How to Learn Woodworking: the Complete Beginner’s Guide


If you’re looking for ways to start learning woodworking, you’re at the right place. Whether you want to start a career or find a new hobby, here’s a complete beginner’s guide for woodworking.

Watching tutorial videos and reading books about woodworking is the best way to learn how to do it. Then, apply what you’ve learned and practice consistently. All those fancy tools and beautiful woods are useless until you take some action. For your first project, start with boxes and frames in different sizes and designs. Be an expert in doing it, and you’ll see how you’re skills will expand with this experience.

From little to nothing, at the end of this blog, you’ll be more confident to start woodworking.

What is Woodworking? Brief History.

Woodworking is the art and science of forming or shaping wood to create a new object or restore existing woodworks. It has three specializations, including Carpentry, Joinery, and Cabinetmaking. Woodworking is one of humankind’s fundamental skills – starting from the scripture when Noah built the Ark, the ancient times, to this modern day. 

It may be indefinite when woodworking started, but historians believe that it has been present since the Before Christ (BC) and Anno Domini (AD) era.

Until it slowly evolved from building shelters, hunting tools, furniture, household items, to creating weapons for defense in Ancient Egypt, Rome, and China.

The very first official class in secondary schools about Industrial Arts started in the 1880s, which includes courses about woodworking, mechanics, drafting, and printing. In Modern Day, however, the conversion of forest reserves since the Middle Ages made woodworking quite expensive due to limited resources.

A considerable part of it is because of the increasing number of construction and manufacturing industries. Nevertheless, woodworking remains to be an essential skill today. Either it’s for decorative or functional.




WOODWORKING BASICS

Developments and evolution when it comes to techniques have been constant, but some woodworking basics remain the same until today. So, let’s start with foundational skills every woodworker should understand.

1st: Decide What Type of Woodworking is Your Focus

Since woodworking also includes Carpentry, Joinery, and Cabinetmaking – you have to focus on one specialization first. You can do all eventually, but don’t rush it. Learn and become an expert in that field then, expand your range. Aside from specializations, also think of the category of your output.

Are you interested in toys? Furniture? Or home decors? From there, it’s easier to find some inspirations and the right procedure. As a beginner, it’s less complicated to build outdoor items and home decors like frames. It’s a great way of gaining experience as you learn new skills. 




Types of Woodworking

To help you work on which kind of woodworking to put your focus, here’s a list of different varieties of woodworking. You can always learn all of it as you widen your woodworking arsenal.

  • Hand Tool WoodWorking. It involves classical tools and methods in woodworking – just like hand saws and chisels. It is an excellent starting point to gain new experience and learn different things about woodworking. Plus, it is inexpensive. It takes lots of patience and a long learning curve. However, the long process is nothing against the enormous satisfaction and fulfillment that it offers.
  • Power Tool Woodworking. Almost 90% of woodworkers rely on power tools. If you have the budget to buy these power tools, you can always start working from here. It is more efficient and faster in today’s technology. However, using power tools can cause severe injuries if mishandled. 
  • Blended Woodworking. It is a kind of woodworking where it mixes the usage of hand tools and power tools. Some woodworkers prefer this method because, for them, it offers excellent precision and better control of the outcome. It allows you to cut demanding joints technically, and improve the quality by using handy tools.
  • Specialty Woodworking. It is about working on decorative and fancy woodworks. It has two types, which involves Woodturning and Scrolling.
    • Woodturning is like wood sculpting with chisels, which uses lathes to create bowls and other rounded projects. The only downside is that machines and different types of equipment are expensive.
    • Scrolling uses a scroll saw that can cut extremely tiny curves and intricate patterns. Scroll saws are inexpensive, which makes it a great option if you’ve just started woodworking.
  • Digital Woodworking. Woodworking has gone a long way, that we already have Digital Woodworking. The primary tool for it is a CNC machine for making precision cuts on flat pieces of wood using a router. You can also invest in a  laser cutter or engraver to create more beautiful art.
    • The process starts with drafting your design in a computer, and let the machine take care of the rest – even cutting out all your pieces. You don’t have to be in the same room during the whole process.
    • The most significant drawback is that it is costly. It can make you feel less connected to traditional woodworking wherein you everything by hand. However, if you’re a digital person who also loves woodworking, it’s worth giving a shot.

2nd: Find Some Inspiration and Ideas

Now that you have a concept find some photos of the item that you want to build. The internet has a lot to give, from pictures to complete procedures. All you have to do is to look for them. You can also join groups of woodworkers, and talk to them. You can ask for some pieces of advice and tips.

 




3rd: Have a Better Understanding of How Wood Works and Behaves

Before you put any tool to your wood, cut, or drill it – you have first to understand how wood behaves. Be familiarized with its characteristics, and how you can use it wisely. Remember that they all have different styles. It can make your work a bit tricky because not all trees have the same grains.

