We may receive a commission for products purchased through the links on our site at NO additional cost to you.
Mastering the art of woodworking requires knowledge, practice, and time to master. Woodworkers are artists who manufacture a wide range of products. They touch everyone’s lives with their creations. From small toys and tools, to furniture and large constructions, the possibilities are endless.
For new woodworkers, it’s a journey full of many challenges and options. Starting by wondering how to start, choosing the right tools, and learning new techniques. With this in mind, we put together this introduction guide which may help you put the first steps towards mastering the art of woodworking. We will try to cover everything about woodworking, various tools and equipment, and the basics to get you started. Exposing you to different woodworking areas which may be of interest to you.
What is Woodworking?
Woodworking is the activity of creating objects from wood. This also includes making, restoring, and repairing anything made of wood. Woodworking is a passion and a profession to millions who love to build useful and fascinating things. There are no limits to what can be built. There is general woodworking, furniture making, cabinetry, carpentry, boat building, and much more. People have been using wood for thousands of years now. In fact, wood was one of the first materials worked by early humans. They used it to make various item such as spears and vessels. Today, woodworking is an expression of creativity that can be easily practiced by anyone hobbyists, DIYers, and homeowners.
How to Start Woodworking?
What are you interested in making? Start by understanding your point of interest. Your answer to this question will help you focus on one skill at a time and help you build a progressive learning curve. Don’t get carried away by inspirations of big projects that you may see online. Instead, try to tone down these big ideas and start small. Don’t be in a rush. Choose a project of interest that you can accomplish and give some room for trial and error.
Plan and Practice
Planning your project ahead will help you achieve a smooth workflow. This will give you a list of all the required tools, materials, and set up. This will also save you the time of fixing unplanned results. Understand your weak points and learn how to improve them one project at a time. The most important thing is to enjoy what you are doing and you will master your craft in no time.
Get inspiration from nature, go online and see pictures of finished projects, and watch how to videos. You can also see plans of different woodworking projects, they have step by step instructions including the measurements, the materials, and the tools that you will need. Join your local woodworking community, you can find a mentor there or you can attend useful woodworking courses. Finally, stay motivated and start experimenting.
Understanding the kind of wood, the quality and direction of grain, and it’s workability is very important. Typically, wood is divided into three basic types; hardwoods, softwoods, and man-made woods.
Hardwood come from deciduous trees that shed their leaves annually. They come in a variety of textures and colors. Popular species of hardwoods are Ash, Beech, Birch, Cherry, Hickory, Mahogany, Maple, Oak, Poplar, Teak, Walnut. Most woodworkers love to work with hardwood. The patterns of the grain makes aesthetic looking projects. Hardwood grow slow which makes them more expensive. Some exotic species can be very hard to find, they are being harvested without concern to the environment or to their extinction. Always try to buy your wood from sustainable tree forests such as commercial tree farms. Hardwoods are more closely grained which makes them heavy and harder to work with. Typically, they are used in outdoor projects where the humidity may be high, this is due to their moisture resistance characteristics. They can be used in almost everything such as furniture, musical instruments, boats, and constructions.
Softwood come from coniferous trees that stay green all season, they grow straight and fast, and tend to be more pale in color. Popular species of softwoods are Cedar, Fir, Juniper, Pine, Redwood, Yew. It is relatively easy to grow them in tree farms which makes them less expensive and readily available. This also means that you are not contributing to the deforestation of the world. They have less density which makes them lighter in weight, however, less durable. Typically, softwoods are used for projects that will require paint or glued joints. They can be used in framing, flooring, cabinets, and furniture.
On the other hand, man-made wood are not recommended to use in most applications. They are usually employed in cabinet fixtures and other panel products. Types of these pressure treated wood are Laminate, Plywood, MDF.
One of the the things that make people shy away from woodworking is thinking that they need a huge workspace. However, you can actually make a woodworking shop setup in any place, garage, basement, garden shed, or even a small corner in an apartment room (as long as they can endure the noise for a while). A compact workspace only needs a little extra preparation. Things that you should consider in your workshop are safety, proper ventilation, unstable surfaces, power supply, dust collection, and also the dimensions of the materials that you will be working with. Consider a pair of sawhorses or a sturdy workbench. Next, you should consider your tool selection. Depending on your interest, what you are planning to do, and skills, you will get an idea about which woodworking tools will you be using.
Woodworking can be a hobby or a job that can become a nightmare due to the lack of safety precautions. Knowing the basic safety measurements is the most important part in your workshop. Starting by some safety glasses and earplugs, you should not start operating without them. You also need proper clothing, footwear, dust mask, and safety gloves. And as we mentioned before, proper lighting, ventilation, and dust collection system are important basics in every workshop. Also, a fire extinguisher and a first aid kit should stay nearby. Not to mention, the electrical wiring and disconnection of tools when not in use. Remember, to keep your tools sharp and keep your working area clean and tidy. And most importantly, you should know how to safely operate these powerful machines and get the proper knowledge about working with them and always read the provided user manual.
