I’ve been woodworking since I was a kid but there are some things that took me years to figure out on my own. Before the Internet if you wanted advice from other woodworkers you needed to know another woodworker in real life!
But those days are over now we have Twitter and Facebook to tell us what to do and we can spend hours in discussion with other woodworkers about why other people are using the wrong kinds of screws and why the brands of tools they’re using are a joke, but if you’re new to this hobby and trying to sift through all the noise, maybe you just want to get started as fast as possible.
I thought I’d share some of my 40 years of woodworking experience and observations to help you avoid some common rookie misconceptions and give you some realistic advice on what you can expect as a new woodworker.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you got started? It’s funny how many lay people think woodworking involves pounding a lot of nails glue.
Once you’ve mastered how to build a relatively square box you’ll be able to make almost anything I have a theory that about 75% of all woodworking projects are just variations on a box.
I’m pretty sure the other 25% are live edge resin River tables. For most woodworkers a table saw is the most used tool and the core of their shop. Rabbets and Dados are the quickest and easiest ways to join boards together without using mechanical fasteners.
Other joints are fun to try but mostly unnecessary those can be personal challenges down the road. In addition to recurring expenses such as glue screws drill bits sandpaper etc the biggest cost of a project will be the wood.
If you’re on a real shoestring budget take the time to look for free lumber on Craigslist or Facebook. I know I give away my excess lumber at least once a year.
1. Pallet Wood:
Pallet wood is usually free and it is an option, but I don’t recommend it for new woodworkers it’s a lot of work to break them down and to get usable boards, so I think the best option is to buy pine boards and plywood from an orange or blue big-box.
Home Center you’ll need to take the time to find quality boards but they are relatively inexpensive and I think pine is beautiful it’s a highly underrated species of wood. But as a ballpark figure you could build a desk like this one for under $100 using pine boards and plywood.
If you enjoy making small projects, say, jewelry boxes or perpetual calendars and other decorative things lumber costs can be quite minimal. But generally speaking get into woodworking because you want a challenge and you love to build and create your own pieces, not to save money.
2. Wood Dresser:
If you need say, a dresser, IKEA will almost always be cheaper than building it yourself. Either download quality plans or design your own. Sketchup is a free design program and learning how to use it is pretty easy.
Trust me on this one, I used to waste a lot of time and materials just winging it in the shop, making up the project as I went along maybe making a few crew sketches with a pencil and paper. That could get very frustrating.
3. Plan Drawing:
Drawing up 3D plans allows me to consider proportions and discover design problems before I turned on a single tool. Even for the simplest projects I save money on wasted lumber and I save hours just fussing around in the shop by sketching up plans first. Don’t fear your power tools but respect them.
It’ll draw upon the same set of skills, but just with a lot more steps.
4. Tool Obsession:
This one might be a little controversial. A lot of people absolutely love tools. They collect them and even call them their toys. These days you’ll see a lot of maker flexing on social media people unboxing and showing off their latest expensive tools.
It could be intimidating and deflating, I mean don’t get me wrong there’s nothing wrong with collecting tools, if that’s what you love to do but if your goal is to build things, don’t spend so much time obsessing over them.
Anyone, and I mean anyone, can build amazing things with a very modest set of tools. My mere mortals method of woodworking is the most affordable way to build, while still using modern power tools, but again woodworking ain’t free.
Don’t fall into the trap of buying tools you think woodworkers are supposed to have only buy the tools that you need and know that you’re going to be using on a regular basis.
5. Woodworking Brands:
Try not to fall in love with brands people love to identify with tool tribes, but in reality most power tools for hobbyists and weekend woodworkers function about the same.
There’s no woodworking rule that says all your tools have to be the same color. This is something almost every new woodworker is going to experience the first time, you see purple heart at a hardwood seller you’re going be blown away by its beauty and in a couple of years it will turn brown.
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6. Believe In Your Woodworking Skills:
Always believe in your woodworking skills no matter your level of experience. Ignore anybody who tells you anything you’re doing isn’t “real woodworking”.
I’m a big advocate of pocket whole joinery for instance, they are traditional but they’re effective and a huge help in building projects.
7. Cutting Tools:
If you like to build things with a CNC go for it. If cutting things with a laser makes you happy, light up. If you’re completing projects made out of wood you’re a woodworker.
If you want to be a woodworking purist well maybe chop down your own trees and fashion your own tools out of stone. Along these same lines, try to avoid thinking that whatever you do isn’t fine woodworking.
Fine woodworking is a loaded term meant to kind of invalidate the efforts of others, if you just made your first project say a small end table, you just did something that fewer than 1% of people will ever do and that’s pretty fine in my book.
Every project I’ve ever made has had problems and challenges and I’ve never made anything that was perfect. Just remember you can always turn the crappy side against the wall.
8. Overburden Yourself With Mistakes:
Another one new woodworkers love to do. Pointing out their mistakes. Be proud of what you made nobody will notice its flaws, just the fact that you actually build something by hand is awesome.
You could have spent the entire weekend playing video games or watching Netflix, but you created something from nothing. Just let that sink in, you have my permission.
Use whatever space you have. If you have stationary tools put them on casters and roll them out when you need them. You can have a fully functional shop in the space it takes to store a lawn mower and a couple of bikes.
Almost every mistake can be salvaged and fixed rarely do you need to start all over again if you goof. Find creative solutions to problems. See there’s nothing that can’t be fixed. If you don’t do a good job sanding imperfections are going to show up when you apply finish and you’ll regret it.
9. The Mere Mortals Method:
The mere mortals method of woodworking is the most affordable way to build while still using modern power tools but again woodworking isn’t free. Once more don’t fall into the trap of buying tools you think woodworkers are supposed to have, but only buy the tools that you need and know that you’re going to be using on a regular basis.
This is something almost every new woodworker is going to experience the first time you see purple heart at a hardwood seller you’re will be blown away by its beauty and in a couple of years it’s going be brown. It’s a nice brown, but it doesn’t stay purple. Ignore anybody who tells you anything you’re doing isn’t “real woodworking”.
Lastly, experience is going to improve your woodworking more than anything else. It’s really about getting in the reps, the more time you could spend in the shop making things the more confident you’ll become and the better equipped you’ll be for handling problems.
Plus you’ll be able to make more informed tool purchasing decisions based on what you discover that you actually need.
11. Learn To Control Your Cost:
Any form of business needs one to know how to calculate the costs if you want to get the profits. You need to have a proper way of calculating the costs.
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