Your Work Space
Beginning Tool Box
Taking Care of Your Tools
Wood Working Glossary
Picking Out Your Wood
Starting Your Projects
What if Something Goes Wrong?
So you’re thinking you want
to learn woodworking? Woodworking can be a fun and
satisfying hobby, but it can also be quite frustrating. In a
world filled with mass-produced, poorly crafted pieces of
furniture, it can be a thrill to produce a piece made with
your own two hands.
Take a few pieces of wood, some tools, and your imagination,
and you can make beautiful pieces of furniture. The
possibilities with carpentry are endless. Even the most
inexperienced person can learn woodworking and turn out
gorgeous pieces that can become heirlooms.
Woodworking as a hobby is growing in popularity – especially
among the female population. More and more women are taking
a new interest in jig saws and power drills as they turn out
accessories and furniture for their homes.
The term “woodworking” literally refers to the process of
building, making or carving something using wood. Kind of
obvious, isn’t it? But there are all types of pieces that
can be made using wood – not just furniture! You can make
toys, toy boxes, or carved figurines.
It can truly become an art form.
So where and how does an aspiring woodworker begin? Many
people benefit greatly from taking a class at the local
college or community center. Others prefer to read a book or
magazine. Still others prefer to just jump right in. There’s
no one right way to start. It depends on how much experience
you have with using the tools essential to woodworking.
Woodworking is not nearly as daunting as it may seem. It is
not necessary to spend a fortune on tools and supplies. Many
projects can be done with a minimum investment and your
Woodworking is a huge hobby, with the number of active
participants estimated by some within the industry at
between seven and eleven million strong. Each brings their
own set of capabilities and interests that often make
specific techniques more applicable in their situation. As
long as the techniques chosen are safe, and produce the
desired results, they are right for them.
This aritcle is intended to introduce you to basic
woodworking terms, getting started with a stocked shop,
carving out your workspace, and introducing you to some
basic woodworking projects. We will concentrate mainly in
here on building pieces of furniture. Once you get the hang
of this, you can get more indepth with carving, etc. as you
learn to better use your tools.
This is not a comprehensive,
definitive guide, but a good way to get started crafting
your own projects and learning the satisfaction of making
your own furniture, toys, and much more!
We’ve included a section on shop safety, and some easy
projects we found to get you started!
So let’s start with the newbie’s guide to woodworking!
The first thing you need to
consider is where you’ll be crafting your projects. Most
people take up woodworking in their garage or basement. This
is fine; just remember that you’ll need some space to store
materials and the finished product. You’ll want a space that
is easy to move around in and that you can keep organized.
If you’re using power tools, you’ll need easily accessible
power outlets. Remember that power tools can be quite noisy,
so take into consideration the comfort of your family and
You’ll need a workbench which doesn’t necessarily have to be
elaborate. It’s a space for you to work on and keep your
plans out in the open. You can buy commercially made
workbenches at most home supply stores.
When choosing a workbench, look for one with a wood top, or
another smooth, non-marking top, so that the surface doesn’t
scuff the wood you use for your projects. Storage underneath
the bench is nice if your budget allows a model with
built-in drawers and cabinets.
Choose a workbench that fits comfortably in your shop space
and that matches the types of projects you think you’ll be
working on. A small workbench will do for crafting toys, but
you’ll need a larger space if you’re making armoires.
But you’re getting started with woodworking as a hobby. Why
not make your own workbench? This will give you valuable
experience and will become one of the most useful items in
your shop! We’ve included a simple workbench plan in this
book. Try diving right in with and start your workshop out
with a piece you made yourself!
It’s a good idea to have a bin where you can place operating
manuals from your tools. This way, you won’t lose them and
they’ll be easily accessible. We also recommend a good tool
box to store your tools and a box such as a tackle box to
sore nails, screws, etc. in.
As with most any projects,
the better organized you are, the more efficient you’ll be.
You’ll also save yourself a lot of stress by being able to
locate what you need easily.
Some people like to have a peg board over their workbench to
hang their tools on. This is a good idea as is to have a
bulletin board so you can hang the plans for your current
Last, you’ll need good lighting. You can get shop lights
inexpensively at discount stores like Wal-Mart or Home
Depot. Now that you have a place to work, what do you need
to get started? The obvious answer would be wood, which
we’ll talk about a little later. What’s the second obvious
BEGINNING TOOL BOX
If you plan to make
woodworking a hobby for a long time, you’re better off
buying good tools instead of the cheaper one. They’ll hold
up better and last longer.
As far as hand tools, you’ll be fine buying used older ones
as long as they’re in good condition. The quality of older
tools tends to be better and they’re made to last.
You can build quality projects with just hand tools, but
power tools make the job so much easier. Be especially leery
of buying used or discounted power tools. Make sure they are
safe and work effectively. You don’t have to rush out and
buy everything all at once. This is a hobby that can earn
you money which can be used to buy tools and material, it
may even turn into a livelihood if you are not careful!
When you get the word out to friends and family members that
you are delving into woodworking, a lot of them may have
excess tools lying around that you can use. Reward any
kindness with a beautiful piece once you get started!
Following are the basic tools you’ll need.
