Getting into basic woodworking

I’ve always wanted to do woodworking. The thread about getting other hobbies inspired me to start this to try to get some advice.

I would like to start learning. I’ve done a couple of small projects at a workshop a couple of years ago, which I really enjoyed.

I’d like to learn to build things such as shelves and such.

I have some power and hand tools. Budget is pretty limited for adding more quickly but over time can increase it.

What’s the best way to get into this? There are thousands of woodworking videos on Youtube. Does anyone have any experience on which ones are better than others? Is there a better method?

I live in Taiwan, which complicates things in that I don’t have access to the same brands and stores.

Practice, mainly. I cut single dovetails by hand using scrap wood until I consistently got them nearly perfect every time, then graduated to doing two (side by side), then three. Also, learn how to sharpen your edge tools. I highly recommend that you learn basic joinery such as dovetails, blind dovetails, box joints, mortise and tenon, rabbits, etc. If you can’t join wood together, then there’s not much point in cutting it up.

Speaking of tools, expensive doesn’t necessarily mean ‘best’. Spend more money on things that matter. Also newer is not always better. Pre-1950 Stanley planes, scrapers, etc. are perfectly serviceable for a newbie and cost a fraction of, say, a Lie-Nielsen plane.

Good advice given above.

I’ll add that a Kreig Pocket hole jig of some kind, there are several, can make joinery easier for beginner and veteran alike.


As trite as this may seem: Patience is paramount. Practice, as Chefguy said, is important. Keep these aphorisms in mind–Measure twice, cut once and You can always cut it shorter.

Change your perspective re: time. If you think a project will take 2 hours, plan on 6. If you’re thinking a day, set aside three.

BTW, keep the rabbits out of the shop. :smiley:

Quick & dirty rabbets, dados and grooves or furniture quality shelves and casework?

(Either way, unless you want the “joy” of planes and chisels, a router is the go to tool for most joinery. Also, either way, you want/need to start with the basics anyway!)

CMC fnord!

this might not work in Taiwan; but some High schools and Community colleges have fully stocked wood shops and offer evening and weekend woodworking classes. This gives you access to lots of tools - to give you an idea of which ones are right for the type of projects you’re interested in - and gives you practice time with a knowledgeable tutor who can give some guidance. Or you may be able to find someone who is interested in passing on their wisdom. a sensei!

At some point, as others have said, you’re just gonna have to jump in the deep end and do some projects on your own. Give yourself permission to fail - because you will, but those failures will build wisdom.


Check out Paul Seller’s blog and videos. He is very insightful, especially when talking about hand tools, planes, saws and whatnot. What endeared me to him is him taking to task a certain hand saw manufacturer with an excellent reputation that decided to put out a shitty product to cash in on it’s name. You don’t see that much from sponsored woodworkers.
The Wood Whisperer is pretty good, so is the Toolify videos. The guy making the Toolify videos has quite a gift at designing tools that can be made with other tools.

I’ve only been heavily woodworking for about three years now, but I have to say if you are going to get into this hobby it can be really expensive. I would be ashamed to admit how much money I’ve spent on tools in these past three years. If I had to do it over again, I’d splurge on a bandsaw and go cheap with everything else (I did splurge on a bandsaw, but also splurged on a lot of other tools too). If you can afford it and it’s not crazy expensive in Taiwan, buy a SawStop table saw just for the safety factor.

'Cause the rabbits will chew on the dove tails and you’ll have feathers all over the shop! :smack:

CMC fnord!

Woodworking for Mere Mortals is a great YouTube channel with lots of simple projects.

Also, clamps. You can’t own enough clamps, especially if you’re doing furniture. This is one of the tools you don’t skimp on. Buy the best ones you can find, like Bessey clamps.

Learn all about adhesives and finishes (varnishes, lacquers, stains and oils). The type of glue and finish you use in a project can determine how well it goes together and how well it holds up to the environment it’s in.

Teach yourself about types of wood, their hardness, workability, porosity, etc.

I started with scroll saw projects and found it very satisfying.

