I love woodworking and can spend hours in the workshop creating something new, giving life to an idea I was nurturing and developing in my mind. When I look back at the time I started developing an interest in this activity, I realize how much I would have needed some valuable tips to get the most out of my time at the workbench. In this post, we will explore the 10 most valuable tips that you can act on immediately to improve your woodworking.
I believe that the best investment in life is about us and our self-development. And I mean it!
I remember listening to an interview with Warren Buffet, saying that if you develop a skill and you become the best at it, you will always find someone willing to pay for your services. I found it so powerful, and the thing is...it's applicable in any domain of our life!
So, as woodworkers, we should always find the best way to improve our art, make it better, have a process, and become efficient at the same time.
These are the 10 tips that will improve your woodworking:
Woodworking is one of those activities that can get you lost in the wide array of available tools that can help you do a better job. Sometimes, limited by the budget, it could be tempting to save some bucks and go for cheaper tools in the hope that they would deliver the same results as the more quality ones. Though this doesn't mean that we should always go for the most expensive options, it is also true that good quality tools have a series of advantages that, in time, will turn in our favour. I also talked about this here.
"quality tools are easier to use"
Quality tools are more precise and accurate; this will be reflected in the quality of your cuts and joints, and eventually, your work will look professional and function properly.
Other important features of quality tools are that they are easier to use, and the woodworker will take less time to get the job done. I will give you an example: imagine you have to buy a chisel and you are undecided on which one you want. There is a cheap one at the local store that sells for a very low price and another one at the online tools store that costs double.
Now..if you go for the cheap chisel, you may think that you saved because, at the end of the day, it's just a piece of steel with a sharp edge. Then you go home and spend hours of your time flattening the back, and when you sharpen it, the edge hold for just a few cuts, and then you are forced back to the stone. Isn't it frustrating?
I would personally throw this chisel after a couple of days and then spend extra money again to get a proper tool that would last me for years!
You want to keep your space tidy and well-organized for several reasons, and some for obvious reasons.
I admit it...sometimes I can get messy on my workbench, which I've worked on for the last few years. I know that spending time putting back my tools every time I use them is a small thing that will save me when I search for that particular tool! And you should seriously think about it as a very healthy practice!
Just consider the return on investment you will have in the longer term:
First of all, you will increase the general level of safety in the workshop because you won't have a cluttered space that could lead to accidents and injuries, a piece of wood left on the floor on which you might trip over, or a sharp blade of a chisel that sticks out of a pile of other tools. We should take safety very seriously and as the most important thing to protect.
Then, as I already mentioned above, having order and cleanliness in the workshop will save you a lot of time and also improve the quality of your work because you will be able to focus on your task and not be distracted by the clutter sitting all around you.
And, you know what will be the real benefit of all this? YOU!
Yes, you will take so much benefit out of it in terms of mood and inspiration; you will feel less stressed and overwhelmed by the mess around you, ultimately boosting your creativity.
Would you drive a car without knowing the road code? Or would you feel safe without wearing a belt? If your answer is no, then we are on the same page, and we both agree that, also, in woodworking, it is essential to know the basic safety rules that will keep us safe from incidents and injuries.
And once we know them, it is important to be disciplined and consistently apply them every time we operate a machine, a power tool, or even a hand tool.
Woodworking is cutting, jointing, and routing, and these are just three of the most common and routine activities that generate chips, splinters, and dust. And every time this happens, our eyes are exposed to danger. If dust irritates, splinters can seriously damage.
As a first basic safety rule, it is important to wear protective glasses every time we are working on a machine or a power tool. As this is not enough, remember that also your lungs are exposed to very fine particles of dust, and a mask is there to protect you, together with a good hearing protection system that will save you in the long term.
But this is just the beginning; every woodworker must know how to operate a tool or a machine he or she is planning to use, so familiarize yourself with the basic techniques. So much information is available online, or ask some fellow woodworkers to help you get started. Never try to use a tool or a machine to do something it is not supposed to do, and if you are in doubt, just stop, don't do it! Don't trade safety for the rush of getting something done now; it's not worth it!
