So you want to be a woodworker eh?

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Blog entry by David Craig posted 06-24-2010 11:24 AM 2053 reads 4 times favorited 33 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Anybody else find the term “woodworker” a little too simplified?

Three years ago, I get a thought in my head. “It would be cool to make my own furniture, toys, and items for the house..” So the tool purchases start. I pick up a mitersaw, table saw, router, drill, the basic power tools. Five minutes after I start, the next thought in my head “I would like to cut one board that is somewhat square looking…” And thats when it really begins…

You start to learn that boards are not square at the get-go and all the cutting against a fence isn’t going to fix that. No problem, just learn how to straighten the board. Well, then you get into jointers and planers. Can’t afford them? No problem, just learn how to use your router to flatten or joint a board. Takes more time, but it can be done. Or you could look into hand planes. Of course you have your scrub plane, your block plane, your jointer, your shoulder plane, and a whole slew of others. They cost a good deal of money also, but you might find them used. If you go that route, be prepared to learn how to remove rust. You might try electrolyisis, chemical treatments, good ole elbow grease and wd40. Better learn how to flatten that sole. If the sole isn’t flat, then all of that rust removal is for naught. Unless you start out flat or square, you are never going to get flat or square. Of course you will have to sharpen the blades, so you will have to look at grinding, scary sharp sanding, sharpening stones. Oh yeah, sharpening stones, well are you going to go with oilstones or waterstones? Are you going to use a jig or are you man/woman enough to try it freehand? If you go with grinding, make sure you keep the blade cool, or you are going to lose the temper. Oh, you don’t know what temper is? Don’t worry, you will soon learn all about the metallurgical arts my friend.

Well now you have that board flat, how are you going to cut it? You say, “No problem, I will just get a tablesaw…” Ok, are you going to get a contractor saw, cabinet saw, or benchtop saw? Better check them miter slots and make sure they are standard. Expect to spend some time making adjustments to make sure the blade is square to the slots and to the fence. Might want to check your electricity out. Do you have a 220 circuit? If not, count out that cabinet saw. How many amps does that machine use. Do you have a dedicated circuit so you don’t blow those fuses? What blade you using? Crosscut, Rip, or combo? What is the tooth count? Going to go zero clearance so that you don’t get chip out? Did you get a thin kerf blade so your saw doesn’t bog down with denser woods? Are you thinking about cutting Dados? Might need a stacked Dado blade set. And that, my friend, will lead you down a whole different road.

What? You don’t know what a Dado is? Oh, those are slots cut into the wood so you can put in shelves and stuff. Of course you have to make them tight, but not too tight to allow wood movement. That my friend is a whole alchemy in itself. I won’t call it science because wood is different. It moves, twists, cups. If you find two pieces that act exactly the same, give me a call because I want to write that one for the history books. Of course, aside from dados, there are rabbets (no, not those cute furry critters in the yard), miters, splines, and tenons. Better get yourself a good set of chisels, you will need those to clean those cuts out. Of course you will learn that there are butt chisels, paring chisels, bench chisels, mortising chisels, and lets not forget those Japanese chisels that are all the rage now. Of course you can always go the handsaw route, nothing to it. There are dovetail saws, rip saws, crosscut saws, tenoning saws, and you will spend a good deal of time checking teeth configurations to make sure it matches the types of cuts you want to make.

Want to put those boards together? Get familar with dovetails, box joints, miter joints, mortise and tenon joints. And then you have to fasten them. Are you going to use yellow or white glue? Type I, II, or III? Consider that hide glue and don’t shy away from CA glue. You know, super glue, that stuff that sticks your fingers together or glues your hand to the parts you are working on. And there are mechanical fasteners like nails or screws. Of course you will be spending hours online learning about square heads, philip heads, flat, and round heads. Learning how to drive that baby without ripping its head off or stripping it down to nothing. Then you have to hide them by learning how to countersink and plug them.

Fortunately sanding is no problem. Unless of course you have options like hand sanding, power sanding with belts or orbital sanders. Better learn them grits as well. Not to mention you are going to spend lots of time wondering what type of backing and grade you are using. Want to get those tricky corners? Get them contoured or convex grips. Of course you can always learn how to use a card scraper and cut the sanding down a little.

Want to finish it? No problem. Are you going with paint or stain? With paint, you can choose oil or acryllic, thin washes or just slab it on. Make sure you use a primer. Want to stain? Waterbase, oil, or gel? Might want to try shelac or boiled linseed oil. Of course, every wood is different. Some don’t stain real well and might need a wood conditioner. Are you going to put a top coat on it? Polyurethane maybe? Well, there is satin, semi gloss, and gloss.

Of course, we haven’t covered scrollsawing, wood turning, band saws, routers, etc. I will give you a few minutes to catch your breath on that one. And, in all honesty, we only scratched the surface of the items mentioned already.

Still want to be a woodworker?


