This is a section from A Beginners Guide to Woodworking: Helping New Woodworkers Make Better Projects, which is available on Amazon. Over the next month, you will be able to read the entire book, and I hope that you like it enough to get tour own copy. Enjoy.
(Updated June 2023)
This book is meant to be a guide for the new woodworker that just needs some help reducing the world of woodworking down to something more manageable. Most people do not have anyone to guide them in the beginning, and that can be frustrating.
The beauty and the misery of woodworking is that it’s a mile wide and a mile deep. There are so many different things that can be considered woodworking, and you can spend a lifetime on each of them. As a beginner, making decisions and picking a direction can seem much harder than it really is.
I wish I had a book like this when I first started woodworking a long time ago. It would have saved me tons of mistakes, wasted time, and destroyed wood. There were many times when it would have been nice to have someone just tell me what to do next, or tell me about that easy to apply finish while I was struggling with a difficult product.
My goal is to show you that woodworking is a wonderful hobby, and that it’s not as difficult as some people make it out to be. You can get started in woodworking quickly, easily, and without a large investment in tools in most cases.
You can even start learning about woodworking right away following the directions in this book.
I hope to be that voice in your ear at the store with you when you are trying to make a decision. Sometimes, we all just need a little advice.
See Also: Woodworking Glossary
Chapter One – Getting Started
If you are absolutely brand new to woodworking, are thinking about starting out, or have just begun, do not skip this chapter.
It is tempting for beginners (I did this myself) to just skip right to the advanced stuff. Nobody wants to think of themselves as a beginner, and this is a bad way to start out anything, including woodworking.
What happens when you skip too far ahead is that most people end up failing. At that point they conclude that woodworking is not for them, and they give up.
The fact of the matter is they tried to build a house before they knew how to drive a nail. That’s a recipe for failure every time, and anyone in that situation would have failed just the same.
When you skip the beginning, or too much of the beginning, you are asking for a tough journey. The stuff in the middle and at the end is harder than the beginning, but with a good foundation it becomes easier.
If you lay down a great foundation, you will have a much easier time when you get to the more advanced parts.
This chapter is dedicated to getting you on the right path for the basics that will guide your woodworking journey. The topics range from where to find inspiration and knowledge, to how to set up your work area and what tools you need to buy at first.
These ideas will serve you well throughout your woodworking adventure.
Many of the concepts that are explained in this chapter are things that I still do currently.
They are great exercises for woodworkers of any skill level, and help you with your projects. These foundational items make things easier, and help you be successful at woodworking faster.
You Don’t Want to be a Woodworker
This may not make sense right now, but stick with me and it will all work out. Woodworking is a skill, just like sculpting or painting. It’s a means to an end, and a way to create things you want to create.
If you really want to become skilled at woodworking, you need to find what it is that you really want to be. This can change over time, but understanding what you want to be makes a big difference in your success.
It’s not as simple as saying you want to be a woodworker, you really need to find what you want to make, and become that instead. Along the way, you will become better at the skill of woodworking, and will be able to make even more things as your interests and desires change.
For example, if you plan on making acoustic guitars, then you really want to be a guitar maker. Woodworking will be a skill that you need along the way, but you are working towards the goal of being a guitar maker.
Having that larger goal is what propels you forward in woodworking. Without something larger to accomplish, then all you are doing is collecting tools. While that may be an attractive hobby for some, it will be too expensive for most people, and not produce anything worthwhile.
The best thing you can do as a beginner is to look around and decide what you want to make. This will help you on several levels. Once you know what you want to make, it clears the woodworking field of all the distractions and confusion, and shows you what you need to be successful.
For example, if you want to be a violin maker, then you must first find a few books or resources on violin making and read them. Then, you will learn what tools you need, what finishes, techniques, and materials are required to make that violin.
As you progress in your skill as a violin maker, you will also by consequence progress as a woodworker.
What you are doing is tying two skills together, and when one of them goes up, the other goes up too. It is much easier to have success in woodworking if you are trying to have success in another area. Someone who wants to make a violin probably plays violin.
That person has an extreme desire to hear themselves play on their own instrument, that they made with their own two hands. The desire to be a violin maker is what advances your woodworking skills, and keeps the process interesting.
In contrast, if you are getting into woodworking and you have absolutely no idea what you want to make, then you are setting yourself up for frustration. You may end up with a whole pile of tools, but with nothing to make, or nothing you are passionate about, you may never use them to their full potential.
You need to have a passion to encourage the skill of woodworking to develop well. It’s that passion that will keep you trying as you make mistakes, and ruin your first few pieces of wood.
