Fancy yourself as a woodworker?
You’re not the only one. In fact, around 5.5 million Americans partake in woodworking as a hobby.
Still, being a beginner in the world of wood can feel pretty daunting. With so many grains, cuts, and tools, it’s difficult knowing where to start.
That’s where we come in. We’ve chopped it all down to 8 woodworking tips that’ll get you cutting and sanding in no time.
Let’s get straight into it.
1. Understand Wood and How It Behaves
Before you lay your hands on a tool, you need to understand the orientation of wood growth. As trees age, growth rings layer upon one another, producing striking grain patterns. But while these look beautiful, they can make woodwork tough.
Ignoring the grain direction means difficult to cut, rough surfaces. So always cut with the grain, similar to shaving!
It’s also important to know that wood expands and contracts in response to humidity fluctuations. Failing to consider exposure to the elements can lead to unstable and potentially dangerous structures.
2. Learn What to Look for in Lumber
There’s so much more to choosing a wood than the aesthetic of its exterior surfaces. Here are 3 factors you’ll need to consider:
Construction? Furniture? Ornamental?
Considering the intended use of your wood will give you an idea of the resilience it needs. Remember that larger-scale projects will probably need to handle significant wear and tear, over many years.
Closed Grain vs. Open Grain
Open grain wood has larger pores, meaning the grain is visible, even at a distance. In contrast, closed grain woods have a much smoother finish. Ask yourself where the wood will be displayed and how vital a smooth texture is to your project.
Softwood vs. Hardwood
Softwood is more readily available (as it grows faster) and can almost always be found locally. As such, it’s cheaper.
Hardwood is considered more elegant and textured. These features also make it the wood preferred by the pros. Of course, it’ll come at a cost.
3. Know Your Tools
When it comes to cutting, many beginners find themselves overwhelmed with the number of saw types available.
The good news is that only three saw types are needed for beginner-level, home-based projects. Here’s a handy overview of your new best friends:
- Perfect for rough cuts
- Rely on physical strength
- Do-it-all tool
- Delivers perfectly straight cuts
- Ideal for carving odd shapes
- Heavy duty
- Perfect for long cuts
- Most dangerous
- Only gives straight cuts
4. Keep Sharp
Tool sharpening is a fundamental skill, but one that’s often neglected by beginners.
As well as making your work harder, cutting with dull tools is also dangerous. Pushing into cuts can lead to a rapid loss of control when complete, hurting you or damaging nearby structures. The excessive force applied through unnatural motions is also a great way to take your back out.
Not good. Avoid this by regularly sharpening your tools so that they glide through the wood, with minimal resistance.
5. Use Tape to Prevent Stains
If you’re new to woodwork, you’ll be familiar with the dreaded glue stains after joining. It just seems to get everywhere and can put a real dampener on your efforts.
Here’s a simple, but effective workaround.
- Clamp the wood together (without any glue)
- Affix tape to the joint
- Cut along the joint using a blade
- Separate the wood pieces
- Glue as normal
- Re-clamp the wood pieces
This way, any excess glue will ooze out onto the tape, instead of your wood. Perfect. Just remember to peel the tape off before the glue has dried.
6. Modify Sanding Blocks
You should never sand a flat surface without using a block. It’s one of the most infamous woodworking tips.
But you already knew that, right?
So let’s take things one step further and make a modification. Spray adhesive onto a small sheet of cork, then stick this to the bottom of your sanding block.
Cork has a small degree of flexibility which makes it excellent for ironing out minor inconsistencies. The result is a much smoother and level finish.
You can even make a modified sanding block for each level of grit you use. Just remember to label each block so you don’t over-sand a surface by mistake!
7. Learn to Cut a Mortise & Tenon Joint
The mortise and tenon is a 90-degree wood joint, fundamental to the craft of woodwork. Learning to cut one just had to make our list of beginner woodworking tips. Here’s a simple 8-step process to mastering the mortise and tenon.
- Find the location of the mortise
- Make the marks of your mortise with an edge guide
- Cut the mortise with a plunge router
- Clamp together several tenons and cut
- Sand the edges
- Cut the shoulders for the tenon
- Sand again
- Round off the tenon’s corners
This process takes practice, so don’t be disheartened if you miss your first shot.
Over time you’ll start to cut a tighter, more precise fit. Once you’ve cracked it, you’ll be able to build chairs, stools, and tables.
8. Use a Dust Collector
Here’s the deal. Wood dust is a health hazard, and sanding produces a scary amount of it.
While face masks are most people’s go-to, dust can penetrate through a large percentage of them. Even small amounts of dust exposure will cause big problems, over time.
So for your long-term health, purchasing a machine that draws in harmful particles, via dust collector bags, is a much wiser choice. Dust collectors are available in small, portable sizes for hobbyists, and you can scale these up as you start to work with larger quantities of wood.
Woodworking Tips for Beginners
So there you have it.
The 8 woodworking tips above should be all you need to get busy. If you need some hands-on guidance along the way, consider finding a local home repair contractor who can give you some pointers.
Feel confident alone? If you’re looking for a challenge, check out our guide to building a carport for your home. Once it’s finished, you could even use it as a workshop!