And remember that safety in the workshop is an ongoing process; all woodworkers should constantly educate themselves on new techniques and best safety practices. Taking a woodworking class is always a good idea to improve your level of knowledge and to apply the basic safety procedures in the workshop.
To ensure that your woodworking project has a quality outcome, it is important to know the basic wood-cutting techniques, as these will save you time and have professional look results.
Cutting wood requires some preparation, whether you go for a machine or a handsaw. It doesn't matter; you can have excellent results with both tools.
Preparing for the cut means essentially marking, with a pencil or a knife, the exact position where the blade of the saw will cut. For this marking operation, the tracing tool is combined with a ruler or a try square if you want an exact 90 degrees cut.
The blade of your saw should be sharp as this will reflect on the effort you will have to put into the straightness of the cut and, ultimately, on the quality of the cut.
If you use a western style, saw, sharpening is an operation you can carry on with a file. As always, YouTube is home to hundreds of videos on the matter.
If you are using a Japanese-style saw, then it is recommended that you simply replace the blade because the sharpening process is very difficult for the different geometry of the teeth that would require specialized files.
Before starting any hand cut on a piece, make sure it is properly clamped at the workbench, it will keep it stable, and you will concentrate more on the cut. This might seem obvious, but I've seen so many people trying to cut and hold the piece with the other hand with questionable results.
As a final tip to help you have a good quality cut, you can pass some candle wax on the blade before you start; this will help the blade cut easier into the wood.
Do you remember when you went to the hardware store to buy a handsaw for your home project? And when you had to choose the right one, you started wondering what the difference was between one and another.
When we start digging into the topic of handsaws, it is very easy to get lost. There are countless models, each specific to a particular job.
So here are some tips for choosing the right handsaw for your woodworking project:
First, you should consider the type of cut you need to make: different handsaws are designed for different types of cuts. For example, a rip saw is designed for making cuts in the grain direction, while a crosscut saw is designed for making cuts across the grain. This is already a fundamental division between the types of cuts, and the two models have different teeth geometry.
When it comes to the teeth of a saw, another parameter that affects the choice of the saw is the TPI, or teeth per inch. This is important to consider as it will directly affect the speed of your cut and the quality of the finish the saw will leave behind. More specifically, a saw with a higher TPI will cut slower but will leave a smoother finish, whereas a saw with a lower TPI will cut fast but leave behind a rough finish.
Finally, please look at the size of the saw to ensure it is appropriate for your woodworking project. Yes...saws come in many different sizes, and if your work requires intricate cuts or some curves, a smaller saw will probably be better than a large one.
Power and hand tools are our best companions in the workshop, but, to stay reliable with time, they need care from us. Since blades accomplish most of our tasks in the workshop, they need constant maintenance. A little bit every day will go a long way.
When you finish using a blade, remove the dust and dirt from it and ensure no debris is hanging on the teeth. There are several products on the market specifically for cleaning; for example, I've been using the CMT Formula 2050 for a long time with excellent results.
A clean blade produces clean cuts and saves you from burnt marks if you cut your stock on a machine. A dirty blade is not as sharp as a clean one and requires more effort to cut the piece.
If you want to use recycled material for your project, verify that no metal or other foreign objects can damage the blade during the cut. In this case, using a metal detector can be helpful and save us from replacing a good blade.
Every woodworker must acquire fundamental skills in the use of his hand tools. Suppose this is primarily a safety concern, as I addressed above in this article. In that case, it is also directly related to the quality and accuracy of the work that will be produced.
Start familiarising yourself with the different hand tools available on the market, and know what they are used for and how to use them. When you decide to buy one, watch some video tutorials to help you get started and learn the basic techniques for correct use.
If you want a beginner guide on the 10 most important hand tools, you can download our free ebook
Or...even better, consider taking a woodworking class on hand tools; with less time, your learning curve will dramatically improve, and you will be able to practice the basic techniques the same day under the supervision of an experienced woodworker.
