Woodworking for Beginners Part 37

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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.

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Learn Woodworking Terminology

how-to-make-beef-jerky-the-meat-fully-mixedAs a beginner, it’s important to learn as much as you can about your craft. Learning the names of your tools is just as important.

Not only will this help you sound like you know what you are talking about, it will help you communicate better when you are trying to accomplish a goal and speaking to another woodworker.

Have you ever gone searching for something, but you don’t really know what it is? This happens a lot on the internet for most people, because you know that you are not the first person to have this problem.

You know that, but you don’t know what the answer is, and you also don’t know what the thing you are looking for is called.

In this situation, you need to start by looking into the jargon for that particular field before you can even start looking for the thing you really want. This is a similar situation to learning woodworking terminology.

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If you don’t know what you are asking about, and you don’t know any of the terms to describe it, you are going to have a really difficult time asking someone for help. You might not be able to communicate what you need, not even enough that an expert can figure it out.

As you learn about woodworking, pay attention to the terns that are used. Learn as many as possible, and try remembering them as well as you can. This way, when you go into the woodworking store, or you are looking online, you will be able to communicate well.

There are a couple of ways that you can learn your woodworking terminology, and each has its merits. You can choose to learn the process organically, or as you encounter things, or learn it more academically, meaning a large volume of information more quickly.

Organic learning is how most woodworkers accomplish this part of the craft. They start learning the names of the tools they have, then the accessories and attachments for those tools, and then supporting items for the tools.

The information and knowledge branches out from one starting point, and everything is connected somehow. It’s a much slower process, but you have more time to think about and retain the names of the tools and processes.

A different approach is to jump start your learning and buy either a woodworking encyclopedia or glossary, and start reading. There are a number of good guides like this available, and there are even some that have a thousand or more terms.

When you read a guide like this, you can accelerate your learning, and you will understand more terms, more quickly than with the organic method.

Either way you decide to learn your woodworking terms and names, it is very beneficial. You need to be able to communicate to other woodworkers in an effective way to be able to ask questions.

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In your search for information, you will need to be able to tell people what you need, and by knowing the names of your tools and the different woodworking processes, you will be in much better shape to find what you need more rapidly.

You Never Have Enough Clamps

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No matter how many you buy, every woodworker runs into a situation where they are most of the way through gluing something together, and they realize they do not have enough clamps.

It’s kind of humorous, but it happens, and that’s why you can never have enough clamps.

In the beginning, clamps are going to be an expense, but you can do a few things to reduce the price. You can look for deals in hardware stores, or for holiday sales, or you can make them yourself.

You might also be successful by looking online for someone that is getting out of woodworking, and looking to sell their stuff. Any of these methods will get you a nice starting amount of clamps, and you can use the same methods over time to keep on adding to your collection as you need them.

First, you should take a look around in discount tool stores and in hardware stores and try to find clamps that are on sale.

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For a long time, I was getting about a dozen clamps a year from a local hardware store that would bring in higher end clamps in a stack out for Christmas. Every year I bought more, and it grew my collection.

Another way to get a really good deal on clamps is to make them yourself. There are a number of good plans online, but you can get a double benefit by making clamps, because it’s a great beginner woodworking project.

If you can use cam clamps, these are some of the easiest to build in the shop. They are also some of the least expensive, and they will last nearly forever if you take care of them. They do not exert the same force that a bar clamp will exert, but they are plenty strong for most woodworking needs.

You can also make different kinds of clamps if that is what you need, and again there are plans online for making clamps. I recommend that you start by looking at a few plans for homemade clamps, and then find what you like and what you don’t.

Once you have your ideas, make a drawing and then make a single clamp.

If the one you make looks good, and works well, scale up to production level from there. Start planning on making them in batches of ten or more, and you will be able to make them much faster per clamp than you were able to make the single clamp.

Finally, if you look online, you can find people that are getting out of woodworking, and selling their old stuff for really cheap. Take a look at some of the second hand sites, and many times you can find a deal on clamps.

If you find the right number of clamps for the right price, you can very quickly add to your collection.

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You can never have enough clamps it seems, and even though this is more of a bit of woodworking humor, the day you run into the end of your clamp supply will come eventually, and you will end up buying more.

