A Beginner’s Guide to Start Woodworking

Are you interested in starting a hobby in woodworking but don’t know where to begin?

We’ve got you covered! This comprehensive guide will teach you what you need to know to start your projects on the right foot.

Even if you find you’re a more experienced woodworker, this article still contains lots of information that any woodworking professional could benefit from.

We’ll explain:

Let’s jump into it!

1) Know your wood

Stacked logs

The first thing every beginner woodworker has to understand is the difference between various types of wood.

Some types of wood are more dense and heavy, while others are more thin and light.

And depending on the type of project you’re doing, you’re going to need different types of wood with different levels of density and strength.

A woodworker has to know the basic properties of most major woods to know which kind of wood will be better for certain projects.

In the woodworking world, wood is typically either classified as hardwood or softwood. These classifications have more to do with the type of tree you got the wood from than the actual density of the wood. (As a matter of fact, some softer woods are classified as hardwoods, and some harder woods are classified as softwoods).

Softwood is a category of wood that comes from coniferous trees, or trees with cones and needles.

While hardwood is a type of wood that comes from deciduous trees or ones that have leaves, seeds, and flowers.

Some of the most popular types of softwood include the following:

  • Pine
  • Douglas fir
  • Spruce
  • Cedar

Many softwoods are light and inexpensive, making them the perfect choice for beginners seeking to make quick projects, test models, and outdoor pieces like a bench or stool.

On the other hand, common types of hardwood include the following:

  • Oak
  • Mahogany
  • Maple
  • Cherry

These types of woods are reserved for more expensive, indoor projects for a variety of reasons. For one, they can be more difficult to cut into and can be difficult to find. But they’re also known for their quality and rich colors which makes them the ideal choice for centerpieces and tables.

Even within these categories, each type of wood is different. They all have their own advantages and disadvantages. For example, cedar is rot-resistant and helps deter bugs.

Meanwhile, pine is easy to cut into but can get damaged easily and is difficult to stain.

When selecting wood, you also have to keep an eye out for any boards that are damaged or warped. This is because these defects can cause the project to be uneven or scratched.

To help avoid further damage, select a board with a moisture content that matches the EMC of your environment to ensure it has already acclimated.

And to do that you’ll need to use a moisture meter. (See “Why You Need a Moisture Meter” to understand why moisture testing is so important for wooden projects.)

Of course, finding the right wood to use is just one part of woodworking. You also have to make sure you have the right tools.

2) Get the right woodworking tools

Woodworking tools on a table

Before starting their first woodworking project, beginning woodworkers have to understand what tools they need.

And while the tools you need may vary depending on what kind of project you’re tackling, every woodworker needs a couple of basic power tools and hand tools in their woodshed.

Some of the tools we’re about to mention are simple tools that could be used in home improvement efforts or DIY projects. But a few of them include more specialized tools you might find in the field of carpentry.

They are:

  • Moisture meter: This can help you measure the moisture content of your wood. If this reading matches the EMC of the final location, You won’t have to worry about the wood warping, enlarging, or shrinking.
  • Tape measure: This will help you make exact measurements.
  • Combination square: This will help you measure joints, angles, and wood depth.
  • Pencils or chalk: Use these to mark the wood once you measure so you know where to cut, drill, and carve.
  • Saws: Bandsaws, circular saws, miter saws, and hand saws are all types of saws you can use to cut wood. You’ll want to have a variety of saws as they each work better with different types of projects.
  • Sanders: Orbital sanders and belt sanders are power tools that can sand, smooth, and shape your wood. These can be especially helpful when working on a big project. Sandpaper, on the other hand, can be used on smaller, more delicate work. Sandpaper comes in different grits, meaning the paper can be more fine or coarse depending on the kind of work you want to do.
  • Power drill: A drill can help you with joinery—allowing you to make holes or insert screws. Just don’t forget to buy some extra drill bits so you have different drill head options.
  • Chisels: These can help you carve into the wood to make interesting details and designs. Try to get a variety pack with chisels of different sizes and shapes for more options.
  • A mallet: Use a mallet to push the chisel into the wood to make a carving. It can also be used to hammer in large pieces like dowels.
  • Clamps: Clamps hold wooden pieces and planks together while you’re joining them with screws or nails.
  • A jointer: This works well for flattening and smoothing a board. It’s especially helpful when you’re dealing with a warped board.
  • A planer: Use a planer for thinning out a thicker board.
  • Fasteners: Screws, nails, and bolts are all types of fasteners. They are what hold your project together.

In looking at this list, you might be wondering if you have to have all these tools to even think about touching your first woodworking project.

You don’t!

You can start small by purchasing just a couple of these tools at a time. Just be sure to pick a simple project that doesn’t require loads of different tools and machinery.

Focus on getting the specific tools you’ll need for your first couple of projects and go from there. As you accumulate more tools and become more experienced in your craft, you’ll get a better sense of what tools you need.

You’ve just got to make the decision of whether you want to buy high-end or low-end tools from the beginning. There are a lot of high-quality tools at reasonable prices. Many woodworkers even suggest buying second-hand tools to find a good deal on woodworking equipment. But in the end, you get what you pay for.

Of course, high-end tools are going to last you longer so they may well be worth the investment. But if you’re new to woodworking, you may want to try it out to see if you like it before laying down serious cash.

After all, no one says you can’t upgrade your tool collection later down the road. We would especially recommend this if you get more serious about your hobby and want to start a woodworking business.

No matter what quality tool you decide on, start by practicing on cheap materials.

This will help you develop the necessary woodworking skills before you move on to more serious, high-stakes projects.

