15 Surprising Tips for Beginner Woodworkers Including a Kiss

Last weekend I took a beginner woodworking class. I signed up for the class because I wanted to buy a saw. I wasn’t sure which kind of saw I wanted and my husband was afraid that I would cut off my fingers because I tend to rush things. He suggested a class.

I signed up for a basic beginner’s woodworking class at Wood Crafters. The class was designed to teach you how to use all of the basic woodworking tools. The list of tools we learned to use is WAY beyond what I would ever want to buy, but I learned so much. 

My most important takeaway was that anyone can learn to use these tools confidently. My second takeaway was that I don’t want to buy all the necessary tools for complicated projects. I will continue to rely on my handyman who has ALL the tools. I don’t have space for a woodworking studio or the thousands that it would take to set one up.

I learned lots of useful tips. Here are a few of the jewels in case there is anyone out there who is a little intimidated by using power tools. If you have a Wood Crafters in your area, it’s a great option for learning beginner woodworking tips where you can try your hand at using all of the tools. They have so many classes that I will also talk about at the end.

Tools Covered in The Course:

  • ·     Chop saw (what I thought was a circular saw)
  • ·     Jointer
  • ·     Thickness planer
  • ·     Table saw
  • ·     Band saw
  • ·     Drill press
  • ·     Belt sander & Disc Sander
  • ·     Oscillating Spindle sander
  • ·     Router table
  • ·     Finishing

During the class we made a spice rack with a drawer. It looks simple enough, but it was surprisingly complicated. I’m not going to include the woodworking plans here. If you want instructions, email me. I’m happy to share, but it took 2 days to build. This convinced me that real furniture building requires lots of time and technique.

15 Surprising Things I Learned About Woodworking

These tips are for people with a beginner’s skill level.

1.     Lumber at Home Depot/Lowes is Expensive and Not The Best Quality – The lumber at Home Depot is sold by the linear foot. Lumber from a lumber company is sold by the board foot. This makes the lumber you get at big box stores 7x more expensive.  Independent lumber companies have a wider inventory and carry many different types of wood that aren’t available at big box stores. If you have big projects, going to a lumber store is the best way to save money.

2.    The Table Saw is the heart of your wood shop and one of the essential tools for woodworking. If you want to invest in one tool, this is a good one. Table saws have a high degree of accuracy. We used a SawStop table saw which has a special safety feature. The saw STOPS when it comes into contact with skin. Watch this video that shows this safety feature put to the test with a hot dog. We didn’tuse a blade guard.

3.    There are two types of cuts you can do on a piece of wood. To “rip” the wood means to cut a large piece into small pieces along the grain. Crosscut, cuts across the grain. When you rip boards on a table saw you should push the wood all the way through to the end of the table. The left hand will come off over the kill zone (discussed below), but holds the board up against the fence until then. When you make a cross-cut on a table saw you move the wood up past the blade and all the way back to you. 

4.    Coffee bean wood – When you buy wood at Home Depot you can find pine and some maple. We made our project primarily out of coffee bean wood, which is an affordable type of wood that you won’t find at Home Depot.

5.    Kiss Cuts – A kiss cut is when you barely shave off the end of a piece of lumber to get a square edge. 

6.    Plywood is metric – ½ inch plywood is NOT actually ½ inches. 

7.    Kill zone – Every power tool has a kill zone. It is usually a different color, red or yellow. This is the zone that you need to keep your hands out of for safety purposes. 

8.    Left Hand Is Important – The left hand is critical when using most power tools. It keeps the wood in place on most power tools and keeps you from being the victim of kickback. It is safer to use your left hand to guide the wood up until the kill zone, rather than using a push stick (which can be harder to control).

9.    There are three types of wood joints. A mortise joint is the technique to hold pieces of wood together without nails and screws. There is a dato joint, a groove and a rabbit. The drawer we made had all three types of joints. These joints are called mortise (female) and tenon (male). The rule of thumb for how large these joints needs to be is called 1/3-1/2. The 1/3 number is for the thickness and ½ is for the length. A standard joint size is ¼ x 1/8. We learned to use the router to make each of these joints.

10. Table saws can make dato joints using a dato kit. A dato joint is across the grain.

11. Height of saw on a table saw is important – The safest way to set the blade of a table saw is where the steel of the blade is barely above the thickness of the wood you are cutting. The higher the blade is, the more dangerous it is.

12. Food-safe wood – There are some woods that are food safe and some that aren’t. We did a kiss cut of our coffee wood and could see clearly why. When you hold the kiss cut up to the light, you can see there are tiny holes where moisture and bacteria breed. Food-safe woods are maple, walnut and cherry.

13. Measuring is important, but accurate measurements are often not enough. “The board is in charge” so let the wood dictate the measurements. As an example, if you are building a drawer, the right size back is the one that fits snugly. It works better to mark the length of the back of a drawer with a pencil mark on the actual drawer, vs using a tape measure.

14. All glues are not equal. Titebond III wood glue is the fastest drying glue. It dries in 15 minutes, which can save you a lot of time. Superglue doesn’t dry quickly enough unless you use an accelerant.

15. Sawdust is bad for your lungs – Having a system to collect sawdust is one of the most important steps in setting up a woodshop. Prolonged exposure to wood dust is bad for your lungs. I didn’t believe it, but it makes sense.

Wood Craft offers a variety of other classes, each hilights one essential skill. For example, the cutting board class helps you to master the table saw. There is a cabinet making class, a hand tools class, a router class where you make a jewelry box and a wood finishing class.

Before you go, if you like DIY wood projects you might like DIY board and batten walls or a DIY built in book shelves (a three part series).

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