Claw hammers are the most common types of hammers used for
woodworking and general repairs around the home. They are
available with different types of handles, wood, steel with
rubber or plastic grips and fiberglass composition. The
style of hammer you select should be a personal decision,
hold the hammer in your hand as if to strike a nail, it
should feel balanced, the grip should be comfortable. There
are different weights, 16 ounces is a good general purpose
choice, for heavier work perhaps 20 ounces. Smaller weights
are suitable for tacks and light work or children.
Screwdrivers are needed for almost every woodworking
project. Make sure you have various sizes of both Phillips
head and flat head screwdrivers. I’m especially partial to
my cordless, electric screwdriver that comes with different
size bits for all types of projects. This way, I have one
tool with all the versatility of 10!
Wood chisels range in size from 1/4" to 2" wide in 1/8"
graduations. They are available with wooden or plastic
handles. Use a chisel about one half the width of the cut to
be made. Thin cuts can be made by pushing by hand; heavier
cuts are made by tapping on the end with a wooden mallet.
You’ll want a couple of different sizes of chisels – no need
to buy all sizes when you’re just starting out!
Levels are available in many sizes and shapes, the most
common being 24" long. They can be made of wood, aluminum or
plastic. Some have fixed vials, others are adjustable. All
levels have one or more vials for vertical and horizontal
use, some have 45 degree vials. Inside the vial is a fluid
with an air bubble, when the bubble is centered between the
two indicator lines the surface is level. You’ll need a
level to insure your project turns out straight. You don’t
want to build a bookshelf only to see it listing at a 45
Framing Squares are important in woodworking. With this tool
it is possible to layout and measure just about everything
in the construction of a house from the basement stairs on
up to the attic rafters. It may also be referred to as a
steel square or a carpenter’s square. The most common size
has a 24" blade and a 16" tongue, however there are smaller
sizes available but like some cheaper versions of the larger
style they do not have the framing tables stamped on them.
Try Square - These squares have a steel tongue fixed into a
wooden handle, they range in size from 3" to 12", some have
inch scales on them others are blank. They are very handy
for furniture and cabinet making as they are small enough to
fit in confined spaces.
Triangles - These are available in many shapes and sizes in
various materials, the double 45° and a 30° - 60° are the
two shapes used most in laying out patterns.
Tape measures come in a variety of widths and lengths. I
would not recommend anything less than 3/4" wide for a tape
over 6 feet long as they can not be extended out and remain
rigid. For small projects in the shop 1/2" wide ones are
adequate. Some have highlighted indicators at each foot;
others have them at 16 inch intervals which is handier in
construction for stud layout, whereas the foot indicators
are more useful in the shop. Special tapes are available for
lefties as well as ones with digital read-outs. The hook on
the end is meant to be loose so that it will give an
accurate measurement whether it is hooked over the edge or
butted up to an edge. Check if the hook has been bent if
measurements are not accurate.
Nail and Screws – you can buy
these as needed for various projects, but you should still
keep on hand various sizes of nails and screws.
Sandpaper – You’ll use a lot of sandpaper in finishing your
projects. Have various grades available for the different
projects you’ll be completing. Fine grit paper is used for
most wood projects. Medium is generally used for first
sanding of soft woods and shaping. Coarse grit should be
used for paint removal, rough sanding, and shaping.
Various Saws – A fret saw use very narrow blades so
intricate designs can be cut. The blade can be rotated a
full 360° to negotiate tight corners. Inside cuts are
started by drilling a small hole to allow the blade to pass
through it. Then the blade is inserted into the saw frame.
Deep throated saws called scroll saws with frames having 18"
clearance are available. Handsaws are available in many
sizes and configurations; a good general purpose saw is 26"
long and has 8 teeth per inch. Crosscut saws (to cut across
the grain) have teeth with a negative rake; ripping saws (to
cut in the direction of the grain) have a zero rake.
Hand Plane - There are many different styles of hand planes
some made of steel, others made from wood. Most are meant to
smooth the surface, there are some with blades designed to
cut profiles but with the advent of the router these are
less common. Squaring up board edges and cleaning up rough
boards is easy work with a hand plane. While you only need a
basic smoothing plane to tackle most projects, don’t buy the
cheapest hand plane you find. Look for a brand name or at
least good quality metal to be sure the plane will last a
Clamps - Any project that is glued requires clamping to
insure that the parts are bonded firmly in exactly the right
position. You can never have too many clamps, it is a good
idea to pick up any that are available for a good price,
especially at swap meets and garage sales no matter what
style they are. You’ll use clamps to glue boards side to
side and to hold projects together as joints dry. Buying
pipe clamps that range from 18 inches to 8 feet wide should
ensure you have the right clamp for most projects. Add a few
hand clamps and small C-clamps for smaller projects, too. If
you intend to work with oak a lot, consider buying pipe
clamps with zinc-coated pipes to prevent staining of the
Vises – A vise holds wood pieces steady on the workbench as
you shape them with other tools. A mid- ize vise, with a 7-
to 9-inch opening, is sufficient for a beginner. Look for a
vise with wood jaws or inserts, or use smooth scrap wood to
keep the vise from denting your projects.
