I absolutely love my woodworking hobby, and today I’m going to share with you all my best advice to get into woodworking for beginners.
I’ve tried various types of projects, from painted plywood furniture, to scroll saw toys, outdoor concrete-topped tables, to indoor wall-décor and furniture.
I absolutely love having the freedom to try new ideas and fun projects. Not to mention, almost everything I’ve built could probably have been sold for a profit.
(and some of it was!)
But when you’re first getting started, there are going to be some decisions you have to make.
For instance, what type of projects would you like to start building right now?
Do you have very much money to invest in power tools?
How much space do you have in your workshop?
And finally, are you doing this as a hobby, or do you want to build woodworking projects that sell?
For me, it was kind of a necessity because I needed to build a cheap, storage platform bed for my wife and I.
It wasn’t until after that when I realized that project was a lot of fun and I wanted to keep doing it.
I wasn’t sure what I was going to build, so I started researching online.
I then realized there were tons of projects that I could immediately benefit from.
I knew I had plenty of work to do just building furniture and small projects for our house, but I also wanted to make some money with my hobby.
At that point, my main tools was a craftsman sliding miter saw, and a craftsman contractor-grade table saw.
Then I bought my DeWalt scroll saw and decided to make scroll saw portraits and wooden toys (pictured below).
I knew I could probably sell these locally or online. So that’s what I did.
From there, I started building jigs for making my cuts more accurate, and took on more furniture projects.
And for me, that’s ultimately what I enjoyed the most and is still what I’m doing today. Making furniture for my wife, and everyone else in my family.
Where Do You Want To Take Your Hobby?
So let’s talk about you. What do you want to do with your hobby?
If you don’t have much space and want to do things on the cheap, you could get by with nothing more than a table saw and a drill press (as far as stationary power tools goes).
And the standard handheld power tools – a router, 2 drills, jig saw, and a circular saw.
Obviously, you’ll want at least some of the essential hand tools for Woodworkers, but you can usually find these cheap, and even used if you search around.
If your focus is making money with your work – read How To Sell Your Work.
But what about DIY renovation projects? If you’re into that type of thing as well, and I’m guessing you probably are, you could probably also justify a good miter saw.
While a lot of home improvement projects would benefit from a miter saw, most furniture projects can get by much easier with just a table saw with the right jigs and sled.
One way or another, you’ll want to be able to cut mitered corners for projects like this desk I built, with mitered base molding.
Or do you like the idea of buying a single, versatile power tool, mastering that tool, and creating awesome gifts to give away or to sell?
This can be done with the scroll saw, like I did.
Above were a few examples, and here are a few more examples of what I’ve built with a scroll saw.
Or if you just get yourself a decent table saw, you could do a ton of projects with it.
This is because you can build custom jigs in order to create all kinds of woodworking cuts.
This is also a great space saver, because once you have built the jig’s you need, you really don’t have to get a miter saw.
Woodworking for Beginners – Tools To Buy When Starting Out
Let’s just assume you want to be a well-rounded woodworker for doing a wide variety of projects, whether they be for your home, gifts for friends and family, or to sell.
Here are the power tools I would suggest getting when you’re starting out, based on what I use the most in my woodworking shop.
To me, this one is absolutely essential.
Every project I work on nowadays requires at least some of the cuts to be made on the table saw.
Plus, by using a table saw to rip down and size your boards, you save money because you can buy rough cut lumber, and you have more options since you can create the exact dimensions you need.
This is opposed to buying the pre-cut, prefinished boards from the big home stores (which are overpriced in my opinion).
While I don’t typically use the miter saw for my final cross cuts (as the table saw makes cleaner cuts with the right jigs), I still use it on a regular basis.
If you’ve got the space and the money, a miter saw is a good addition.
It will save you time for making quick rough cross cuts.
And if you use a good blade and a zero clearance throat plate, you can get high quality cross cuts from a miter saw as well.
Alternatives – for crosscutting you can get by with your table saw, and in some cases your circular saw.
There’s just something I love about drilling straight holes, perfectly perpendicular, through a piece of wood.
Compare that to using a standard drill when drilling multiple holes, just to find out half of them are crooked.
That’s frustrating, and once I bought my bench top drill press, my life got easier.
So in woodworking for beginners, I would consider this a huge stress reducer!
Alternatives – you can buy a drill guide for cheap to help you drill straight holes. It’s still not as quick or as versatile as a drill press, but it will save you some money.
