Newbie #1: New to woodworking

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Blog entry by amhorn posted 06-11-2012 09:46 PM 6960 reads 0 times favorited 13 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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Hi everyone!

Not too long ago I built a trophy for the fantasy league I manage and it got me interested in learning how to woodwork. I picked up some tools but now I’m at a loss of where to begin. Does anyone have any ideas of what I should start with? I would like to build myself a coffee table eventually but I don’t want to get myself into a project I can’t handle yet.


13 comments so far

View Tokolosi's profile


678 posts in 2354 days

#1 posted 06-11-2012 10:15 PM

Make a box. Or two. Or ten. They tend to include, or have the potential to include, lots of different joining techniques such as miters, dovetails, dado’s, mortices, etc. Use different woods to get a feel for their characteristics. Use different finish techniques on them to see what works or what you like. Besides they are handy to put stuff in. Or to give as gifts.

Welcome to LJ’s. Looking forward to see your projects.

-- “There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.” ~ JRR Tolkien

View DeputyDawg's profile


196 posts in 3964 days

#2 posted 06-11-2012 11:00 PM

Welcome to the greatest bunch of woodworkers in the world. You will always find an answer for any woodworking project help, Just ask and you will recieve. Also it would be nice to know where you live. There are LumberJocks all over. So put it on your home site. I live in Buckeye, Az and I’ll bet there at least 20 LumberJocks within 100 miles of me. Again welcome aboard.

-- DeputyDawg

View Dan Lyke's profile

Dan Lyke

1520 posts in 4124 days

#3 posted 06-11-2012 11:13 PM

Welcome to LumberJocks! I’ve always found it best to look at what I want to do, and try to break that down into acheivable steps so I know where to put my foot next. You said “a coffee table”, which I think is an admirable goal, I’d try to break that down into what that means…

Assuming that you’re starting from scratch with no tools…

Do you have a space to work in? Are you wanting to lay out a couple of tens of thousands for top of the line fixed equipment, or are you in a small apartment and wanting to stick to hand tools?

Are you looking for the contemplative quiet of hand tools, or do you want knock-it-out assembly line power tools? I started out thinking I wanted the former, and it’s great to build a set of kitchen cabinets quickly, but as I learn how to use a good block plane or a Japanese style pull-saw, I find myself really enjoying the former. Do you need to own the tools, or can you use ‘em at an adult ed session at your local high school shop?

Do you have a vision for style? Are you an Arts & Crafts or Mission kind of guy, maybe you have a think for Japanese joinery, or do you tend towards rustic, or perhaps Windsor bent wood, or over-the-top Louis XIV carving?

I’m an “I want my instant gratification now!” kind of guy, so I’d actually start by building a coffee table. However, I’d do it a little weird: I’d limit myself to cheap wood. Maybe you’ve got a Craigslist near you that’s spewing Maple at a buck a board foot (I got a good portion of the wood destined for my kitchen cabinets this way), or maybe that’s cheap 2×4s from the local big box stores. And lest you think that latter option limits you to rough rustic styles, check out the results from the LumberJocks 2008 2x4 challenge!

If I were starting from scratch right now, I’d start with picking a style, probably something Japanese ‘cause the tools and woods I’m about to recommend kind of head that direction. I’d get a Bakuma 300 Japanese style pull saw from Woodcraft. I’d get a decent block plane, and learn how to tune and sharpen it, this is a great place for Craigslist because some people refurb tools as a hobby, I picked up a Stanley block plane off of Craigslist for $20 that had its sole flattened and been sharpened and tuned so it’s a beautiful amazing tool, and using that taught me how to tune the cheap 4 piece Stanley block plane that my great grandfather gave my father so that it gives similar results. I’d get a decent 3/8” plug-in drill, and a set of brad point bits. I’d pick up a chisel or two at a garage sale (or, if budget weren’t a major constraint, I’d buy a set of good ones from Lie Nielsen, where the 4 basic ones, ¼” increments from ¼” to 1” will set you back $200, but you’ll only buy those chisels once). I’d pick a sharpening system, like maybe the “Scary Sharp” system (Google it), and learn how to sharpen the plane and the chisels. And, finally, I’d get an angle measure (can be cheap), and a combination square (if you go cheap, you will eventually buy another one, but you’ll use as many as you have).

