You’ve wanted to get started for quite some time now, but you just didn’t know how.
Woodworking is a fantastic hands-on way to hone your skills and create something timeless, and there’s no need to be worried about getting started.
This beginners guide will cover how to get started, how to find the right workspace, and what types of tools you’ll find use for in different projects.
At the end, you’ll have a better grip on what you should be expecting from yourself, and plenty of information to better yourself as time goes on.
Designating the Right Work Space
There’s more to the right workspace than meets the eye.
Most woodworkers make the mistake of just setting up shop in the middle of a garage or a shed without taking the necessary space requirements into consideration.
If you have limited access to a woodworking space, you can start with an ambitious project and build one. It would be costly, but having the right amount of space to work is crucial.
So what is the perfect amount of space? Ideally, you would have at least a 20’ x 20’ workspace to get things moving. That will give you enough space to store supplies while accounting for workbenches and storage for tools.
If you don’t have that much space to work in, that’s okay.
Filling a woodworking shop takes time, and it’s going to be expensive over the years if it’s something you still want to pursue (new tools, machinery, etc.).
The amount of space you currently have at your disposal doesn’t define you, and it’s okay to work in whatever sized space you have, so long as you practice proper workplace safety.
The best workspace is also going to have a cross breeze, or cross ventilation.
That’s when you have two windows or openings that are completely parallel one another in the same building. You’re going to be intermittently working with chemicals, paints, fumes, and plenty of sawdust from sanding.
The air quality is going to be far less than ideal (but we’ll get into gear and equipment to help with that later).
You’ll also need at least two points of entry/exit. In the unlikely event of an electrical fire from an overload or overheating machinery, you’re not guaranteed access to a single exit.
In your environment, you’ll be paying special attention to detail.
That means you’re going to need plenty of light. If you’re installing it yourself, a word of the wise: stay away from fluorescent lighting.
There’s a lot of blue light that greatly strains your eyes, and if you’re working on a project for extended period of time (four or more hours in one sitting), you’re going to feel that heaviness in your eyes.
Maximum amount of space, good storage, strong and thorough lighting, two exits, and ideally a cross breeze. If you can’t achieve all of that, that’s okay, because we’ll have other things that you can do to account for any imbalances.
How to Start Woodworking
It’s important to get into the right mindset before you ever take a planer to a plank.
First and foremost, understand that you’re only working on wood. You will make mistakes, you will damage raw materials, and that’s okay. It’s going to happen.
If you find a way to do something that works for you, don’t let a fellow woodworker’s alternate approach make you doubt yourself.
You can find a dozen different woodworkers who each take a different approach to the same task or problem, and they are all correct, so long as the end result is achieved in a proper way that works.
Start woodworking with a simple project. It can be a 2’ x 3’ wooden crate with no top, a picture frame, or a stool if you’re feeling up to it. Start small and take on a project that you can feasibly see taking less than four hours.
Next, determine what you’re going to need for that project.
Our guide will tell you the tools you need and how to select lumber later on, but once you know that, approach the project first by finding out what tools you’ll need.
From there, find out the materials you will need, and don’t get the exact amount—account for a 10% buffer for mistakes and scrapped material.
Let’s say you’re making a little wooden crate. Find out how wide it’s going to be, how long it’s going to be, and start there.
For smaller projects, you can just start in one corner of the dimensions and figure it out as you go. Just be sure to have some scrap paper handy.
Don’t think about it after you know the tools, materials and dimensions—you’ll overthink yourself into not doing it.
Use glue and screws if you have to, and make something.
Sand it if it’s rough, and that’s about it. Once the first project is out of the way, everything else seems more doable.
Woodworking Tools You Will Need
Your tools are nothing without you—it is not the other way around.
With enough elbow grease and determination, you can use hand tools to rival the machine-like finishes that power tools can perform.
It’s important to have the right tools for the job for the sake of time, efficiency, and mitigating damages or inconsistencies in your end project, so let’s talk about the hand and power tools you’ll need to carry out every task.
Sometimes power tools are too rough or too powerful and you need finesse and control.
Wood planers are used to shave a bit of excess wood off of a surface.
Manual planers use thick razor and a lot of pressure to drag them across the wood, and produce curly shavings.
A miter or circular saw can’t tackle every problem.
Depending on your budget and what machinery you will be getting, you could be getting a lot of use out of your hand saw.
Even with those machines in place, hand saws will still come in handy for specific situations.