Understanding how wood acquits itself is like petting your favorite dog. You can’t start from tail to head because the fur will stand up straight and you might get a hissing dissatisfaction. If you pet your dog from head to tail, the fur will lay down nice and smoothly. A flat and smooth surface is what you need in woodworking unless your plan requires rough design.

4th: Know the Basic Tools 

In today’s modern world, you can find various tools for woodworking. You don’t have to know all of them, although it’s a huge advantage. Start with understanding each primary woodworking tool and how they function.

What Tools Should Every Woodworker Have?

Today, there are many different tools and machines that you can use in woodworking. It is not advisable to have all of the tools available today. You only need the basics and some power tools to make your job easier.

  • Basic Woodworking Tools. Woodworking is not about getting the fanciest tool out there. It’s about expressing your creativity. With these essential woodworking tools, you’ll be able to work on some easy woodworking projects. Let’s start with Handy Tools.
Measuring instrumentsThese are essential in taking exact measurements and drawing straight lines. It can be Layout Square, 25-Foot Retractable Tape Measure, and other kinds of rulers.
ChiselsIt is for cleaning out waste from joints and mortises, clean other cuts precisely. It comes in many sizes, but for starters, you can start with 1/4 inch, 1/2 inch, 3/4 inch, and 1 inch – they are the handiest sizes.
Heavy-duty Utility KnifeIt can be for scribing a mark on a piece of stock, cutting tiny wood, or cleaning up a hinge mortise.
ScrewdriversUsed for twisting screws. It’s good to have various sizes, both flat-head, and Phillips. You can start having the three standard sizes of Phillips screw tips of small to large, #1, #2 (standard), and #3.
GlueIt is for joining two blocks of wood together. 
Sliding BevelsIt is convenient when you need to measure or duplicate angles. You can adjust it at any angle, and it has a locking mechanism to hold the edge in place.
Block PlaneIt is a traditional woodcraft tool that removes thin shavings of wood.
Wood PencilsFor marking your cutting guide. Use a wood pencil that’s easy to see.
Claw HammerOne of the most versatile woodworking handy tools with a smooth, slightly rounded “finish” head and a fork-like structure at the back for removing nails.
Nail SetsKeep at least a small set of three different nail set sizes, just in case you need to join woods.




  • Power Tools. These are some power tools that you can start buying as a beginner. You don’t have to spend your entire fortune, but it’s great to know some essential power tools for efficiency and accuracy.
Circular SawIt is a handheld power tool that can be as accurate as a table saw — ideal for cutting good sheets like plywood and medium-density fiberboard. 
Power DrillWhether it’s cordless or not, a power drill is versatile and powerful. However, take note that a corded power drill is cheaper. 
JigsawIt allows you to cut curved or circular patterns. A Jigsaw is perfect for beginners because of its versatility. It has a secure blade changing system for more accuracy.
Table SawIt is the heart and soul of woodworking. Find the table saw with the best features that fit your budget and your needs.
Random Orbital SanderIt is for giving the wood a smooth surface. The random orbital uses hook-and-loop fastened sanding disks for random sanding motion.  It reduces the chance of appearing sanding marks.
Compound Miter SawConsider buying a  Compound Miter Saw for cutting compound angles at the end of your wood – like beveled, mitered and combination cuts.
RouterThere are two types of routers – one with a stationary base, and a plunge router base. 
For beginners, you can start with a quality fixed-base model with at least 2-HP and has electronic variable speed controls. Routers can cut fancy edges, flawless dadoes, and rabbets. It can also create perfect wood patterns. A router is for hollowing out an area of a relatively hard workpiece and other materials.

5th: Always Work Safely – Safety Rules that You Should Follow

Woodworking is safe and fun if you follow some safety rules, especially in using your power tools. These rules are easy to follow. Failure to comply may result in serious injuries, and no one wants that to happen.

  1. Use Safety Gears. Always wear appropriate safety clothing and equipment – from latex gloves, hearing protection, safety glasses, to woodworking apron. 
  2. Wear Appropriate Clothing. Avoid wearing loose clothes, especially if you’re using power tools as they may be entangled. Also, remove any dangling jewelry you have on you while working.
  3. Never Drink Alcohol and Avoid Drugs. These are dangerous both for your health and in your working station. There are some sharp blades in there, and you might hurt yourself if you’re not 100% focused. Always avoid any distractions when woodworking.
  4. Disconnect Power Before Blade Changes. Unplug the electricity whenever you need to change a blade or bit on a power tool. Many woodworkers have lost fingers or hands by forgetting this simple but essential rule.
  5. Always Work Against the Cutter. In other words, cut the wood against the motion of any power tool. Never put your hands near a moving blade.

