This is a section from A Beginners Guide to Woodworking: Helping New Woodworkers Make Better Projects, which is available on Amazon. Over the next couple months, you will be able to read the entire book, and I hope that you like it enough to get tour own copy. Enjoy.
How to Dry Wet Wood
If you already bought a bunch of wet wood, or you find a piece that you can’t live without, you may decide to dry some wood yourself. The act of drying wood is called seasoning, and can be done naturally in your shop.
It only takes one key ingredient that you hopefully have in abundance as a new woodworker.
The only thing you need to season wood in your shop at home is patience. Though there are much more involved methods of drying wood (which you can study about online or from a book) the easiest is just to let the pieces live in the shop until they come down to the right level.
This can take a few days, a few weeks, or a few months depending on the size of the piece. It can also take a few years if you are trying to season really big pieces or pieces that have been waxed to slow down the process.
However, for most of us, drying out a few boards may only take a couple weeks or more. In cases like this, you might want to invest in a moisture meter if you are unsure about when the process is complete. The device will tell you right away if you are done, or if you still have a long way to go.
I also recommend that anything you buy is allowed to live in the shop for a couple days at least before you work with it. Yes, if the conditions are similar you are probably alright, but if you have the ability to wait a little, it can make a difference in some cases. This way, you might avoid any interesting surprises down the road.
Save Your Scraps
Hi, my name is Brian, and I’m a wood hoarder. I have no intention of quitting, and I recommend that you become a wood hoarder too.
Any time you can save your scraps, and use them for something else, you are essentially making a free project.
In a world where everything for hobbies is expensive, it’s nice to have something for free, and it’s all because you saved your scraps.
Woodworking is expensive enough without having to buy wood for every little thing you want to make. As you build things, you will naturally end up with smaller pieces as leftovers.
These pieces are called scraps or drop. If you save and organize them, you will end up finding uses for the pieces in the future. Also, since you already paid for the wood for the first project, you now have a free resource that you can use for other things.
You might even find a way to turn the scraps into something that you can sell, and in that way bring some money back into the shop. In the case where the pieces are free, and all you are investing is your time, the return on your investment can be really high.
There will always be a market for smaller things that are skillfully made, that you can’t find in too many places. Well made cutting boards, wooden jewelry, and wooden signs are all examples of things you can make with smaller scraps.
As you make things, set aside your scraps in certain areas based on size. If you want to go a level deeper, you can also arrange them based on species too. In the future when you need a smaller piece, you can just walk over to your wood storage area rather than take a trip to the store.
Most woodworkers are frugal people, and saving your scraps is one way that you can reduce the amount of money that the hobby requires to operate.
Tools and such are not inexpensive, and you can easily spend quite a bit on wood and other materials too. Keeping your scraps means one less thing that you have to buy.
To start saving your scraps, all you need to do is start a habit. Designate your storage areas based on size, and then make it a habit to collect the pieces. Once you have them, go over to the wood storage area and distribute them into the correct bins.
Take the time to organize the bins or areas so that you don’t bury good pieces, and over time you will accumulate a lot of great pieces of wood.
As you find you need smaller parts for existing projects, also make it a habit to check the scrap area before you cut a fresh piece. It’s much better to use a twelve inch scrap than to cut a foot off a full board.
In this way, you start cycling your scraps, and you keep that full board in case you end up with a project that requires a really long piece. With this situation, you actually save twice because you use the free scrap, and you save the long board.
Become a wood hoarder. It’s important that you conserve materials in this word, and the bottom line is that it’s also financially beneficial for you. This is a double win, and an easy decision to make.
Sell a Scrap Project
Another thing that I recommend all woodworkers do, is find a project for your smaller scraps that you can turn into a side business.
It doesn’t have to be anything that you run full time, but something that allows you to enjoy more woodworking projects, and brings in a little extra money once in a while.
For most woodworkers, the scraps that they are making are large enough to make cutting boards. The market for handmade cutting boards is huge, and people that make well made pieces can sometimes get a hundred dollars or more for a single board.
There are even some that are a couple hundred dollars and up. As a woodworker, once you see how these are made, you can start doing the same thing pretty easily.
People that do a lot of table saw work will find that they end up with a lot of longer and thinner pieces. Over time, they can be saved up and used as strips in a laminated cutting board.
There are lots of web sites that can tell you about making very exotic and almost hypnotic looking cutting boards if you are interested, and you can turn out some really amazing looking pieces in a short time.
A laminated cutting board is just a bunch of wood glued together. If you have some clamps, some glue, and some patience to nicely sand and finish the boards, you can start a really nice little side hustle easily.
