Woodworking for Beginners

How to Start Woodworking: 10 Easy Tips to Get Going Now

Woodworking for beginners can be overwhelming, so I’ve dedicated a post to 10 essential things to consider about how to start woodworking.

Woodworking can be a frustrating – but rewarding -hobby that can transition into a side hustle for extra money or even a new career. But when you are new to woodworking, and trying to figure out how to get started, it can be overwhelming.

And to be honest, there are a lot of things that many people, who have been doing it for years, take for granted. This simple guide will break down some of the top tips for beginner woodworkers.

1. Setting up your workshop

If you’ve started searching different woodworking projects and how to’s, you’ve probably seen some pretty impressive looking shops.

While it may be ideal to have ample space, adequate room for wood storage, a nice area for each tool, and so on, the reality is you may not have a great space for this set up. I don’t.

My workspace is one half of a double garage in a 1970s bilevel house. I share my woodworking space with my wife’s crafting area and simple wood storage shelf.

I have squeezed out space for two benches. One more or less permanently holds my drill press, miter saw, and lathe. The other most of my ring making supplies, some hand tools, and my Dremel. My table saw is a jobsite saw with a built in stand that folds and allows me to store under one of the desks.

To use the table saw I have to pull my car out of the garage.

While it is definitely not a large space, it is more than adequate to do just about any project I need or want to do. Some people don’t even have that much space but still manage to do woodworking tasks.

The point is, to get started woodworking or DIYer, you don’t need a huge dedicated space. I would recommend getting a few essentials and build out your collection based on your projects.

If you’re not sure whether to get a table saw or miter saw first, check out this guide.

Some essentials include:

  • Titebond II or III wood glue or other strong glue
  • clamps of different sizes (discount ones at places like Harbor Freight work fine for a fraction of the price of name brands)
  • tape measures
  • carpenter’s square
  • level
  • drill-driver cordless or corded
  • hand saw
  • miter box with saw or miter saw

You can replace some of the hand tools with power tools, such as a table saw, miter saw (chop saw), or circular saw, and you can certainly add to this collection as you figure out how to start woodworking.

Another popular, but often underrated tool, is the Dremel rotary tool. I have one and use it nearly every time I’m in the shop. It is great for sanding small pieces, carving, making some small cutouts, and many other uses.

You don’t need to get a Dremel if it is out of your price range. Ryobi and other brands offer similar rotary tools and accessories. For the most part, the accessories work across brands.

Considering a table saw? Check out this post about Ryobi table saws.

2. Practice as much as you can

Beginners to woodworking often think they can go from 0 to finished project with no issues. Maybe you saw a YouTube video with someone showing and telling you how easy it is to do x, y, or z.

The truth is, if they are showing you on how to do something, they’re probably pretty damn good at whatever it is. The first time they made the project, chances are good, it looked terrible or at least not nearly as polished as their “simple” project.

When you are trying to figure out how to start woodworking, you will definitely want to take time to practice. Don’t expect the first time you make finger joints or shelves that everything will line up perfectly or looked sharp and clean – even if you fully understand the how-to part of the project.

Actually doing the project – and doing it well – will take time and practice.

To practice, you can use scrap wood or some pine. Both are either free or inexpensive options to try a technique you’ve never done before or test out a new tool.

And while it may feel like you are wasting time initially, it will be far less time and money that you’ll end up spending practicing on scraps compared to trying it all out for the first time on your project pieces.

Even experts do it…

Yes, well-seasoned woodworkers know the value of testing things out. For them, it may not be trying a new technique, but they will try out new tools, blades, bits, and so on to make sure it acts the way they expect it to. And if they are trying a technique new to them, they will often test it out first on a piece of scrap to make sure they get it right.

3. Learn about measurements

You’ve probably heard the sage advice of “measure twice, cut once.” Basically, make sure you have the measurement right before measuring.

The following tips may help you in your measuring and cutting:

  • Use the same tape measurer for the entire project: The reason for this is that production differences and mistakes may cause even the same brand of tape measurers to have small discrepancies that can throw off your cuts. Talk to just about any seasoned woodworker, and they will tell you to use the same one if you can, assuming of course you don’t misplace the damn thing. But if you have to switch, make sure to remeasure cuts to make sure it lines up like the first one you used.
  • Line up your saw blade correctly: Once you mark the wood, keep in mind, your saw blade takes out a thin chunk. Always line up the very edge of the saw blade with the very edge of the mark so that the blade takes out a portion of the piece you are not using.
  • If using the same piece of wood, measure only one part at a time: This goes along with the point above. Your saw will take out a small portion of wood with each cut. If you measure and mark out more than one cut at a time, you will find that your pieces will decrease in size with each cut until the last piece is noticeably smaller than the first piece you made.
  • Err on the side of a cut being too large: This may be more a matter of preference, but if you are not sure of the exact width or length you need, error on the side of making the piece too large instead of too small. While you can correct either later, you will probably have an easier time correcting something that is too big because you can trim it with a saw, file, sandpaper, or planer and sometimes fillers and other tricks just won’t work to make the piece fit the space.
  • Use the system that works for you: Sure, I live in America that is pretty dedicated to using inches and feet, but I prefer the metric system. It is easier to divide and you don’t need to worry about conversions of fractions of inches. And if I need to know how far something is in inches and feet, you can easily find formulas and calculators online (like this one) to convert from inches to centimeters and so on. Just keep in mind just about any American woodworker will talk to you about projects in terms of inches and feet.
  • Find your own methods: When making the same cut over and over, a lot of woodworkers use jigs or scrap blocks to mark off a certain distance to make the same cut over and over again without having to measure each time. I often line up my pieces of wood to find the right, matching length and mark it with a pencil. You might find another effective method to measure. There is no hard and fast rule of how to measure. As long as it works for you and produces correct results, go for it.