Then, sometime in the future again, the same thing will happen and you will buy even more. This is why nearly every woodworker has a huge pile of clamps in the shop, even though it seems like they are never all used at once.

Never Assume it’s Square

When you are working with a piece of wood, it’s a good practice to never assume that the piece is square until you check it. Many boards from the store are going to look square, but very few actually are.

If you plan on making something where the pieces are joined together, then it’s worth the time to take a look and see if the piece is square.

The easiest way to do this is with a square, checking the piece in several sections. You can also use your miter saw to make a fresh cut on the end, and a table saw to make a fresh cut on the side of the piece.

This will give you a nice 90 degree angle between the two surfaces that you can use as your starting point.

When you start from square, and cut everything from square, your resulting pieces will also be square. The last thing you want is to start building and find out that all of your pieces are just not fitting together quite right.

It’s not an uncommon mistake to use the table saw and repetitively cut off pieces that are just a bit off square. When the pieces are used individually, it makes no difference because they look close enough that nobody will notice. However, when they are used together, you can very quickly see how a couple degrees adds up.

When you use a piece of wood, never assume that it is square. Do a simple check in the shop, and if needed make a couple cuts to fix any issues. The project will progress easier, and look better too.

A Drill is a Lazy Tool

Of all the tools in the shop, the drill is by far one of the laziest. A drill just goes where it wants to go, and takes the path of least resistance. In the beginning, it can seem like it’s a really tough task to get your drill to go where you want it to go.

Thankfully, there are a few things that you can do in order to help.

A drill will always find the easiest route through a piece of wood. Most of the time, this is not the path that you intended the drill to take. A drill bit will bend sideways and drive through a piece of open grain that is right next to where you intended to drill, and it’s nearly impossible to force it back.

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Drills follow softer grain in a piece of wood sometimes too, and depending on where you need the hole to be, it can be hard to get it to stick in one place.

This is the most common with twist bits, which are also the most commonly seen drill bit type. It’s just the nature of the tip of these bits that they can wander around until they find something to bite into.

The way to prevent wander, and help the drill go where you want it to go is to create the easiest path yourself, before you drill. Essentially what you are doing is creating the path of least resistance for the drill in the exact spot where you need it to be.

Since you control where the placement is, you now control where the drill will go as it makes a hole in your piece.

Creating the path of lease resistance on your board is a simple matter of either making an indentation, or a small hole that the bit can follow. The trick is how to make the indent so that the bit just can’t resist going through it.

The tip of the drill is angled to a point in the center, and you need to create an indent or hole that the tip, and about 1/2 to 2/3 of the beveled portion can rest inside. You can visualize this like a small balloon sitting inside the top of a cup, with only 1/2 to 1/3 sticking out.

The balloon is the tip of the drill, and the opening of the cut is the hole or dent you need to create on the surface for the drill to follow.

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When that much of the drill bit fits inside the starting hole, the drill just can’t resist following that path. Now, all you need to do is make that hole.

For smaller drill bits, an awl or a compass point will do the trick. All you need to do is press it into the surface of the wood and make an indent that the drill can center upon and follow.

Make the hole deep enough to get the very tip of the bit inside, but not wider than the diameter of the drill.

If you have larger bits, you can use a smaller drill by hand to open up a hole in the wood that the bigger drill can follow. Many times, you can use the awl to compass point to make a hole for the smaller drill, then twist the smaller drill by hand to make a bigger opening.

This bigger hole captures the bigger drill, and creates the easiest path to follow, ensuring that the drill will go exactly where you want it to go.

Forstner and Brad Point Drill Bits

Since drill bits are inherently lazy, and follow the easiest path through the wood, you may have some trouble making holes right where you want to make them.

If you have very many drill bits yet, or you don’t mind buying a new set, you can make a simple purchase and solve the majority of these drill wandering problems.

As a response to the fact that twist point drills do not start very easily, manufacturers started making different looking bits.

Some have an additional smaller twist point at the tip, others have a brad point, or a center spur that makes the initial bite. The most common of the two are brad point drills and Forstner bits.