Wood chisels work wonderfully when fitting cabinets, making dove joints and removing small layers of wood from miscalculations.
You should get a wood chisel set that comes with a number of different sized chisels. Keep in mind that these are useless if they aren’t kept nice and sharp.
You’ll either be using it to knock the chisels and help them on their way, or to ensure there are no gaps in between wood during glueing.
Mallets also come in handy at random times during projects, and can help you set things straight (literally).
These are among the most important.
You can’t really do much without clamps if you’re bringing wood together with glue or biscuits.
Clamps will come in handy more often as the size of your projects scale, and eventually you’ll find yourself owning a ridiculous amount of them. It’s always good to have spares.
Measurements and Marking
You can get an artist pencil or a pen, whatever works for you to create thin and precise lines for cutting wood.
You’ll also need a tape measure with at least 96” of clearance to cover a broad range of projects in the future.
It’s not recommended to get a chef-style channel sharpening system.
You want a stone so you can control every single step of the process.
Sharpening stones should be used fairly frequently to keep chisels, saws, and utility knives perfectly sharp.
Utility knife, wooden ruler, chalk line, rubber tape, rubber pucks, things of that nature.
Your misc tool bin will grow as time goes on, and will usually be added to because of needing something specific for one woodworking project.
Don’t stress about having all the fixings; you’ll collect them with time.
Some of these tools can be substituted with handheld tools, but for the purpose saving time and promoting precision in your woodworking, it is recommended to get these power tools.
Miter saws are used to make pinpoint accurate crosscuts on anything that you bring underneath it.
They can cut in a 45° angle from either side, as well as straight down to act as a mounted circular saw when you need it.
You hoist the handle up, bring the wood underneath the blade, and cut into the wood.
Miter saws can get pretty pricey, but their flexible stands allow you to tackle large bits of lumber and make accurate cuts without stressing out over it.
More versatile than a miter, your circular saw is the go-to tool for on-the-bench cutting.
It’s handheld, usually features a blade guard, and can have a variety of different blade textures for different projects.
Getting a proper circular saw stand is a must.
Keep in mind that circular saws make up over 39,000 injuries in woodworking every single year, at least of the ones that are reported.
Circular saws require extra safety and attention to detail.
From an electric motor, a circular saw blade rises from the center of the table.
You can choose the height and submerge it into the table when you’re done, making it fairly safe (somehow safer than a circular saw).
Table saws greatly aid you during construction of large pieces of furniture, and greatly help if you’re having difficult with keeping straight lines while cutting wood.
You can join wood together with glue and a clamp, but an electric drill provides more service for woodworking than just joining wood together.
Setting the holes for bolts, using a hole saw attachment for knobs, etc.
If possible, try to get one that has an LED light or magnet tip to make things a bit easier.
If you’re just getting started, you might be underestimating just often you’ll be using this.
As you woodwork, it’s not just about making something functional, but making it smooth and pleasurable to use at the same time. This is where sanders come in.
Sanding is something you’ll have to get used to, especially if you want to turn your woodworking into a method of earning commissions.
Left your lumber outside for a while?
Working with less-than-ideal materials?
A jointer will take your warped and damaged wood and shape it, making it viable for use again. Jointers are generally used with electric wood planers for the best results.
These have an inward feed where you place the wood, and the machine does most of the work, pushing the piece through the outward feed for collection.
A biscuit is a small wedge of wood that’s used to join other pieces of wood together.
Equal divots are carved in two pieces of wood that you wish to join together, the biscuit is glued into place, and the wood is meshed together.
Biscuit joiners cut perfect holes for varying biscuit sizes, preventing an intense amount of frustration.
If you want flawless-looking furniture that doesn’t have many screw holes ruining the aesthetics, this is what you’re looking for.
While you could use a hole saw or a set of drill bits to make holes, nothing does it better than a hole press.
This stationary piece of machinery is designed to drill absolutely perfect holes in wood with immense power, while also keeping the wood in place.
No use of clamps and a hail mary pass here: this is structured, and a lot faster. These get more use than you would originally think.
Electric sanders are great for a lot of purposes, but if you’re sanding down a door or a benchtop with a wide surface area, a belt sander will get the job done faster.
Belt sanders cover a wide area, and can be used to shave off inch fractions on larger pieces that are really close to fitting the way they need, but aren’t quite there yet.
Electric Wood Planer
Similar to the jointer, this takes the wood that’s fed through it and creates a perfectly level and smooth surface.
Wood planers will also straighten out the edges and corners of the wood that is fed into it.
