A Beginner’s Guide to Woodworking

Joining Woodwork Nation is an important first step. As a beginner, you have many questions about the tools, materials, and ideas that you’re going to be looking at. Don’t think that you need to spend thousands of dollars or need skills in place before you get going on your first project. You do, however, need to be prepared for what you’re about to encounter.

That’s what this beginner’s guide to woodworking is all about. Let’s get ready to make something fantastic.

Learning Lesson #1: Choosing Your Wood

There are many different types of wood available to you today for your next woodworking project. Knowing how to choose the right lumber for woodworking doesn’t have to be a complicated process. Let’s go through the selection process.

Do I need hardwood or softwood? If your woodworking project needs to withstand heavy wear and tear, then a hardwood is going to be your better option. Otherwise a softwood is likely a better choice. Many woodworking projects will actually combine hardwoods and softwoods together.

How do I find the right grain? The grain of wood is based on the growth rings that a tree develops over time. The best lumber is typically going to have a vertical grain to it. This will give your woodworking project more stability.

What is the right cut? Most wood has a flat sawn cut. It’s a horizontal cut on a vertical log, but this provides a potentially unstable piece of wood. The most stable cut is called the “Riven” cut. Rift sawn cuts and quarter-sawn cuts are also usually more stable than a flat sawn cut.

Are there any defects in the wood? You’ll find that wood can have a number of defects that could cause problems with your woodworking project. Knots are the most common defect, but you will also want to look for sapwood lines or insect holes. Boards that have been sitting for some time improperly can cup, bow, twist, check, or crook. Avoid defects at all costs.

How thick is the wood? In the US, there is a certain “lumberyard lingo” you’ll want to get to know. This will help you to understand how thick the wood happens to be. If you’re looking at a 12-quarter board, then you’ll know it happens to be 3-inches thick. Most boards tend to be 4-quarter boards (1-inch thick) or 6-quarter boards (1.5 inches thick).

You may also wish to consider the length of the board as well.

Once you’ve selected the best wood for your woodworking project, you’ll want to make sure you have one of the best moisture meters on-hand to make sure it isn’t overly green.

This video will show you how to choose the best wood at a lumberyard.

Learning Lesson #2: Drilling

When you’re ready to make some sawdust, the most important skill that you can know is how to drill a proper hole. It might seem like a pretty easy thing to do. After all, you’ve probably driven some screws into a wall, hung pictures, and used a cordless drill for other purposes in the past.

In the world of woodworking, however, there are a few tricks that will help you to improve your drilling skills so that your project can be completed quickly, effectively, and cleanly. Here are a few of the key attributes you’ll want to consider practicing as you work to improve your woodworking skills.

  • Catching Dust. If you allow dust to cover your workstation and project, then it becomes difficult to know if you are creating accurate measurements. Breathing in sawdust can be a bad thing as well.
  • Creating Guides. There’s nothing worse than drilling a hole, only to realize that you didn’t drill it in the right way. When you know how to create drilling guides, you’ll be able to place the drill hole in the right location and at the right angle every single time.
  • Hole Depth. You can drill the hole at the right angle and location, but what happens if you drill a hole that’s too deep?

You’ll also want to take a look at understanding what pilot holes are and how you can create them consistently.

This video will take you through all of the learning lessons that will help to guide you through this important skill in woodworking.

Learning Lesson #3: Cutting

When you purchase lumber for a woodworking project, there’s a good chance that it won’t be the exact size or shape that you need it to be. This means you’ll need to know how to cut the wood properly so that you can complete the project you’re working on. There are several options that can help you to cut the lumber properly, but there are three primary saw options that you’ll want to consider adding to your portfolio.

  • Jigsaws. A jigsaw has a reciprocating blade, which makes then a useful all-around tool. You can cut curved shapes effectively with a jigsaw, so it’s the best option for those projects where you don’t really want a perfectly straight cut. The blades for a jigsaw come with several different teeth options, are relatively small, and most of the blades are interchangeable. The best jigsaws are generally priced for less than $75.
  • Hand Saws. This is a good option for those quick cuts that you need to make. Using a miter box with a handsaw can help you to create a pretty straight cut. Handsaws do require a lot of sweat equity to complete the cut, however, so not everyone may find them to be useful. Handsaws are designed to complete specific tasks, so you may need a variety of different wood saws in this category to meet your woodworking needs.
  • Circular Saws. When you need to make a long, straight cut, then a circular saw is going to be your best friend in the woodworking world. It takes some practice to work with this saw option, so you may wish to make some practice cuts on scrap lumber before working on your first project. Our circular saw reviews will help you pick the right one for your budget in no time.

There are several other saws and tools that are available to woodworkers, including miter saws, saws-all tools, and radial arm saws plus router tables. Each has its own unique strengths and weaknesses that must be considered for the project you’re working on.

This video will help you to become more familiar with using a circular saw.

And this video will help you become more familiar with the processes involved with using a handsaw.

Learning Lesson #4: Affixing

When you’re making something, there is a very good chance that at some time, you’re going to need to affix one board to another board. Instead of using nails to affix boards, you should consider using screws.

With the hundreds of different sizes, types, and point options that are available, how can you make sure that you’re using the right screw for your woodworking project?

There are four general types of screws that are used for most woodworking projects. Each type offers a unique advantage.