The market for handmade items is still very strong, and even in times when it goes out of fashion, it always bounces right back for people that are ready.
A side project can be anything that you are interested in making, and that you have the right size scraps for in the shop. Wooden jewelry, picture frames, wooden signs, small toys, wooden rings, tie clips, trivets, and more can be made from smaller scraps in the shop.
Find something that you like, and that is popular enough to sell, and you might end up with a nice little side gig that brings in money for more materials and tools in the future.
There are a number of ways to sell things that you make, and a quick Google search will reveal hundreds of ways that you can go. One of the easiest, and something that most of us do already is to use social media.
Start posting to your accounts that you make cutting boards, wooden tie clips, or whatever it is, and show pictures of the completed projects. You can show a price, and the people that want one of them will contact you.
For those with larger followings, you can ask them to share your posts, and help spread the word. This will increase your exposure. Deliver a good product, and you will get word of mouth and referral sales too, which are the most powerful.
A referral is a free sale, because it cost you nothing to get. It’s also a nearly guaranteed sale, because it came from a friend who recommends your product. In the selling world, a personal recommendation from a trusted friend is the holy grail, and one of the most influential conversations that can ever happen.
If you want to expand beyond social media, you can find an online source for selling handmade items and create an account. Once you are active, you will have access to millions of people that are looking for handmade items online.
This process is a little more involved than selling to friends and friend of friends on social media, but you have access to more customers in return. For some people, that will be a benefit that is worth the extra work.
There are many woodworkers that sell online, so you will have some competition. Don’t worry, unless you are trying to make woodworking a business, this is only to move a few smaller projects and nothing more.
If you are looking at woodworking as a business, do your very best and get your name out there so you can start building your empire. There will be competition, but stay persistent, and keep on turning out great projects.
In business, if you are really thinking about giving it a run with woodworking, it’s much better to stand out as different than to simply be better than the other products on the market.
Think about the old mouse trap example, and decide what mouse trap gets your attention. The first is a better trap with a stronger spring, thicker wood base, and a longer bar that can trap 50% more mice than the others on the market.
The second is the different trap that uses lasers, air pressure, and has an iphone app that lets you know when you catch something. Which mouse trap catches your attention better? In a sea of mouse traps, which one stands out? That’s right, lasers and phone apps.
It may only work as well as the standard traps on the market, but it will sell because it’s different, and that’s better than just being a better version of the same old trap.
Think about that when you are making your cutting boards, or rings, or whatever you decide to make. If you make the same thing as everyone else, you run the risk of being lost in the shuffle.
You also risk not having enough clout to even rank in the same search results as them, making your projects basically invisible.
If you do a Google search for “mouse trap” you will find millions of results. Do a search for “laser mouse trap” and the results go down significantly. The same goes for “making a cutting board” versus “making an end grain walnut cutting board.”
The more you can differentiate yourself and still put out a good product the easier it will be for the people that want your projects to find you. There will be less people looking, but there will also be less options in the market.
As a hand maker, this is where you can be a little different, and capture part of the market that does not want another run of the mill item.
Save those scraps, and make something with them that you can sell. Not only does this give you more shop time, it also gives you a source of income that you can use to fund your shop activities.
If you are persistent, and you find some success, you may even be able to fund your woodworking hobby to the point where it feeds itself, and maybe even feeds you a little too.
Only a Hammer is a Hammer
You would not believe how many times I’ve seen someone using a $300 electric drill as a hammer. When I did furniture repair, most of the employees had a drill set that was not cheap at all, and all the time you would see them using it as a hammer.
In fairness, they weren’t actually driving nails with the drill, but they were using it in a way that it was not meant to be used. This is where accidents happen, where you can ruin nice tools, and also hurt yourself.
If you need a hammer, use a hammer. If you need a chisel, use a chisel. There are a lot of different tools in the world, and they are all made for specific tasks. The best thing you can learn to do is use your tools for what they are designed for, and not deviate too far from that.
When you use a tool for a different purpose, you run the risk of breaking the tool, or hurting yourself. For example, a flat screwdriver can function like a chisel if you hammer it hard enough.
The problem is that you will need to hammer it so hard that eventually you will miss and hit yourself.
A normal chisel can be used without a hammer, or with small bumps from a mallet. These small bumps are easy, and do not cause fatigue. Your risk of missing and hitting yourself is very low, and if you did it would only be a bump rather than the solid hit required to chisel with a flat screwdriver.
