Beginner Projects...Where Do I Start???

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Forum topic by mrezo posted 09-15-2009 03:32 PM 1452 views 0 times favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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2 posts in 3171 days

09-15-2009 03:32 PM

Topic tags/keywords: starter project beginner question tip

Hey all.

First, I’d like to say how awesome this site is. There’s so many resources all in one spot. Well, I just moved in with my girlfriend and her parents and it turns out that my girlfriends father is a major woodworker. He’s built everything in their house from a massive entertainment center to study trays. Im from the city and never had shop class in highschool, so I’m glad he’s showing me the ropes. It’s great! I’ve used tons of other tools but I’ve actually never used a table saw or a router until we built a set of drawers. From then on I was hooked.

I’ve always been a “do-it-yourself” kind of guy and really want to start getting into the craft of woodworking. I’ve been following tons of podcasts and reading up on all of his woodworking magazines. And since he’s given me free reign over the tools in his shop, I would like to start making a few things but I don’t know where to begin. I feel that a few drills (as in practice) would be good. Any tips or advice to hone in some skills before I jump into a project.

I really like inlay work and marquetry. And I’ve been thinking of building him and his wife a set of trays for Christmas… Any ideas?

11 replies so far

View lew's profile


12056 posts in 3751 days

#1 posted 09-15-2009 03:38 PM

Since you already have a “mentor”, I’d try to pick his brain and have him help you decide on something that can be made with the tools he has. Seems like something on the order of a cutting board or small box could include the things in which you are interested.

-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

View rwyoung's profile


409 posts in 3467 days

#2 posted 09-15-2009 03:52 PM

First, ask yourself what kind of “things” you want to have. Furniture? Trinkets? Toys? Games? etc, etc.

Just for the sake of argument, lets’ say you picked “furniture”. OK, well, there are all kinds of different furniture and eventually you will develop an eye for particular styles or features. But before that you will probably notice there are a lot of similarities in construction techniques. Things like joints (mortise and tenon for example), or good clean miters with and without splines, dovetails, finger joints,. And going further back there are gateway skills like stock preparation (ripping, crosscutting, planing, shaping, etc). With ANY project, if you can visualize it, draw a plan (even if you are working from a published plan, try drawing all the pieces yourself, it helps to understand what is happening) and just plane break things down into the series of small steps it takes to make the THING, you will do fine.

So at this point I’ve made it seem quite overwhelming. But it isn’t. Remember I said to pretend you picked “furniture” as your thing to build? OK, well there are lots of things that can be thought of as furniture in miniature with respect to the skills involved. Box making is a good one. So are cutting boards. There are really a lot of skills required to make a good cutting board, endgrain or long grain type. You need to learn how to prep your stock, how to manage a glue-up (that sometimes gets quite complicated), some basics of wood finishing, skills like breadboard end and shaping and routing come into play. With box making, it really can be furniture (cabinet making) in mineature. Lots of the same skills and techniques, just smaller pieces.

There, confuse you enough? I think from reading your last sentence again, you might do best to start with something like some end-grain cutting boards or even a long-grain cutting board. With the long-grain board you can try a simple bit of marquetry on one to inlay a shape (geometric or at least something with straight lines or gentle curves might be easiest to start).

-- Don't sweat the petty things and don't pet the sweaty things.

View Chris Wright's profile

Chris Wright

540 posts in 3476 days

#3 posted 09-15-2009 03:57 PM

Lew makes a good point. My advice, go to a book store or a news stand and flip through their woodworking magazines, Shop Notes and Woodsmith have a lot of easy to follow plans for larger projects. Pick out a goal project, something that you want to achieve. With that goal in mind you can start with smaller projects that build on each other until you’re at a level where you’re comfortable to try and work on the bigger project. Having a mentor is a huge advantage too. Also, start with the basics. Learn to use and set a hand plane properly, hand cut some dovetails (don’t try to get them perfect the first time, practice practice practice), learn how to properly sharpen and maintain your tools, all the basics you would learn in an intro woodshop class. Also, if you’ve got the money, see if there’s a Woodcraft or hobby shop where you can take some intro classes. Good luck man, I can’t wait to see what you end up making.