Choosing the Right Tools
Woodworking allows you to learn wonderful new crafts, measuring, cutting, joining, the list is endless. For someone who is just starting in woodworking, it will depend on the kind of projects that you wish to work on and their skill level.
Namely, there are two types of woodworking tools; hand tools and power tools. Hand tools are simple and easy to use, they only require you to use your own hand power. They are the oldest styles of tools, however, some jobs cannot be done without them. On the other hand, power tools are more powerful and advanced, you only supply it with a source of power and they are ready to accomplish many jobs much faster, however, they require more skill and safety measures. You can find our experts in depth comparison tables, reviews, and guides about the top woodworking tools to help you narrow down some of the options. Usually, you will find that a couple of power tools and a few handy tools are enough. Then, as you progress, you will get a better understanding if there is anything missing.
Bellow we will explain some of the fundamental skills of woodworking. These skills will give you an idea about some of the tools and their uses. Though, you should know that due to the high cost of the motors of power tools, many of them accommodate different attachments to do different tasks. So, you find each tool or machine capable of doing more than one task. Consequently, the same task can also be done with more than one machines. However, here we will only mention the main use of each machine, tool, or gadget.
There are many marking and measuring tools that help make your work more accurate and go more smoothly. Joints that fit badly, casework, out of square frames, there are ways that can make you avoid these errors. Eventually, you will need the correct tools and accessories to make your work professional looking.
Apart from a pencil, a sharpener, and a steel ruler, you will also need some handy square sets, the speed square, try square, combination square, framing square, and more, are all very useful for marking precise cuts and establishing accurate angles. Further, a sliding bevel or a T-bevel, this adjustable bevel gauge is useful for setting and transferring odd angles other than 90 or 45 degrees. This takes us to more angles, other sets of protractors are also useful to read both inside and outside angles of corners. Not to mention, a simple compass, so you can divide anything into precise sections and mark accurate angles.
Now for measuring the precise thickness or depth of things, go for a digital caliper for accurate measuring of the inside and outside dimensions. There is also the digital depth gauge, which measures the width, depth, and height with a digital scale. However, that was not to replace the popular tape measure, this flexible ruler is definitely irreplaceable. Finally, a level tool, so you can stay sure that whatever you are building is level and straight. That was just a general view and you can always find more specially tools and accessories to help you achieve perfect accuracy every time.
There are numerous reasons and styles of cutting wood. The type of project and hardness of the wood will directly affect your tool of choice. Starting by hand saws, which are a good choice for beginners who would like to keep the cost of everything to a minimum. They are muscle powered, so they take longer to finish the task with more effort. There are many types of hand saws, but for now, we will focus mainly on electric cutting tools. They are more fast, efficient, and they allow you to work with wood in almost any capacity. Additionally, most of them allow you to swap between blades so you can work not only on wood but also on other materials, such as plastic, concrete, metal, and more. Nevertheless, electric cutting tools require more skilled operators and maximum safety precautions.
Starting by the jigsaw, which has a reciprocating blade that you can use in almost all your projects. They are compact in size and are relatively affordable. They are great for making irregular cuts, curved cuts, and stencil like cuts. However, due to their handy size, it’s hard to perform perfect straight cuts with them.
Next is circular saws, these are a very common choice among woodworkers. They are handheld and they are very versatile. Some of them are also smaller in size such as the compact circular saw. You can find corded and cordless models available. You can use them to make perfect straight cuts, rip-cuts, or cross-cuts. Similar other models are available too such the sidewinder, worm drive, hypoid drive, trim saw and track saw.
There is also the miter saw, similar to a circular saw, however these are mounted to rest on top of your workbench. You can use them to make miters and cross-cuts of different angles. The compound miter saw for example allows you to rotate the head at different angles other than 90 degrees, so it creates more complex cuts. There is also the sliding compound miter saw, which allows you to slide the head back and forth, so it can accommodate bigger boards.
A table saw on the other hand, is arguably a favorite tool to many professional woodworkers. It also consists of a circular blade mounted below a table and only projected through an opening in the table’s surface. You then slide the wood on top of the table surface and push towards the blade to perform a cut. You can also preset the depth of cut or angle of cut to different positions. There are many types and sizes of table saws starting by the benchtop table saw, jobsite table saw, compact table saw, contractor table saw, cabinet table saw, and up to the hybrid table saw. These are great for cutting a large number of different planks. They allow you to make very precise cuts to lumber in different circumstances.