If you are just cutting up wood with no real drive or purpose, you will never advance your skill. This is like having a huge ship with no heading. The scenery may look nice, but you will never have any adventures.
Decide early on what you want to make. Your success as a woodworker depends on it. This can always change down the road, and most likely will change several times over the course of a life spent in the shop.
That’s ok, and completely normal. It’s in the beginning phases that most people quit a new hobby, so it’s important to set that heading, and give yourself the best chance of success.
Before you worry too much, you don’t have to plot your future right this second. Keep on reading. In the next section the process for finding a heading can help you decide what kind of woodworking you want to do. Once you make that discovery, the rest of the details will fall into place much faster and easier.
Remember, woodworking is a skill. Just like any other skill, it’s a way to get you where you want to go. As you learn your primary craft, whether that is cabinet making, instrument making, or building wooden toys, your skill as a woodworker will increase.
The happy by-product of that increase will be many useful items that you will be proud to use and own.
This is one of the best ways to ensure that you will stick with woodworking for a long time. When you make things that you enjoy, it makes you happy. That happiness is forever associated with woodworking, and your brain encourages things that you associate with happiness.
How to Find Your Heading
In the beginning, it is important to have an idea of what you want to make. Not only does this give you a direction, but it also helps you when buying tools, and deciding which techniques to learn.
Woodworking is so diverse that without a basic direction or idea, you can end up spinning your wheels and never accomplishing anything.
This is why you should find your heading as early as possible. Thankfully, there are several easy ways to decide on a heading, and each of them produce good results. Tying your success in woodworking to something else that you care about is a great way to ensure success in woodworking.
Each of these techniques does just that, and will help you find a direction that you can begin with.
First, the simplest way to get into woodworking is when you have a need for something that is made from wood. This can be as simple as replacing a piece of trim on a cabinet, or as complicated as building a piece of furniture. Most new skills are forged from a simple need for something, and woodworking can be born in the same manner.
If you have a need, and the process of making that need sounds interesting, you may have an initial heading picked out already. Again, this can be very simple at first. Maybe you need a set of wooden boxes for trading cards or larger crates for decoration around the house?
Maybe the wall would look better with a handmade wooden sign? Each of these is an example of a need that can be the spur that gets you into woodworking. Look around. You may be surprised at some of the things that woodworking can bring you.
The second way to pick a heading is to look at things you are already interested in. If you play a wooden instrument, or have another hobby, you can make things from wood that further your existing hobby.
By making things that augment a current passion, you end up having success twice because you will learn how to make something from wood, and then enjoy using it as well.
Lastly, making something for a person that you care about or love is a great heading, and the most powerful of all three methods mentioned here. When you care about someone, and you want to make something for them, the motivation that you get from that is tremendous.
There is no gift like that which is made by hand. Anyone can buy something as a gift, but it takes a special kindness and skill to make something. Handmade gifts show appreciation above and beyond the price of the materials. It’s the time and the effort that go into the item that make it worth far more.
With these three motivators, it should be a relatively simple process to pick out a heading, and begin the process of learning how to make your first woodworking project.
In the future this heading will most likely change, and that’s completely normal. The important thing is that you pick something solid to start with.
Take a little time after you finish reading and think about what you really want to make. Especially in the beginning, you may be surprised at some of the things that talented woodworkers are already making.
Research Your Project
After finding a heading, it is important to research your project before you dive in. This will help you learn what you need, and make sure that the process is something you are comfortable learning. It also helps uncover problems that may cause you to choose a different project or direction.
One of the best ways to begin researching is by looking online at pictures of the project that you are interested in making. Then, search for images of the construction process to see more of how the item is made.
You can also spend time reading articles, and watching videos. Books are another option, and can provide great instruction on how to make many different projects.
The easiest place to begin is online. YouTube is a huge resource, and there are videos for just about every subject imaginable. Most woodworkers enjoy sharing their craft with anyone that will listen. YouTube has given them an opportunity to share with the world, and they do just that every single day.
Search for your project with the word “making” afterwards, and you will surely find several great videos. Watch them from beginning to end, and do your best to absorb the ideas that the presenter is trying to get across.
Pay attention to the tools and the materials involved in the making of the item, and even make a small list if you want.
Then, spend some time looking into how the project is being made by reading articles online. There are several websites and forums for nearly every type of woodworking, and they are a great resource for knowledge.
Forums in particular are great, because they provide a place to ask real people questions and get some help early on.
Finally, books are a resource that I am particularly fond of, and they can teach you quite a bit. In general, paid for books will tend to have more detailed information inside them, and they may include plans as well.
This can be a huge help for a beginner, because most of the guessing will have been removed with a good plan.
