Starting out in woodworking, as in any craft, is full of excitement, hope, and, yes, a degree of bewilderment. In the quest to put one’s heart, mind and hands into making things, it helps to have some guidance. I humbly offer these tips, most of which are really applicable to all crafts.
1. Set yourself up for success
Start with projects that have a good chance of success. It is far better to succeed making simple, modest pieces than to get overwhelmed, frustrated and disappointed because you bit off more than you could chew with an elaborate project. Challenges edify only if they build confidence, so keep the early ones realistic.
Furthermore, a successfully completed project involves many stages: design, research, acquiring high-quality wood, configuring tools, stock preparation, joinery, surfacing, edge treatments, glue up and finishing. An extremely important part of learning woodworking is working through all the stages and appreciating how they interrelate. The learning experience can only happen if you get through all of them!
What’s more, you’ll have a lasting piece — however modest — to show for your efforts.
2. Learn why it’s called woodworking
To be successful at this craft, you need to be as knowledgeable and skilled at choosing wood, preparing it, and accommodating its peculiarities as you are at working it with tools. Your work will be no better than the materials you choose and your understanding of them.
Unlike metal, glass or clay, wood is a product of biology and therefore extremely varied. Each species, each tree and each board is different — and the differences matter. Of course, this is part of wood’s wonderful appeal, but it does create considerable demands on the woodworker.
Learn all you can about wood — it’s fascinating — and go out of your way to experience a wide variety of wood.
3. Invest in great tools
Like most crafts, woodworking requires a substantial infrastructure of tools. This can be intimidating and costly for a beginner, but it’s also very tempting as you browse catalogs while anticipating shiny new tools. Remember: tools are for making things, not for mere acquisition.
I suggest this sequence: Decide what you want to build, anticipate the steps required to build these pieces, then get the tools to perform those tasks excellently and efficiently. Avoid false economy — buy high-quality tools even if that means having fewer tools, deferring a purchase or spending more.
Also, it is better to choose a top-quality, versatile tool than a highly specialized gadget, especially one that is purported to require little skill. As an example, invest in a great backsaw, learn to use it well, and build confidence, rather than timidly opting for a saw guide system that will divert you from acquiring real skills.
4. Ars longa, vita brevis
(Translation: Art is long, life is short.) Be a good learner. With the fantastic wealth of learning sources in various media that are currently available — including Craftsy woodworking classes — there is no excuse for neglecting this.
Choose reliable sources, but keep in mind that there’s almost always more than one right way to do any woodworking job. Seemingly contradictory teachings may all have value. Ultimately, you have to find your way — what’s right for you in your shop.
Remember, too, that there are no infallible gurus; something is not correct just because a supposed authority said so. Of course, don’t blithely dismiss expertise and tradition, but use your own brain and hands. Craft is very direct — you can see before you the honest results of your actions.
5. Cherish your craft
If craft is important to you, accept that. Trust it. Make a place for it in your life, living space and financial space. Your crafting is important for the fulfillment it brings you, as well as for the beautiful, useful things it produces to enhance your life and the lives of those around you. Invest in it with heart and means, without apology. Your work and its fruits add good to this world. Take great joy in craft!
Essential Woodworking Tools
Learn to select the fundamental tools for creating fine-quality furniture and household accessories.