Build a couple of low saw horses, with enough overlap to clamp things to, and pick up a few clamps. I use handscrew style clamps a lot, there are, believe it or not, differences between the cheap ones and the expensive ones, but you’ll use ‘em so get what you can afford.

And then I’d make a coffee table, using cheap Doug Fir (or, maybe, redwood or cedar) from the big box store. Make it with mortises and tenons, and pay careful attention to your joinery. It will be uneven. You will make mistakes. As the lumber dries your table will twist and warp. But you’ll learn. A lot.

Maybe you’ll discover you’re a drilling god and don’t need any help making your mortises, or that you clean things up with the chisels just fine. Maybe you’ll decide that for your next pass you need a drill press (this’d be one of my first purchases).

Maybe you’ll discover that you have the patience to carefully follow scribe lines with the pull saw. Maybe you’ll decide that cutting tenons is really better suited to a table saw or router table.

Maybe you’ll find that you can flatten boards by hand and just want a jack plane, maybe you’ll find that it’s time to get access to (or buy) a jointer and/or a planer.

Maybe you’ll decide that you love the forgiving nature of wet soft wood, and want to use it to your advantage! Windsor chairs use wet wood and no glue on the joints, taking advantage of the flex of the lumber and the differential rates of contraction as the wood dries to pull the joints together. Or that you like the surface durability of rock hard woods and need to budget for hardwoods for everything, or that the lighter softwoods are easier to work with hand tools and thus lend themselves to intricate Japanese style joinery.

I have fallen in love with hand tools, largely with having gotten rooked into the Bodega Bay Wooden Boat Challenge competition, but this means I need to rework my workshop to incorporate a big heavy workbench so that I can really plane heavy things. All while not giving up on my ability to knock out cabinets for the house….

Welcome to the obsession, it gets fun here!

-- Dan Lyke, Petaluma California,

View Don W's profile

Don W

18715 posts in 2567 days

#4 posted 06-12-2012 01:08 AM

You said you picked up some tools, but didn’t mention if they were chainsaw types of tools or screw driver types of tools.

Your likely to get more opinions for this question than there are woodworkers, so here is mine.

Wandt to build a coffee table, build a coffee table. Pick a simpler design, but give it a go. A coffee table doesn’t have to be that complex, it will be usable, and if its something you want you’re more likely to maintain focus.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View rustfever's profile


752 posts in 3309 days

#5 posted 06-12-2012 01:08 AM

Years and years ago, I took an Adult Education Night School class in ‘Beginning Woodworking’. I met a few great people, learned a bit about a few woods and some tools, made a few lathe projects, built a night stand for my daughter, and before long, I tried a hutch for the wife. [Wife still treasures the hutch.]
I was then hooked.
But life got in my way for some 20 years.
Now, close to retirement. Got the bug…..... BAD, REAL BAD. And loving it.
My suggestion, find a mentor or a class. try what turns your eye. Don’t worry, not everything will be a show piece, but soon some show pieces will be coming forth.
Enjoy an hour or two in the shop each week…..or each day.

-- Rustfever, Central California

View eddie's profile


8565 posts in 2613 days

#6 posted 06-12-2012 03:19 AM

welcome to LJs amhorn build you a coffee table and when your thur youll have learned a lot . itsa lot to learn but you got tons of help here and good luck look foward to seeing will be surprised by what you can build with a few tools.

-- Jesus Is Alright with me

View thedude50's profile


3603 posts in 2477 days

#7 posted 06-12-2012 03:43 AM

I LIKE TO HAVE MY STUDENTS AND NOVICE PEOPLE I TEACH BEGIN WITH EASY STUFF THAT WILL TEACH YOU JOINERY. learn the basics a coffee table is a big project for a first one but not too much for a third or fourth. learn to use mortice and tennon joints buy a couple of books spend a lot of time watching the woodwhisper and rob cosman you should try to watch norm abram. visit my website and read about tools on my site there is a page called deltagrams read them you can learn this craft fast in this age of computers, What tools did you buy?

