useful or attractive items by joining, sawing and shaping wood.
There are loads of great woodworking projects you can try, including:
- Storage solutions like DIY shelving are great projects to start with as a beginner 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.
- Similar basic storage projects include drawer divider inserts, cup holders for your armchair and simple bookends.
- When you’re ready, you can move up to full-sized furniture like a coffee table. This project also relies on sawing and drilling, but you’ll also need to learn about jointing and pick up a spirit level to make sure your surface sits perfectly flat.
- Similar full-size projects include blanket ladders, hat & coat racks and bathroom cabinets.
- 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, and the seats will need sanded and smoothed to avoid any nasty splinters. This sort of project can take up to a few days to complete.
- Other challenging projects might include larger shelving units, TV stands and chests of drawers.
We’ll be looking at some of these projects in our Beginners’ Projects and Advanced Projects chapters, so keep reading!
As with many projects, the key to a successful woodworking project is preparedness. If you want to make sure you can enjoy your woodworking project with no unwanted setbacks, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re as prepared as possible. The best way to do this is to…
- Familiarize yourself with the instructions – If you have instructions for your project, read them! They’ve been provided to help you make the most of your materials, and you can learn from every page. If there are any words you don’t recognize, look them up online or in a book.
- 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. 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.
- Check your techniques – Check which techniques are used in this project. You can 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 Do I Need to Get Started?
Your Woodworking 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.
Try to set yourself up with the largest space you can afford to dedicate to woodworking, giving thought to the storage you’ll need for tools and materials.
Keep in mind, though, that woodworking is for everyone. Not everyone can afford a full-size workshop or studio, so just make the most of what you have.
Your Woodworking Tools
The fun part of preparation! Sourcing your first woodworking tools can feel like a slightly more grown-up version of shopping for a new toy, but don’t get swept away by the need to buy every tool going. The three most important tools for you to familiarize yourself with are table saws, planers and routers.
Important woodworking (power) tools:
- Table saw – great for straight cuts
- Portable table saw – a portable version
- Circular saw – flexible portable saw
- Miter saw – for cuts at different angles
- Jigsaw – freedom of movement
- Scroll saw – cutting intricate shapes
- Jointer – create perfectly shaped planks
- Wood planer – helps flatten wood at desired thickness
- Electric hand planer – helps smoothing and flattening wood
- Drill / driver – essential for every woodworker
- Cordless drill – cordless freedom
- Wood router – essential for joining wood together
- Router table – gives stability to your router
- Sander – give your pieces a smooth finish
You can’t start any woodworking projects without wood. If you’re just practicing your techniques, you can do this on more or less any piece of scrap wood, which you may be able to get for cheap from your local hardware store.
Once you actually start working on a project, though, you’ll need to look for the specific type and size 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 materials in greater detail in our chapter on Selecting Lumber.
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, including protective sleeves for sharper tools, clothes that are not too loose or long on the sleeves, extension cords, hearing protection and goggles. If you have children in your home, make sure they know not to go near your tools until they’re old enough to do so safely.
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 or working with the wiring inside the machine.
When you’re trying a new woodworking technique, make sure you follow the instructions closely. The established method is generally the safest and most effective. So don’t experiment or make alterations if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing.
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 Techniques & Skills
The majority of people will mess up their first attempt at sawing a piece of wood, even though it’s a really easy thing to do. That’s because even the simplest task can become tricky if you don’t have any training or guidance.
Sawing something wrong is a great way to make whatever it is you’re trying to create look terrible, because you’re unlikely to cut a neat square joint without proper planning.
The reason we’re telling you this is that you may be tempted to skip the parts of this guide that tell you about the more simple techniques – sawing a straight line is easy, right? But if you’re new to woodworking, it’s worth taking the time to learn each skill properly, so that you have all the information you need when you move up to more complicated techniques.
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 with woodworking;
- Chapter 2: Best hand tools for your projects;
- Chapter 3: Best power tools (portable & stationary) for your woodworking projects;
- Chapter 4: Lumber selection: understanding wood grain, wood makeup and behavior
- Chapter 5: Essential woodworking project planning & measuring tips
(more chapters coming soon!)
Decorative Woodworking Techniques
Once you’ve mastered the essential woodworking skills and completed the structure of your project, you may wish to move on to decorating your piece. Popular decorative woodworking techniques include…
|Distressing||Gives the item a “weathered look” to make it appear older.|
|Faux finishing||Replicates the appearance of other materials like stone or marble.|
|Faux marbling||Imitates the appearance of polished marble.|
|Graining||Imitates a more attractive wood grain to improve aesthetic appeal|
|Inlay||Pieces of contrasting materials are inserted into depressions for an ornamental finish.|
|Intarsia||Creates an illusion of depth by using various types of wood to form a mosaic-style image.|
|Oyster veneer||Creates a decorative veneer using thin cross-sections of wood.|
|Wood turning||Gives the wood a symmetrical shape by turning it on a wood lathe.|
We’ll discuss these methods and others in greater detail in our chapter on Decorative Woodworking Methods (coming soon).
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.
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 wookworking 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.
Woodworking is a great hobby to pick up if you love working with your hands, but those just starting out will need to do a lot of 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 to learn all about the best power tools for beginners in Chapter 2.