Woodworking in a Nutshell: All You Need to Know to Start

By  //  October 20, 2020

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Woodworking is an amazing hobby that many people around the world enjoy. It’s an art and a skill and it combines to create some of the most stunning pieces of art.

It can go from small, simple things, all the way to functional pieces of furniture and tools. But unless you had a grandfather or uncle around who wants to show you the ropes, it’s not easy getting into it, and it can be intimidating.

It’s important to know how to master the basic skills and what is really important when starting. So, to make sure everyone has a good start, here are some of the basics of woodworking that will make your life in the workshop a whole lot easier.

The right way

The only rule in woodworking is that there isn’t a right or wrong way to do something. Odds are, if you ask five woodworkers how to do something, they will all give you a different answer – and all of the answers would work. So, don’t stress about learning the ways of someone else.

Whichever way you complete your project is fine, as long as you get what you want. Sure, some techniques and workflows would save you time or give you a cleaner result with less mess, but there really isn’t one set way woodworking should be done.

It’s the wood that counts

An important thing to note is that your final product can only be as good as the wood you start off with. This isn’t to say that only the wood counts, but you don’t want to spend days or weeks working on something, only for it to turn out poorly because you didn’t use good wood.

A good rule of thumb is to go with Kiln Dry Logs that have a good texture you’ll be able to handle. Sure, you can handle wood that isn’t as pliable, but that isn’t something you want to put yourself through, especially if you’re just beginning.

Create a space

You don’t have to have an entire workshop dedicated to woodworking to get started. You don’t even have to have a workshop at all. There’s a lot of false narrative about needing a big proper workshop with all the tools if you want to even think about pursuing woodworking, but in reality, it’s the skill and the time you put in, not the space where you do it. If it’s a good season, you can be working in your front yard and get amazing results. But, there are a few things you should be looking out for:

A sturdy table

Everyone needs a good surface to work on. It needs to be sturdy, well-supported from below, and perfectly balanced. The last thing you want is the table tipping over while you’re working on something delicate and not only ruining the project – but potentially hurting you.

You also want to make sure that the surface is the right height for you, because if you’ll be spending days standing and working on something, your back will thank you greatly if it is in a comfortable position where you’re not putting additional strain on it.

Good ventilation

When you start getting into the nitty-gritty of it and start sanding down the edges, the dust that comes off the wood will end up everywhere in the air. You’ll, of course, need to have PPE, but you also need to ventilate the space to make sure that once your mask comes off, you’re not breathing in sawdust particles. This is also crucial if you’re going to be putting varnishes and finishes which have toxic fumes and need to vent overnight.

Noise insulation

Not every workshop needs to be sound-proof. Especially if you’re more into the artistic side of things, you probably aren’t making much noise. However, if you’re using electric equipment and work throughout the day on big pieces that just make noise when in production – you’ll want to make sure it’s in a space that doesn’t reach your neighbors, or sound-proof the walls to make it less intrusive.

Get the right tools

You’ve probably heard the saying – a tradesman is only good as the tools he’s using. There is some truth to that. However, just like with a workshop, you don’t need to have a lot of fancy equipment. You only need the basics, but those basics should be high-quality, comfortable in your hand and easy to work with. So, let’s see what are the basics you’ll need to make your first few items:

A hand saw

Everything starts with a good, old hand saw. It will allow you to saw the pieces of wood to a more manageable size and to cut clean angles from big pieces. You want something that is small enough to handle with one hand and quite sturdy, to keep you from making mistakes.

A sander

No matter what you’re making, you’re going to want to sand down the edges. Whether it’s a big old table, or a tiny figurine, you don’t want anyone getting splinters when they go to grab it. A sander can be both electric and traditional, but what’s more important is that you have a wide variety of sanding papers, so you can control the amount of surface you’re taking off and the smoothness of the finished product.

A drill

A drill with several drill bits of different sizes is essential for any woodworker. Since screws are one of the most common ways to piece together wood, you’ll need to drill them in securely – especially if you’re making furniture – and if your wood isn’t as pliable there’s no way you’re doing that with a hand-held screwdriver.

A hammer

Speaking of putting pieces together, the other popular way is by using nails, and a good hammer will help you get the job done in no time. This is probably the one tool that everyone has in their home, and it is simply something no workshop should be without.

A jigsaw

A jigsaw is an electrical tool that allows you to cut intricate designs. It has a narrow saw that you can easily lead over a design you’ve drawn into the wood. A jigsaw is probably even more important than an electric saw, because there really isn’t anything that can replace a good jigsaw.

