Woodworking 101 Guide: Basic Skills Every Beginner Should Know

Mastering the art of woodworking isn’t easy, I agree but trust me it is NO mystery as well. If you are someone who lacks the confidence to tackle their dream DIY project, it’s time to break those shackles and fly!

As a beginner, it is challenging to choose the right power tools, type of wood and the safety equipments.

So I decided to put together this one stop woodworking guide for beginners. From defining the term to proposing the best projects you can start building as an amateur, I will try to cover everything you need to know about Woodworking.

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What is Woodworking?

Woodworking is a skill using which usable and functional items are built from wood.  It involves the use of some tools as well. There are no limits to what you can build, from a dog house to astonishing furniture for your home, anything and everything is possible.

It’s no longer just a profession! Today, woodworking is an expression of creativity and emotion. It’s a passion of millions who build tons of unique and beautiful DIY projects to make the world a better place.

I must say that at the end of the day, attaining the peace of mind to have completed your own innovative project is worth the hard work you put in.

Solid Woodworking Tips for Beginners

My aim is to educate you all with the best woodworking knowledge and make it a joyous experience to learn it.

Before going into any technicalities, I’d like you to give you some golden tips which you should follow as a beginner. These will help you sail smoothly in this huge ocean of woodworking.

Start Small

The most common mistake newbies make is that they get inspired by the big projects they see online on Pinterest carried out by experience woodworkers and decide to work on something similar.

You need to be smart and not rush in, Start small around your home. This way you can kill two birds with one stone and build while you learn. Choose a project that you would be interested in (eg. a dog house) since the sight of an unfinished project is not what you will like.

I’d advice you to start with outdoor items as they are great ones to sharpen your woodworking skills since call for precision isn’t as high in a wooden planter box as it might be in a new sofa table.

Get Inspiration

Today is the best time for any person to start learning Woodworking. It’s a DIY generation and there are thousands of beautiful and crafty DIY projects available online. Browsing the pictures and finished projects can inspire and bring out the creative you.

The plans are shared in a very systematic manner and have step by step instructions so you can follow them easily. They also include the measurements, the cut list, tools and materials required so all you got to do is invest time. It’s important to stay motivated, so try to build things which look pretty and interest you.

We share such inspiring DIY project ideas regularly, here are those:

Set Up a Workplace

You need to make sure you have a safe and large enough work area for woodworking. It can be tough to find a place in your home where you can make noises and use your tools.

Also an unsafe work area with too many extension cords running around, unstable surfaces and lack of ventilation can be dangerous. If you can’t get a good space in your home, maybe work outdoors on a nice sunny day. A pair of sawhorses and a half sheet of ¾” plywood can make a nice workspace at an optimum cost.

So this is a nice alternative to a garage or a garden shed, isn’t it?

Or maybe you will have to bribe your family members with something or the other to let you work indoors and bare the noise for a while.

Plan & Practice

Woodworking is rewarding however for achieving perfection in the quality of your finished projects, you will have to put in hard work as it can be challenging.

Planning your project ahead helps you work on your project smoothly. It will save you from falling into any pitfalls. You will have a list of all the necessary tools, amount of materials, budget and time you need to invest in before hand. This helps you to save time and stay on your timeline to finish the project.

Always remember your basics and use them where there are no tools needed. Learn from your failures and your skills will be polished one project at a time. The key is to enjoy what you are doing and if you are passionate enough, you will be a professional in no time.

Choosing the Right Tools

Woodworking is basically going back to school. It’s like attending your craft classes and learning how to mark, cut and glue things together to put together a beautiful piece of art.

Now, I must admit that I was pretty bad at craft since I was a kid but I know a thing or two about woodworking since I love it!

There are two types of woodworking tools; namely hand tools and power tools. Hand tools were popular way before the power tools even came into existence, so most of the work can be done using them. However, power tools are way more advanced and make the tasks easier but they do require more skills and safety measures as well.

For a beginner, it depends on the skill level and the kind of project you are or wish to work on. Ideally, I’d recommend you to get some basic hand tools and a few power tools to get going. This way you won’t be going all in on investment and also keep your options open to buy more advanced tools as you grow.

Make sure you choose the right tools by following our expert review guides where I, my dad and some other woodworking experts pitch in their ideas and experiences to recommend the best tool for you.

Be Creative & Have Fun

Once you get a good hold at it, start getting out of the comfort zone and try adding your own creativity in the projects you build.

Don’t just stick to the plan but start experimenting. Sure, there would be failures, but don’t give up. Eventually, you will build something unique, something original which is all YOURS!

Take a moment, go for a walk, don’t overanalyse since it’s what you love to do. Have fun, work with your natural flow and remember that you love woodworking that’s why you are at it.