Rasps - Rough metal rasps are used to file board edges and
remove small amounts of wood. Two rasps, one fine and one
coarse, should be all you need
Electric Drill and Drill Bits
- Electric drills are by far the first power tool purchased,
they have so many uses besides drilling holes, there are
attachments to turn them into paint mixers, sanders,
screwdrivers, saws, grinders, lathes, the list goes on.
There are corded and cordless drills, so far each have their
place. I would recommend starting with a 3/8" capacity,
variable speed, reversible corded drill, it will not be as
handy as a cordless but you will get good performance for a
Choose a slower speed model, (max. 1200 rpm), they seem to
have more torque for drilling larger holes yet still drill
clean smaller holes. Most drills are now double insulated
which is a safety factor, if it has a three prong plug use a
three prong extension cord.
Electric Circular Saw – These can be very handy when cutting
your wood pieces. No need to break the bank on this,
however. Find one that’s easy for you to use and reliable.
Jig Saw – While not completely necessary, a good jig saw can
help make your woodworking projects easier. They can add
some eye-catching detail to a piece and make cutting wood
easier as well.
Router - Routers have become one of the most used tools in a
workshop, possibly even more popular than a table saw. A
well equipped shop will have both a plunge base and a fixed
base router; it is now possible to get a combination kit
where one machine has both bases.
There are many different bit profiles available, probably a
straight bit and a round over bit are the first ones you
will need, but this depends on the type of projects you will
be doing. It is much easier to work with smaller pieces if
the router is mounted on a table. Generally much better
results are achieved by taking several passes making a
shallow cuts rather than one pass if a lot of material has
to be removed.
Glue – You’ll want some strong carpenter’s wood glue on hand
to insure your piece’s stability.
Carpenter's Pencil - Rectangular shaped pencil, about 1/4" X
1/2", with a 1/16" X 3/16" lead.
Keep safety glasses at hand, even if you aren’t using power
tools in your wood shop. When using a hammer or moving
boards, objects or wood shavings can fly up quickly, putting
you at risk of injury. A basic first aid kit should also be
readily available for shop accidents, though you can greatly
reduce your risk of wood shop accidents by always using your
hand tools as they are intended. Using the right tool for
the job saves wear and tear on the tools and on you.
Finally, keep a wet / dry shop vacuum nearby so that you can
quickly clean up wood shavings and dust. Keeping dust and
wood particles to a minimum will reduce the risk of wood
shop fires and help you breathe easier, too.
We’ll assume you have a basic knowledge in using a hammer
and screwdriver. If you will be using power tools, just rely
on the instruction guide that will come with it if you buy
it new. If you don’t buy it new, enlist the help of a family
member or friend to show you. A last ditch resort is to
check the Internet or get a book from your local library.
Using tools isn’t rocket science. They’re pretty easy to
figure out if you take the time. Just remember to be careful
and practice safe use. What do you need to know about using
mechanical tools? Read on!
TAKING CARE OF YOUR WOODWORKING TOOLS
Few things are more exciting than getting a new power tool!
After saving the money, doing the research and all the
comparative shopping, finally receiving the box and calling
it your own is a great feeling.
Machines: they will cut, they will drill, and they will
flatten or chop almost anything. But you have to take care
of them. Read and understand the owner’s manual, then keep
it for later reference. Once a machine is set up, it still
needs to be checked periodically for alignment, for bolts
needing tightening, for lubrication and cleaning.
Learn to ‘tune’ each machine within its tolerances: band saw
wheels need to run in the same plane, a drill press needs to
raise and lower vertically square to its table, and a table
saw blade must be ninety degrees square to its tabletop,
with the front and rear of the blade running parallel to its
miter slots. Books are a good source of information of this
Before you load a motor with heavy use, allow it to build up
to full force so it can do its job efficiently. New
machines, especially, need to be allowed to run several
minutes before heavy use a first time, to allow the brushes
in the motor to ‘seat.’ Learn the sound of the motor on each
machine, and pay attention to how it sounds under the load
of an operation. If something’s wrong, you’ll often be able
to hear or feel it from the machine before things go further
Don’t try to work any machine too fast. If a procedure takes
excessive force, something is probably amiss such as:
hardened wood or not enough chip clearance for a blade, or
misalignment of essential parts. If you feel the work is
overtaxing the machine, find a different way to do it, or
approach the job in smaller steps.
Know ahead of time where your
‘panic button’ is. Practice holding the work- piece clear of
the blade, then turning the machine on and off. Before you
begin, know where that off-switch is, and know how you are
going to get to it.
There are after-market aids to make off-buttons accessible
by your knee rather than fumbling for it by hand.
Always unplug a machine when handling or changing blades.
Not only can bumping a switch give you a nasty surprise, but
faulty switches (even the ‘safer’ magnetic switches) have
been known to connect and come on with a sudden blow to a
tabletop, such as a dropped tool or piece of wood. If there
is a power outage, unplug each machine individually and
leave the lights on to tell you when the power has been
Keep your machines clean. Vacuum the dust out of motor
vents, off belts, switches, pulleys and inside router
collets. Keep band saw tires clean with a toothbrush and
isopropyl alcohol, turning the wheels by hand. If you have a
rack and pinion height adjustment, be sure its teeth and
gears are kept free of sawdust buildup.
