New Hobby: Woodworking

Posted on August 15, 2018

Starting woodworking can be very simple and very rewarding.

The sheer pleasure of molding wood to suit the form and function you chose, the process to make it all happen, the satisfaction of doing things yourself, and the pride you feel from accomplishing the task are all great feelings that make this hobby a great therapy for the soul.

Buying a good tool and using it to produce furniture and doing odd jobs around the house can help you save lots of money too.

But how can you start your first steps in woodworking?

Location, Location, Location

Where are you going to set up your workshop?

A minority of woodworkers are brave apartment dwellers who have used have a spare closet, room, or even outside in their balconies. Anything is possible and it all depends on you, so get rid of obstacles and think about possible solutions to your situation.

Most people interested in woodworking, however, live in houses, and most of them will probably use their basements or their garages. Not all can afford the luxury of huge empty spaces at home, but make sure you claim at least a corner for a workbench, with enough space for storing tools and supplies.

Basement, Garage, Or Backyard?

A basement can be good because it is better isolated against outside temperature changes, however air quality and lack of natural lighting, can be an issue. Air filtering and LED lighting can solve these issues. Another thing to keep in mind is the noise produced by your machinery, so remember to address that as well. Another possible issue is to bring wood inside your basement workshop and get finished projects out of your shop – depending on how accessible your shop is, this may or may not be an issue for you.

A garage brings the exact opposite scenario: the possibility of opening the doors and exchanging air easily, good lighting throughout the day, (mostly) isolated from the house and less concern about tool noise, and bringing wood in and projects out is much simpler. However, thermal isolation tends to be worse, and there is also the concern that strangers might be eyeing your tools while you are working and eventually pay a visit to your garage to steal your prized tools.

The best alternative might be a small shed in your backyard. Even 200 sq. ft. might be enough to ensure all the good aspect from working above ground, in a place where you ensure your privacy and protect your tools. If you are smart about how you make this addition to your property, it might even add to the eventual resale value.

No matter what type of space you choose, consider getting some anti-fatigue mats, so you can reduce worker leg and back pain.

Your Most Important Projects

Well, the best way to start woodworking is by building things to organize your own tools and your workspace – in other words, making a toolbox and a workbench.

These are two useful projects where you can practice essential skills and start learning the basics. If you make small mistakes, they will not be seen by others and your final projects will still be useful and lasting.

Your First Toolbox

Each toolbox is personal and completely different because each one of us has different needs. Your uses and imagination are the only boundaries here!

Depending on how many tools you have, and how handy you are, you may want to make a simple first toolbox or themed toolboxes according to the tools you place inside – for example, a toolbox for measuring and cutting tools, another for your cordless drill plus all your drilling and driving bits, a third for sanding paper and finishing supplies, and even another one for carrying all the general use tools for DIY jobs around the house.

Here are some plans for a simple toolbox. The tools you will need are:

Your First Workbench

As for a workbench, in my opinion, a good beginner workbench has to offer some storage space as well, this way you can have all your tools and supplies on hand when starting a project instead of searching around the entire house for the glue, and the nails, and the pliers, and so on.

I personally like to have the tools displayed in front of me, and I do not want to attach things to my walls, so that leaves me with a freestanding bench with a tool board. You might even wish to hang a computer monitor there, so you can display PDF plans or review some YouTube tutorials while you are in your shop.

Going back to a more traditional approach to your “tool” board, when a tool has an easy place to be returned to, you increase your odds of keeping your workspace tidy – most of the times, at least. Efficiency will free your mind and open space for your creativity. The path from one to the other is what will keep you busy for countless hours without even realizing time passed by.

Image source: Family Handyman

If you want to build this workbench with tool storage, these are the tools you will need:

  • tape measure to measure all your cuts;
  • a circular saw to cut the plywood and the 2x4s;
  • a power drill with a pilot hole and countersink bit to pre-drill the holes and a drive bit to drive all the screws; and
  • safety glasses.

As for size, workspace surface has to be proportional to the types of projects you want to build. Personally, I am just interested in smaller projects such as picture frames, desktop objects, boxes, and so on. If you want to build cabinetry and furniture, that will certainly influence the workbench size you need.

And remember: you can always graduate to a more traditional workbench later and leave this one for keeping your tool board and other benchtop tools such as a drill press, a grinder, or even a small jointer.

In case you don’t need the storage space, then you are better off building a simpler workbench – the plans I just linked use less wood and better joinery. You can also watch the construction:

If you still want another design option, take a look at my free set of plans for a garage workbench. Also, read my guide on choosing the perfect workbench height for you.

