Woodshop Projects: Three Steps to Guaranteed Success as a Woodworking Beginner
Learn how to build quality furniture projects that can be completed by any woodworker with a modest tool kit
Guides you step by step, dispelling myths and misinformation on what it takes to get started woodworking quickly and on the right track
Megan Fitzpatrick, managing editor of Popular Woodworking Magazine, helps you choose the right tools for your shop and budget
Build a little knowledge, then build a few easy woodworking projects
By Dan Farnbach, Online Editor
It’s the first flush of beginner woodworking creativity -- the idea that a new, custom table would look awesome next to the old sofa. The only problem is, you haven't used your hands for this type of work since “Woodshop Projects 101” and, since then, you've grown somewhat attached to the look and quantity of your fingers. You have a few questions on basic woodworking tools, mechanics, and procedure. And there's still the question of what exactly to build. Well, never fear! We've all been there. Here's a no-fail, three-step process to beginning woodworking.
Step One: Learn about Easy Woodworking Projects and Plans
Get to know the difference between good projects and great projects, before you ever start. How? Invest in your knowledge base. Buy a few woodworking books and magazines that include plans and projects. Shop around for the best set of simple woodworking projects that you can find. You'll end up making a range of products in your years as a woodworker -- from the enduringly useful to the quickly forgettable. Start out with some real winners, pieces that are simple and beautiful, sturdy and refined. Believe it or not, you can achieve this goal in your first attempts. The key is to invest a little time and money in the upfront research, until you discover the projects that really suit your style and strengths. You'll find that this is a good habit in the design stage of any piece, from beginner to advanced.
The “I Can Do That” series book is a great addition to your shelf. It includes 38 easy woodshop projects, and costs less than most movie tickets. However, if you prefer working from your computer with PDF plans, the Quick-Start CD includes more than 30 of them. Either way, you'll also get plenty of advice for the next step ...
Step Two: Assess Your Tools for Beginner Woodworking
Experts assess their tool kits continually throughout their careers, always seeking the simplest, most cross-functional pieces and the best ways to use them. So, follow that lead. Make some jigsaw cuts on scrap wood. Change to a longer blade and make a few more. Was it easy and fluid? Compare inside and outside measurements with your tape. Are they perfectly equal? When you start making things, you'll find that each blade change, each cut, and each measurement can be either satisfying and efficient or time-consuming and problematic. There's a snowball effect the further you go in the work. Think ahead and, again, take a little upfront time to save a lot later.
I don’t know about you, but I find it easier to learn mechanics from a video than from print. Megan Fitzpatrick takes you to greater depth on tools with her Tool Basics DVD, also a perfect addition to your home collection at this stage. Buy it!
Step Three: Dive into Your Woodshop Projects
Go for it! Everyone has a few extraneous concerns when they're first starting. I enjoy trees and forests, so for me, I was always worried about how to make the best use of the primary resource. It wasn't until I had thrown out a few hundred oddly shaped and sized pieces that I realized there was no such thing as perfect efficiency in this craft. I bet you'll also have some random thoughts -- aesthetic, financial, or mechanical -- floating in your head as you go about your first projects. Try to put them aside and just enjoy what you're doing with your hands!
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Dan Farnbach is the Online Editor of Popular Woodworking. He's into sports, making things, and being way out in the woods. At seventeen he designed and built a footbridge in the Idaho wilderness, and realized this craft was pretty satisfying. Since then he has learned custom cabinetmaking and dabbled in fine furniture, working for two professional shops. Connect with him and other woodworkers on the Popular Woodworking Facebook page.