As a rule, see that your work piece is securely clamped in
place or guided as it passes a blade. Never cut freehand on
a table saw; stabilize the work piece against a fence or
miter gauge, but don’t use the two together because that may
bind the work piece against the blade and cause a nasty
kickback or jamming of the blade. A panel-cutting sled
riding in the miter slot is the safest way to do cross-cuts.
With hand held power tools, before you begin, plan how the
electrical cord will pass freely as you complete the
operation, and if your cord is of adequate length (this is
one great advantage of battery-operated tools.) Be certain a
cord isn’t going to snag on something unnecessarily or coil
around your feet.
The best advice on new machinery is, educate yourself, and
practice before you begin the work. Woodworking is wonderful
hobby, but you are responsible for your own safety.
So now you’re outfitted and have advice on your tools. Let’s
look at some woodworking terminology you might not be
Adhesive - A substance that is capable of bonding material
together by surface attachment.
Air Dried - Lumber stacked and stored so that it is dried
naturally by the exposure to air.
Allen Head - A screw head with a recess requiring a hexagon
shaped key, used mainly on machinery. These may be in metric
or SAE sizes.
Apron - This is a frame around the base of a table to
which the top and legs are fastened.
Bench Dogs - Pegs that go into holes in the top of a
workbench which work with a vise to hold wide material.
Biscuit Joint - An oval shaped disk that when inserted in a
slot with glue swells to form a tight bond. A special
tool is required to cut the slot.
Block Plane - A small plane designed for cutting across end
Board Foot - Measurement of lumber equal to one square foot
an inch thick or 144 cubic inches. Multiply width in inches
X length in inches X thickness in inches, divide by 144 for
total board feet.
Box Joint - Square shaped finger joints used to join pieces
at right angles.
Butt Joint - A joint where the edges of two boards are
against each other.
Caliper - An instrument with two legs, one of them
sliding, used to measure the thickness of objects.
Chuck - An attachment to hold work or a tool in a
machine, lathe chucks and drill chucks are examples.
Compound Miter - An angled cut to both the edge and
face of a board, most common use is with crown molding.
Cross Cut - A cut which runs across the board perpendicular
to the grain.
Dado - A groove in the face of a board, usually to accept
another board at 90 degrees as in shelf uprights.
Dovetail Joint - A joint where the fingers are shaped like a
doves tail, used to join pieces at 90 degrees.
Dowel - A wood pin used to align and hold two adjoining
Dowel Center - Metal buttons that go into a predrilled
dowel hole to mark the position for drilling the second
Epoxy Glue - A two part glue that practically glues anything
to anything, including metal to metal.
European Hinge - A hidden style hinge fastened to the door
with a cup hole.
Filler - A substance that is used the fill pores and
irregularities on the surface of material to decrease the
porosity before applying a finishing coat.
Finger Joint - Long tapered fingers used to join material
lengthwise, often used in manufacturing molding to join
Grain - The appearance, size and direction of the alignment
of the fibers of the wood.
Hand Plane - A tool to smooth and true wood surfaces,
consisting of a blade fastened in frame at an angle with
hand grips to slide it along the board.
Jig - A device used to hold work or act as a guide in
manufacturing or assembly.
Joiner - A machine used to true the edges of boards usually
in preparation for gluing.
Kerf - The width of a saw cut determined by the thickness
and set of the blade.
Kick Back - This is when a work piece is thrown back by a
cutter, prevented using antikick back devices on power tools
such as table saws.
MDF - Medium density fiberboard, very stable underlay for
counter tops etc. to be covered with laminate
Miter Box - An apparatus to guide a saw to make miter
Miter Gauge - A guide with an adjustable head that fits in a
slot and slides across a power tool table to cut material at
Miter Joint - Pieces are cut on an angle to make a joint.
Molding (Moulding) - A strip of material with a profile cut
on the facing edges, used for trimming.
Ogee - An S shape that is made by making one cut to
produce two identical pieces.
Particle Board - A generic term for material manufactured
from wood particles and bound together with glue
Plumb - A term used to describe something that is perfectly
perpendicular to the earth relative to gravity. A plumb bob
on the end of a string will give you a line that is plumb or
straight up and down.
Plywood - A glued wood panel usually 4' X 8' made up
of thin layers of wood laid at right angles to each other.
Rip Cut - A cut which runs through the length of a board
parallel to the grain.
Sawhorse - A trestle usually used in pairs to hold wood for
Spline - A thin strip of wood fitted between two grooves to
make a joint.
T - slot - A slot milled in the shape of an upside down T to
hold special bolts for clamps or jigs.
Table Saw - A circular saw mounted under a table with height
and angle adjustments for the blade.
Taper Cut - A cut where the width decreases from one
end to the other, these are usually done on a table saw with
Tear out - The tendency to splinter the trailing edge of
material when cutting across the grain.
Template - A pattern to guide the marking or cutting of a
shape, often a router is used with a piloted bit.
Tenon - A projection made by cutting away the wood around it
to insert into a mortise to make a joint.
Tongue and Groove - A joinery method where a board has a
protruding tongue on one edge and a groove on the other, the
tongue of one board fits into the groove of the next.
Witness Marks - These are marks put on boards or pieces to
keep them in order during gluing, joining and assembly.
X-Acto Knife - This is a razor like blade in a handle;
the blades come in various shapes, very handy for fine work.