These are a bit difficult to configure at first, and are very expensive to repair, but will work wonders if you’re planning on making precise pieces of work in bulk.
They’re a lifesaver if you’re trying to make coffee tables or cutting boards.
How to Select the Right Lumber for Your Project
Note: You can find our full guide on the lumber selection process here for a more in-depth analysis of lumber.
Sourcing lumber is tricky, but once you’re knowledgeable of the different lumber grades, you’re able to find the most cost-effective way to get the lumber you need.
Look at your project and what you hope to achieve with it. Are you comfortable working with more expensive, denser woods?
Would you feel better sticking to cheap plywood at the moment while your skill increases?
You have two different categories of lumber: hardwood and softwood.
Hardwood is more expensive and comes with four grading systems, and softwood is cheaper, in more abundance.
You won’t use softwood for major furniture pieces, though it is great to work with on projects like shelving and trunks.
Safety Rules for Woodworkers
Tens of thousands of woodworking injuries occur every single year, meaning that every day, hundreds of people are sent to the emergency room over injuries.
Following safety guidelines isn’t a matter of taking the fun out of it or taking longer to make your projects, it’s a matter of the utmost importance, and any woodworker will tell you the very same thing.
Follow these safety rules to maintain your personal health and wellbeing while woodworking.
1. Don’t Be Caught Without Gear
Your safety equipment is the first line of defense.
Even if you’re a master of the table saw, you’re not immune from sustaining injuries from it.
Before you even hop into the workshop, do a checklist to make sure you have everything you need.
If your protective glasses are chipped, go get a new pair before beginning.
If you’re out of disposable white masks when sanding, stop and go get some. Don’t assume that injuries or health problems won’t happen; expect them, and do everything you can to curb them.
2. Sleep Before Work
If you’ve been itching to get into the shop all day while at work, we totally understand.
However, if you’re too tired to be operating a saw, then don’t operate a saw.
Attempting anything while mentally drained or physically fatigued immediately increases your chance of making a mistake or a slip-up, and when you work with 11,000 RPM motors that are equipped with razor-sharp steel blades, a mistake is the last thing that you want to happen.
If you have to, wait until the next day to get into the shop, or wait until the weekend if your week is hectic.
It can especially be exciting if you’re just starting out your woodworking journey, but don’t overestimate your capabilities while impaired.
3. No Drugs or Alcohol
Whether it’s prescription or recreational, drugs will impair your abilities in the shop.
If you waited until the weekend to get started, it can be tempting to pop open a cold one and leave it on the side of the bench while you work.
At the very least, prescription medication and malt alcoholic beverages will slow your reaction time and make your head feel fuzzy or dizzy, and that’s going to increase your odds for an accident.
4. Stick to One Extension Cord
It’s better to have one durable extension cord with multiple outlets than a few stringy cords running along the floor.
Your woodworking shop might not be set up to have the cables hang from the ceiling, or come up through a hole in your table.
Most of the time they’re just laying on the floor, which increases your chance of tripping (in a space that’s filled with sharp steel).
Use one cord, and if possible, tape it to the floor to avoid tripping hazards.
5. Disconnect Before Interacting With Power Tools
Blade running a bit dull?
Before you pop the blade off of that circular saw, disconnect the power. Don’t just flick the power strip off; disconnect the power source entirely.
There’s a chance that you could accidentally hit the switch, or if the switch is getting loose, vibrations could even cause it to kick on.
Whether it’s a circular saw or your electric sander, don’t put yourself in harms way for any reason.
6. Stick With Sharp Blades
It can seem like a counter point to everything we’ve said so far, but you absolutely need to keep sharp blades and knives, and discard dull ones.
There’s something called kickback (which normally occurs with table saws, but can occur with any saw) that sends people to the hospital.
It’s when the force of the blade and its motor send a piece of wood flying extremely fast at the woodworker.
When your blade is dull, it has a harder time cutting through wood, and ups your chances of enduring kickback.
It could also be putting more physical stress on the motor of your saw, as well as sending wood chips into the air and towards you.
7. Check Salvaged Wood
If you’re short on cash but really want to get started with woodworking, you might be able to find free pallets online or grab scrap from your neighbor’s yard.
That’s great, but watch out for nails and staples that could be in the wood.
Thoroughly inspect salvaged wood, because once that wood hits the saw table, it’s going to turn those leftover screws and bolts into flying shrapnel.
This is often overlooked, but it’s extremely dangerous.
