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September 23, 2008

Getting Started in Woodworking

I have received countless emails over the past three years covering  
every conceivable subject concerning woodworking.  But the one  
question I am asked more than any other in one form or another is  
this:  How do I get started in woodworking?

Just the other day I received an email from a lady named Jeanne.  She  
was bitten by the woodworking bug and went out and bought a bunch  
of woodworking equipment.  Being a self proclaimed "newbie", she  
quickly became overwhelmed.  So much so that her new  
purchases were still in their boxes, unopened, 6 months  

Sadly, this is not uncommon for our hobby.  People get caught up in  
the excitement of starting a new hobby.  They go out and buy a lot of  
expensive tools, thinking they will be cranking out furniture by the  
weekend only to find out they don't know where to begin.

Another common thing that happens to folks starting out in this hobby  
is what I call, "the paralysis of analysis".   Many think that they  
must know how to do everything before they ever touch a piece of wood  
or a tool.  The trouble with this approach is that you will never learn all there is to know about this craft, and you will never learn how to do things simply by reading, listening, or watching others do it.  You  
must jump in at some point and get your feet wet.

Over the next several weeks I'm going to be introducing several new  
articles and videos on, "Getting Started in Woodworking" with the  
intent of helping those of you just starting out in this craft.

Now, I know you may not be in the "beginner" group with your  
woodworking skills.  In fact, you may have several decades of  
experience in this craft.  If so, that's awesome!  Share some of that  

Think back to when you were first starting out in woodworking.  What  
were some of the biggest things that held you back?  What did you  
struggle with the most?  What were some of the things that helped you more than anything in learning this craft?  Leave your comments below to help others just starting out.

If you're new to the craft, tell me where you need the most help.   
What are your biggest struggles?  Where are the largest gaps in  
your knowledge base?  What are you most interested in learning?  Leave  
your comments below.

I'll be putting the questions and comments that you leave to come up  
with a series of articles and videos that will help those just  
starting out in this craft.

And don't worry if you're not a beginner, I'll be putting out other  
content as well.  The getting started stuff will be interspersed with  
intermediate and advanced woodworking content.  Once I have enough  
content on the Getting Started stuff, I'll break it off to it's own  
section on the website so people just getting started will have a  
place to go.

So, help get this new section started by leaving your comments below.

Comments (6)

Peter Chast:

Recommend that people search out local woodworking clubs for help and guidance. As a member of an active group, http://www.midhudsonwoodworkers.org/, I've got to tell you that new people and especially new members are rare.

Thanks for your great service to the community.



Even after many years of woodworking, I still like to do the small "trinkett" project. I like to jump on the lathe and turn a small lidded box or make a small piece and then give it away to someone. It really surprises them that you made this beautiful piece. It doesn't take that long, and the sanding and finish application (my most boring part) doesn't take that long. It helps to lift me and bring me out of a "creators" block for my next project.
This time of year my mind is running with ideas for Christmas presents. A few years ago I made a "lot" of 19 hinged business card holders for presents. 19 just happened because that happened to be how big the rough pieces were I used. Most I gave away but a few I sold. It was enjoyable and rewarding.


one of the biggest things that helped me get started was one of my good friends was a woodworker. and just remember that you have to crawl before you can walk (start small) i have also read alot of magazines and books. also use some less expensive wood. and do not be afraid to fail because that is how to learn. good luck it is a great hobby

mike 17 yrs and still making mistakes

David Howgate:

Hi I'm still fairly new at this great hobby. I retired 3yrs ago and wanted a hobby; I did wood work at school 45yrs ago so it was like starting again. Here are my suggestions for newbies.
1, Make a clear safe area to work in.
2. If you are not used to sharp tools wear gloves.
3, Practise on cheap wood.
4. Don't try to make complicated things until you can make simple things that are pleasing to you.
5. It is not going to really matter to anyone else but you if you, scrap it.
6. Have faith you will get better at it.
Last of all enjoy it, its fun.
Thanks for you site Mike.
David Howgate
Sutton Coldfield, U.K.



I'm glad you are starting this series as it sounded like you are talking about me. I have been interested in woodworking for the last two years and have bought some tools and have done some projects.

I'm interested in using hand planes to flatten and smooth wood as I don't have a planer or jointer at this time.

Enjoying the blog. Nice site and great videos/interviews.

I have ramped up my woodworking over the last 4 months since moving into a new home. I had shop class some 15 years ago, have done carpentry around the house, and even a couple of pieces of furniture. It has been a bit overwhelming and expensive to get setup in my new shop.

In hindsight there are several things I would do differently.

1. Setup a woodworking bench (I am still getting by with what I have, but every time I chase something across the bench or watch my cheap vises wiggle it ratchets up in priority. Even a cheap and quick bench of the intended purpose is better than nothing.)

2. Make a plan for how to grow into the hobby. What do you "need" for your first project.(I have spent too much on things I hardly use and too little was left over for things I needed or still need. If you spend 3-4 months setting up tools you may feel more like a mechanic than a woodworker.)

3. Get an essential hand tool collection before all the expensive stationary power tools and before you get caught up in restoring old Stanley planes. With S4S lumber you could work entirely with the hand tools and portable power tools. My list would be planes (block, #4, #7, shoulder), chisels (nice bevel set 1/4-1 1/2"), sharpening kit (waterstones, honing jig, sandpaper, and flat surface), hand saws (dovetail, carcass, rip if you are going to put off power tools entirely). With this dirty dozen list of tools you can accomplish most ww'ing tasks.

4. Avoid the "Jig Generation". We are fortunate to live in a time where there is a jig and fixture to be had for any and all tasks. Unfortunately a beginner is more likely to leave a complicated jig in the box and fret over setting it up as opposed to focusing on the end goal of forming wood. Do it without a jig the first time and see what happens.

5. Spend your time woodworking.

6. You can never have too many clamps. Good clamps are worth their weight in gold. Cheap clamps are worth their weight in a much less desirable substance.

7. Study and practice the fundamentals. Once things start to click it is very exciting to watch your work progress. Remember, finishing is also a fundamental.

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