  1. Drywall screws. These screws are typically longer than your average screw. They have an unthreaded shank and a pointed end. The pitch of the screw is very course. Although their purpose is to affix drywall to a stud, you can use them to affix boards together pretty effectively as well.
  2. Sheet metal screws. If you are using metal with your woodworking projects, then you’ll want to have these screws on-hand. They are typically shorter than wood screws and they are self-tapping, but they do work better when there is a pilot hole. These screws have a fine pitch and are typically threated from head to tip.
  3. Machine screws. There can be a lot of variety when looking at these screws in thickness and length. The benefit of using these screws for a woodworking project is that they have a higher tensile strength thanks to their precision machining. The pitch on these screws is very fine and they will typically need to be affixed to your project through the use of a bolt or nut and a washer.
  4. Wood screws. The generic wood screw comes in various lengths, but generally with the same thickness. The shank is unthreaded and the head of the screw is generally flat. The goal of a wood screw is to create a flush surface when affixing boards together. You’ll typically need a pilot hole for these screws.

There isn’t one generic screw that can be used throughout the world of woodworking. You’ll need to pick the right screw for the job at-hand. As long as you stick to the screws that are designed to work with the materials you have, you’ll be able to affix your boards, sheet metal, or drywall without much problem.

Once you’ve picked out the right screws, there are certain affixing skills that you may wish to consider working on as well. This video can help you to learn how to perfectly countersink a wood screw.

This video will help you learn how to remove a screw that may have a damaged head.

And this video will show you how screws can be used effectively with anchors.

Learning Lesson #5: Sanding

When you’re working on a project that involves wood, one of the skills you’ll want to develop is a proper sanding technique. Our complete guide to sandpaper grit classification can help you to determine what type of sandpaper is going to work best for your current project.

Yet the skill of sanding takes more than an ability to know what grit number to purchase or which abrasive works best with the type of wood you have. When you work with wood, you’ll find that splinters, burrs, and rough edges will develop. You can smooth out these blemishes with a quick sanding.

There are three general types of sanding that can be found in the woodworking space.

  • Hand Sanding. You can purchase your preferred sandpaper and then use your hands to run it over your wood. It’s something many woodworkers do every day. To make your life a little easier, you might consider purchasing a hand sander that provides a plate and handle. This will give you more leverage when sanding and reduce the risk of cutting up your hands.
  • Orbital Sanding. The modern orbital sander is a power sander that utilizes a sanding disc. You run the sander over the board to create an equal finish in a short amount of time thanks to the level of control this tool can provide. If you have a lot of tight spaces that need some sanding and don’t want to spend a fortune on your equipment, then this could be your best option.
  • Belt Sanding. This type of sanding is for large projects that require modification to the wood you’re working with in some way. Belt sanders are large and powerful, but can level out a piece of wood, round off a long edge, or finish lumber that is large and flat.

For most woodworking projects, you’ll want to look for sandpaper that has a grit number of 320 or less. If you want to create an almost polished look for your project, you might consider going up to a grit number of 1,000. Anything that is above 1,000 is generally reserved for automotive or painting work. Don’t forget to use our shop vac reviews to help you find the right model to clean up once you’re done sanding.

If you’ve never used sandpaper before and you’re nervous about doing sand woodwork by hand, this video offers a number of helpful tips and tricks that will help you build up your sanding skills pretty quickly.

This video will take you through the steps to learn how to use a random orbit sander.

And if you’ve wanted to know how to use a belt sander safely, this video offers a number of professional tips and practical advice that you can begin using today.

Learning Lesson #6: Painting, Staining, and Varnish

Once you’ve completed your woodworking project from a construction standpoint, it’s time to put some clothes on it. When you have a finished project that has not been given a layer of paint, a coat of stain, or some varnish, then it is considered to be a “naked” project.

Naked furniture and similar items can provide a wonderful look to a home. It also puts the wood at-risk of future damage. That’s why an important woodworking skill involves the application of paint, stain, or varnish.

Paint will usually be latex-based or oil-based. There are some water-based paints on the market, but these are not usually suitable for woodworking projects. Most projects will benefit from latex paint. Oil-based paints are generally more difficult to apply or clean up if a mistake is made.

Paint is also generally sold as either “flat” or “glossy.” Glossy paints allow for a greater level of long-term durability. They are typically washable as well, but offer more of a “shine” in its final look when dry. Flat paints are easier to apply and will help to hide any wood imperfections that might be in your piece. It makes touch-ups easier, but the paint is not as durable when compared to glossy paints.

This video will take you through the proper paintbrush techniques to use if you haven’t had much practice painting.

Sometimes you may prefer to use a stain on your woodworking project instead of paint. Staining wood can help to bring out the natural grains and tones of the lumber while adding a preferred tint to the final piece. Choosing the right wood stain requires knowing what the purpose of your woodworking project happens to be. This stain comparison chart will help you determine which option will likely work best for you.

Once you’ve chosen the best stain for your woodworking project, this video will show you how you can finish wood using stain in just 3 easy steps.

A final option is to use a varnish for your woodworking project. Varnish is a resin that is dissolved into a liquid so it can be applied to wood. It dries to form a surface that is clear, hard, and shiny. It is often used for furniture projects. This guide will help you know how to use varnish properly.

It can be a little tricky to apply varnish in a way that gives you a consistent look. This video will show you one of the best techniques to apply varnish or another polyurethane clear finish for your woodworking project.

Are You Ready to Join Woodwork Nation?

Many people avoid woodworking because they’re afraid they won’t be any good at it. The skills that are required can sometimes feel overwhelming. Yet with a beginner’s guide to woodworking that is quickly available to you can make sure your skills can continue to develop.

Woodworking is a skill that does take some time to develop. With every project you complete, however, you’ll be developing the skills and confidence you’ll need to take on complex projects. Sawdust can be your best friend if you’re willing to embrace the mess.