How I Got Into It
Here I was, about to move into a new apartment with my significant other for the first time. Sharing our ideas of how beautiful the place was going to look once we decorated it. These are lovely times except the next step, (the harder one) was to actually make it a reality.
Seeing as wood grain was going to be a big part of our shared aesthetic, we decided to look into the cost saving, and also creative control gained from making our own wood items. Turns out, that was a great option!
What’s So Special About Woodworking?
Woodworking as a function, goes back as far as humans have been able to make tools. Early humans’ ability to use trees for function (think tools, weapons, housing) gave them an advantage over other species. As function evolved, so did form. To humans, woodworking also doubled as a form of spiritual expression. We see that in Chinese and Egyptian history among other cultures (think totems, carvings, furniture) throughout history.
When we realized that woodworking has had such a profound significance on humankind, we felt a sense of deeper connection to our little project.
What Can You Do With Woodworking?
Creative minds who love using their hands, are encouraged to apply! With woodworking, there is a whole host of items that can be made with just a few tools, supplies, and some know-how. Of course, larger items and furniture are longer term projects which require a larger toolkit and more advanced techniques. But like anything, the longer you work at it, the more skilled you will become. You will be dreaming up and finishing your own new woodshop ideas in no time.
When it comes to woodworking, a big appeal to many enthusiasts is the feeling of repairing something broken. Whether that is an out-of-commission chair, side table, or wooden flute, understanding certain techniques will allow you to fix your favorite items and get them back to working order.
The ability to take unused parts of different wooden items, then craft those into a new project is yet another strong reason many get into woodworking. DIYers like us love to find ways to be more efficient, waste fewer products, and get the most life out of new builds. Having a solid foundation of knowledge of woodworking will allow you to be green and crafty even with scraps in front of you!
Fundamentals of Woodworking
Picking the Right Wood Type for the Job
When first getting started on your woodworking project, the obvious first step, besides checking for your phone/wallet/keys, is to pick out the wood you will be using. This is dependent on the requirements of the project you are taking on. The two main types of wood are: Hardwood and Softwood.
While softwood does not actually mean the wood is mushy or bendable, it just means that it’s slightly less dense - and with less woodgrain - than hardwoods. Woodgrain is a commonly used term when talking about the look and strength of different wood types.
Softwood usually comes from evergreen (leaves all year) trees, which are faster-growing, likely cheaper, and will work fine for smaller projects. Popular softwoods include cedar, pine, spruce, and fir.
Hardwood generally means a slower-growing deciduous (leaves fall in winter) tree with a higher density and more interesting grain pattern. This is why hardwoods are structurally stronger, and many find more appealing for design. Popular varieties are cherry, maple, poplar, oak, and ash.
Definitions and Grades
Trees are chopped down, then the timber is sliced, turning them into the lumber that you are buying at your local store. The different types of lumber are categorized by Density, Texture, Color, and Woodgrain. Once again, the circumstances of your job will determine which wood you should use.
A wood’s strength and weight. Denser wood is better for furniture and building, less dense wood can be used in aircrafts and paper.
How the cut of lumber itself, in combination with the finishing, feels to the touch. Texture can affect function, for example, if a table has a rough texture, you likely would not want to use it for drawing.
The natural coloring within the wood which gives personality. A white pine wood will look very different than an auburn maple in your dining room.
The direction and spacing that the wood cell fibers grow. How tightly the fibers grow determines how strong the wood can withstand bending.
The National Hardwood Lumber Association (NHLA) of the US grades hardwoods by the number of defects in a board.
- First and Seconds (FAS): Min. 6” x 8”, 83% usable material on one face
- Select (Sel): Min. 4” x 6”, 83% usable material on one face
- #1 Common (#1 Com): Min. 3” x 4”, 66% usable material on one face
- #2 Common (#2 Com): Min. 3” x 4”, 50% usable material on one face
Softwoods get grouped into two main categories: dimensional lumber and appearance boards.
Dimensional lumber is given a grade based on strength. Appearance boards are usually used in woodworking projects.
- C Select: Virtually clear of defects; mainly used in interior trim and cabinetry.
- D Select: Good appearance, but might contain dime-sized knots.
- 1 Common: Best high-quality pine with a knotty look; knots are tight, small so they will not fall out
- 2 Common: Contains slightly larger knots than in 1 Common; often used with shelving, paneling, and generally suitable for most woodworking projects
- 3 Common: Larger knots than in 2 Common; particularly well-suited for crates, fences, and boxes.
