Woodworking for Beginners Part 5

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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 month, 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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Old Books and Old Methods

a-beginners-guide-to-woodworking-part-5As you are building your woodworking library, keep an eye out for older woodworking and wood finishing books to add to your collection. Older books offer a different look at methods and materials that are not as prevalent anymore.

They also reveal forgotten ways of working with wood that in some cases are better than what we currently use. If you pay close attention, you can find these treasures in used book stores, flea markets, and other places that carry old books.

If you can get them without spending a ton of money, they are very useful as you advance your woodworking skills.

Books reveal older methods and processes that are important to remember. They can also show you ways of working wood that you may never have been exposed to otherwise.

These methods can sometimes reveal new tools that are actually really old. These tools may end up being some of your favorites, and all because you picked up an old woodworking book.

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Sometimes older methods don’t go away because they were inferior, they go away because they are not as easily learned, or easily sold. For example, sandpaper has long replaced the cabinet scraper.

Sandpaper and power sanders are easier to learn and use, but the cost of the tool and the constant need to replace the paper makes them a more expensive alternative.

A cabinet scraper and burnisher are one time purchases, and they can last a lifetime. A scraper does take a little longer to learn, but it leaves a finer surface than sanding, and you don’t have to switch grits several times to get it really smooth.

The scraper cuts the wood, so it leaves a very fine surface right away.

The scraper and sandpaper is an example of how ease of use and selling product influence what we do. The scraper is not an inferior tool. In fact, in may ways it’s superior to sandpaper.

This older method went away because it’s a little harder to learn, and it’s more beneficial for manufacturers to keep selling you more sandpaper as you need it. The scraper is a one time purchase, and not nearly as profitable.

Had it not been for an old book, there would be plenty of people that never even heard of a cabinet scraper. If you spend some time reading old books you may find some tools and methods that you end up using for the rest of your life.

Finishing books that are older are also interesting to read. Modern finishes are a pleasure to work with, but some traditional finishes leave a glow to a piece of wood that is hard for the modern stuff to replicate. This is where reading an old finishing book can reveal quite a bit.

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As you see older books, flip through them and see if they are interesting. If you can find them on a deal, buy them and see what the woodworkers of the past were able to accomplish with different methods.

Remember, just because it’s old, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s inferior. There have been brilliant works of woodworking art that were made without power tools and by candle light. They used different tools and methods, but the work was still amazing.

Be careful when using older books though, because sometimes they recommend things that are not used anymore for a good reason.

I have a guitar making book that is fairly old, and it explains how using Asbestos to shield heat is the best way you can do it. As we all know, Asbestos causes cancer, and is a banned material. The book has a lot of value in other areas, but the Asbestos thing definitely stuck out to me.

As you go through older books, and you have a question about a particular part, do a quick search online to see what others are saying about it. This can quickly reveal if something is not safe, or there is a better way to use the same materials or tools.

This is going to be more common in older finishing books, where chemicals are used to change the color of wood rather than staining it as we do now.

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Enjoy learning about the ways that our ancestors worked wood, and be careful. If you find a tool that you want to try, there are sure to be several places that still sell it, especially when you go online.

Keep a Woodworking Notebook

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As you learn about woodworking, and you discover new things, keeping a woodworking notebook is a great way to have everything organized.

When you get an idea, plan a project, or brainstorm ideas, you can write them down in your notebook. Over time, this notebook will become a treasured possession that you have your most important woodworking data inside.

The first thing you can do to ensure that you will use your woodworking notebook is to buy a notebook that is not a piece of junk. If you buy a one dollar notebook, you will treat it like a one dollar notebook.

This is going to eventually become a treasury of your personal woodworking information. You may even have enough inside it to write a book of your own one day. With potential like that, you don’t want to write out your greatest woodworking secrets on the back side of a napkin. Spend a couple bucks.

One of the best notebooks that you can buy is a Moleskine. These are similar to the old Hemingway notebooks that he used to carry around. A basic notebook with lined paper is all you need, and they are perfect for writing out your woodworking data.

The price is good too, about twenty dollars, and they measure around five inches by eight inches.