Scroll saws are inexpensive and the projects use thin wood that’s light weight and easy to handle. Doesn’t require much space and costs practically nothing.

Best of all, you’re developing hand eye coordination that you need using bigger and more dangerous power tools.

You learn how to sand and apply finishes.

A basic scroll saw will cost about 130 to $170.

If you’re on a tight budget. Get a Dremel scrool saw for $80. It can cut up to 1/2" thick.

Project books. These projects make wonderful gifts.

I’m doing several projects from this book and having a lot of fun.

I made Christmas decorations a couple years ago as presents for family. I love small projects that can be put up in a cabinet while I find the time to complete them.

My wife is a much better detail painter then me. I prefer cutting the wood and sanding.

Thank you for the advice. It gives me a place to start.

Don’t get too hung up on always buying the best quality tools money can buy.

There are areas where a little additional cost brings significantly better quality (examples may be: chisels and other tools that need to hold an edge) - for those, don’t buy the cheapest version.

But for a lot of other things, cheap is just fine for a hobbyist starting out - for example, if you’re buying a drill press, you’ll find that the cheapest ones are exactly the same machine as the low-to-middle-priced models - those are just painted a different colour and badged with a name you have heard of.
Unless the required quality is just absent from a cheaper tool (which you should be able to spot before you even buy it - either firsthand, or via reviews), it’s probably good enough until it breaks - and if it breaks, it means you probably used it enough to warrant replacing it with something a little more upscale and durable.

Lots of good advice above, two excellent points from Chefguy; definitely invest in clamps, and keep your tools sharp. You don’t need top quality for simple bar clamps. A few adjustable screw clamps of this type are invaluable and you do need good quality. If you don’t have an actual workbench a sheet of plywood over any table top will do. A woodworkers vise is quite helpful but you can make do with some clamps and a couple of heavy hardwood boards.

There’s lot of different areas of woodworking. I do almost all cutting with power tools now but you still need to develop your hand tool skills with chisels, planes, and fine saws. A good quality fine tooth backsaw should suffice for most purposes if you also have power saws. A Japanese style handsaw which cuts on the backstroke is a good alternative, There are a number of disk/strip power sanders available that are invaluable for finishing and shaping.

Learn to sharpen your tools. A simple hand hone can clean up the edges of your chisels and knives quickly. A disc sander can be used to grind down a new edge on blades. Saw blades should be made of hard steel that won’t dull rapidly and should be inexpensive enough to replace instead of sharpening.

Practice by making things you want. You can learn a lot about woodworking from others, but you can only learn to work the wood by doing it yourself.

Final note:Freud is an excellent brand of woodworking power tools, but remember that with Freud tools the wood has to want to be cut :slight_smile:

Best advice I’ve ever heard:

I did quite a bit of scroll saw work at one point and can vouch for this.

If fretwork tickles your fancy, don’t go for the cheapest saw like I did. In particular, look for a saw that has variable speed and has a very simple no-tools blade change mechanism. For nice fretwork you aren’t going to be using those blades that have pins in the ends, you will be using plain thin skip-tooth blades that are gripped by clamps at top and bottom.

Consider that for a given fretwork pattern you may have to thread the blade through dozens, if not hundreds, of little holes–you will be unclamping and reclamping the top blade holder hundreds of times. Make sure that can be done quickly, easily, and is not fiddly.

Good saws come with a chip/dust blower. I made do by attaching an aquarium air pump to a length of thin rubber hose.

A cheap pedal switch is useful, so you can start and stop the saw with your foot.

And for such work you will be drilling lots of tiny holes–a drill press or at least a drill stand is in order.


Find out from someone who uses the tool you want on a regular basis what the important features are. (cf. my note above about scroll saw features).

Save some clean sawdust from your project. It mixes well with putty in the event your joinery sucks. Sort of a color match too.

The Woodwright’s Shop episodes are available online. These aren’t your basic instructional videos, they’re about historical woodworking but I love to watch them and learn from the techniques. Some people find Roy a little goofy, because he is, but I’ve picked up a lot of little tidbits about joinery, design, and tool use. Also makes me appreciate modern tools.