Most Woodworkers will tell you to get a band saw, and will probably make no mention of a scroll saw.
But I’ve honestly never had a real need for a band saw, once I had my scroll saw.
The scroll saw makes cleaner and more intricate cuts, and it’s easier to set up and use compared to all the tuning that needs to be done on a band saw to make sure it cuts properly.
Yes the band saw cuts thicker material faster, and allows for re-sawing, but I’ve personally never had a need for that.
Alternatives – if you have access to a cheap or hand-me-down band saw, go for it. Another way to save money is to get a jigsaw, just don’t expect clean finish cuts. There will be sanding involved. You can find a great jig saw on Amazon.
2 Battery Drills
A couple good battery drills are pretty essential in my opinion.
Basic wood screws and pocket-hole screws get used in my wood shop on a regular basis.
I have two drills, and I wish I had four.
You’ll save time and headache by not having to switch bits out over and over, hence the multiple drills.
Alternatives – if you have a corded drill that works fine, it’s just more limiting. But I would still suggest having two of them.
You can get a 110 volt wall mount dust collection with a 4 inch intake port, for a decent price online.
You can see the Shop Fox version I bought here.
This model has lasted me for years and works really well. You’ll also need to get some and dust collection flex duct.
A good dust collection system will help keep your shop clean, and your lungs clear.
Alternatives – if you have a decent shop vac, you can definitely make that work if you get the right attachments for your big tools. Your smaller tools, like a random orbital sander, should already have attachments that fit a standard shop vac.
Another option would be to set up a box fan with a furnace filter attached to it, close to where you’re working. This does not work that well, but if it’s all you got, then it’s better than nothing.
Router and Router Table
The router is a versatile and powerful tool, and I would strongly suggest getting one.
While it’s not as important as the table saw, I still find that molding edges, replicating curved cuts, and creating jigs, almost requires the use of my router.
Even if just used for rounding over sharp edges, it’s worth the investment.
Plus you can build a jig and use your router to make mortises.
And the router table is there to make use of your router much easier and safer, plus it gives you better dust control.
Alternatives – you can always round over your edges with a sanding block, and you can chamfer edges with a block plane. Or if you have a router, and don’t want to buy a router table yet, you can build one using mostly plywood.
Here are the tools of the non-powered variety, which I use the most, and I would suggest to any beginner woodworker when they’re starting out.
You can buy these from any home store, and you’ll use them all the time. I’ve got seven, sometimes I wish I had 5 more.
These are a bit more expensive, but you’ll need them when gluing up your projects.
I’ve got a set of small ones I used when I was building toys, but once I got into furniture I bought several longer bar clamps.
These I use quite a bit, and I would suggest prioritizing some 4 foot bar clamps, because it’s better to have too much than not enough.
One thing about woodworking for beginners, is that they usually don’t realize how important it is, and sometimes how difficult it can be, to keep all of your joinery nice and square.
If you mess this up on one joint with a piece of furniture, you may find that at the end it doesn’t sit flat on a hard surface.
Invest in basic woodworking squares, and don’t cheap out on this.
Quick and easy measurements will quickly become second nature to you, and the handiest way for this is using a good tape measure.
Some woodworkers will tell you they only use precision rules and gauges, but I’ve learned over the years that nothing is simpler than a tape measure, and it works just fine for me.
A good sharp chisel will get used quite a bit.
I mostly use two of my chisels, a 1-1/4″ and a 1/4″.
They’re great for cleaning up edges and joinery, and it also works great for cleaning up glue squeeze out.
Kreg Pocket Hole Jig
Pocket-hole joinery has gotten very popular recently, most likely due to the brilliance of the Kreg marketing department.
This jig makes pocket hole joinery very simple, and creates a very strong joint.
I would suggest adopting this method, even if you intend on learning the more advanced woodworking joinery techniques down the road.
The pocket-hole is a great place to start.
Kreg Vise Clamps
The Vise clamps that Kreg makes are top-of-the-line.
They have large flat faces to prevent marring the wood surface, and some models set their tension and clamping width automatically, making them very quick and easy to use. I have two, and I will be buying more.
A Long Straight Edge
At some point you’ll probably realize you need to cut sheet goods.
This could be plywood, MDF, melamine material, or hardboard.
These manufactured woods are much cheaper compared to the same board footage of solid wood, but in many cases look just as good and are just as strong.