-- Please check out my new stores and

View amhorn's profile


2 posts in 2193 days

#8 posted 06-12-2012 05:25 AM

Thank you all for your advice. It’s overwhelming but I hope to work with it. There have been a few questions from everyone, but the one that stands out is what tools I have bought. I have a couple different hand saws, a drill, a couple very basic planers, a miter saw, and a table router. I don’t have a big space to work (it’s just a sun room in my apartment). I guess one of my next purchases will be some chisels.

View tsangell's profile


216 posts in 2692 days

#9 posted 06-12-2012 01:33 PM

Your tool kit sounds kinda like mine.

If you want a table, go for it. Don’t sell yourself short – you’ll learn a tremendous amount from just doing it.

Read everything you can, and scour the internet. There is great information out there. To understand some foundational joinery, technique, and construction, I’d recommend “The Essential Woodworker” by Robert Wearing. For a good general background on hand tool restoration, sharpening, and use, try “Hand Tool Essentials.”

If you want to know how to run a router or table saw like a champ, you’ll have to ask someone else. :)

View jonagnew's profile


7 posts in 2688 days

#10 posted 06-12-2012 01:57 PM

I’ve been woodworking for about 2 years. I work in a small space with a very limited budget for tools. Like you, I have both hand and power tools. Here’s my 2 cents….

Chisels are a must. So is a reliable sharpening method. I have a small set of Narex chisels that I like a lot and are pretty inexpensive. I also have some DMT stones….I wouldn’t buy them again.

Many of my first projects were shop related. I started by building a workbench….nothing special, but something flat, solid, and capable of holding a vice. I built a Krenov-style wooden plane. I made a couple of marking gauges, a router plane, and a shoulder plane. I worked out some methods of tool storage, a couple of cheaply made shelves, a chisel rack, a japanese toolchest. Then I made some shop appliances like a shooting board and a miter hook. You might not want or need all of these things, but my point is that you can get some good shop time in, learn a lot, and have a lot of fun, all while gearing up for some bigger and better projects.

As for “real” projects, I’ve actually found that larger items like coffee tables are easier to build than smaller things like boxes….at least, easier to build well. The smaller the project, the less room for error, in my experience.

View James Alberding's profile

James Alberding

79 posts in 2195 days

#11 posted 06-13-2012 08:41 AM

Hi, Im James. other than taking shop class in middle school way back in the day, and experience using power tools in various construction jobs I am a brand new “woodworker”. I have basic, and minimal tools. I found an andarondack style chair called “Jake’s Chair” from a website that provides the plans, and very comprehensive plans and directions given with newbies in mind. you can find it at if your interested.

I am taking it real slowly. i thought id get materials and slap this thing together in no time, and be sippin a jack and coke on my deck in no time! haha but I have switched gears and am taking my time making solid templates so i can make it much easier to make more chairs adfter this first go. I started a blog for the project, and i started talking more about what i was doing to my workspace to make the project go smoother, so i decided to make two seprate blogs.

I’ve already got 4 different projects i want to work on and I havent even finished my first one yet! this site is great for insperation, and information. There are a S ton of people who know so much, are really nice, and post so many projects.

good luck man, im jealouse you have a router table…. now make it 5 project i want to do!!

-- measure once, cut twice...

View helluvawreck's profile


31096 posts in 2866 days

#12 posted 06-13-2012 11:18 AM

Welcome to Lumberjocks. If you have a place for your shop then I would build a simple beginners workbench and a couple of nice saw horses. Then you might build a tool chest or wall cabinet for your tools. you’ll be gaining skill and acquiring something to help with your woodworking. Get you a couple of good beginning woodworking books. They will really help you too and will also have some good beginning projects to help you learn the ropes. Have fun.


-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View Don W's profile

Don W

18715 posts in 2567 days

#13 posted 06-13-2012 11:50 AM

start a blog and a coffee table. Lots of LJ’s are here to help you through the process. You’ll build a nice table and learn as you go. You’ll find out what tools you need, what ones are available, and help deciding which ones you don’t need. Your biggest problem will be deciding which advice to take.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

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