Basic Woodworking Tools

ItemModelWhat is it for?Why this one?How much?
Tape measureStanley Powerlock 25 ft Tape Measure
Measuring pieces, parts, and cutsAccurate measurements, American-made, price is a bargainClick here to see today's price
Speed square and combination square setSwanson Tool S0101CB Speed Square and Combination Square (Value Pack
Using it as Protractor, cutting guide, or tri square, plus scribing parallel linesExcellent price on a great American-made tool by a traditional brandClick here to see today's price
HammerEstwing 12 oz Straight Claw Hammer
Pounding nails and stuffGreat craftsmanship, balance, and shock-reduction gripClick here to see today's price
Power drill and driver and circular saw kitPorter-Cable 20V 1/2 inch Drill/Driver and 5 1/2 inch Circular Saw Kit
Making straight and beveled cuts, drilling holes, and driving screwsGreat deal for a complete kit (battery, charger, drill, and saw), traditional brand, possibility to buy other 20v bare tools and use the same battery.Click here to see today's price
Chisel setStanley 16-150 Short Blade 3-Piece Wood Chisel Set
Chipping, carving, or cutting woodExtremely low price, good brand, and contain the 3 most used chisel sizes (1/2 in, 3/4 in, and 1 in)Click here to see today's price
Rubber malletStanley 51-104 16 Oz Rubber Mallet
"Convincing" work pieces to fit snuggly, plus chiseling workQuality tool, many positive reviews, good brandClick here to see today's price
ClampsIrwin Quick Grip One Handed Mini-Clamp (Pack of 4)
Holding two separate pieces firmly while glue sets in and/or while you drill holes and screwsOne-handed bar clamps are enough to get you started with your first projects; good price for this set of 4Click here to see today's price
Drill and drive bit setRyobi A98901 Drilling and Driving Bit Set
Drilling holes and driving screwsGreat starter kit, with good-quality and a wide assortment of useful bits.Click here to see today's price
No. 4 Hand planeStanley 12-404 No. 4 Adjustable Bench PlaneSmoothing over larger surfaces and flattening edgesUnbeatable price on the most traditional plane size made by the most traditional plane brandClick here to see today's price
Block planeStanley 12-220 Block Plane
Beveling edges and smoothing over short lenghtsTraditional brand, great dealClick here to see today's price

Essential Personal Protective Equipment

ItemModelWhat is it for?Why this one?How much?
Ear muffsHomitt Sound Ear Muffs
Especially needed to block the noise produced when operating power toolsGood price, many good reviews, can be worn over safety glassesClick here to see today's price
Safety glassesGateway Safety Cover2 Safety GlassesEye protection is a must in a wood shop, you never know when a piece of wood might fly into your faceGreat value for the money, plus they can be worn over biggish prescription glasses - in case you are as blind as I amClick here to see today's price
Dust maskGVS SPR457 Elipse P100 Half Mask Respirator
Very important, especially if you are around chemical finishings or producing too much dust with power toolsVery comfortable, lightweight, great seal even for bearded users; the P100 is the highest rating for personal respiratory protectionClick here to see today's price

And Before Starting, Remember:

Safety is everything.

Use personal protective equipment. There are many models of safety glasses available and you are bound to find something good and inexpensive, which will protect your eyesight from eventual accidents. Hearing protection is also essential if you are operating power tools – saws, grinders, drills, anything. Wear a dust mask over your nose and mouth to avoid breathing particles of whatever material you are working with. The US Department of Labor has a good starting guide on woodworking hazards.

Use properly sharpened tools. A dull tool is the first step to you over-applying force in some random way you weren’t meant to. Then the tool will escape your control and fall. It could be just a broken tool, which you can solve with cash and some online shopping, or the tool could fall on you and break/cut/shock you, and you could end up in the hospital for something completely avoidable.

You might be interested in my other DIY plans:
New Hobby: Woodworking
Simple Garage Workbench Plans (FOUR-HOUR build!)
Build your own Yard Shed (with pictures, plans, and a detailed step-by-step)
How to Build a Custom Closet from Scratch (with photos and plans)
Simple Adirondack Chair Plans (Weekend Build)
Step-by-step Wood Fence Guide — Make it straight, solid and spectacular
How to build an Arched Arbor (with plans)
How To Build A Custom Bookcase For Beginners (with plans and pictures)
How to make a Frame out of Wooden Molding (step-by-step with pictures)
How do you strip and refinish furniture? (10 steps with pictures)
How to install Finish Trim you can be proud of (with detailed pictures)
How do you replace a subfloor? (With step-by-step pictures)
6 Hacks for finding Straight, Square, Plumb, and Level