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5 Common Mistakes in Woodworking And How to Fix Them

We all know how rewarding it is to work with wood, but...do you have a strategy to support and help you avoid spending hours of frustration because you made a wrong cut or parts are not matching as expected? In this post, I'll guide you through the 5 mistakes you should avoid when you are in the workshop, which might turn a relaxing and enjoyable time into a nightmare.


Woodworking requires preparation; it doesn't matter how complex your project is. Whatever you do, you should go through all the steps that will make you walk into the workshop with confidence.


Here are the 7 mistakes that you should avoid in woodworking


We love putting our hands on timber and want to do it as soon as possible! Everything is in our minds, and we know it will succeed.


It's easy to fall into this trap as we have been nurturing and developing an idea for a long time, and it looks like the making is just the last stage of a process that is already set.


The truth is...there's nothing riskier than starting a project without spending some time on the design phase. I wrote about it in this post.


Why is the design phase so important in woodworking?


Simply put, the answer is that not dedicating enough time to design a project negatively affects the time we spend in the workshop; translating our idea into rational and well-sequenced actions is more difficult than we imagine, and the outcome might be far from our expectations.


Find the time to draw your project and have an exact idea of what you will make. It doesn't have to be a complicated design; it just needs to be clear and with enough details to let you confidently walk into the workshop, knowing exactly what you will do.


Have a look at these four simple steps to create a design and stick to them; it will help you in the process.



What is the best method to design a project? Well, there is no black-and-white answer for this; it is a personal choice. Nowadays, technology comes in help with dedicated software that allows you to have a very good representation of what will be the final result.


If you want to design on a computer, several software available will let you draw a 3D model. Please have a look at SketchUp and Fusion 360; they both come with a free plan option, they work well, and they are not that difficult to learn for simple designs.


Also, you can use the vast online community that can support you with beginner tutorials and get you started pretty quickly.


If you are looking for SketchUp tutorials, Design, Click and Build is a blog hosted by FineWoodworking and has been active for several years. It is made for woodworkers, and you will certainly find some basic tutorials with explanatory videos.


If you want a more comprehensive course bringing you up from zero, you can try sketchupforwoodworkers, they have a course for USD 49.00, and it's updated to the latest versions.


Also, Fusion 360 has tutorials for woodworkers, and PDO has quite an extensive coverage for woodworkers, but you can also find many resources searching on YouTube. Try Lars Christensen, he's been inactive for some time, but his tutorials still rock!


What if you are not a tech guy? Paper and pencil remain an option that has been used since ever. Follow the sequence illustrated above and draw until you bring your design to a 2D projection, marking all the measures and specific details that will be then used in the workshop, like in the picture below.

a 2D design of a bedside table with measures and details
On the computer or on paper, it is important to have a fully detailed design


Now that you have spent a few hours of your time designing your piece, I believe it looks exactly like you imagined it (or pretty close..:-))


It's time to buy the timber, go to the workshop and start cutting!


But...wait a minute! How do you organize the workflow and ensure you cut all the necessary parts? And, even more important, how do you know that what you cut is the correct size?


A well-written cut list acts as a bridge that connects the designing phase to the making of the piece. In fact, a cut list, together with the design, is a road map that will guide the woodworker through the several steps required by a construction.


Think of it like using Google Maps to go from point A to point B. A map helps you reach your destination faster and reduces possible mistakes. Knowing what's next lets you anticipate the next steps and improves your awareness through the process.


And that's not all! A cut list lets you know the amount of timber you will need for your project, saving you from the risk of running short of material or spending extra money for an unnecessary quantity.


Now the question is...how to prepare a cut list?


Like I said for the design phase, a cut list doesn't have to be difficult; it has to be practical to use and collect all the essential information you will need at the workbench.


Here below is an example of a cut list made with Excel.

This excel worksheet shows a cutlist for the construction of a cabinet
An example of cut list made with Excel

You can see how all the measures are divided by code, name, length, width, thickness and, where necessary, some notes to remember particular parts of the construction process.


Writing a cut list is a great way to review your project and ensure there are no gross mistakes or missing parts, so take your time, and you will thank yourself later.


If you are not proficient in using spreadsheets like Excel or Google Sheets, don't worry, you can write it down on paper. What matters is having something to help you in the process.





Wood is a hygroscopic material that expands and contracts relative to the amount of moisture present in the air. This means that a change in the relative humidity in the air corresponds to a change in the moisture content in the wood.


This change creates expansion and shrinking, as well as a loss or increase in weight. To work with timber that can be "time-proof", it is important to ensure that it is dry enough when we start cutting it.