Another thing that you risk when you use the wrong tool is damage to the tool itself. The drill is the perfect example, because it is definitely hefty enough to use as a mallet, but you run the risk of breaking the housing, damaging the battery, and even making it so the drill does not work at all.
Ruining a $300 drill in order to not have to go get a $10 hammer does not make sense, and you can make your tools last a lot longer by using the right tool when you need to.
Finally, the wrong tools just make the process take longer, and it will be more frustrating the entire time. A great example of this is when I carved my first violin. I did not have a gouge at the time, and didn’t want to buy one, so I used a 1/4 inch chisel.
The process itself took hours and hours as I tried using a chisel as a gouge to create a concave surface on my violin back.
Not only was the process frustrating, but the piece itself came out looking terrible. I spent a day carving out the inside of the back plate just to end up with aching muscles, a ruined back plate, and a few finger dings that I earned when the chisel slipped and got me.
Functionally, I accomplished the carve. If I didn’t care about looks or acoustics, the back would be fine, but the labor and the wasted time were not worth the $50 I saved by using a chisel over buying a gouge.
Also, the gouge would have allowed me to complete the process in far less than half the time, since it would have been able to help scoop out the wood rather than wedge it out. A chisel is great for making flat surfaces, or creating a convex surface, but the inside of the violin back is neither.
In summary, I saved $50 by wasting an afternoon and evening, losing my gluing and milling time for the violin back, and losing the money I spent on the Figured Maple for the piece itself.
If I were to pay myself $10 an hour, that means I wasted $100 before even counting the price of the wood. My savings of $50 turned into a loss of at least $50, which happened all because I knowingly used the wrong tool for the job.
When you are working in your shop, make sure that you take the time to get the right tools. In most cases, the tools are already in the shop, all you need to do is go over and get it.
Resist the urge to use your drill as a mallet, and just walk over and get the hammer when you need it. Your tools will thank you, and they will last longer as well.
Also, when you use the right tools you are taking a good step to ensuring that you will not become injured from making a mistake. Often times you have to work extra hard or use the wrong tool awkwardly when you are trying to go the quick way.
These awkward movements and extra frustrating efforts all lead to injury, because over time you will become fatigued and make a mistake.
When you miss with a hammer, you can really hurt yourself, especially if you are swinging for the fences. An injury can set you back months or more, and you will lose far more time than the few seconds you saved by not getting the proper tool.
Sharp Tools are Safer
Another old saying in woodworking is that sharp tools are safer than dull tools. This is the truth, because most injuries happen when something slips, not from directly cutting yourself on the blade.
Most of the time, the dullness is what actually causes you to make the mistake that causes contact with the tool, and that’s where the injury comes from.
Using edged tools is a pleasure, especially when they are really sharp. A dull tool is a dangerous tool, and on top of that it requires far more effort to use.
Really sharp tools go through wood in almost a mystifying way. It’s like the wood is extra soft that day, and just gives way behind your tool.
When you use sharp tools, the effort that you need to use to make the cut, or remove material is very low. A chisel can be worked by hand in many cases without a mallet, and without fatiguing the arms.
On the other hand, a dull chisel can perform poorly even with a jackhammer driving it, and will suck the energy right out of you. It’s two completely different experiences with the exact same tool. Fortunately, the choice is entirely yours when it comes to how you want to work.
The problem with dull tools is the amount of energy it takes to drive them, and how much energy they take from you as the user. Once you are tired, you start doing things to compensate for the missing strength needed to make the tool work.
You start pressing harder, and with different muscle groups. You change direction of cut to use different angles, and you start inviting mistakes.
One of the most common is putting a hand in front of a chisel because your pushing muscles are dead, and you start using your other hand to pull at the same time as the main hand pushes.
This often results in a chisel gash to the pulling hand, because in your fatigue and frustration you didn’t notice that your pulling hand was in front of the path of the chisel.
It sounds funny on paper, but in real life it happens to people. Woodworkers that are too stubborn to just take a break and sharpen their tools invite mistakes like this, and they cause setbacks that are far more costly than the few minutes it would have taken to sharpen the tool.
When you are using edged tools, remember to sharpen them before you work, and keep them sharp throughout the process. Stop when you become fatigued, and take a break. You can even use that break to sharpen the tool more, which will make the next round even easier.
If you notice that the process it too hard, or that the cutting is not happening as well as it once was, take a moment and sharpen your tool. Not only will it give you the small break that you need, but it will also give you a chance to sharpen and make the next passes even easier than the first.
You will feel better, your arms will not hurt, and you will make less mistakes that can lead to broken tools or injuries.
Part 32 – Wrap Up
I hope you liked Part 32 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.
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