Scroll Band Saws
Then, we arrive to the scroll saw, we can describe it as the benchtop model of a jigsaw. However, their fine blade allows them to make better delicate curves and edges. They are used to cut curves and joints, such as dovetail. Whereas, for cutting thicker materials, a band saw would be the answer. It’s an excellent versatile machine. Woodworkers love it due to the variety of application to so many uses of woodworking. Both machines have tilting tables which makes them very adaptable. However, band saws are more powerful which gives them better ability to cut precise straight lines and intricate dovetail joints to thin and thick materials. You can find them in benchtop and stationary styles.
Oscillating Multi Tools
Lastly, we have here the oscillating tool. It’s multi-purpose features gives it the name of a multi-tool. This handheld tool can accommodate different blades and attachments. Then at very high speed it oscillates from side to side to cut, trim, grind, scrape, sand, polish, and more. They are available in different power capabilities for corded and cordless models.
Making holes in wood is part of almost every project. Drilling holes of different sizes or making round holes. Apart from the conventional hand tools, you can do this using an electric drill whether corded or cordless. You can use it in different other tasks too such tightening screws. For a stationary type of machine there is also the drill press, it’s used for bigger production or when you will be drilling different types of holes very often. There are floorstanding, benchtop, and even mini drill press models. Depending on the power and the drilling bit type, all of them can drill different materials such as wood, metal, or stone. Meanwhile, for drilling multiple square or rectangular cuts in lumber for bigger production, a mortiser would be the most efficient.
For shaping and cutting wood into different forms and profiles, there are several tools that you can use for each job. There are heavy-duty milling machines and moulding machines but we will not talk about these. We will focus on the more common woodworking tools. Depending on the simplicity or complexity of your project, you can decide on which tools are more suitable. Shaping wood into beautiful designs or patterns is an artistic skill. Some people enjoy making designs on raw wood, such as whittling or wood carving using a carving knife, chisel, mallet, and gouges. Others enjoy root carving or chainsaw carving. There are also other styles of decorating such as the many similar techniques of marquetry to make decorative patterns with veneer, wood, and other materials.
Arguably, the wood router is one of the most important woodworking power tools. It’s many uses makes it favorable to many woodworkers. With a wide variety of bits, this handheld power tool can do different tasks, such as cutting holes, trimming and routing edges, molding and beading, creating dovetails, dados, rabbets, and other joint styles. Some router models come with an interchangeable feature for swapping between the fixed base and the plunge base. And they can also be mounted to a router table or a CNC machine for high quality, precise cuts. Other types of routers include compact router, palm router, trim router, or laminate trimmer. Wood routers are available in corded and cordless models making them even more versatile.
Other forms of wood carving is relief carving using similar wood carving tools or a power carver. There is also wood engraving using the multi purpose rotary tool. The unlimited interchangeable accessories of a rotary tool allows it to etch, engrave, grind, hone, sand, polish, and cut. Creating precise contours of dies and molds. You can use it on metal, wood, plastic, and even stone.
There is also woodturning, for creating cylindrical beautiful objects. Using a wood lathe, you can spin wood stock and create chair or table legs, lamp stands, baseball bats, and other decorative objects. The most common size of a lathe is the midi lathe for spindle turning or bowl turning. There is also the mini lathe for spinning smaller materials such as pens, chess pieces, salt and pepper shakers, and drawer knobs. A full size lathe is used for larger projects or for segmented turning which is an advanced type of woodturning.
There are diverse styles of wood joinery. Some are stronger than others, and some are more practical than others. You can make different types of joints using different sets of tools. You can can do it by hand with a chisel and a hammer. And you can also do it using woodworking power tools. For example, you can swap attachments and use simple jigs with a drill, a router, or a table saw to create different styles of wood joints. You can also use a mortiser to make a mortise and tenon joint. There is also a special mortise and tenon joiner tool. You can also find a domino joiner, dowelling joiner, biscuit joiner, and plate joiner. Most of these special joiner tools allow you to make more than one type of joint with no effort.
To flatten the surface, level it, and even make it in an adjusted specific thickness, it’s the job of planers. And that was only to name a few. Hand planes are some of the oldest tools in a workshop. They are powered by hand and they come in different shapes to match different tasks. They are divided into block planes, smoothing planes, and jointing planes. There are other specialty planes too such as the shoulder, bull-nose, jack, mold, and groove planes.
Planing wood can also be done using the electric hand planer. They perform almost all the work done by a hand plane and more. And they do it much faster with less effort. For an upgrade, there is also the wood planer which is either stationary or benchtop. A wood planer is used as a thickness planer for wood. You feed wood to this machine and the wood comes out the other side planed and at the required thickness. Plane and simple.
To fix twisted, warped, or uneven lumber, a wood jointer or a combination of a jointer and planer can even it out. You place the lumber, twisted side down on top of the blade and push it through. When you pull it out of the other end, the lumber will be less warped. With a few passes, you get a level straight wood with minimal waste. There are closed stand models and more portable benchtop models available.