4. Learn about popular wood types

I’m not going to elaborate much on this since I can literally write entire posts about different wood types and species. All I will say is make sure to learn the difference between soft and hard woods.

Pine is a popular, widely available softwood. Its used for all kinds of projects from furniture to shelving and beyond. It can be very nice looking, but it dings and dents easily.

Oak, maple, walnut, and popular are all popular, widely available hardwoods. But there are dozens of different varieties of both domestic and exotic woods that can add beauty to your projects. I recommend looking into different types of hardwood since many have interesting patterns in their grain.

5. Don’t forget your PPE

No one loves it, but personal protection equipment (PPE) should play an important role in your workshop. At a minimum, you should plan to have:

  • goggles or safety glasses
  • hearing protection such as muffs or ear plugs
  • masks or respirators to protect your lungs

Most power tools come with safety features built in, such as blade guards and quick shut off features. But don’t take these things for granted and always practice caution around power tools. You don’t want to be that person that loses a finger or an eye.

6. Keep in mind discrepancies in wood dimensions when buying lumber

Stores sell lumber with thickness and width dimensions, such as 2″ x 4″ x 6′. The first two measurements are the depth and width, the last is the length. Sadly, these are not the actual dimensions of the wood. What you are actually buying is wood that is 1 1/2″ x 3 1/2″ x 6′. Yes, the length is the same, but the depth and width are not.

Confused? Here’s why they do it that way.

First, they measure the wood before it dries. As it dries, it shrinks some. The second is that they take the dried wood and plane it to give it a smooth surface, and in the process, they reduce the width and depth a bit more. Fortunately, the discrepancies in sizes is pretty uniform.

The disparity ranges from about 1/4 of an inch difference to about 3/4 of inch difference. This table may help some:

Stated sizeActual size
2″ x 2″1 1/2″ x 1 1/2″
2″ x 3″1 1/2″ x 2 1/2″
2″ x 4″1 1/2″ x 3 1/2″
2″ x 6″1 1/2″ x 5 1/2″
2″ x 8″1 1/2″ x 7 1/2″
2″ x 10″1 1/2″ x 10 1/4″
2″ x 12″1 1/2″ x 11 1/4″

7. Learn how to pick good lumber

Selecting lumber can be an arduous task for a seasoned woodworker and overly simple for some one who wants to learn how to start woodworking. You may be tempted to go to your local lumber yard or box store and pick whatever pieces are right on top.

In general, this is a mistake. Wood, especially at stores like Home Depot and Lowes, are notoriously warped, dinged, and otherwise not great. Most woodworkers like to get their lumber from a dedicated lumber yard, mills, or other specialty shops.

But before Lowes or Home Depot (where I actually do buy most of my wood from) try to sue me for defamation of character, let me explain a bit. You can find good pieces of lumber at these stores – you just need to know what to look for.

First, check the wood to make sure it is straight. You can do this by placing one edge on the ground in front of you and looking down the length of the wood. If it noticeably bends, you need to pick another piece.

You can also lay it flat on the ground. Does it rest flat or does it bow up on the ends or in the middle? Slight bowing is OK for the most part, but if you push on an end and the other end comes up, you probably need to find a new piece.

Once you are reasonably sure the wood is straight (keep in mind, no board is perfect), check the wood for dings, large knots, or other imperfections. If you would have to cut off part of the end just to use the piece, it is not worth getting.

8. Don’t give up

Your first project or first several project may absolutely suck, but you should keep at it. If you enjoy it and you keep trying, you will get better. Of course, if you don’t like it or want to stop you can. But I can assure you, the only way you won’t get better over time is if you give up.

9. Join a woodworking group and ask questions

One of the great luxuries of the age we live in is access to literally any piece of knowledge with a quick online search. Hell, you’re probably reading this because you looked up how to start woodworking or some other similar phrase. Obviously, keep using this resource, it will help.

You can also join any number of social media groups on Facebook, look up woodworking Reddit groups, or find inspiration on Pinterest, Instagram, or YouTube, among other social platforms. You can often post pictures of projects you’ve done and ask for advice, ask about what tools to get, and much more.

Just be aware, these groups are often crawling with nay-sayers. Just ignore them and let them let off steam about their insecurities and short comings. They are often trying to compensate for something.

Which brings me to the last piece of advice…

10. Beware of the “Gate Keepers”

Gate keepers are everywhere. They are in every fandom, hobby, art, and profession. You may not be familiar with the term, but you know who they are: people who say you are not a woodworker if you…

  • can’t make dovetails by hand
  • can’t make dovetails with a jig
  • only use power tools
  • use a discount brand tool
  • don’t know what certain terms mean
  • only make certain projects
  • asked a beginner question
  • and so on

I can assure you that if you work with wood to make projects, you are a real woodworker. The only exception is if you use a knife to carve a block of wood, you’re a carver and should stop reading my damn how to’s you crappy wood carver.

Of course I’m kidding. Or am I?

Need more help?

Still building your workshop and wondering about other tools, check out these other posts about some Ryobi tool options:

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