5 Tips for the Aspiring Woodworker

Here is some old wood we collected from a foreclosed house

Here is some old wood we collected from a foreclosed house

If you overthink everything like I do, there are few things more intimidating than staring a new project in the face. It might be lack of the proper tools, lack of previous experience, or even lack of the physical space to build something new. Whatever the reason, that gap between the beautiful DIY farmhouse table you googled for inspiration and what you think you are actually capable of building can seem daunting. Speaking as someone who experiences those same thoughts at the start of each new project, if I can build something I’m proud of, then you definitely can too!

I’ve been officially woodworking for less than a year now and I’ll be the first to admit I am far from where I wood (had to do that) like to be. On top of living in a small apartment, my collection of tools is fairly basic. On a good day, I think it only takes me checking my bank account about four times before I finally give in to that all too familiar reality - no, I can’t justify buying a $600 table saw right now. I can research new techniques and dream about masterfully wielding a router all I want, but at the end of the day, sometimes you just have to play the hand you’re dealt. 

So far, I’ve worked on a few projects that turned out great! But… I’ve also built some pieces that haunt me in my nightmares. The point is that it’s all part of the journey. Like most things in life, it’s going to take a few swings of the bat before you finally crush it. Jon Acuff says it well in his book Start, so here is my mega-short summary of one of his key points: anything new you want to learn is going to take some time to master (hint - you’re going to go through learning and editing phases before you get there). So in light of that truth, here are a few things I’ve been learning that I hope will be helpful to anyone else out there interested in picking up woodworking:

John's Table
  1. Buy good wood. No matter how simple the design might seem, if you buy wood that is warped, you’re going to wind up with a finished product that isn’t quite right. I might be able to jump on top of the first coffee table I built, but it still wobbles a little bit because I didn’t pay attention to how the wood twisted when I first bought it. (This is why Haley comforts me each night as I cry myself to sleep).
  2. Measure twice, cut once. It might be a cliche, but it’s cliche for a reason. Measure ten times if you have to. Better to take an extra hour checking levels and measuring sixteenths of an inch than to rush through it. (This is why the end table I built no longer lives at the end of our couch).
  3. Take advantage of Home Depot. If you don’t have access to a miter saw or table saw, stores like Home Depot or Lowe’s can cut your wood for you. Fair warning though… not every employee is going to be as serious about tip #2. (This is why I eventually bought my own miter saw to earn my part man, part lumberjack merit badge). 
  4. Don’t reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to. There are a lot of really bad DIY plans out there on the internet, but if you look hard enough, there is some gold to be found and you can learn a lot about best practices for woodworking. (This is why I now have a Pinterest).
  5. Be like Nike - just do it! In most cases, the worst that will happen is you waste some money on wood that you end up trashing or reusing for a different project. So when in doubt, take a risk, start building, and offer yourself grace when you make mistakes. (This is why I still have a pile of random lengths of wood under my bed). 
Reclaimed wood

There you have it! Get out there, try something new, and have fun with it! And if you need a little extra motivation, our pal Shia LaBeouf is here to help you out - Do it!