All of this is not enough for a complete woodworking project. Cutting and drilling leaves splits and scratch marks on the surface. However, sanding creates a smooth beautiful surface for your workpiece. Of Course you can just use sandpaper. It requires you to use your hand power and start sanding with the direction of grain. The end result is smooth, however, tiring. You can also do this effortlessly with an electric hand sander. By using different types of sandpaper, you can also work on different materials. Below we will explain the main sanders which you can use to get a smooth finish for your workpiece. These electric sanders allow you to attach any sandpaper thickness to achieve a perfect polished finish.
Types of sanders include the orbital sander which makes an orbiting or a rotating motion. Similar to the random orbital sander which moves in a random orbiting motion. They pack more speed and power to produce a finer finish. For smoothing surfaces in tight corners and edges, there is the palm sander, also known as hand or finishing sander. A smaller version would be the detail sander. It has a triangular shaped head used in very tight spaces and corners. These types of hand sanders usually have corded and cordless models.
Stepping it up a bit, we move to bigger sanders. Such as the famous belt sander. It’s heavy duty and powerful. It consists of a motor that turns a continuous rotating loop of sanding belt. Allowing it to work very quickly through large materials. Most belt sanders are hand held, however, they can be mounted to a table top and serve as a benchtop sander. Sometimes they are also combined with a disc sander. This type has a changeable sanding disc attached to a rotating wheel with a bench that can be adjusted to various angles.
A different design would be the oscillating spindle sander. It has a table top and a sanding drum that projects up through the small table top. The sanding drum both rotates and oscillates, allowing you to perform difficult sanding curves and contours such as edge sanding of beveled boards. Finally, the drum sander which is a large shop tool similar in design to a planer. It has a rotating sanding belt with feed rollers. You feed the wood though it and it comes out the other end smooth and ready. Due to its large size, it’s good for finishing large surfaces.
In order to let the tool do the work, you need to keep your tools sharp. A habit for you to develop is to sharpen your tools. Using dull tools is inefficient, waste of time, not to mention, dangerous. Same goes for your power tool’s bits and blades. They require frequent check up and change.
Connecting wood together can be done using various things, depending on the type and size of the project. One of the most simple ways is to use staples, and to use staples on wood or other hard materials, you need a staple gun. This trigger tracker allows you to bond materials in the easiest possible ways. However, they are mainly used on small scale applications.
Next is nails, hammering nails to connect pieces of wood together is pretty easy and straightforward. You only need some nails and a hammer. This can also be done with a nail gun. This power tool allows you to hammer over 60 nails per minute. That’s like one nail per second!
Moving on to the commonly used screws, they are ideal to connect two or more pieces together. However, there are hundreds of different sizes, which makes it very confusing as to what to choose for your project. When it comes to fastening screws, it can be done with a screwdriver or the electric version of it, the screw gun. Similar to a drill in design, a screw gun automatically feeds screws into materials effortlessly. The bigger model of these is the impact driver, also known as a drill driver. An impact driver has more power and torque. This gives it the ability to loosen frozen or over torqued screws and nuts. In addition, the ability to tighten with more torque.
Meanwhile adhesives are also very common. Wood glue is used in many parts of cabinetry and furniture making to stick pieces of wood together. To fill any gap between the glued pieces of wood, clamps are usually incorporated, to tightly hold the pieces together until dry.
Clamps are used to temporary hold materials together. Preventing movement or separation with a tight grip. There are many types of woodworking clamps and you will find many of them very useful. Additionally, vises also perform somehow a similar job. This mechanical tool secures objects together with parallel jaws. Vises that you can use for woodworking are attached to a workbench. Other than bench vises, there are also designs to be attach to different machines. Such as the drill press vise.
At last, you have your finished product after investing your time and effort creating it. Now it will be time for the final finishing touches, giving your project an even more professional look while also protecting it. Everyone prefers a different type of finish for their project. Some start by staining or bleaching, and others prefer to keep a more natural look. Some of the common finishes that woodworkers use are shellac, wax, oil, lacquer, varnish, and paint. You should also know that there are different techniques for applying them, each technique gives a different effect, from a shiny glossy look to a dark rich look.
Woodworking is a beautiful wide world, exploring it is joyful and opens the mind to endless possibilities. In this guide we tried to cover some of the basic things about woodworking. We hope it was useful to you. Here in woodworkingo we always keep our topics, guides, and reviews up-to-date to let our readers grasp everything important and everything useful about woodworking. We keep adding new posts on regular basis so make sure to visit us often. For the DIYer, the hobbyist, the woodworking expert, we have something for every taste. Finally, we would like to thank you so much and please let us know if there is anything that we missed. Share this guide with your fellow woodworkers and contact us if you have any topics or products that you would like us to write about.