Find a Mentor

Luckily I had my dad on my side to watch, correct and help me whenever I was stuck somewhere. Having someone with you physically helps a lot in woodworking.

Ask a family member, your neighbour or maybe a friend, join local woodworking communities to have a helping hand for yourselves.

7 Basic Woodworking Skills for Beginners

Now that you are mentally prepared to go onboard, let’s learn some foundational skills which will make you feel confident.

These basic skills will help you understand that you can complete a lot of woodworking tasks with the use of inexpensive or exotic tools as well.

1. Drilling Holes

Drilling holes is a part of working on almost any DIY project. You can do this best by using a cordless drill, as they are really efficient, durable and won’t cost you a fortune. They help you to perform a lot of things including screw tightening to drilling any size of holes into different materials.

It’s really simple to use a drill but there are a few tricks and tips which you can learn to use it in a better way and make the most out of it. The below video teaches you how to catch falling dust, drilling the holes better, how to mark off the depth for drilling and some precision tips. Hope you enjoy it!

2. Cutting Materials

There are numerous ways in which you can cut the materials, which includes using a jig saw, a table saw, circular saws and more. However, in my experience, a jig saw and a hand saw are the most affordable and work for 85-90% of your projects.

Jig Saw

You can use jigsaws for almost all your projects. It has a reciprocating blade and is a great do-it-all saw. They aren’t that good when you want to make perfectly straight cuts, although they work very well for making odd cuts and curves. These blades are quite cheap, small and easily interchangeable while you are cutting different materials.

Hand Saws

These are best for making quick straight cuts which don’t need much precision. Since they are non-powered, they likely will make you sweat. Although it’s the best for beginners who don’t want to invest much and perform quick jobs, it has a downside that you will need different saws for different types of material. So that’s an additional cost for you, but not too much.

If you wish to make more perfect cuts, you can choose a circular saw which is heavy duty indeed and requires a skilled woodworker. They are perfect for making long straight and precise cuts on different materials.

Watch the below video which shows you how to use a jigsaw which is one of the most versatile saws for woodworking.

3. Understanding Wood

Understanding the proper orientation and what direction to plane the wood board is very important. Same goes for choosing the type of wood.

Observing the ideal direction to plane the board given the wood grain is crucial. It’s like petting a cat, you should go from head to tail and you’ll find the hairs lay down nice and smooth. The humidity also affects the wood (contraction & expansion).

In the same way, different types of wood react in different ways to the atmospheric conditions. Each of them will have different moisture content which affects the glue, paint, stain you apply. You can learn more about this here.

4. Choosing Screws

Screws are most ideal things to use when you want to connect two or more pieces of materials. There are hundreds of them with different sizes, so it might be confusing which ones to choose for your woodworking project.

Below are the most common types which you need to know as a beginner so you can decide which one to use for your ongoing or upcoming project.

Wood Screws: They have an unthreaded shank, coarse pitch and flat heads. They tap into the wood super well and can sit flush against the wood as well. Most of them require a pilot hole which you can make using a drill bit before screwing it into the wood.

Drywall Screws: These are typically longer and have rough threads, just like the wood screws.

Sheet Metal Screws: These are most often shorter than the wood screws since sheet metal is thin. Although they are self-tapping, they still require a pilot hole. They have a fine pitch and are threaded to the head.

Machine Screws: These come in different types and shapes but have higher strength than others since they are machined. They have find threads. You will have to use a bolt or a nut to secure these screws.

Normally, if you stick to the screws which are designed for for your material, you shouldn’t face any problems for connecting them.

5. Sharpening your Tools

There’s an axiom which is popular among the woodworkers that you have to “let the tool do the work” in order to let the things run alright. You need to understand that if your saw requires a decent amount of push to cut or your hand plane needs a running start for shaving, you are doing it wrong.

Sharpening tools is a habit which you should develop. It is one of the most important foundational skill as using dull tools can be dangerous and inefficient. Below is a video showing how to sharpen some hand tools. It will surely teach you a thing or two which will be helpful.

6. Sanding

Cutting and drilling holes is not enough for a “complete” woodworking project since it leaves some splinters and burs on the surface. This can be fixed by sanding the wood. With the different types of sand paper and and sanding equipment, it can be a little confusing.

Here are the main sanders which you can use to sand the wood and a brief idea on how they work:

Hand Sanders: The simplest of all are the hand sanders which work the best for the beginner and small projects. It comes with a plate and a handle to which you attach the sand paper at the bottom. Being the cheapest is it’s advantage and it taking a little more time is it’s downside. However it can surely help you achieve a perfect finish.

Orbital Sanders: These can be used for small and tight spaces. They use the sanding disks for taking a good control on the surface they are being used.

Belt Sanders: These are the most powerful and heavy duty sanders. They can work very quickly through a lot of material with the belt of sand paper wrapped around. They should be used for large flat surface projects.

Sanding with the Grain

As a beginner, you should know the sanding with the timbers grain trick. By sanding with the grain and not against it you are able to create a smooth face while not leaving any scratches behind.

7. Cut a Mortise and Tenon Joint

A mortise joint is the most fundamental one in the woodworking world. A horizontal and a vertical pieces can be joined by interlocking them at 90 degrees (like a chair rail and a leg). This can be done by fitting a tenon into the mortise.

A good practice of using the technique can help you achieve a nice and tight fit. There are different ways to make a mortise and determine the width of the tenon (I personally use a stout chisel). Cutting the tenon is just done by a few straight cuts using a saw.

The doors to the world of woodworking will open and welcome you once you learn how to lay this joint perfectly. So make sure you learn it correctly from the video below.

8. Cut Dovetail Joints

If you are looking to make a box, the dovetail joint is the most preferred and strong way to join the board corners. It involves the wedged shaped “tails” with a one side cut that go into the “pins”. The moulding or the paint were used to hide the ugly joinery.

Making dovetail joints has become like a litmus test for the serious woodworkers today but don’t be afraid to try it out.

It’s a very simple process..

  • Cut tails
  • Trace the tails on the other board
  • Then cut out the waste you traced.

Here’s a great video you can watch to learn how to make this joint!

9. Painting & Finishing

After investing hours into building your dream woodworking project, the important question is how are you gonna finish and give a professional look to it?

Finishing gives a beautiful look as well as protects the build quality. So my advice is not go go cheap on this.

People use different types of finish for their projects. Some use shellac while some use paint. The basic finish is usually a good paint. There are two types of commonly used paints and choosing one of those depends on the type of material on which you will use it.

Latex Paint: It’s a water based paint using in most of the general applications. It can be cleaned easily by the use of soap and water. It is also durable and easy to apply to materials.

Oil based Paint: This paint adheres to the surfaces better but the clean up is quiet harder. It should be used when you are painting over the coating of oil based paints.

Once you choose the paint, the next task is to choose the sheen (flat to gloss). The flat paint will hide the imperfections better while a glossy finish provide more durability.

Here are some other general helpful guide which I have posted and which can certainly help you get started while using these tools:

6 Basic Woodworking Joints

Joinery is one of the things that could make or break your DIY project. It is important to decide the type of joints to use before hand.

The more difficult the joint, the stronger it’s hold. Here are some of the popular joints you should know about.

  • Butt Joint: Joining two pieces of wood, either at corners or edge to edge. You can make it stronger by using glue blocks or screws.

  • Dowel Joint: You need to drill aligning holes in each of piece of wood and then glue the dowels for a tight joint. You can use a centering tool for achieving perfection.

  • Miter Joint: You can create this corner joint by sawing one end of each piece of wood to 450. Accurate cutting is needed.

  • Dado Joint: This type of joints can be observed on the bookshelves. In this joint, the one piece receives the end of the other one.

  • Lap Joint: Cut the rabbet in the overlapping piece of a butt joint and add gluing surface and more strength.

  • Tongue-and-Groove Joint: Cut a groove in the edge of one piece and a tongue on the other to fit into the groove. You can notice some wood shrinkage in this case.

13 Quick Woodworking Safety Tips for Beginners

Woodworking is a hobby that can become a nightmare if you do not follow the basic safety rules.

Most of them were caused due to the lack of taking precautions, so I recommend you to please go through the most vital part of this beginner’s guide to woodworking.

  • Always wear safety glasses
  • Wear appropriate clothing
  • Wear protective footwear
  • Remember to disconnect power cord whenever necessary
  • Avoid any distractions while working
  • Keep a fire extinguisher around your workplace
  • Adequate ventilation and lighting should be available
  • Make sure there is a splitter if you are using a table saw
  • Do not remove sawdust or cuttings from the cutting head by hand while a machine is running, use a stick or a brush instead when it stops
  • Proper grounding of electrical equipment i necessary
  • Do not use compressed air to remove sawdust, turnings, etc. from machines or clothing
  • Sharpen your blades and cutting tools
  • An easy way to prevent splintering of wood is by putting masking tape along the area that will be cut and this will help to prevent the wood fibres from splintering

Conclusion: Woodworking Guide for Beginners

Learning woodworking is like exploring an ocean and envisioning the ideas which you have in your mind.

I tried to cover the most important aspects of woodworking for beginners in this guide. Try to be thorough with all of the above knowledge and I am pretty sure, you will enjoy this amazing journey.

I will try to update this guide on a regular basis with new ideas and tips which I can think are important for a beginner. Let me know in the comments section if you want me to cover any particular topic which you think I have missed.

Share this guide to help the fellow woodworkers as well. Thanks for your time and I hope you enjoyed this ultimate woodworking guide for beginners.