There are so many different terms used in woodworking. The
above is certainly only a partial list. You will find
yourself learning the terminology as you become more and
more familiar with the world of carpentry and woodworking.
When you enter into the world of woodworking, there’s one
thing you simply cannot do without – wood!
PICKING OUT YOUR WOOD
The two basic categories of
wood are hardwood and softwood. There is also manufactured
wood like plywood.
What you use for any given project depends on various
factors: strength, hardness, grain characteristics, cost,
stability, weight, color, durability and availability.
Usually beginning woodworkers start out with softwood such
as pine. It's soft and easy to work, and you don't need
expensive tools to get good results. It is readily available
at local lumberyards and home centers. It has it's
limitations in furniture making; it is a soft wood and will
damage easily. Softwood is from an evergreen or coniferous
(cone-bearing) tree. Common varieties are pine, fir, spruce,
hemlock, cedar and redwood. These woods are mostly used in
the home construction industry. Cedar and redwood are
excellent choices for outdoor projects, while pine is often
used for "Early American Country Style" furniture.
Pine and most other softwoods will absorb and lose moisture
more than hardwoods so are not as stable. Purchase the
lumber at least two weeks before starting your project and
keep it indoors.
You will find that softwoods are sold in standard thickness
and widths, for example a 1 X 4 will be 3/4" thick and 3
1/2" wide similar to construction materials. The material
will usually be priced per lineal foot and the price will
increase accordingly for the wider boards.
Hardwood lumber comes from deciduous trees, the ones that
shed their leaves annually. Popular domestic species are
oak, maple, cherry, birch, walnut, ash and poplar. Of these
common native hardwoods, only red oak and poplar are usually
stocked in home centers and lumberyards, the others have to
be obtained from specialty stores. The material stocked at
home centers and lumberyards is usually sold in similar
dimensions to softwood and by the lineal foot as well. At
specialty stores the thickness of hardwood lumber is
specified in quarters of an inch, measured when the wood is
in a rough state. The thinnest stock is 4/4, representing 1
in., and the thickest usually available is 16/4,
representing 4 in. Rather than being milled to specified
dimensions, like pine, hardwoods are sold in random widths
Working with hardwoods is quite different from working with
pine; you cannot drive a screw through hardwood lumber
without first boring a pilot hole. Cutting and planing
hardwoods requires extremely sharp tools.
Hardwoods are good to use when building furniture. Oak and
ash are known as open-grain woods. These species have
alternating areas of relatively porous and dense wood, when
stained the open-grain areas absorb the color readily while
the harder areas are more resistant. This accentuates the
grain patterns, creating a dramatic effect.
Cherry, maple and birch are closed-grain woods,
demonstrating a more uniform texture throughout a board.
Poplar is also a closed-grain wood, but its color ranges
from a beige to olive green, and often has purple highlights
thrown into the mix. Because of this unusual coloration, it
is rarely used if a furniture piece is going to have a clear
finish. This wood is best when stained or even painted.
Poplar, being less expensive, is also a good choice for
framing hardwood projects.
Hardwood is more durable and less prone to dents and
scratches. It is also more expensive but will finish to a
better advantage. Soft woods, like pine, are more prone to
dents and scratches and do not have the durability of
hardwood. Softwoods are much less expensive and easier to
find. Ask your lumber supplier to show you "Class 1" or
"Select Grade" lumber. Make sure it is properly dried,
straight, and free of knots and defects. (It may be
impossible to be completely free of defects but be sure you
understand how to cut around these.)
The two most common manufactured sheets goods used in
furnituremaking are MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) and
Particle Board. Both are made from wood particles, combined
with glue and bonded under pressure. MDF has finer particles
than Particle Board so produces a smoother and stronger
MDF machines very well and is often used for molded
components on painted furniture. Its main draw back is that
it is a very heavy product compared to real wood.
Because of their laminated construction, they are extremely
stable in all dimensions. Since the veneers on any given
panel are usually cut sequentially from the same log, the
panel should display a uniform color and grain. Matching the
grain pattern of solid wood to the generally uniform grain
pattern on the panels can be difficult. But careful planning
can yield good matches in the most visible areas of your
Manufactured sheets do have limitations, whenever they are
used, regardless of the core, the edge must be hidden and
the veneers on the surface are extremely thin, often less
than 1/32 in. Because of this, the surface is fragile and
has a tendency to split out, especially on the back side of
a saw cut. Also, since the veneer is so thin aggressive
sanding can quickly work through the veneer and expose the
unattractive core underneath.
As we said, what wood you use depends on what kind of
project you are undertaking. For projects that will be
painted, you can use simply MVF. For furniture, it’s often a
good idea to choose something that will finish well like
cedar or oak.
You’ll most likely be getting your wood from a lumber supply
store or a home improvement store like Home Depot or Lowe’s.
There are a few things you need to keep in mind when picking
out your lumber.
At the lumber yard or store, you'll find wood boards stacked
up in high piles according to length, quality grade,
thickness, wood type and many other categories. Even in
piles of boards that are grouped as being the same, there
are differences in quality, so follow these simple tips for
choosing boards that will work for your woodworking
Don't take boards you don't want! Lumberyard novices may
feel like they have to take the boards that are first
presented to them. Don't be afraid to examine each board
closely and send boards back if they don't meet your
criteria. Why pay for a warped board that won't work in your
current project? Rejecting boards is not an insult, but a
way to pay for wood you can use, so get in the habit early.
