3 tips for beginner woodworking projectsGetting started in woodworking? Kate Swann has plenty of resources to help you out.
Starting out in the craft, I was very much of the mindset “I’ll figure it out as I go.” I would dive right into projects. Invariably, it was a fight to the finish and less fun than I thought it would be. Over time, I realized that if I had a plan and had laid some knowledge and practice groundwork, the projects would have gone way better.
1) Designing and planning
Start with a well-thought-out design and sound construction drawings.
Sketch your project idea on paper or use design software like SketchUp to visualize it digitally. Pay attention to dimensions, proportions, and aesthetics. Build some quarter-scale models—you’ll learn so much from the process.
Planning allows you to anticipate challenges, calculate the amount of wood needed, and adjust before cutting a single piece. You want to avoid ending up with three legs instead of four, or not having enough wood, or overspending. Having a cut list will help you plan and keep you on track when you are milling.
Name # Length Width Thickness Type of cut Species Tabletop 1 16 16 1 Facesawn Maple Legs 4 17 1 ½ 1 Quartersawn Walnut Aprons 4 10 ¾ 2 ¾ Facesawn Maple
Design Process by Kelly Parker
2) Understand the wood species you’re using
Do your research. Don’t just pick a wood because you’ve heard of it.
Each wood species has unique properties, such as hardness, grain patterns, and color. Study and familiarize yourself with common woods like oak, poplar, maple, and walnut. This will help you select the right wood for your project and anticipate its behavior during milling, joinery, and finishing. You don’t want to build an armoire for the third floor of a townhouse out of the heaviest wood in the world!
Books & Articles:
3) Pick and practice your finish
One of the things that can make or break your piece is the finish. Long before you get to that point in your project, you’ll want to have figured out what finish you want to use and why.
Think about what you need the finish to do, what aesthetics it needs, and what experience you have with it. Learn about different finishes like varnish, stain, oil, and lacquer.
Understanding how to prepare the wood surface, and the techniques and conditions needed to apply the finish and achieve the desired result, is crucial for enhancing the appearance and durability of your creations.
Once you’ve figured all this out, practice on sample work. You want to be familiar with the product and the technique before you ever go near your project!
A “go to” for many years has been Understanding Wood Finishing: How to Select and Apply the Right Finish by Bob Flexner.
One of the greatest joys of woodworking is that there is always something new to learn. Each project is an opportunity to learn a different technique or a creative approach to problem-solving.
Accept the challenge, learn, and grow—but most of all plan!
At the Florida School of Woodwork we are building out the schedule of classes for the upcoming year and foremost in our minds is how to support students as they learn the craft of furniture making.
You can click here to check out the 2024 schedule, but at every step and in every class it’s clear that success in a project comes from having a plan.