3) Learn basic woodworking skills

A woodworker drilling holes with a power drill

Like any craft, woodworking takes a lifetime to master, although there are some basic skills every woodworker should know before starting their first project:

  • Measuring: This involves knowing how to use different rulers, tape measures, and combination squares. It’s important to make precise measurements so your project will be even and exact.
  • Sanding: This skill is all about knowing where and how much to sand. Beginners have to learn how to avoid sanding too much or too little. This is important to watch out for because excess sanding can remove too much material and make it uneven.
  • Sawing: It’s important to know how to saw (as well as know which saw to use) to make precise cuts.
  • Drilling: This skill is an important part of making holes in your wood, but it can also help you with joinery.
  • Joinery: This skill is essentially all about putting two boards together. You can do this in a variety of ways. Some of the most common include using fasteners like screws or bolts. Other common methods include wood glue and connecting with special joints (like the dovetail joint).
  • Painting: Learn what kind of paint to use and how to use it.
  • Finishing: If you’re looking for a more natural look for your finished product, you can use finishing. Because it’s opaque and tinted, you’ll need to properly distribute and layer it so the coat is even.

These skills are important because they form the foundation of woodworking. After all, woodworking is all about measuring, shaping, cutting, and connecting wooden boards to make something new.

With more experience, beginner woodworkers will move on to more advanced skills like creating a miter joint.

But in the beginning, learning these skills is an important step to creating your very first project.

4) Learn to plan projects

A hand writing out woodworking plans

Now that you understand what you need to know before you begin a woodworking project, you’re probably wondering how you should actually go about your woodworking project.

The answer is simple—it all starts with making a plan.

Here are the basic steps to do that:

  1. Decide what you want to make
  2. Decide what materials you need
  3. Decide what tools you need
  4. Sketch your design
  5. Gather your supplies
  6. Get started!

It’s always important to plan your project ahead of time. This will help ensure you have what you need and that you don’t waste your materials.

When you do pick a project, you should start simple and work your way up to more challenging projects. 

Here are some examples of common beginner projects:

  • A birdhouse
  • A shoe rack
  • A bookshelf
  • A bench
  • A wooden crate
  • A clothes rack
  • A cutting board
  • A coffee table
  • A writing desk

When it comes to woodworking, the best way to learn more about the craft is by working on the project itself.

But there are some things you’ll have to read up on to get a better understanding of. That’s where collecting resources comes in.

5) Collect resources

Two men looking at woodworking resources on a laptop

There are tons of available resources that can tell you anything you want to know about woodworking. It’s just a matter of finding them!

Some of the most common places woodworkers go to learn more about their craft include:

  • Friends and family: Many professional woodworkers learned their craft from their relatives or friends. If a loved one is willing to teach you, they can be one of the greatest resources you’ll ever find.
  • Woodworking courses: Depending on where you live, you can find woodworking courses at local tech centers or colleges. There are also tons of woodworking classes you can find through online platforms like Skillshare.
  • Website blogs: There are lots of woodworking websites with basic woodworking information as well as new project ideas.
  • YouTube videos: If you’re looking for step-by-step tutorials on how to craft a particular project, YouTube is the place to go!
  • Woodworking magazines: Woodworking magazines have plenty of helpful articles ranging from woodworking tips to project ideas.
  • Woodworking manuals: If you prefer print resources to digital ones, you might consider a woodworking manual or book. Like magazines, they can provide tips and help you brainstorm new project ideas.

Of these resources, here are some of our picks:

We’ve covered pretty much everything there is to know about starting your woodworking project, but there’s one more thing we want to remind you of before you dig out the power saws and mallets—how to stay safe.

6) Follow safety best practices

A man wearing a dust mask as he uses an orbital sander on a piece of wood

As with any project that involves sharp tools and heavy machinery, it’s important to know the safety rules.

And they aren’t just for beginners!

Both beginners and experts have to be mindful when using this equipment because it can become dangerous if mishandled.

Here are some basic safety precautions everyone should take when starting a woodworking project:

  • Don’t get distracted: When working with potentially dangerous equipment, to stay focused. Don’t try to multitask when you’re woodworking with sharp tools.
  • Keep your workspace clear of clutter: Too much clutter can lead to various hazards. Having a clear workspace will not only keep everything organized but also keep you safe. Be especially mindful of where you put sharp objects like screws or where you keep flammable material or electrical equipment that could pose a fire risk.
  • Wear protective clothing: Safety goggles and closed-toe shoes will keep you protected from the hazards of your workshop. Earplugs or noise-canceling headphones are needed to protect your hearing from loud machinery. You’ll also want to wear a dust mask to protect your lungs from inhaling wood dust. Tie back long hair and remove any jewelry. Wear tight-fitting clothes to avoid getting your sleeves caught in the machinery. Long sleeves and pants are preferable because they protect your skin from debris.
  • Check your wood before cutting it: Metal pieces and nails could be stuck inside your wood boards. If you try to use power tools on these boards, they could hit the nail, damaging the tools or even flinging the nail in your direction. This is especially dangerous when you’re using a saw, so check wood before you try to use any power tools on it.
  • Be mindful of where you place your hands: There are a lot of large saws and drills you’ll want to be careful with. Always be aware of where you’re placing your hands. Never put them near an active saw or similar power tool. Don’t even reach over a turned-off saw that’s still plugged in. You could turn it on by accident, and it could cut your hands.
And with that, you’re ready to begin.

No more sitting around wondering just how you’re going to start all the projects you’ve been dreaming up. You can get started today!

Want to learn more about woodworking?

Head on over to “How to Choose the Right Type of Wood for a DIY Project” to discover what types of wood you should get started with.

Or stop by our shop to check out our moisture meters for all your moisture content evaluation needs.

Essential Woodworking Resources: