Sign in

A Total Beginner’s Guide To Woodworking

Wordworking project

You might have found this article because you’ve been binge watching videos of people making things and you thought, “Hmm…that looks like fun.”

Then you kept watching and thought, “But seriously, I wonder if I could do some of this?”

And then you thought, “I really think I could do this. But everyone seems to have a lot of tools. It looks like an expensive hobby. And where do I begin? I don’t even know what half those tools are!”

That’s what we’re all about here! Teaching beginning woodworkers how to make things without a huge shop or a bunch of money.

I want to give an overview of exactly what woodworking is and what to expect from it. Today we’re going to look at the forest instead of the trees. Today I’m assuming you have never built anything out of wood and have little or zero experience. I’ll address the most common questions you might have been afraid to ask because you thought they were just too basic.

What is woodworking?

Woodworking is a productive craft that involves cutting, shaping, and joining wood to create decorative and/or useful things.

There is nothing physically demanding about woodworking and you can build at your own pace. The basic concepts are simple to learn, yet it’s a hobby that will always remain fresh and challenging as your skills evolve. If you love problem-solving, you will love woodworking. It’s part of the process. It’s also rewarding to produce really cool stuff for your home using your hands and brain. In general, woodworking is a very solitary experience: if you are a bit introverted and love taking on tasks from start to finish, you will love woodworking.

Who are woodworkers?

Thankfully, those stereotypes are no longer true. There is more diversity in woodworking now than ever before, thanks to online communities and the affordability of tools and materials.

Basic carpentry and woodworking

In the past ten years there has been a huge rise in two groups of people making woodworking a hobby. First, women. It wasn’t that long ago when a female woodworker was unusual. Today, women woodworkers are commonplace. There is nothing about woodworking that anyone can’t do.

The second huge demographic spike has been among millennials, people in their 20s and 30s. I hear from people all the time who work in silicon valley or just have some sort of office job and feel the need to make things with their hands.

What’s the difference between a “maker” and a “woodworker”?

A woodworker is a maker who is mostly interested in learning and refining the craft of creating things out of wood. Sometimes we bring other materials into our projects, but the focus is on the wood. It’s an affordable, timeless material that’s easy to build with.

What’s the difference between woodworking and carpentry?

What’s the difference between cabinetmaking and furniture making?

Furniture can be positioned anywhere the owner likes and therefore more parts of the finished piece can be visible.

Cabinets might use plywood more than most furniture and are assembled using screws and other mechanical fasteners, while furniture is often uses solid lumber and is usually assembled with stronger joinery and glue. Furniture making might demand higher precision.

But there is a lot of overlap here. I have built plenty of furniture with plywood and screws and I have seen some amazing cabinetry that rivals high-end furniture.

Types of woodworking

Building a bench

Hand tool woodworking

Getting started can be very inexpensive, but as your skills improve and the mania sets in, you will discover that a $200 precision hand plane is not unusual.

Hand tool woodworkers probably feel more of a connection to the process than any other type of woodworker. It takes patience, has a longer learning curve, it’s a slower way to build and a lot quieter. But the personal fulfilment and satisfaction can be enormous.

Power tool woodworking

Power tools such as miter saws, table saws, drills, sanders are ubiquitous and can be a very affordable way to start building projects right away. Cutting a board on a tablesaw doesn’t take anywhere near the skill and finesse of using a handsaw and takes a fraction of the time.

The biggest drawback to using power tools is that they have the potential to cause serious injuries. It’s nothing that should prevent you from using them, but you need to really familiarize yourself with safety procedures.

Digital woodworking

The second tool some hobbyists invest in is a laser cutter or engraver. This tool allows you to make even more precise cuts than a CNC and create some beautiful art.

The biggest drawbacks to using digital machines are their cost. You can easily spend thousands of dollars on them. They have their limitations and you will probably still want a tablesaw and other power tools in your shop. Some people feel digital tools make them less “connected” to their woodworking and remove the satisfaction of making things by hand.

Blended woodworking

Specialty woodworking

Woodturning involves using a lathe to create bowls, spindles and other rounded projects. It’s kind of like sculpting clay on a potter’s wheel, only with wood and chisels. The only real downside to getting into woodturning is that lathes can be pretty expensive.

Scrolling involves using a scroll saw which is capable of cutting extremely tiny curves and intricate patterns. It takes practice to become proficient, but it’s relaxing and you can create some stunning art with a scroll saw. Unlike a lathe, scroll saws are relatively inexpensive. They are pretty quiet and don’t make a huge mess.

You can certainly find uses for both tools in a standard woodworking shop, maybe you need to make occasional table legs or add some decorative scrollwork to a fancy bookcase, but in general they aren’t tools you will use that often.

Is woodworking dangerous?

Is woodworking expensive?

Does it require a lot of physical strength?

Does it take a lot of time to make things?

Do you need a lot of space?

Is there a long learning curve?

Can I do this?

Why do people enjoy woodworking?

Woodworking is fun and you get to make cool stuff for you house, but ultimately it’s about discovering who we are and finding out that life can offer so many more internal rewards if we simply take the time to create. Unplug yourself for a few hours a week and plug in some power tools.

Click here to learn more.