Think of it as C Select having the fewest and smallest knots, and the 3 Common having the largest knots. With the price going from highest to lowest in that order.
What You Can Do, What You Will Need
Making precise measurements and having a steady hand while cutting are simply requirements in the practice of woodworking. It’s in everyone’s best interests that you keep all your fingers throughout your pursuit of this passion.
With some attention to detail here - you can fine tune the support, as well as the look of your work.
At the minimum, you will need a saw and a saw horse. (4) Also, I recommend safety goggles in case of sawdust in the air.
The most common types of saws: Miter, Circular, Jig, and Table.
- Miter Saw: saw with a built-in level adjustment from 0 to 90 degrees.
- Circular Saw: saw is usually used freehand, helpful to use accessories for more precise cuts.
- Jig Saw: saw used best for curves, shapes, and short straight cuts.
- Table Saw: saw works well for rip cuts.
There are four main types of cuts: Cross, Rip, Miter, and Bevel.
- Cross Cut: cut across the woodgrain
- Rip Cut: cut with the woodgrain
- Miter Cut: angled cut across the face of the wood
- Bevel Cut: angled cut along the depth of the wood
Shaping wood is an age-old tradition that humans have used since the very beginning. We shape wood to fashion tools and utensils for our own purposes. Whittling down a branch for an arrow, or filing down a thin round piece into a plate would be examples.
You don’t need much to shape, mainly:
- A pull or jigsaw, to remove excess junk
- A 4-way rasp to do the heavy filing then smoothing
- Sandpaper to sand down the rough outer coat
This is a more advanced technique to fashion wood. Not unlike molding clay into a pot, turning wood is the process of taking a block of wood and carving a smooth pattern into it.
By spinning the block at a high velocity with a lathe, you can use a handheld chisel to carve smooth patterns into the wood.
Experts of woodworking use this technique to create very unique, curved pieces.
Sanding is a crucial finishing step in any woodworking project. Sanding helps to smooth out the rough edges of the wood to make it safer to the touch. Fewer splinters means a kinder you!
Sandpaper and 4-way rasps are important tools for sanding by hand.
After all the work you’ve put in finding the perfect wood, you’ve measured it, cut it, shaped it, sanded it, don’t skip the important step of finishing it! Hey, I hear you, of course you want to finish it. But in the woodworking world, finishing it means something a little different.
Applying a finishing coat to the wood’s surface is important to protect it. It seals the outer layer to help to prevent cracking and swelling, protect from staining, all while enhancing the wood’s appearance.
You will need a paint brush and the finishing product of your choice.
The wide world of joints, no not those kind, is as widespread and unique, as each woodworker themselves. There are as many joints as there are ways to cut.
Here are some commonly used ones to get you started: Butt, Pocket, Dado, Rabbet, Mortise and Tenon, Bridle, Biscuit, Half-Lap, Dovetail… the list goes on.
You will likely need the right cutting tools and some glue, depending on the joint.
Have fun finding your own personal favorites!
This is the part that reminds me most of the final stretch of a puzzle. When you’ve gotten all the hard stuff figured out and now you’re just plugging in piece after piece, licking your lips. The anticipation is growing.
Here is the time to double check all parts of the build, check the seating, the corners, the finish. Just remember to be careful not to accidentally tarnish any of your hard work on this part of the process.
Are you ready to enjoy the fruits of your labor? To see the final product in the resting place of your choosing? Made by your own hands.
Congrats! Now go talk as many friends’ ears off about it as you’d like. You’ve earned it.
Additional Safety Tips
Upon entering the woodworking training grounds, you must have respect for the tools of the trade. These are all as useful as they are dangerous. I have known skilled carpenters to almost lose a finger or two from a moment’s lapse in focus.
Here is some advice to help keep you safe and having fun:
- Wear safety glasses and gear (hearing and respiratory included)
- Wear the appropriate clothing (baggy is snaggy)
- Avoid wearing jewelry (snaggy is bad)
- When changing bits or blades, disconnect the power
- Avoid drugs, alcohol, and drowsiness while operating
- Check wood for nails first
- Work against the blade (avoid kickback)
- Use a single extension cord
- Never reach over a running blade
- Use push sticks or pads when you use a saw or sharpener
- Keep your blades sharp, keep the covers on
- Clamp working materials down tightly (loose will shoot)
- Never try to free a stalled blade with the power on
- Consult the manual, there are answers in them words