WOODWORKING TECHNIQUES

Woodworking requires attention to detail in choosing the right wood, precision in planning, getting the exact measure, accuracy in cutting, shaping, joining, to seamless finishing touches.

Woodworking Technique 1: Choosing The Right Wood

Choosing the right wood for your project is one of the most crucial steps in building your craft. Using the wrong wood can ruin your project, or can’t justify a good design. Picking the right type of wood depends on your project, the design, and your desired outcome.

Choose a block of wood with beautiful grain and color patterns regardless of your scheme. The main trick is to inspect the grain and tones at all times. Also, check the back of the wood. Not all woods that have a beautiful front side gets an elegant rear is as well.

  • Selecting Lumber: Hardwood VS Softwood. There are varieties of hardwood lumber that most woodworkers prefer doing exceptional woodworking projects like furniture. However, you should know that the term “Hardwood” doesn’t refer to the hardness of the wood.
    • The basis is their botanically in terms of their reproduction, and not by their appearance or thickness.
    • Generally, Hardwood comes from deciduous trees or those trees that shed its leaves annually. Most hardwood trees exude their leaves during winter, but in tropical and subtropical countries they are mostly evergreen. Additionally, they offer a wider variety of colors and textures than softwoods.
    • Softwood comes from conifer trees or those trees that are cone-shaped and remains evergreen. It means, unlike Hardwood, the source trees of softwood show leaves throughout the year that are always green.
  • How Do Hardwood and Softwood Are Created? Scientifically speaking, softwood trees are Gymnosperms wherein they reproduce by forming cones and emitting pollen to other trees through the wind. Then, new Gymnosperm trees can grow elsewhere. Pine, redwood, douglas-fir, cypresses, and larch are some samples of softwood trees
    • On the other hand, hardwood trees are angiosperms, wherein they usually form flowers to reproduce. Then, it attracts birds or insects to carry the pollen to other trees. Once fertilized, the trees form fruits, nuts, or seeds – and their reproduction cycle begins again. Eucalypts, beech, and blackwood are some of the resources of hardwoods.
    • Gymnosperm trees are less dense than angiosperm trees. Therefore, the first one is a lot easier to cut. Some hardwood trees in tropical countries are evergreen; however, it doesn’t mean that they are also easy to cut. All hardwoods are more dense, which makes them sturdier and harder to cut.
  • Which One Should You Pick? Take note that hardwoods are more expensive than softwoods. So, if you’re a beginner, it’s better to use softwoods to start. Cheaper, and more suitable for all beginner’s projects. It’s also crucial to know how all wood can expand and contract whenever humidity shifts low. Not knowing it can result in disaster with your work.
    • Also, keep in mind that more dense wood will split or mark a cracked line if your pound a nail into it. Hence, it is always safe to drill screw or bolt holes to fasten Hardwood together. Meanwhile, softwoods can accept nails easily without splitting because they are softer and lighter.

Woodworking Technique 2: Precision in Planning Your Woodworking Project

Every project starts with a plan. Before starting, you should always have a blueprint on hand. It doesn’t have to be fancy. You can draw it on a piece of paper, or make use of computer software that allows you to draw 3D pictures.

It is essential to list the exact measurement of every part of your project, the kind of wood that you’re going to use, and the tools that you need. Always build from plans. It will help you avoid mistakes, save money on wasted lumber, you can check the proportions, and discover design problems before you could even start.

Woodworking Technique 3: Getting the Exact Measure

Accidentally taking the wrong measurement will give you a miscut part. Remember, always measure twice and cut once. Make sure that all your measuring device, from tape measure to rulers, are accurate. It’s unusual to have a wrong one, but it’s always safe to know that you have reliable measuring tools.

  • How To Measure Correctly?

Align the end of your ruler against the end of the wood. Don’t start at the one-inch mark to avoid confusion. Then, use a very clear wood pencil or marker to make it easier to cut. When you’re trying to get precise measurements, it’s best to use a ruler with machined graduations instead of those with printed scales.

It is easier and more accurate since you can lock in the tip of the knife in those little increments and position the line accurately. If you want to transfer measurements from a scale drawing to create your cut list, always use an Architect’s Ruler. It has several different scales, which makes converting quarter-size measurements to a real measure for your actual project.

Woodworking Technique 4: Essential Wood Cuts that You Should Know

Learning how to make a simple box is the most straightforward work that you can do in woodworking. It’s because nearly 75% of woodworking projects are variations of boxes. So, once you’ve perfected it, you’ll be able to make almost anything. So, it is helpful to know the necessary cuts in woodworking.