-- "At its best, life is completely unpredictable." - Christopher Walken

View Kindlingmaker's profile


2656 posts in 3522 days

#4 posted 09-15-2009 04:02 PM

One step at a time… Safety first and formost! I am a beginner too, like so many here, and have found that small projects are a very good way of learning one or two things at a time. If you take on something that might be too complex then the possibilities for “Opps” is increased ten fold. The “Opps” are sometimes impossible to fix. Try some things like just making a box joint, a rabbit, dado, a tenon joint and so on just to feel the wood and how it reacts and the tools that help you make these. With your mentor you can achieve much in a short period of time by trying to perfect each step that you do, one step at a time…

-- Never board, always knotty, lots of growth rings

View WibblyPig's profile


172 posts in 3270 days

#5 posted 09-15-2009 04:27 PM

If you like marquetry, this is a great book to get you started:

Pick up some cheap veneer on Ebay – this is a great guy to deal with:

You’ll need a few things – the cutting board as described in the book, some Xacto knives, a cutting mat to go over the board like this 18×24 is a good size.

A good aluminum cutting guide: 24” to match the board

Then some veneer tape and a few projects. Trays would be a great first project. You could do a flower motif with each one being different, basketweave, louis cubes, or just a sunburst pattern from one veneer. Then you can trim each tray with solid wood molding. You can either use a panel molding for 1/2” or 3/4” depending on your substrate or make something custom in the shop.

Forgot to mention – this is indispensable:

-- Steve, Webster Groves, MO "A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in."

View Chris Wright's profile

Chris Wright

540 posts in 3476 days

#6 posted 09-15-2009 04:38 PM

Another excellent resource to have is Ernest Joyce’s Encyclopedia of Furniture Making. It covers just about everything from cabinetry, veneer work, sharpening, different types of joinery and when it’s good to use them, turning and much more. A great source of information for any woodworker.

-- "At its best, life is completely unpredictable." - Christopher Walken

View Walnut_Weasel's profile


360 posts in 3217 days

#7 posted 09-15-2009 04:53 PM

I too am a newbie to woodworking; however, for me I do not have a large selection of tools. I chose to start with bandsaw boxes. I only had to have one tool – a bandsaw – and I can be just about as creative as I want within the size restraints of how large a piece of wood I can cut on my saw. (through I must admit, having some sort of power sanders really helps!) In addition they are pretty fast to make so I get to test lots of different wood and finishing techniques with very little cost or time involved. I have a couple of the boxes I have made so far on my project list if you want to take a look – but the style of bandsaw boxes are nearly limited.

Regardless of what you choose just make sure you are safe and have fun doing it. Oh and post your progress so the rest of us that are addicted to this site have something to do! =)

-- James -

View Sam Yerardi's profile

Sam Yerardi

244 posts in 3891 days

#8 posted 09-15-2009 05:31 PM

everyone has given wonderful suggestions, especially Chris Wright and his suggestions of ShopNotes and Woodsmith. Check them out on ebay. You can usually get a ton of them by bidding on them as a lot. Sometimes you can pick up an entire series for next to nothing. Another point that I want make is regarding screw-ups. DON’T BE AFRAID TO MAKE MISTAKES. For most of us, it’s one of the best ways to learn. Even if you try something that you feel is beyond your abilities right now, unknowingly you will learn SOMETHING in the process. Be safe, take your time, and enjoy your time with wood…

-- Sam

View Rick  Dennington's profile

Rick Dennington

5854 posts in 3190 days

#9 posted 09-15-2009 05:33 PM

Learn as much as you can from your mentor. If he’s willing to teach, then you should pay attention and be willing to learn.
Most of us on here on LJs never had a chance to learn from others (I’m self-taught). We had to learn from our mistakes, and you will too. Learn, listen, and do!!! It’ll pay-off in the long run.

-- " At my age, happy hour is a crap and a nap".....

View Dennis_MGWW's profile


90 posts in 3413 days

#10 posted 09-16-2009 01:07 PM

Welcome to Lumberjocks! If you are interested in marquetry, there is a great article in the June 2000 issue of WOOD magazine about the double bevel technique. I know its kind of an old issue, but maybe you can get your hands on it at the local library. When I first saw that article it really peaked my interest and now I have used that technique on several projects. Check it out!

-- Dennis,!/MpleGrvWoodwrks

View mrezo's profile


2 posts in 3171 days

#11 posted 09-16-2009 04:05 PM

Thanks for all of your responses!

Well, I think I’m going to tackle some of the terminology firs. So when I’m reading instructions or chatting here on the forums I’ll be on the same page.

As for the first project, I think I’m going to build a simple study tray. If you haven’t seen one yet, they are very handy and extremely simple to make. Its just a plank of plywood that sits on your lap so you can have something to write on while your either sitting on the couch on on your bed. Its got some curves, so I’ll definitely get to try out a variety of tools.

I’ll let you know how it goes!

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