An experienced tutor will teach you in a day so many useful tips that it would take weeks for you to learn alone. For example, you will learn how to hold and control the tool effectively, maintaining a firm grip on the tool while keeping your fingers away from the cutting edge.
Learning how to use your hand tools properly is an investment that will return great rewards for results and personal satisfaction.
A project is not complete until it is properly sanded and ready for finish. This means measuring, cutting, and jointing are just a part of the story. And we can dedicate so much of our time to ensuring that all the components are accurately matching and everything looks so well made, and when we go for sanding, we spoil all the good that has been done!
I know it may look like a boring process...I've been through the feeling...but sanding doesn't have to be so annoying. Knowing the essential tips and tricks will help to get quality results with minimum effort.
First, when you start sanding, look at the surface of your piece and determine the state of the surface. How rough is it? This will dictate the choice of grit for your sanding. A rough surface will require a lower grit, making the surface smooth faster than a higher grit.
Then, determine the direction of the grain and start sanding following it. This will be like passing a comb through your hair...try to imagine...if you go with the direction, it will be smooth and pleasant. If not..well...it will become a bit messy!
Also, like passing a comb, you want to apply even pressure to avoid spots and marks. Be gentle and use the right technique for the right piece.
I explain it better: we can sand by hand using a sanding block to hold the paper or choose to use a power sander. What dictated the choice was the level of refinement we were looking for and the size of the piece. It would be odd to "attack" a small piece of wood with a big power sander or, on the opposite side, try to tackle a big surface by hand!
As you go through sanding, change the paper frequently to keep it effective and when increase the grit as the surface becomes smoother. It is a common belief among woodworkers that to have a perfectly smooth surface; it is necessary to scale up to very high grits. As this may depend on the type of finish that will be applied, be careful that the higher the grit, the more the pores of the wood will close, and it won't be easy to absorb finishes like oils.
Are you planning to build your new outdoor table for the garden in beech? STOP!
You might have some serious problems here. It would rot fast, and all your efforts for a beautiful piece of furniture would not pay you off.
As you plan for your project, you should always consider the species of wood you want to use. Each wood has specific characteristics that make it suitable for a particular project.
It is not only related to outdoor or indoor, as the strength, the grain pattern, and the open or closed pores, will make a huge difference in the final result.
And not counting other important factors such as the natural colour, the workability, the way it takes the finish, and, not less important, the cost, which could become a huge factor for your wallet.
So, before you start a project, make sure you do some homework and know which type of wood you want to use. Also, visit your local supplier to determine the prices or if particular stocks could go on a deal.
There is nothing more frustrating and disheartening than making a mistake in woodworking. A piece cut too short or the mark of a router bit that went off the path. These are just a couple of examples of the multiple mistakes we make in woodworking. It happens, and it will continue to happen in the future, so we need to learn how to deal with it.;
"A good woodworker knows how to fix their mistakes; a great woodworker knows how to hide them" - Unknown
Ah! There is so much truth in this sentence, and I keep repeating it like a mantra!
But, like with anything in life, there is always an opportunity to learn and make the best out of our experience, examining what went wrong, identifying areas for improvement, and making adjustments to our approach in the future.
For example, if we accidentally cut a piece of wood too short, we can learn from that mistake by double-checking our measurements and ensuring we use the right tool for the job. If we apply too much pressure with a chisel and split the wood, we can learn to be more careful and precise in our movements.
Mistakes are part of a learning path that we should embrace and take as a positive event that will help us to become better woodworkers tomorrow.
In conclusion, becoming a better woodworker takes time, patience, and practice. By following the tips we've discussed in this article, such as investing in quality tools, taking safety precautions, practising new techniques, and learning how to use your tools, you can improve your skills and create even more impressive projects. Remember to take the time to plan your projects, embrace mistakes as an opportunity to learn, and prioritize safety at all times. With dedication and a willingness to learn, you can achieve great things in the world of woodworking. So go ahead and grab your tools, get in the workshop, and let your creativity shine!
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Dubai Makers Society offers a woodworking space to rent using power tools and heavy machines.
We also run regular classes for those who want to learn woodworking.