A circular saw

If you’re planning on working with large pieces of wood that you need to cut down, then a circular saw will make your life so much easier. It will allow you to cut straight lines as long as you need them and make everything you do look cleaner and more professional.

A tape measure

Measure twice before you cut anything. That’s all.

A pen and pad

Any complex item you want to make needs to have a design that you will follow. You need to draw it out, write down the measures, calculate how much material you need and then follow along, making adjustments as you go. Get a dedicated notepad that won’t be leaving your workshop and jot down ideas there.

Practice makes perfect

So you have all of your tools and you have a space to work in, now all you need to do is start. It can be nerve-wracking. You don’t want to even start because you’re afraid of how it will turn out. But don’t worry – you can rest assured that your first piece… won’t look good. Neither will the second.

It takes time to perfect your skill, find a style that works for you and start creating beautiful designs. All that’s important is that you don’t give up. Remember – nobody needs to see your early work until you’re happy with it, so don’t be afraid to try.

Find a style

Woodworking is such an umbrella term that everything can fall under it. You could be making wooden bowls or chairs or Christmas tree ornaments. What’s important is that you try out different things and see what you like.

Perhaps you’ll enjoy making grandiose pieces like huge dinner tables out of some good, aged wood. Or you might enjoy making wooden figurines of dogs that can be tailor-made to look like someone’s dog. Whatever you like doing, stick to it, because that’s where you’ll make the best pieces.

Wear protective gear

Let’s get serious for a second. If something can cut through wood, it can cut through your hand. You always need to be fully alert, well-rested and sober when working with wood, or you could seriously injure yourself or others. Additionally, you should always be wearing gloves, goggles and a mask. Firstly, gloves are there to protect your hands from both splinters and from hits with a hammer or the blade of a saw.

Secondly, goggles will make sure that no sawdust or small pieces of wood get into your eyes. If this happens, they can permanently damage them by scratching the surface of your eye. And lastly, as mentioned before, a mask is there to make sure you’re breathing in any of your work, especially from lacquers and paints. If you have someone visiting the workshop – especially kids – make sure you put away anything sharp and cover all exposed blades to prevent any accidents.

Learn the basics

You can make anything, if you just master the basic skills. There are things you can do to practice, and you should definitely do that before setting off on bigger projects. Firstly, try making a perfect square, of any size. Then, cut all the sides down to make a smaller square.

Then smaller and smaller until it’s the size of dice, making sure it’s a perfect square each time. Next, try making a ball that is perfectly symmetric and polished to a high shine. Lastly, make several batches of right-angle corners, which will help you practice putting together pieces of wood under the right angle. Once you master these skills, nothing will be a match for you.

Have fun

Woodworking doesn’t need to be boring or traditional. When you have a piece of wood, you aren’t limited to just that and all the things you’ve seen done before. Push the limits, try something new. Infuse the wood with metal, or add some electrical work and make it shine.

Paint on it, or create the piece of wood by gluing a bunch of pencils together. Just have fun with it and make what you like. It really doesn’t matter what other people think, because this is something you’re doing for yourself.

Don’t work angry

You might think that taking out some anger or frustrations on a piece of wood is a good way to get that out of you and move on with your day.

But, if you’re working angry, you won’t be focused and you’re only more likely to end up hurting yourself. In addition to that, great pieces of wood art are made with love and care, not with anger, and it will definitely show how you were feeling by making it. Remember – one move too deep and you might ruin a perfect project.

Learn about wood

Sure, if you’re working in ideal conditions, you’ll never have to worry about a thing – but that only happens in movies. In reality, wood needs to be stored and handled a certain way to make it pliable. It needs to have a certain degree of moisture or it might crack, or start to rot.

When you finish a piece, you need to know how to preserve it so it lasts and doesn’t fall pretty to everything from moisture to termites. Learn a thing or two about both wood and conservation, and you’ll have pieces that won’t just look great, but they will last a long time without needing touch-ups.

Whether you want to pursue woodworking because you’re looking for a new hobby, or you want to make a career out of it, you can follow that path. If you do want to make something more serious out of it and start making pieces that you can sell, it’s not a bad idea to find an expert woodworker and be an apprentice for a little while to learn the tricks of the trade.

Nobody ever got far without having someone to teach them the steps. And once you master the basics, you can move on to bigger pieces, more complicated designs and overall higher level of mastery. But, if you end up not enjoying it – that is also perfectly fine, and you can keep your tools for some time when you really start feeling like you want to use them again.