Where to begin…
Getting started can be daunting and downright overwhelming. When I started out, I had no idea where to begin with anything – tools, workspace, or even projects. I’ve combed through the internet and along with my own suggestions, here are the top ten things that I believe everyone beginning in woodworking should know:
Whatever tools you have decided to start off with, know how to use them. Do not try and “learn on the fly.” Understand how they work and the best ways to use them. Don’t be afraid of them, but do respect them.
Always wear a respirator – Dust is a natural byproduct of woodworking, and you will make a LOT of it. Certain woods and their dust contain toxins that can produce severe allergic reactions. Breathing airborne wood dust may cause allergic respiratory symptoms, mucosal and non-allergic respiratory symptoms, and yes, potentially even cancer.
Always wear eye protection – No matter how dorky you think you look – eye protection is a must. When using your tools you never know when you may encounter a rogue piece of wood dust or splinter headed towards your face.
Always wear hearing protection – Hearing loss can occur regardless of the amount of time your ears are exposed to high noise levels — even if only for a few seconds. Hearing loss is cumulative. A little exposure to very loud noises adds up. And over a lifetime, even a few hours a week in a home shop can lead to some type of permanent loss. Protect your ears! More info can be found here: http://www.woodworkingtips.com/etips/etip43.html
BIG SHOP NOT REQUIRED
That being said, you do need some space. Understanding where you are going to work will help you to understand how you want to organize your space as well as how to store and use your tools.
I mount a lot of my larger stationary tools on stands and casters making them easier to access when needed and roll away when not. We will get into some more specifics around shop setup in a later post.
UNDERSTAND THE FINANCIAL COMMITMENT
My goal with this blog is to help anyone looking to jump into woodworking do so in a way that is fun and affordable, while avoiding some of the pitfalls I have made along the way. One thing you need to understand is that woodworking can be expensive. The supplies you will need from day to day (think, glue, sand paper, screws, finishes, tape, etc.) the tools you work with and the wood you will need, there will be some financial investment required. Wood will be by far the most expensive thing you will purchase next to your tools. (Psst – Craigslist is your friend)
YOUR FIRST PURCHASE SHOULD BE A TABLE SAW
This is usually the cornerstone tool for most woodworkers. In any videos you watch on YouTube, if you pay attention, you will notice that most, if not all projects involve the use of a table saw to one degree or another. A table saw allows you to make unique cuts that are difficult or impossible to be done with other tools.
THE BOX IS YOUR FRIEND
While practicing with your recently acquired tools, first learn to build a basic box. The fundamental shape of most items in woodworking are variations of boxes. Understanding how to build a simple square box will teach you a lot – from understanding how to take and make measurements, to calculating the lumber dimensions into your design, to how to join the pieces (you don’t need nails – wood glue is your friend) , to where and how to cut along the measurement marks you make on your pieces needing to be cut.
HAVE A PLAN
Having an initial design prior to starting any project in my mind is a must. This will save you time, money and aggravation. There are several free 3D modeling tools available on the internet that as a beginner you can use to model/create your piece prior to making any cuts or marking any lines. I found SketchUp to be my personal favorite and the tool I use to design my projects. Its easy to learn and easy to use. There are lots of YouTube videos showing you how to use the tool as well. A list of various free 3D CAD software can be found here.
TOOLS ARE NOT THE END ALL TO BE ALL
Opinions vary on this particular subject. In my limited experience, here is what I have found:
Buy only what you need – Sometimes more is just more. If you start collecting tools, remember – you have to have a place to store them. Start off with the basics (we will cover this in a later blog) and add from there as needed. Here is a great article discussing what is believed to be essential tools for the beginner woodworker.
Different brands offer different features – You’re in this to create, learn, and grow your skill. There are many brands that are not the top brands that offer quality tools at affordable prices that are perfect for getting you up and going. Think Ryobi and Harbor Freight. Also feel free to check Craigslist. I got my Jet JET Wood Lathe in virtually brand new condition for $150 (Listed new at almost $919!) There are LOTS of folks entering and exiting the hobby – take advantage where you can!
Ignore the social media woodworking elite – A lot of these folks are sponsored and often times are happy to show off their new this or that to their audience. As cool as this can be, it can also be intimidating and discouraging. Tools do not make the craftsman. You are the artisan, not what you use.
There are also those that will claim that if you use screws or special types of joinery you are not really “true” woodworkers. Personally I think this position is garbage. If you can take wood and conform it to your will and design, making something from nothing, that makes you a woodworker in my book. You don’t have to use ancient tools and techniques to do this.
SANDING IS MUY IMPORTANTÉ
If there is one thing I have learned, it is this: slack off on sanding, and you will regret it. Sanding helps remove surface imperfections as well as any left-over glue or rough edges. These are all things that will show up later when you apply finish to your projects. Take your time and do it right.
A lot of woodworkers won’t sand past 220 grit – knowing that they are going to apply a finish to their project. My thought is this: If you’re applying a finish, stop at 220. If you’re using tung oil or linseed oil, go a little finer – to maybe 400 grit or smaller – where you stop depends on your personal preference.
YOU’RE NOT GOING TO BE PERFECT
Face it – you are going to make mistakes. The good news is, through these mistakes you will learn how not to do things as well as how to do things. Most mistakes on a project can be fixed with a little imagination and creativity.
Mistakes will hone your skills. Don’t be hard on yourself and for Pete’s sake – don’t point out your project mistakes to others! As a woodworker creating projects, you are among 1.6% of the U.S. population that are doing something that the vast majority of the country or world for that matter will never do – be proud of what you create!
PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE
You can watch as many YouTube videos and read as many how to articles as you want. If you don’t put the time into actually using your tools, refining your cuts and your techniques – you won’t improve. In order to grow your skill, you have to practice!
Again, this list is just my perspective on things I wished that I had known from the beginning when I was starting out. Hopefully this helps each of you get off the ground. You will find that this list is probably similar to a lot of other lists other woodworkers have put together as well, which lends weight to the idea that these items are somewhat universal for beginners and important.
If you have questions, please feel free to ask! If I don’t know, I’ll do my best to find out. As I have said before, I’m just starting out on this journey myself. Feel free to come along for the ride!
Now, get in the shop and make some sawdust!