Brad point drills at first look nearly identical to twist drills, until you get to the tip. The center of the tip has a very fine point, that is sharp, and it used to get the bit started in the surface better.

Essentially, you can make a very tiny indent either by pressing the drill itself into the surface, or using an awl. Then you turn on your drill and advance it through that indent.

The center point grabs on and gets the bit positioned really well for the initial bite in the wood. Then, since the first bite was so good, the drill follows that same path.

In this way, brad point drills are much easier to get started than twist bits, and can make your drilling, especially as a beginning woodworker, much easier and less stressful.

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There is also another type of drill that does the same thing, but can also do something that the brad point drill does not do. The Forstner bit solves the same problem as the brad point, but is designed differently and doesn’t resemble a normal drill bit at all.

In larger sizes the Forstner bit resembles a letter T, or a child’s toy top, with a larger base and a center spur to punch a good starting hole in the wood.

The advantage that these have over the brad point bit is that you can commonly find them in larger diameters up to several inches. Brad point drills tend to be made in the same sizes as twist bits, where the biggest one in a set is typically 1/2 inch.

If you have not bought your drills yet, consider picking up a standard drill index with brad point bits that range from 1/8 inch to 1/2 inch, either in increments of 1/8 or as fine as 1/64 inch.

The bigger kits are more expensive, but if you take care of your tools the investment is worth it. You will also be able to drill a much wider set of sizes, so the odds of you not having the right drill in a set like that is pretty low.

Next, pick up a set of Forstner bits that range up to an inch and a half. Look around for a set that does not overlap the first brad point set in sizes too much.

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Most Forstner sets will still have a couple common sizes like 1/4 and 1/2, but the point is to expand your set and get some bigger bits from the Forstner set. Now, you will have a wide range of bits, and you will be able to accurately drill a hole whenever you need to.

Use a Drill Press Where Possible

In the beginning, drilling a hole can seem like a pretty straight forward thing. The problem is that any time you are drilling a hole by hand, it’s a lot harder to keep it straight than it looks.

Drilling a perpendicular hole is a skill with a hand drill, though if you have not purchased a drill at this point, you can make it easier by purchasing a drill press instead.

The drill press takes all of the guessing out of drilling a straight hole. The machine has a fixed head, and a table top that you can move around. Once you set these two up to be perpendicular to each other, you will drill perfectly straight holes every time.

The machine does all of the aligning, and all you need to do is place a flat piece under the drill in order to make your holes.

Why are straight holes important? When you are drilling for things like dowels, pins, or even axles on a small wooden car toy, drilling a straight hole means that your parts or pieces will end up where you want them to. It also means that you will not break out of the side of a board when drilling for dowels.

If you are drilling through a piece of wood, and you need the entry and exit holes to be in the same place, you need to be drilling with a tool that helps you make a straight hole every time. This way, you can continue your build without worrying about the holes lining up for the entry and exit.

When you get your new drill press, or any time you move an existing drill press, it’s a good idea to level the table top before you use it. This does not mean check the level to the earth, it means make sure that the head and drill are perpendicular to the table top.

Most drill presses allow the table top to move up and down to accommodate larger projects. Most also allow the table to swivel left and right, and some even rotate so that you can drill angled holes as well.

All of these things need to be checked before you can be assured that the drill press will make a straight hole.

The reason you can’t simply level the table top is because the table that the drill press sits on, or the floor that the base sits on might not be level. If you level the table top, you are leveling it to the earth, not to the position of the drill head.

This is more of a perpendicular check than a leveling, and the setup makes a big difference in the performance of the press.

There are a number of ways to make the table top perpendicular to the drill head. One way is to use a digital angle gauge and check the table top several times. Another is to use a bent piece of firm wire that comes out of the chuck of the drill.

You can essentially rotate the drill head with the S shaped piece of bent wire inside the chuck, and as long as the bottom tip touches the table top all the way around the rim, the plate is perpendicular. Look online for jigs too that can set up your drill press, and you will be very happy that you did.

Part 37 – Wrap Up

a beginners guide to woodworking book to help new woodworkers make betterwoodworking projects
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I hope you liked Part 37 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. 

Happy building.

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  • 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
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