Go online and order a few books that cover the project you are interested in making, and when the arrive at your house actually read them. Read the books, and the building process will be far easier.
Not only will you learn what needs to happen to make the item, but you will also know what’s coming up in future steps. Knowing what is coming will help you make decisions on the step that you are currently working on, making everything easier.
Researching is very important, which is why it is mentioned here in the first chapter. There is an entire chapter later in the book dedicated to researching, and it shows several great methods for learning about your new project.
Pick One Plan and Stick With It
If you have several plans for a particular project, pick one of them to work from. Many times, books or online resources come with plans for projects. They may be similar, but there may also be differences that are not easy for a beginner to detect.
Following one plan ensures that you have the best chance for success. This is the most important for plans that are complex or longer. On shorter plans, or plans for simple items, you can get away with combining ideas a bit more.
For example, if you have a couple plans for making cutting boards, and you like the wood choice from one plan and the edge routing from another, then go ahead and combine the two.
The chance of the combination having any appreciable effect on the success of that cutting board is very low. In cases like this, you are not taking much of a risk, and the project is simple enough to see if the combination is going to have a negative effect.
On the other hand, if you are making a steel string guitar and you really like the way the bracing pattern looks on a classical guitar, you can cause a real problem. Complex items are made a certain way for a reason.
By radically altering the internal bracing on a guitar, the function, stability, and sound quality are also changed. In most cases, the change will not be for the better, and you will be left with a project that causes you frustration instead of happiness.
For the first few projects, stick with a single plan, especially for projects that are a bit more complex. Not only are you helping to ensure that you have a working project at the end, you are also preventing inexperience from causing a real problem down the road.
As you get better and better at woodworking, you will be able to pick and choose parts and ideas from different pictures and plans and combine them without any problems. This is something that comes to you over time and experience, and cannot be sped up very quickly.
It just takes a while to come across enough about woodworking that you can see things coming.
At some point you will just find yourself doing this process, because you will naturally like aspects of several different projects. The benefit of making things yourself is that you can make exactly what you want, and with that experience comes the ability to detect when a certain combination of ideas is going to ruin a project.
When you see that coming, you can make adjustments to change the plan to avoid problems.
There is More Than One Way
No matter what anyone tells you, there is more than one way to do things. Woodworking is no different. As long as you are working safely, and you accomplish the same goal, then you are doing the process correctly. It may be that you used a different method, but you still did it correctly.
Some woodworkers are a pain to deal with. Most are great folks who love to tell you all about what they make and how they make it. There are some however that are very stuck in their ways, and believe that there is only one right way to do something.
This could not be farther from the truth. In fact, I would argue that there are several right ways to do just about anything, and it’s only through creativity and experimentation that we discover these new methods and techniques.
If you run into someone like this, absorb what information you can from them and then seek more information from a different source. It’s not worth your time to try and convince them otherwise, and you will most likely not succeed at changing their mind.
When you start out, you probably wont have all of the tools that other woodworkers have. In this situation, you do need to look into alternative methods for accomplishing your goals.
As long as you are working safely, then you can feel free to think of other ways of accomplishing the same thing. This is a process that everyone goes through.
Make a habit of being a good listener in the beginning, and you can absorb quite a bit of knowledge. Even if you are working with someone that is a little more rigid in their interpretation of woodworking, still listen to them.
When you are in the beginning of anything, you have a huge opportunity to learn that becomes less and less as time goes on. The more you know, the less these little interactions between people will teach you.
However, there is almost always something that you can take away from a conversation, even in the later stages of your development.
Take the knowledge that you learned, and search for how you are going to accomplish the same thing in a different way, and see what others are already doing. One of the easiest ways to accomplish something differently is to see what alternative methods are already being used successfully.
Chances are that you are not the first person with whatever problem you are currently trying to solve. Reach out, and you will be amazed at what you can find.
Once you are satisfied with a particular method, and you have the tools to accomplish the task, give it a try. It may turn out that you like the process, or it may turn out that you have more research to do. Either way, you will learn something in the act, and be a better woodworker for it.
No matter what anyone tells you, there is usually more than one right way to do something. When you keep your mind open to different possibilities, you pick things up quicker, and you learn faster.
Part 1 – Wrap Up
I hope you liked Part 1 of A Beginners Guide to Woodworking: Helping New Woodworkers Make Better Projects. As you can see, this is a different kind of beginner woodworking book, and I encourage you to get a copy for yourself so you have it all in one place.
- More than 20 Years Woodworking Experience
- 7 Woodworking Books Available on Amazon
- Over 1 Million Words Published About Woodworking
- Bachelor of Arts Degree from Arizona State University
I receive Commissions for Purchases Made Through the Links in This Post.