  • Crosscuts. It is the most common cut in woodworking. It cuts across the grain direction of the wood, making long lumbers shorter.
  • Rip Cuts. The second most common cut that you’ll probably do is Rip cuts. It is cutting along the grain direction so that you can divide long woods into several parts vertically.
  • Miters. It is commonly useful for frames and boxes. A miter cut is essential for projects with four sides, which means a 45-degree slash to join all sides of a 4-sided structure.
  • Curves. Mastering how to make curved cuts will expose you to a world of new design possibilities. It is when you can finally do more shapes other than squares. It’s all about precision and proper use of your cutting tool.

Woodworking Technique 5: Techniques for Joining Woods

When people hear about woodworking, they would often think it’s all about pounding nails here, and there. It is a common wrong impression. The truth is, most of the time, you don’t need nails to join woods. All you need is wood glue to stick the woods together. 

Polyurethane glue is one of the most robust and most durable types of wood glue. It is also versatile that you can use it for different materials like metal, plastic, stone, ceramic, glass, concrete, and foam.

Woodworking Technique 6: Basic Woodworking Joints

Wood Joinery is the art and science of joining two pieces of wood together to form an object like a square box. Simple as it may sound, but there are several basic woodworking joints.

  • Basic Butt Joint. The most basic joinery, which involves the end of the wood glued to the face of the other wood. There’s nothing fancy with this, and the cut at the edges is merely flat. It is stronger than the Mitered Butt Joint.
  • Mitered Butt Joint. It is almost the same as the first one, but instead of being square to one another, the two boards joining together are at an angle. The advantage of this is that there’s no visible grain, and it looks more aesthetically pleasing. 
  • Half-Lap Joint. It is where two pieces of wood have half of the material removed, so the two boards fit together seamlessly. This method works well at the right-angle connections.
  • Mortise and Tenon Joint. It is a classic wood joinery, and one of the most reliable methods of joining wood. It mainly composes a mortise hole and the tenon tongue. The tenon has a cut that’s the same size as the mortise hole. Additionally, the tenon has shoulders that seat when the joint fully enters the mortise hole.
  • Pocket Joint. It involves cutting a slot and pre-drilling a pilot hole at an angle where two boards connect.
  • Dado. It has a square-grooved slot on one board where another board will fit. It is commonly applicable for connecting plywood and building cabinetry.
  • Rabbet. It is a right-angle groove or notch cut into the edge of a board, and almost the same with Dado cut. It is commonly at the back of the cabinets.
  • Through Dovetail Joint. Another classic joinery method that adds class to any woodworking piece, which looks beautiful and sturdy. It has the same edges that look like pieces in a puzzle. It is perfect if you’re making drawers. 

Woodworking Technique 7: How to Do a Seamless Finish?

Finishing is all about giving the wood a smooth surface, and the final touch. You can use different finishing materials like sandpaper, Milk Paint, Shellac, etc. It is about giving your final product a beautiful look while preserving the beauty of the wood in the long run.

  • How Can I Improve My Woodworking Skills? The best way to improve is to keep on practicing your woodworking skills. Focus on one type of woodworking, then move to another once you’ve perfected it. Mistakes will always be a part of any success, and it’s all about having the right attitude to learn from them. Read books, and talk to other woodworkers. Expand your arsenal not only using tools but also with your experience. Best of all, learn something new every day.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

How Do I Become a Woodworker?

Start from learning the basics – choosing the right wood, proper handling of tools, planning your project, cutting and joining woods.

What is a Master Carpenter?

A Master Carpenter is not an official title given to woodworkers. It is like a nickname a person calls himself or to someone who has “mastered” any kind of woodworking. It is more about being professional with certifications.

What’s the Difference Between a “Maker” and a “Woodworker”?

A Maker is someone who likes to work on different crafts like woodworking, metalworking, epoxying, and other activities, which involves creativity. A Woodworker is a maker who focuses on creating new things from wood.

What’s the Difference Between Woodworking and Carpentry?

Woodworking is about creating things using wood. More often, these are crafts like frames, boxes, stands, furniture, and other moveable items. Carpentry is more of constructing and building more prominent structures – it involves fixed structures like buildings and homes.

Is Woodworking Expensive?

It doesn’t have to be expensive. There are power tools and machines that are expensive, but it’s all about preference. You can do woodworking with handy tools, which are inexpensive. Plus, some sawing device that doesn’t cost a fortune. Here’s an in-depth comparison if woodworking is expensive.

Final Words

Learning woodworking doesn’t happen overnight. It is a continuous process of learning curves. The best way is to keep on practicing your woodworking, gain more experience, and learn from your mistakes. Focus on one type of woodworking, then move onto another once you know that you’ve mastered it.

Read books, search for some inspiration online, and talk to other woodworkers. Best of all, keep on learning new things every day. Have the right attitude that no matter how hard it may be, everything is possible when you believe. So, believe in yourself that you’ll be a woodworker, and work hard for it.

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