Check for straightness. Hold the board at eye level on one
end, with the other end on the ground. Look down the board
to see if it has obvious curves or twists. Some projects can
handle a curved board, but for beginners, working with
curved boards may be too complicated.
Check for splits and warping. Look over both sides of the
board to see if there are any long splits or warped edges.
Splits and warps reduce the amount of wood you can use for
your project, so pass on boards that would result in a lot
Knotholes can be considered attractive in some kinds of
woodworking projects, so if you're looking for a really
knotty piece of wood, that's fine. Otherwise, check your
boards for large knotholes that would become waste wood or
loose knot pieces that may fall out, causing gaps or weak
areas in your cut pieces.
For fine woodworking projects or projects that need a
straight, even grain, quarter sawn lumber offers even wood
graining, but is more expensive than regular plain sawn
lumber. Decide whether you're willing to pay for the
straight grain before choosing boards.
Look closely at each board to see if the color is even
enough for your project, and that there are not a large
number of wormholes or other marred areas. Also check for
lumberyard chalk or pen markings or dents that may not come
Used boards gathered from old barns or other projects can be
interesting and fun to work with. However, when buying or
choosing reclaimed lumber, check for signs of decay. If the
board is spongy or soft, or has signs of fungus on it, it
may not hold up well as project wood.
Pressure-treated lumber and chemically treated lumber are
for use in outdoor projects, and are better able to
withstand temperature and moisture changes. If you're
building a deck or outdoor project, ask for treated lumber.
Otherwise, untreated boards are a better choice.
The beginning woodworker should probably start out using
softer woods like pine or spruce. They are easier to work,
and you can eventually move up to harder woods like oak and
cedar. You’re almost ready to get started, but first let’s
review some safety procedures all good woodworkers adhere
SAFETY IN THE SHOP
When you are working around
sharp saws, machinery that can sever a limb, and heavy
boards, it’s important to be safe and avoid any mistakes
that could endanger your health and even your life!
Safety glasses or goggles should be worn whenever power
tools are in use and when chiseling, sanding, scraping or
hammering overhead. This is very important for anyone
wearing contact lenses. Wear ear protectors when using noisy
power tools. Some tools operate at noise levels that damage
hearing. Be careful of loose hair and clothing so that it
does not get caught in tools; roll your sleeves up and
remove jewelry. Keep tools out of the reach of small
The proper respirator or face mask should be worn when
sanding, sawing or using substances with toxic fumes. Oily
rags are spontaneously combustible, so take care when you
store and discard them.
Keep blades sharp. A dull blade requires excessive force and
can slip which causes accidents.
Always use the right tool for the job. Repair or discard
tools with cracks in the wooden handles or chips in the
metal parts. Don't drill, shape or saw anything that isn't
firmly secured. Don't abuse your tools.
Do not work with tools when you are tired. That's when most
accidents occur. Do not work with tools when you have been
using alcohol. Alcohol can skew your judgment. Wait to
celebrate after you’ve finished your project! Do not smoke
around flammable product like stains and solvents.
Read the owner's manual for all tools and under- stand their
proper usage. Unplug all power tools when changing settings
or parts. Take special care regarding the use of the table
saw fence settings and the suggestions on how to make cuts
using safety guards, push sticks, push blocks, fence
straddlers, and feather boards.
The most powerful tool in your shop is your brain, use it.
Thinking your cuts and movements through before acting can
help save both fingers and scrap wood. Pay attention to your
actions. Looking up to watch the shop TV or visitor can
result in your hand contacting the blade. Always wait until
you have completed your cut before you take your eyes off
Keep in mind that this is just a hobby and take a break when
you feel rushed or frustrated with a project. Mistakes
happen when we rush to complete a job. If your saw is
resisting the cut, stop and see what’s wrong. A misaligned
rip fence or improperly seated throat plate can sometimes
cause a board to get stuck in mid cut. Forcing the board in
these situations may cause kickback or contact with the
blade. Take a moment to evaluate the situation and determine
Let the tool stop running. Giving the power tool time to
wind down after a cut is an often-overlooked safety mistake.
Even without power, the spinning blade can still do a lot of
Accidents are caused by inattention, taking chances, bad
judgment, fatigue, and horseplay. Other causes are poor
instruction (not reading manuals), missing guards,
unsuitable clothing, defective equipment, insufficient
working space and poor lighting.
A huge step in preventing personal injury is to familiarize
yourself with any new tool before using it, read the manual,
do a dry run with the machine unplugged. Only use a tool or
machine for its intended purpose. If it is a two person job
don't try to do it alone, wait until assistance is
Keep a clean shop. A cluttered shop is an accident waiting
to happen. Keeping your shop clean will help protect you,
and your tools, from tripping hazards. Designate where hand
tools are stored, sort nails, screws, and other hardware in
containers. Sweep up at the end of the day. Solvent fumes
and airborne dust can present health and explosion hazards.
