Woodworking is a very engaging activity, and we discussed all its benefits to our life in this other post. I've had the opportunity to talk to many friends, acquaintances and colleagues about how to get started in woodworking and what is the correct approach to get the best out of it, avoiding frustration.
So I want to share with you what I think are the 5 most important steps to getting started in woodworking and looking for an enjoyable and rewarding future.
Here is my personal experience of when I started being interested in woodworking. It was in 2006 when I visited a friend's workshop in Italy. He was a passionate hobbyist that was, at the time, swiftly transitioning to set up a small business and make a living as a furniture maker.
As I entered his small workshop I was feeling this sense of excitement; so many tools around, planes, chisels, and heavy machines. I felt at that exact moment a strong urge to start using my hands and build things out of wood.
"Nowadays there's so much content available on the internet"
But..where was I supposed to start?
That was the time when YouTube already had video content makers and woodworkers that put their faces in front of a camera and disclosed their secrets to the grand public. I started spending hours watching them and trying to understand the basics, and when I was free from my regular job, I headed to my friend and observed him making stuff.
Nowadays there is so much content available on the internet that it is difficult to choose what is the right one for you. Or, at least, this is what I feel when I open YouTube.
Here is my suggestion: after browsing for some time, find someone you think is good for you, that entertains you and catches you; start from the very basic and don't jump to more advanced techniques.
Have a look at Paul Sellers; he's an amazing and experienced woodworker. He has a YouTube channel and also a website with a regularly updated blog.
Woodworking is beautiful and rewarding but can also be daunting if you don't have a tutor or a mentor who guides you in the beginning, so if you have the opportunity, find a local class or ask a friend with some tools to explain the basics.
Once you have some basic knowledge and you are convinced that this is a hobby that you want to pursue, it's time to take another step forward and buy the first basic tools.
You have spent days or weeks watching people doing woodworking, so you might now feel an urgency to start doing something yourself.
It's time to buy some basic tools!
Ok, let's make it clear: woodworking requires a basic investment in tools, and if you browse the internet in search of what to buy for a beginner woodworker, you might easily get overwhelmed and give up.
Stay chilled, and don't listen too much to the reviews that say that one particular tool is better than another one for this or that reason. Nowadays, they are all good, especially for beginners that don't need to face complex projects.
Find a mix of hand and power tools; this will give you more flexibility, and you won't have to sweat to hand cut a board.
As power tools, I would definitely buy a circular saw; if you find a track saw even better as you will be able to get straight cuts, and this will make your life easier later. Then, I would look for a small router, a power drill and a sander. There are many other speciality tools on the market but, for now, I think this is enough.
"as a beginner, you can find decent tools at an affordable price"
When it comes to hand tools, the offer is even wider, and, again, there's no need to go on the most expensive brands. You can have decent tools at an affordable price.
Also, the second-hand market for hand tools is quite vibrant; have a look on eBay, and you will find many offers. Some of the tools might need some restoration, but you can get them for a cheap price.
To start, I would buy a set of four chisels with sharpening stones (220, 1000, 4000 and 10000 grit is more than enough), a Japanese handsaw (if you buy a Ryoba, you will get two cutting sides, one for along the grain and the other for cross-cuts) and a block plane.
Finally, a basic set of layout tools is important as you must measure, mark and define square angles. This is where I wouldn't go extremely cheap, as a correct measurement is essential in woodworking. Look for a ruler, a combination square and a marking knife. They will do in the beginning.
I'm sure that all of us, at least once in life, had to measure for whatever reason. So, why should I dedicate a paragraph to writing about how to measure?
Because in woodworking, measuring is something more than taking a ruler and defining a distance from one point to another.
Measuring in woodworking requires more precision; we don't think in meters or centimetres (forgive me if you, the reader, use imperial units!).
When we measure wood, we always use millimetres and, trust me, sometimes a small error of 1mm can make a difference.
Wait...I don't want to scare you, as not every project requires so much exactness, but keep it in mind, ok? Woodworking requires precision to get the results you want.
And that's not all! Because it's not only a matter of measuring a distance, thickness matters as well as angles too.
Think of it this way...you want to build something made of several pieces which are meant to go together. Not having square angles will eventually create some gaps.
Or should I say..."plane ahead?" ;-) Jokes apart, this is another fundamental concept in woodworking, and the sooner you take it with you, the faster you will get your results.
Woodworking requires planning. Period!
This doesn't mean spending endless nights on the computer designing the fine details of your masterpiece. I mean...you can if you want to, but this is not what I'm talking about.
"a correct planning will speed up the process and avoid mistakes"
Planning means knowing what you will do when you start working with wood. And this is for a few simple reasons.
The first one is that you will not waste material with wrong cuts, and this should already be a sufficient reason to make you desist from jumping on the circular saw! Correct planning and defining a strategy on how to proceed in your work will speed up the process and will avoid stupid mistakes that will cause you delays.
Another reason is that having a plan and a design of what you will do will give you a good idea of how much material you will want to buy and, consequently, will save your wallet from extra spending.
Then you can also anticipate how your project will look; let's consider, as an example, that I want to build a simple bookcase for the office. Not only do I need to have the exact measure of what is going to be, but I want to see how it's going to look before I build it.
There are many ways to design and plan your project. The easy one is pencil and paper, very traditional but fast and effective. Then if you want to be more refined and see a better representation of your idea, consider software like Fusion 360 or SketchUp. They both model in 3D and offer a free version that can give you what you need.
Whatever you decide to do, don't skip this important part!
When I think of my very first project, I smile, but then I say that that was the best I could do at that time with my resources and my knowledge. It was a small chestnut board that I cut and routed in the centre and on the sides to cover the bottom of a fireplace. The picture is dated 2008!
If you look at it, you might say that there's nothing special about it, yet I was always full of pride every time I was sitting in front of the fireplace, thinking that it was made by me, with my own hands.
So, what I want to say is...don't start with ambitious projects at the beginning. Go for something simple and see what you come up with. You have your first tools, and these are enough to start making.
Make a simple box, some shelves for the pantry room, and a little bench for your child. Make something that will make you feel proud!
Because this is all that woodworking is, the joy of making something for yourself or your family, the idea of walking out of the workshop with something in your hands, whose value has a strong emotional impact on you and your loved ones.
Woodworking is joy, a sense of achievement and fulfilment. It's rewarding and therapeutic.
Woodworking is a journey of happiness and good feelings. It requires some learning at the beginning that everybody can easily tackle. It's just a matter of following the correct steps and not rushing.
In this article, I guided you through the 5 most important steps to consider if you want to approach this fascinating activity for the first time. These steps involve some basic knowledge, investing in tools, learning how to measure correctly, designing and planning, and, finally, starting with simple projects that are easily achievable.
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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.