In a previous blog, I wrote about how I started my journey in woodworking and some of my early project endeavors. I would not consider my earlier projects to be “fine woodworking”. They were done with softwoods and not much knowledge of the more technical sides of woodworking. But the great thing about those projects was that they were affordable, fun, and created a craving to do more. They also taught me a great deal about what was worth my time and effort and what was not. So I wanted to share my tips for woodworking beginners — the tips I wish I read about at the time.
My tip: Immerse yourself in woodworking tutorials that are just slightly outside of your skill range. It helps if you can find a few woodworkers—whose work inspires you—to follow. YouTube and Instagram are excellent resources.
What I did: I watched about every Youtube video you could find on desk builds, coffee tables, dining tables, epoxy work, jigs, and basically anything you can think of. My wife hated Youtube for weeks because of my obsession. In hindsight, it was too much all at once and intimidating to watch. The woodworkers that are at the top of search results were doing things I could never dream of doing but wanted to more than anything. But I was one person in a garage with a handful of Dewalt tools watching people with beautiful SawStop Industrial saws and Jet Bandsaws and Grizzly Jointers.
What I learned: Then I remembered that they didn’t start out with those tools. They didn’t start out making 10-foot live edge dining tables with perfect bowtie inlays. They probably started out in a garage with a handful of big-box store tools and the desire to be better. I told myself to use my research as motivation and not pressure. So I committed to chisel away (see what I did there?) at growing my skills.
My tip: Seriously, begin by optimizing and organizing your workspace. You will have to do this eventually, so you should do it before you have other projects or orders to complete. It’s also an efficient way to practice.
What I did: Below is a high-level list of what I built.
What I learned: Setting up my workspace was, in itself, practice and it taught me so much in an incredibly short amount of time (shoutout to my amazing wife for dealing with my late nights in the garage). It built my knowledge of more consistent methods, and more importantly, it inadvertently built some confidence. Suddenly, I had a newfound appreciation of my box-store tools as I took a step back and looked at the support items they helped me create, which will enable me to make higher quality projects in the future.
This is a long one, but I sincerely believe it’s worth your time. When you are starting, you may feel like there is so much to do and that might lead you to start multiple things at once—ultimately wasting your time and maybe your money.
My tip: Create a strategy for how you plan to spend your time AND how you’ll promote your services/products—all with your ultimate goals in mind. It does not have to be perfect, you can and probably will adjust later.
And during this phase, embrace lower-cost efforts while you can. You will start out using your own money and the last thing you want to do is have to completely press pause because you over-spent. So, what is the tip? Home Depot, Lowes, Menards, any big box store… use them. They offer a nice selection of wood and you should use that to build your workspace. When it comes to tools, check out this list of 5 that you actually need to start (effectively).
What I did: My wife and I discussed what I wanted in the long-term and then I narrowed my focus to singular tactics on how to get there. Back to tip 3, I personally focused on setting up my workspace so it was never a distraction. My first workbench/table saw table was built completely out of 2×4’s and plywood from Home Depot. I built my miter saw station out of the same material. All of my early tools were from Home Depot as well. They are great for keeping costs down while you are getting started.
What I learned: You’ll get a lot further even faster without wasting a ton of moneywhen you narrow your focus, have a plan and you use low-cost resources where you can.
Oh, and no matter the cost or purpose of your wood, be selective and patient with what you pick. These stores bring in their wood on pallets and that wood can be warped. Learn to check out your pieces and try to pick the straightest boards you can. This will help your projects stay nice and square as you build.
My tip: Once you have your shop set up and your workspaces built, you are going to want to scratch the furniture itch. An end table, coffee table, or even a dining table is probably on your list. Before you start this, find the specialty community in your area. This would be your hardwood dealer, your specialty woodworking store, and maybe a local woodworkers guild. These places are immensely helpful even to just go walk through and see what they offer. The employees are extremely helpful as well and are always super friendly in my experience.
What I did: I searched out my area for anything woodworking related. You may have to look harder than normal since these places aren’t as easy to find as big-box stores. Rockler and Woodcraft are great search terms to start with. Hardwood dealer is another good phrase to search. Heck, Facebook even has a post format to ask for recommendations. Use that to ask others where they go.
What I learned: There is so much more out there than Home Depot and Lowes. Those places are fantastic and I still use them all the time for things. But your specialty stores are going to have more unique items that you will want on your future projects.
Some of my favorites in the Portland area:
I hope this helps and if it did, pass it forward by suggesting these tips to woodworking beginners that you know.