Care should be taken to ensure a supply of fresh air and use
only explosion proof vent fans. Just as there are safety
procedures you should follow, it helps if you are aware of
the most common mistakes newbies make when beginning their
The single most common
mistake in any do it yourself project is the failure to read
and follow the manufacturer's instructions for any tool or
material being used. Other common mistakes include taking
the safety measures that are laid out for a project for
granted and poor project planning. Here is a list of hints
to successfully complete this project and to do it safely.
Follow the "Golden Rule" of measuring: "Measure twice, cut
once." And provide yourself plenty of time for each step.
nderstand your plan. Whether it’s a pre-made plan you
purchased or downloaded, be sure you know the steps you have
to take to finish the project.
Don’t be too stringent, however. Be willing to alter your
plans if needed to finish the piece in a way that’s easiest
Do not neglect your tools and machinery. Make sure you take
care of them with cleaning and maintenance on a regular
basis. Ensure that metal surfaces are free of rust and
blades are kept sharp. Use a sharp pencil or marking knife
to make layout marks on your wood. You must be able to see
your markings in order to complete the piece correctly.
Use the same tape measure throughout your whole project.
Unfortunately, tape measures aren’t manufactured to be
precision measuring devices. The hook on the end slides to
compensate for its own thickness when changing between
hooking it on the outside of something being measured and
pushing it against the interior of something for an interior
measurement. Avoid using the hook on the end. Try to start
at the one inch mark, but remember to subtract that extra
inch for the correct measurement.
The second and most important thing is to use the same tape
measure for every measurement in the project. This will
cancel out the variations between tapes. And if you do use
the hook, use it for ALL the measurements.
Don’t cut all the parts out at once and expect to have an
assembling party with the pieces. This is a common newbie
mistake and should be avoided. Why? The first reason is that
there could be mistakes in the pattern or plan. If you cut
out all of the parts first, and there is more than one
mistake, you will have several good quality bits of firewood
at your disposal for winter! It is better to do things in
stages and learn that the plan is riddled with mistakes
first. The second problem is with wood movement. Changes in
humidity and temperature can cause the wood to warp after
being cut. This will affect all of your joinery. The best
way to counteract this is to break the project down into
The next section will look at some basic joints to join
pieces of wood together.
You can have a more finished
and professional look to your work by using joints instead
of screws and nails. Here are some of the basic joints used
The butt joint is the simplest of the woodworking joints,
and is very easy for beginners to master. The joint consists
of two board ends that are pushed, or butted, together and
held with nails, screws or glue. Simple wood boxes are often
constructed with butt joints. While the butt joint offers a
quick finish, it does not offer structural strength in most
cases. If a butt joint held together with nails is required
to bear much weight, the nails may soon pull out of the
wood. For beginners, though, the butt joint offers an easy
way to complete a project without expensive equipment or
in-depth woodworking knowledge.
This technique is ideal for joining two flat pieces together
to form a larger flat surface. Take two pieces of equal
length wood. Decide now which side will be the top and which
the bottom for each piece and mark the top side of each so
that you do not forget. Clamp both pieces together, one on
top of the other, with the bottoms face to face in the
middle. When clamping, ensure that the two surfaces along
which you plan to join these pieces of wood are level with
each other. Draw a line down the middle of each surface to
be joined. This must be exactly the same on both pieces of
wood, otherwise when they are joined there will be a step at
the join. Once this line has been drawn, use a set square
and mark lines across the grain of the wood. The
intersection of the length and width lines will show where
the dowel holes will be drawn. There is no hard and fast
rule for how many dowels should be used. However, the
heavier the weight of whatever will be on the surface, the
more dowels should be used. Typically, one dowel per foot is
a good rule (with a minimum of two). Once these lines have
been drawn you can then proceed to drill the holes at the
marked intersections. The drill bit used should match the
diameter of the dowel being used, thus ensuring a tight fit.
As for the dowel itself, you can either make your own small
dowels from a longer length, or you can buy dowel made
specifically for this reason. The latter option is a far
better solution, as the small dowels are beveled at the ends
to make it easier to but them in the holes, and are ribbed
to allow the glue to bond more efficiently. Each hole should
be just over half as deep as the length of the dowel being
Once the holes have been drilled, glue one end of each dowel
into the holes in the first piece of wood. Then place glue
along the full length of the second piece, ensuring that
some glue falls into each of the holes. Unclamp the two
pieces and push them together, ensuring that the two top
markings are facing up. Once done you should clamp tightly
overnight. Be careful when you clamp them to make sure that
both pieces remain flat and do not try and warp upwards. To
avoid this, it may be necessary to clamp the entire piece
down to a flat surface.
The dovetail joint is possibly the best joint that you can
use to join two pieces of wood together at a right angle.
Not only is it a very strong joint, but it also adds to the
appeal of the woodworking project.
The simplest way to create dovetail joints is to use a
router and a dovetail template jig. The latter is available
from any good home improvement store and can cost as little
as $70. It's well worth the investment if you plan on doing
many dovetail joints in the future.
Arrange the three pieces of the drawer or box as shown in
the first diagram and mark the inside and outside of each
piece. In addition, mark the ends of each piece as it is
imperative that when cutting the dovetails the correct two
ends are cut at one go.