Starting with a notebook like this will help you treat the process with the care that it deserves. This notebook is going to be home to a lot of great data, tips, and things you have learned along your way.

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You will one day look back fondly inside the pages and smile as you remember the things you used to struggle with. Until then, you need to know what to add to the book.

My woodworking notebooks are filled with ideas, tips, tricks, finishing schedules, diagrams, and just about anything woodworking related that I need to write down at the moment.

Ideas are fleeting, and I use my notebooks to record things that I would otherwise forget. As I go back through them, the ideas come back to me, and I can execute on the important ones.

I recommend that you write out your notes at first, and keep them in order from the first page onward. This way, you will have a loose a time line of what you are learning, and when you learned it.

This also helps for going back and looking something up. You will have an idea about when you learned it, and will be able to flip forwards and backwards based on what you see on the pages.

After notes, you want to start writing out ideas. These can be simple things like topics you want to learn, or more complex things like brainstorming a project. Use any format that you like, as long as you can reference back to the ideas and find meaning in them.

The point is not to write a ton and forget about it. You need to be able to go back and filter the data into something usable later in your process.

Ideas are likely going to be the most valuable thing you place inside your notebook. I regularly have a long list of bullet points that I use when I am thinking about a new project.

All I do is keep on adding thoughts under the main idea inside my notebook. Once I have thought about it for a while, I go back through the ideas and arrange them into something resembling a project.

This is one of the best ways to brainstorm. Don’t worry about getting everything out in an hour or a day. Spend a week or two just adding random ideas to your notebook and see what you have after a while.

You can do a dedicated session where you sit and think about the project, but you should also be adding things as ideas strike.

Another thing that you can add to your notebook is finishing schedules and step by step instructions. If you come up with a really good finishing schedule, or you use a modified version from a book, writing down exactly what you did can be helpful.

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It’s not easy to remember exactly how you finished something a few weeks ago. It’s hard to remember what you had for breakfast sometimes.

If you write out everything in your notebook, step by step, and exactly what you did, you can easily refer back to it and apply the same great looking finish. There will be no guess work, and the project should turn out the same way that the first one did.

As you are adding things to the book, sketching out a jig or a project can be helpful too. It doesn’t matter where you add the drawings, as long as they are easy to understand and add value to your notebook.

If you are starting completely from scratch, you can sketch inside the book, or you can work out the details on scrap paper and then transfer the final drawing in a complete form to the notebook.

Either way, as long as you have the details inside where you can reference them later it will work out perfectly.

Lastly, something you can use your notebook for if you wish is a goal setting tool. As a new woodworker, you have certain goals and aspirations. Maybe it’s to be able to replace all your kitchen cabinets?

Maybe to make a violin for your child? Whatever your dream projects are, you can give them a better chance at reality by writing them down and calling them a goal.

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Write out what you want to learn, what you want to build, and what you want to accomplish. Give yourself a time frame, but make it loose. I like to set goals for the year, meaning I have a lot of time to learn what I want to learn, and make what I want to make.

This makes the goal more likely to be accomplished, but doesn’t add stress from any real deadlines.

As you learn more and more about woodworking, review your goals once in a while and see how you are coming along. Make adjustments to what you are doing as you need to, and keep moving forward a little each day.

A woodworking notebook can be a fantastic resource for your woodworking development, and over time can become a treasured item that holds all of your woodworking and wood finishing ideas.

If you keep a notebook for a long time, and fill it, you will truly enjoy looking back through the pages and seeing where you came from. It will bring a smile to your face, and really highlight the journey that you have been on.

Many times we focus on how far we have yet to go in any journey we are working through. It’s natural to fix your attention on the ending, though sometimes you need to stop and look behind.

You may have a long way to go until you reach your goals, but you may have also traveled very far from the point where you started. Seeing that distance of travel through something like your woodworking notebook can inspire you when you feel like you still have a lot to learn.

When you go through a full woodworking notebook, you will see just how far you have come from the brand new woodworker that you once were.

Even though you may feel like you have a long journey ahead of you, seeing how far you came will make you feel better because you now know you haven’t been standing still this entire time.

