Let’s say you were looking forward to an all-boys evening at your friend’s Sam. You guys love to play cards on these occasions. This time, Sam started to brag about his new passion: woodworking. He pointed to the table you were playing on and proudly informed the gang that it was his own hands’ work. It got worse: one after the other, the other guys told stories about their own woodworking adventures. Even worse: they found out that you are the only dummy who hasn’t a clue and spent the rest of the evening cracking jokes at your ineptitude.
They got on your nerves so much. So for a while, you rather used a bonus to play poker online all alone. To hell with this story that a real man must know his way about table saws and power tools by default. The idea, though, kept bugging you. Woodworking is fun. And it is so cool when you can take home improvement into your own hands. To say nothing about sparing a few bucks on furniture items.
Ok, now you have changed your mind and are ready to become a joiner. How difficult is it? Which projects to try first? Which tools do you need to begin with?
With baby steps, you can’t go wrong.
Do not look down on simple projects. You have all the time in the world to become a pro. Trying something too complicated, to begin with, could discourage you, in case of failure.
Before trying more challenging projects, familiarize yourself with wood, hand tools, basic operations. It will also help you to stay on the cheap side while you make all possible mistakes. Getting something wrong is the best way to get it right next time. But don’t go ruining costly wood or breaking high-end tools just for the sake of practicing.
What? Those are for babies! Never mind, it’s good training. If you have children, by all means, get them some woodworking kits. And work with them together. It’s quality time, teaches them (and you!) skills and patience. They learn the worth of manual work and reflect on the fact that someone has to make stuff, it doesn’t come ready off the shelf.
There are zillions of lovely wooden objects to be made with beginners’ kits. In any case, you will end up with something useful for your home, or a gadget to make a present for someone. A little train for your baby boy. A jewel box for the lady of your heart. A classy picture frame for your mother’s birthday.
Above all, you will start to see wooden objects as structures composed of several pieces, understand how they fit together, learn structure and proportions. You will also get ideas to develop and reshape for your own creations.
Your first tools
Several genial DIY guys and gals out there will explain to you that they can do almost any type of woodworking project with four or five tools. Can this be true?
Yes, they can. But it does not necessarily mean that you can. Tools are invented by humans all the time to make life easier. Once they find how to do something, they immediately start to search for a way to do it better.
More sophisticated tools can spare you a lot of time. They can help you perform a series of operations more easily. Above all, they can improve your safety. This is, by all means, an important aspect of woodworking.
That said, let’s see what the most essential, minimal setup that you will need for your first projects is.
Working with wood without a workbench is like cooking without a kitchen table. You absolutely need this minimal dedicated workspace. It doesn’t need to bee anything fancy or large, to begin with.
You can get a used one. Or a kit to assemble one (see the previous point). Or build it yourself. In any case, make sure it is absolutely flat.
That is your first act. As trivial as it may sound, measures can make or break your project. Get yourself a 16′ tape measure, or longer. And a speed square (7″ x 7″). You can use a metal or plastic one.
No matter the dimension of your project, always protect:
- your eyes,
- your lungs,
- your ears.
Sawdust and splinters are the threats for the first two, so use goggles and a face mask when performing operations, like sawing, that produce a lot of debris. Earmuffs are necessary when using very noisy tools (sawing, again, for example). Don’t take risks, avoid ear damage.
Should you use a circular saw, a jigsaw, a miter saw or a saw table? Jigsaws are for cutting along curved lines and irregular shapes. You will need them to make wooden letters, for example. Or whatever other shape or silhouette for decorations.
Miter saws help you make straight cuts at different angles, but they have a width limited by their deck. Saw tables help you keep your wood planks flat and locked more easily than working with a handheld circular saw. But in the end, it all depends on the type of projects you want to do.
Screws or nails? Screws make for sturdier joints, while nails are easier to conceal. In any case, get a good drill that can also serve as a driver, together with a set of driving and drilling bits. They will help you drive the screws in their place. And get a brad nailer. Brads are a thinner gauge of nails that you can use to attach the back of a bookshelf, for example.
For structural joints, you should rather use screws. If you want to use pocket screws, for better aesthetic effect, you will need a Kreg jig too.
An orbital sander is an essential tool to smooth the surface of your finished work. Once you become more skilled, you can buy a router to round and bevel the edges of your creations: they will look much more sophisticated. If you enjoy painting by hand, to give the final touch, just go ahead. Otherwise, get a spray gun and save a lot of time.