Clamp the front of the drawer and one side into the dovetail
machine as follows: the left side of the drawer should be
clamped under the front clamp (pointing upwards towards the
template) with the inside of the drawer pointing out; the
front of the drawer - again with the inside pointing out
-should be clamped under the top clamp so that it butts up
against the left drawer. These two pieces should be
staggered slightly, rather than being aligned exactly. The
precise measurement will depend upon the particular dovetail
machine that you are using, and this distance will be
supplied with its manual. However, it should be roughly in
the region of 7/16 inch.
Once everything is tightly clamped in place, use the router
to cut around the template, following the direction of the
arrows in this diagram. You can then join the boards
together at the joints securing with glue and clamping
It is well worth practicing with scrap wood before trying
the above procedure on any project as it will take a while
to get the exact measurements (such as the depth of the
router cut) perfect. If the joint is too loose, slightly
increase the depth of the router cut. If the joint is too
tight (remember that you still have to squeeze some glue
into the joint), slightly decrease the depth of the cut.
Slotted Tenon Joints
Slotted tenon joints are typically used as a method of
fixing shelving into a unit's shelf walls. However, it can
also be used for a number of other purposes.
The idea of a slotted tenon joint is that only one of the
two pieces of wood needs to be modified in order to attain a
good, tight fit. To do this, one piece has a slot made into
it that is the same width as the thickness of the second
piece of wood. This latter piece of wood can then be pushed
into the groove, making a strong, right-angled join.
The most effective way of creating the groove (or slot) is
to use a router. Although a chisel can be used, the quality
of finish will not be the same (and it takes far longer to
make). Be careful when making the slot to ensure that it is
not too wide, otherwise the joint will not be tight enough
to work. It is far better to start with too tight a groove
and then widen it.
A router is not always the best tool to use however. If the
groove is to hold a piece of 1/4 inch (or smaller) plywood,
you should use a circular saw instead, changing the depth of
cut to as little as 1/4 inch. This smaller cut is ideal when
making the joint for a back panel of a cabinet, such as a
WHAT IF SOMETHING GOES WRONG
One of the first hurdles a
new woodworker must get past is the fear of messing up a
project, and one of the best ways to tackle that
apprehension is to simply “think outside the box”. Most
beginners decide to start with something simple (but may not
know which projects have simple joinery) and then set out on
a search for preprinted plans to make such- and-such.
It can become frustrating if personal help is not available.
There are several ways to cure this, but here is one that
has worked for many: forget other people’s plans. Design
what you need yourself. It isn’t as hard as one might think,
because there are always some kinds of limiting parameters
to start with. A bookshelf must be 10” deep so the books
will slide into it, and shelf spacing will match the height
of your tallest books, plus one inch for finger room.
A curio shelf will be sized by the space available to
accommodate it, or by the objects to be displayed on it. Bed
frames should fit standard mattress sizes, and doors…well,
there are your openings to measure.
The point is, don’t be afraid to begin these projects on
your own. There is a vast knowledge base of woodworking
advice available in printed matter and online. If the
project doesn’t turn out as you’d planned, you can always
start over, and you will have learned a great deal along the
way. We often learn more from our mistakes in working wood
than from easy successes.
Why not try to design your own piece? Drawing ideas out
freehand on paper is helpful. What if it were this way, or
that way? Hand sketches will show you how ideas can come
together, or clash with each other. Then, if you know the
shelf must fit a space five feet high overall, the number of
shelves to include will be dictated by the height of the
items to be stored. Heavy or larger items (or spaces)
usually go near the bottom of a unit, to anchor it
physically as well as to the eye when viewed from across a
room. Spaces can also be broken up and not continuous across
the entire front.
Designs can also be planned based on what wood a woodworker
may have available. If you have several 2x4s sitting around,
an Early American or pinewood look may be called for. Be
certain to carefully square up any stock. Construction
castoffs are easily ripped to usable dimensions on a table
saw, but learn the safety procedures for your machine before
trying to rip long boards. Designing your own project can
also mean adapting someone else’s plan to your own use. It’s
quite common for a woodworker to see the ideal blanket
chest, sofa table or display case, and then think “But I
want mine to be…” and redesign the entire structure. Don’t
be afraid to trust your instincts and be innovative in
making a piece. Educate yourself; ask questions of others on
woodworking forums or at clubs and guilds. You’ll soon
surprise yourself with how much you can do.
CONCLUSION AND WRAP UP
There are many, many places
that you can find patterns for your own woodworking
projects. We found plenty of places online. Don’t forget
your local library as well as home improvement stores like
Lowe’s and Home Depot. These places carry an extensive line
of home woodworking plans for you to complete and wow your
family and friends.
Remember the safety procedures we outlined in this article.
You cannot be too careful when it comes to keeping yourself
safe in your work room. When you work with power tools and
even hand tools, accidents can happen that can affect you in
We assume no responsibility in keeping you safe in your work
shop. We’ve given you guidelines and suggestions; the rest
is up to you! The satisfaction you can find when you take up
woodworking as a hobby can be amazing. You won’t believe the
pride you feel as you point out to visitors to your home
that you made a piece of furniture yourself. Just remember
to take your time, be safe, and take pride in your work!
After all, it was made by you with the two hands you were
given. What could be more satisfying than that? Happy