Unless you have a table saw designed for safely cutting sheet material, you want a long steel straight edge to mark lines, or to guide your circular saw.
Basic Hand Tools
Setting up your power tools, turning screws by hand, replacing your kid’s toy car batteries, the list goes on and on.
You need basic tools like screwdrivers, wrenches, and pliers in any workshop.
Woodworking for Beginners – Great Projects To Start With
The Work Bench
When you’re starting out, you’re going to need a good workbench, and you probably don’t have one yet.
Or maybe you’ve got a hand-me-down, or a simple table, or saw horses and plywood.
The point is, a good woodworking shop needs a good workbench. You can go all out and build one with bench dogs and integrated vise clamps, but I would suggest saving that for a later project once you find out what your needs are.
Here’s my main workbench, which is a simple build and has lasted me for years.
It’s a basic 2 x 4 frame with a double premium-plywood top. The drawers are made from pine and 1/4″ MDF. The drawer slides are strips of hardwood.
The handles I cut out of pine scraps on the scroll saw, and rounded the edges with a router.
This is a cheap build and great beginner project, as it gives you tons of storage and a fantastic flat, smooth worktop on which to build your future projects.
The plywood top is the most expensive part, as you don’t want to use cheap plywood here. I believe mine was grade A Birch, or maybe maple, plywood I bought from Menards.
Plans for this work bench, along with other shop projects, are part of Wood Shop Essentials.
Miter Saw Workstation
There’s a few ways to do this in woodworking for beginners.
You could build a dedicated miter saw workbench like I did, picture below.
Or you can build simple boxes to put on either side of your miter saw so you have a longer surface the same elevation of the miter saws cutting bed.
These could be permanently attached to an existing bench, or they could be stored and pulled out only when you need to use the miter saw.
This is a great option if you’re limited on space.
This is a good woodworking idea for beginners because once you have this built, you will use it for as long as you are using the miter saw.
For me, it is an essential woodworking shop workbench, with tons of additional storage.
You can do this with hardwood or cheap pine boards. And maybe you would like to get into building crafty, customized picture frames for your living room, or to sell online.
But for this project I would suggest doing mitered corners, and cutting out the rabbet grooves on the back, in which to insert the picture and glass.
This project would teach you basic cuts on the table saw, cutting rabbets, cutting good 45-degree miters, and doing some simple pocket hole and glue joinery.
Here’s a mitered picture frame tutorial I did here on The Power Tool Website.
Woodworking Shop jigs
We build jigs because it’s fun, and they help us to make precision cuts with our tools.
They also make it easier for repeatability. There are many handy jigs you can create for your table saw, for assisting with clamping, for the drill press, and I could go on and on.
Here are some helpful woodworking jigs that I use on a regular basis, and would probably benefit you to have in your shop.
- Crosscut sled
- Miter sled
- Miter saw stop block and cutting gauge
- Feather board
- Table saw jointer and straight edge jig
- Taper jig
- Clamping squares
- Table saw stop block
- Table saw zero clearance throat plate
- Dovetailing Jig for your table saw
End Table or Coffee Table
Here’s a practical piece of furniture that all of us could use in our own homes.
There’s something about a solid wood end table that I just love. They last longer, look better, and are sturdier than the cheap furniture you get from most stores.
Whether you build this with a rustic look using pine boards, or a fine furniture style using hardwoods, there are some basic techniques you’ll get to practice on this build.
You’ll learn how to build a panel (the top that is made from multiple boards), how to build table legs and properly attach the aprons between them, and then how to correctly attach the top to the aprons.
You also get to incorporate any kind of edge molding for a more decorative finish.
You may also want to go with a tapered leg finish, which is a beautiful design feature in my opinion, and is a great technique for any woodworker to master.
On this coffee table I made with pine dimensional lumber, I tapered the legs and I really liked how it turned out.
TV Stand Entertainment Center
This is a larger project, but it still is not very complicated. It just has more parts and will take longer to build and finish.
Here’s the one I made for my wife a while back, using basic joinery and cheap material.
A project like this will teach you gluing up a larger panel (which is more complicated and quite different than gluing up small panels), building simple cabinetry with adjustable shelves (for this I would recommend the Kreg Shelf Pin jig), and building doors – which includes creating the rails and stiles, and the panel in the middle.
Hardware is also an essential skill in woodworking for beginners.
And with this project you’ll get to install door hinges and pulls.
Plus if the design you go with includes drawers, you’ll get more practice building drawers and installing drawer slides.