You will never get bored with the boards. And while you are learning your chemistry, metallurgy, biology, mechanics, etc., learn to smile real pretty when someone asks you what you do for a “hobby” and you are forced to reply “I am a woodworker…”


-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

33 comments so far

View hannes's profile


52 posts in 3160 days

#1 posted 06-24-2010 11:54 AM

Well said. So much more to woodworking than just sawing wood. I just noticed how much i’ve learned the last year… sometimes it feels like you don’t learn much. What about a woodworking engineer :-)

-- Hannes, Cape Town, South Africa

View spanky46's profile


995 posts in 3417 days

#2 posted 06-24-2010 12:05 PM

A very good accounting of our interest in wood or is it challenging ourselves! Nothing more rewarding then being offered $10 for something you just spent 7 hours sanding and finishing! lol We do it because we love it I think? Sometimes? Whatever!

-- spanky46 -- Never enough clamps...Never enough tools...Never enough time.

View patron's profile


13608 posts in 3367 days

#3 posted 06-24-2010 12:39 PM

food for thought here , david .

OK , i’m in .

what else do i need to think about ?

i’m still working on that elusive ‘square cut’ myself !

-- david - only thru kindness can this world be whole . If we don't succeed we run the risk of failure. Dan Quayle

View jockmike2's profile


10635 posts in 4273 days

#4 posted 06-24-2010 01:29 PM

Just when I thought I had what I do all figured out. You had to go and write an essay on what we do, is it really that complicated? You bet your ass, and when you think you got it figured out, something happens and I’m asking Karson, Dick Cain, Patron or Degoose, what the hell did I do wrong. I did everything you said, Oh, yea, I forgot that. After 40 years, you’d think you knew it all. Nah, I’m still learning, you’ve worked with me, you know that.

-- (You just have to please the man in the Mirror) Mike from Michigan -

View swirt's profile


2785 posts in 2998 days

#5 posted 06-24-2010 01:48 PM

Very well said David. Comical and insightful.

-- Galootish log blog,

View AaronK's profile


1506 posts in 3491 days

#6 posted 06-24-2010 02:22 PM


View mtkate's profile


2049 posts in 3352 days

#7 posted 06-24-2010 03:01 PM

A very good read – and it sounds like the thought process that many of us would have followed….

The “what is a dado” moment. I remember it well! And truth be told – I have heard people pronounce it “Day-do” and “Dad-do” and am not even sure how to say it…. all I need to know is read and spell it to get by ;)

View rance's profile


4258 posts in 3187 days

#8 posted 06-24-2010 03:17 PM


The BEST ‘read’ I’ve had in a long time. (copying it to my palm pilot for future reference). I look forward to your follow-up on scrollsawing, wood turning, band saws, and routers. Oh, and don’t forget about Carving (figurines, relief, chip, sign, and more). :D

-- Backer boards, stop blocks, build oversized, and never buy a hand plane--

View Stevinmarin's profile


838 posts in 3102 days

#9 posted 06-24-2010 03:18 PM

Good observations. It’s one of the few hobbies than involves so many cross-disciplines. Most hobbies (take oil painting, for instance) are spent refining ones skills on a few techniques.

It’s what keeps woodworking interesting and challenging, no matter how long you’ve been at it.

-- Entertainment for mere mortal woodworkers.

View Gary's profile


9333 posts in 3459 days

#10 posted 06-24-2010 03:29 PM

Whew…..I’m tired now….

-- Gary, DeKalb Texas only 4 miles from the mill

View RichardH's profile


295 posts in 3028 days

#11 posted 06-24-2010 04:22 PM

I agree with Stevin. Probably the reason that this hobby has “stuck” while so many others have come and gone…I can move from one thing to the next always finding something new to play with…eventually, I come back around and something old is fresh again.

Adding to your list of chemistry, metallurgy, mechanics, etc. are the aspects of design and art. Quite a few posts on this fine forum that move well beyond constructed wood pieces.

-- "It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it...It's the hard that makes it great."

View majeagle1's profile


1426 posts in 3523 days

#12 posted 06-24-2010 04:24 PM

Oooooooooooh how true! And so, so much more not even covered yet.
I’ll wait for the second “phase” of what in is to be a “woodworker”........

Good one David, can’t wait for the follow on.

-- Gene, Majestic Eagle Woodworks,,

View MoeG's profile


1 post in 2920 days

#13 posted 06-24-2010 04:50 PM

You hit the nail on the head David!! Brought a smile to my face. I do have a question though, does anyone
use ‘hide glue” anymore, with all the modern glues available? You mentioned glues but how about the choice of clamps? I’m aware of 16 different types and don’t forget those rubber bands!

-- Marv

View Jim Bertelson's profile

Jim Bertelson

4179 posts in 3191 days

#14 posted 06-24-2010 05:18 PM

I guess I’ll call me a woodsurgeon. Easier than the surgery I do at work. At least I don’t have to keep the tree alive while I am working on it…......(to paraphrase a recent joke I saw).............(-:

Alaska Jim

-- Jim, Anchorage Alaska

View tyskkvinna's profile


1310 posts in 3012 days

#15 posted 06-24-2010 05:20 PM

truth! great essay.

-- Lis - Michigan - -

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