How can I tell if the wood is dry enough for woodworking?


The infographic below gives you a quick reference based on the average humidity of the final location where the piece will be kept and the corresponding moisture content level that the wood should have when the construction is started. (source:www.wagnermeters.com )


Please note that these figures are intended for indoor furniture.

This table shows a correspondence between the location humidity and the wood moisture content.
This table shows a correspondence between the location humidity and the wood moisture content. Source: www.wagnermeters.com

So you can see that the more humid the environment is, the more moisture content is acceptable in the timber. Practically speaking, a moisture content of 9-10% is generally good for woodworking.


What happens if the timber is not dry enough? Well...this is something that you should really consider and pay attention to, as there's nothing worse than having a piece cut to a final dimension that changes its length and shape overnight—not counting the fact that, along with the movement, the wood is subject to other forms of distortion, like cupping and twisting.


The best way to ensure that we will work on a stable stock is to use a moisture meter and verify the moisture content. This will give you the necessary confidence to proceed with your work.


Also, remember that before you work on a rough stock, it should be kept for some time in the workshop, where it will be milled; generally, a couple of weeks are enough for the timber to move and adapt to the local conditions.

Timber stacked to facilitate the drying process
Timber stacked to facilitate the drying process. If not properly dried,it will crack, cup and twist

If this mistake seems obvious to you and not worth mentioning, I suggest you take it as a serious threat. Accuracy in woodworking is essential, and measuring doesn't only mean taking note of the distance between two points.


First, it is important to understand what we measure and the specific tools in woodworking. Here is a list of the most common ones:


  • Tape measure and ruler

  • Try square

  • Angle finder

  • Combination square

  • Veneer caliper

  • Marking gauge

These are essential tools, and their correct use ensures that the stock is measured correctly in all three dimensions: length, width and thickness. I will discuss the tool individually in one of the next posts.


A veneer caliper measures the thickness of a piece of wood
A veneer caliper is an essential tool to measure the thickness of the stock

Primarily, woodworking requires the use of millimetres (or a fraction of inches if you read from the US), and the reason is simple: millimetres are the perfect balance between accuracy and readability.


That said...sometimes centimetres are enough. For example, suppose we want to cut a plank into smaller parts that are still rough and halfway to becoming our components. In that case, it is not necessarily an exact measure, and it is advisable to be generous in marking the cut line.


Leaving some extra margin will protect us from possible mistakes in a later phase. This comes in terms of length, width and thickness. It's a good practice to leave the piece over-dimensioned and let it rest overnight so it can move to adapt to the new conditions.


Last..as the old saying goes.."measure twice, cut once" is more important than ever. It has happened, it happens, and it will happen to misread numbers with the unpleasant consequences of having pieces smaller than required.



Ensuring that each project component is perfectly squared is essential to obtain good results. Unfortunately, this is an overlooked practice that leads to poor results in woodworking.


The most common reason why woodworkers don't check the squareness of their components is that they assume that, just because a piece was cut on a machine, it must be squared. This is a false assumption that whatever machine we work with must be debunked.


Machines are precise instruments as long as they are properly set, and occasionally, they need some light maintenance to ensure that the regulations are still correct.


Sometimes it's not even a matter of setup. You might have used a table saw to make an angled cut and then set the blade back to its original position. This is when you need to check that the blade is back at exactly 90 degrees; using a try square or an electronic angle finder as a small inclination would compromise the results.


Let's say we are cutting several boards that will go together to make a tabletop, and the table saw's blade is off by half a degree. This small error could cost us a lot in terms of results as a small mistake will compound and, depending on the total number of boards that compose the top, it would leave gaps that would be difficult to conceal.

`The use of a shooting board guarantees that a component is perfectly squared
`The use of a shooting board guarantees that a component is perfectly squared

Making sure we produce dead square pieces is even more important if we use hand tools. Consider this: with hand tools, you can get excellent results, provided you strive for accuracy.

This means that a cut with a handsaw is just the first of some additional steps that will be required to reach a perfectly square piece.


These additional steps involve using hand planes to correct small imperfections, which can be time-consuming. Some shop-made jigs can come to our support, like a shooting board. Using a plane and a reference at 90 degrees makes it possible to obtain perfect angles.


CONCLUSION


Woodworking is a relaxing hobby that allows us to disconnect from the daily routine and is also the perfect way to release the stress of a long working day. To make sure that this turns in our favour, it is important to know what are some basic rules to follow to avoid making mistakes that would cost us time and money.

In this post, I discussed the five most common mistakes in woodworking and how they can be fixed. It requires some discipline and dedication, but everyone can easily achieve rewarding results!

 

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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.



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