Woodworking for Beginners – Techniques to master
Table Saw Techniques
Standard rip cut
This will be a simple cut using your table saw fence, when the cut goes along with the grain of the board.
Miter gauge cut
Here is a standard crosscut on the table saw, using the miter gauge that came with the saw. This is done when cutting across the grain.
Your table saw blade likely will tilt either left or right. This is a bevel cut, and can be done both when ripping and cross-cutting.
Thin rip cut
When you need to cut thin strips from a board, you should be using a specially designed push block, probably a feather board, and a zero clearance throat plate.
Cutting grooves, dados, and rabbets
A groove is a cut of any width (sometimes multiple cuts to create the proper width) along the grain of a board, without passing all the way thru the board.
A dado the same thing, but it goes across the grain of the board.
A rabbet is simply a groove or dado that extends off the edge of the board.
These techniques are used for many types of joinery, and can be done on the table saw.
Push blocks and push sticks
Table saw safety is important, so you should have and use push blocks and push sticks in order to keep your hands away from the blade.
Get comfortable using these tools, and keep them in a handy location reachable from where you stand when using the table saw.
Doing this will help to ensure that you grab them and use them.
Miter Saw Techniques
Simple cross cuts and 45 degree miter Cuts
Any miter saw can go out of square overtime.
Learn your miter saw and how to fine tune the fence so your cuts are always square.
Also practice making 45 degree miter cuts, because when doing miter joints, these need to be as close to perfection as possible.
Using a stop block for repeatability
Set up your miter saw workstation so you can clamp in place a stop block.
This will allow you to create identical length cuts multiple times. This is very helpful for many types of projects.
The edge of the board is the long grain thin side. It’s the same grain as what’s on the face of the board, and gluing long grains together creates an incredibly powerful and long-lasting joint.
This type of joinery only typically requires glue, but can be reinforced with screws, like pocket screws, to save time.
When possible, you want to increase the amount of long grain surface area being glued in a joint, to maximize joint strength.
That’s the idea with a mortise and Tenon joint, box joint, half lap joint, edge to edge panel glue up, edge to dado-groove glue up (like with a shelf), and using dowels.
Edge to end joinery
The end-grain should not be the only part of a board within the glued joint. This provides very little strength and will not last.
When gluing long grain to edge grain, it should be modified so both pieces involve long grain (see paragraph above), or reinforce with screws.
This is when the face of a board is glued to another face.
This creates an indestructible bond, and does not need to be reinforced.
An example would be gluing two sheets of 3/4″ plywood together to create a 1-1/2″ thick board.
For me, this is common with woodworking jigs and fences.
When joining boards, sometimes you will need a reinforced joint. This can be done using additional wood, like with dowels, biscuits, splines, or gluing on additional blocks of wood inconspicuously, to increase long grain surface area being glued.
Reinforcement can also be done using pocket screws, regular screws, brad nails, finish nails, or metal brackets.
This is helpful as long as it fits the design of the final piece, or when design doesn’t really matter and you are in a hurry.
Like when I build drawers, I prefer to “Glue & Brad” instead of “Clamp & Wait”.
With all the methods of clamping, I can’t tell you exactly what will work best.
But whatever clamps you get, learn how to use them properly without marring the wood, or making the joint shift by applying too much pressure, or pressure in the wrong direction.
Also be sure to master clamping material at 90 degrees, which can be easier with proper jigs.
Wipe on finishes
This would include stains, oil finishes, and wipe on polyurethane.
Using nitrile gloves is important, and safely discarding rags IS CRITICAL! Stain rags should be laid out flat to air dry before being thrown out.
They can combust and start a fire if wadded up and thrown away while still wet.
Brush on finishes
This can be done with the same finishes that we wipe on, but typically you can brush it on thicker to reduce the number of coats needed.
Also you would use standard polyurethane instead of wipe on polyurethane.
Using a brush is an art all on its own, and is worth mastering in woodworking for beginners.
If you’re set up to spray, as in you have a shop with exhaust, or you can safely spray outside without the overspray coating your wife’s car, then you may consider getting yourself an air compressor and spray gun.
Spray-on finishes are much easier and faster than the other methods of finishing.
For a more detailed look at your finish options, see Wood Finishes 101.
I hope that helps shed some light on woodworking for you. I would suggest getting your shop set up and diving into any of the projects I listed above.
Be safe, and have fun!