If you can, sand down the outside of salvaged wood to see if there are any nail heads that were buried beneath the surface from wood expansion.
8. Use a Push Stick
Push sticks are mostly used with table saws, but can be applied to other tasks in the woodworking shop.
These are basically extensions of your hand that help you move wood along through the cutting process, effectively minimizing your distance to the actual blade.
You can also used these while operating a miter saw to help as well.
9. Pay Attention to Air Quality
It’s not talked about enough, but the air quality in your woodworking shop is one of the worst hazards that you face.
Even if you do everything right and avoid physical injuries for twenty years, you have all that time of inhaling paint fumes, finisher fumes, sawdust, and who-knows-what-else from salvaged materials.
That takes its toll on your lungs and overall health, especially since sawdust is considered a carcinogen.
Keep your space clear, open, and have some fans around so that you aren’t just standing in a dust bowl.
Get an air quality control system and put it near any entrance to the rest of your home (attached garage, for example) so that poor air quality doesn’t seep into the rest of the house near your family.
10. Remove Earrings, Necklaces, and Tie Your Hair Back
These all produce enormous hazards that could cause potentially fatal accidents.
Even though you shouldn’t be leaning over an open, moving blade, some of us have momentary lapses in judgment. We want to mitigate risk factors especially in those moments.
Tie your hair back, remove your jewelry, and make sure that nothing is going to dangle off of you while working.
For men, if you have a long beard, find a way to secure it as this poses a serious potential risk.
What Gear to Wear When Woodworking
We talked about getting the right gear before going into the workshop.
Now it’s time to actually outfit yourself so that you can stay completely safe at all times. Do a self-check before you even think about turning a saw on.
You can get a full face mask if you wish, but at the very least, you need to protect your eyes with some safety glasses.
We talked about kickback earlier and mentioned that small wood chips could fly up in the air if you have a dull blade.
That seems harmless enough, but it only takes a small amount of force for a wood chip to damage or scratch your eye.
To avoid losing them, put the ends of your glasses on a shoestring so you can pull them down when you need to.
You need a well ventilated area, but even then, it’s not going to protect you from the immediate harm of what’s flying up in the air and hitting you in the face.
After one use in a two-hour stretch of woodworking, you’ll see just how much dust and crud gets stuck in the cotton filters of your respirator mask.
Wear this as often as possible, so long as it doesn’t impede your vision while operating more dangerous equipment. During sanding, belt sanding, and simple sawing, this is a must.
The average conversation between two people rests no higher than a 62dB rating.
Most saws operate around 85dB to 110dB, which is in the range that can cause short-term and long-term hearing loss, as well as permanent damage.
If you’ve looked up tutorials on YouTube for woodworking, you’ll notice that any knowledgeable woodworker will be using ear protection. Do not mistake these for noise-cancelling headphones.
While a flannel shirt isn’t going to prevent a saw blade from getting to your skin, it is going to help against sandpaper abrasions, bumps, scrapes against wood, and light protection.
We mentioned before that you shouldn’t have anything dangling off of your workshop attire, so make sure the cuffs are nice and tight without being restricting.
Jeans or Cargo Pant
You want full coverage down to your boots, while still having some flexibility.
As with long-sleeved shirts, this is about light level protection. Knocking into the work bench, walking past lumber that could have scraped your calf, and things of that nature.
Denim is fairly tear resistant, and while it won’t act as armor against a blade, it’s built to stand the test of time.
Durable Work Boots
You can choose steel toed boots if you want, but the point is that they need to be durable.
They’re here to protect your feet from abrasions and scratches, but their main role is providing crush protection.
If you drop a wooden mallet on your foot, do you think a pair of trainers is going to offer much protection?
Opt for something with slip resistance and rubber soles as well. You can add new insoles with shock absorption if standing in one place for extended periods of time causes aches.
For a full list of information and workers rights (if you are planning on taking this into the career field), you can visit the Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s website for further info.
OSHA has two separate certification programs, a 15-hour and 30-hour course.
While not all of the information will pertain to woodworking, it gives you a better grip on what a safe and secure workplace should look like, and keeps you knowledgeable of safe conditions that you can practice in your workspace.
Your Woodworking Shop Starts Now
Everything you need to get started is right in front of you.
The most important thing is to not doubt yourself, and accept limitations until your skill level improves.
You can, you will, and you’re going to make it built to last.
The whole point of woodworking is to occupy time with your hands while learning an invaluable skill (and hey, saving some money on furniture costs isn’t too shabby either).