I have several notebooks now, and they are all very special to me. You will have the same thing happen to you if you make the decision to start keeping and using a notebook right form the beginning.

Take Lots of Pictures

Taking pictures is a great way to catalog your woodworking projects, progress, and ideas in a simple and inexpensive way. Taking pictures of your work creates a record of the build, preserves the memory, and helps you see where you have been on your journey.

Pictures are also nice to have because you can use them to show others your work, and refer back to them when you don’t exactly remember how something was made.

Thanks to the miracle of digital photography, there is no difference in price between taking one picture and a hundred. As long as you are storing them on a computer and not printing them, the cost is literally the same.

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I recommend that you use a digital camera, and stop frequently to take pictures. It is helpful in a number of ways, and it will help you be more patient too.

Stopping to take pictures is the woodworking equivalent of stopping to smell the roses. When you stop for a couple pictures, you are examining your work as you do.

You will naturally see things that you didn’t know you needed to address, and you will address them. It also gives you a second to take a quick break, and it calms your thoughts. All of these are great reasons why you should be taking more pictures.

If you do not have a digital camera, you can get one for next to nothing online. Find a camera that makes it easy to get the pictures into your computer, or that has a memory card you can insert into your computer.

A camera and a nice card will be less than a hundred dollars, and in some cases far less. For that low of a price, you can afford to bring it out into the shop and let it get dusty without worrying about damaging a high end piece of electronics.

Since cameras are in just about every phone in the world now, you can skip the camera purchase and use your phone instead. Just remember to download the pictures to your computer regularly.

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If the phone breaks, your pictures may be lost with it. The point of taking pictures is to preserve the memories and create a record of your projects, so you definitely don’t want to lose the pictures.

You may never write a book, or publish a step by step tutorial on a project, but taking pictures like you are going to will give you better results. It will also stop you more often so you get small breathers in the process.

The next time you are working on a project, start taking pictures as if you were going to have to explain it to someone who has never built it before.

When you take pictures like this, you increase the chance that you will have the picture you need when you look back at the project several years down the road.

For example, you may have a person that you gave a project to, and they call and ask you to make them another that is identical.

Unless you can get the project back from them for measurements and construction notes, you may have to go off of your pictures and the data from your woodworking notebook. If you took poor notes and only took one picture, you are going to have a hard time making another of the same project.

When you take pictures like you are going to have to show the exact process to another woodworker, you end up with better pictures that tell the whole story. Now, all you have to do is save them.

In the beginning, saving the pictures on your computer is a good plan, but over time you may want to invest in an external hard drive. These are just large storage spaces that you can get for a low price.

The amount you can store now for less than a hundred dollars is astounding, and even at the furious rate that I take pictures, I can’t ever see filling one of these drives.

You will have to find a way that you like storing your pictures, but I like to create folders and store them by the project name. The date will carry with the file when you look at the properties, so you only need to add the date if that is something you want to see right away.

If not, just create a folder with the name of your project, and dump all of the pictures that you took inside the folder.

Once you have several projects and it starts getting unruly, you can create main idea folders and start breaking down the projects by type. For example, I have guitar making, wooden rings, wooden toys, and woodworking projects as some of my main idea folders.

If I had everything in one area, there would be over forty thousand pictures and hundreds of folders all jammed in the same place. The main idea folders help filter the projects and it makes them easier for me to find.

You do not have to be as intense with your picture taking as I am, but taking good pictures should be a part of your woodworking routine.

They will create a record of your projects, help you reference them in the future, and show you how far you have come along. It’s a pleasure to go through them after several years, and you can really see how you have improved in that time.

Even if you only take a few dozen pictures as your project unfolds, save them in a safe place, and you will always have them. This way, when you need to refer back to an old project, all you need to do is find the pictures and you will be able to refresh yourself before making the project again.

You will also have the pictures forever, so you can refer back to them as time passes. This is a fun process, because it’s hard to remember all the details years after the project was made.

Part 5 – Wrap Up

a beginners guide to woodworking book to help new woodworkers make betterwoodworking projects
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I hope you liked Part 5 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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