11 Tips for the Beginner Woodworker

Being a semi-recent convert to hobbyist woodworking, the number of tips/concepts I’ve been able to discover are not as numerous as other woodworkers of longer tenure.

But I can remember when I first was getting started, I often said, “Gee, I wish there was someone I could ask how to do this”.

Looking back on it now, I realize it may have been something really rudimentary.

But still, the answer was not available to me easily, and I had to learn the hard, perhaps expensive, and maybe even dangerous way. I’ve got the bruises to prove it!

That’s what this section is about: providing some answers to questions which at this time may have been only just thought of, by a new woodworker who is just starting.

I don’t mean to say that I’m “the” expert, but if something that I’ve learned can help you, why not share it with others by offering some friendly advice.

1. Always buy the best tools you can afford.

It does make a difference.

That doesn’t mean buy more expensive tools than you need. A quality name brand tool should do fine except if you’re going to use it a lot, like for instance a sander.

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An often-used tool, like a palm sander, should be a quality piece of equipment. I speak from experience here. I bought an inexpensive one for $39.95. It lasted 18 months and stopped working. I replaced it with a quality tool at $79.95. It is now 42 months later and it hasn’t even begun to tire.

2. If you are able, purchase a router.

With just a few bits and a little practice, you can easily dress up the edges of your projects, and with just this simple edge treatment, the level of beauty & professionalism of your projects will be elevated to a much higher level.

The ‘finishing touches’ a router gives your projects, make it a worthwhile investment. Even a relatively inexpensive router, with one of the many available bits, can help transform many projects into virtual works of art.

3. Always use your saw guard.

I know it’s not a “how-to” tip but I learned courtesy of a kickback that caused a huge purple major league bruise, it’s just DUMB not to use it.

4. Use a brush for your top-coat.

When finishing your project with a top coat – usually a lacquer, you can get a surface that’s just about as good as a sprayer could deliver, with a brush – and a bit of practice.

The trick is to use a very good brush – and yes that means expensive. BUT, it’s still way cheaper than buying a sprayer. I hand stripped & refinished an antique cedar chest using a water-based lacquer and a brush which cost $26.00 – I know, I almost choked too! But I bet you’d think a sprayer was used.

5. Never dispose of any wood except the tiniest pieces.

You can use just about all your wood scraps to make such things as jigs, push sticks & small toys. And if you use the technique of counter-boring and plugging screws, you’ll need some extra stock for the plugs.

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6. Make friends with professional woodworkers.

Making the acquaintance with a few professional woodworkers is definitely a wise idea for any hobbyist woodworker. I’ve had so much friendly help from the couple of new friends I’ve made. From the thickness planing of wood to doing some special tricky cuts for me, or the sale to me of some premium hard-to-find wood, I have benefited greatly.

7. Label cut parts as you cut them.

Use a soft lead pencil to label parts lightly as you cut.

It will make for easy identification later and will sand off easily, not leaving any indentations.

8. Cut project pieces slightly larger than needed.

You will loose a bit during sanding, and besides you can always take that bit more off later, but you can’t put it back!

9. Clean up!

Make sure to clean off your work surfaces and around your fences as you work. A small unnoticed chip left resting against a saw table fence or router table fence can cause your cuts to be inaccurate by the thickness of that chip.

10. Wax your table saw.

A coating of paste wax should be applied to the tabletop and to the miter slots of your table saw. Apply liberally, allow to dry for maybe 10 minutes and then buff well with a soft cloth. Wood will now glide across the top of your table saw. This should be done approximately once every 2 weeks of use.

11. Check your table saw angle.

Check regularly to be sure your table saw blade is at 90 degrees to the table. A small 4″ precision metal square (accurate to .001″) should be purchased for this task, and be kept by the saw for just this function.

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If it is not perfectly square, check your saw’s owners manual for instructions on blade adjustment. 

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