🌱 This post is a work in progress. Please be gentle.

Woodworking: my beginner's notes

Carpentry vs Woodworking

  • Woodworking: functional and decorative items out of wood: furniture, cabinets, keepsakes and mementos.
  • Carpentry: cutting, shaping, and installing building materials during construction, doing tasks like framing, flooring, and trim work.
  • Plenty of overlap between the two, but carpentry is usually focused on construction, and woodworking is more focused on craftsmanship.

Tools and safety

  • Basics: a measuring tape, square ruler, pencil
  • PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)- glasses, mask, hearing protection, closed shoes, no loose clothing/sleeves, no loose hair, no dangling jewelry.
  • Miter saw - for straight cuts. can adjust angle of cut. compound = blade itself can angle, too. pull it out, push it down, get close to wood, then initiate. keep held down as you cut. cut all the way through, then let blade stop before lifting. beware of knots/sap, some woods harder to cut or cause wood to collapse inward and hit blade.
  • Table saw - for most cuts. use a push stick. push wood all the way past ridge. always use ridge. SawStop is custom brand, patent expiring soon, but safest. Wait until blade is completey stopped before reaching, alternatively use push stick. When cutting, left hand should be holding steady table in case of startle (instinct to grab sturdy thing.)
  • Band saw - for freehand cuts. best to draw a line and then a dotted line. make sure blade is parallel to line. sometimes better to cut a full piece off halfway so it’s easier to work with instead of doing a longer complex shape cut. You’ll usually sand after a bandsaw to smooth the curves. Never go backwards in a cut.
  • Sander - to smooth rough surfaces, makes wood look and feel nice. vertical and round. make sure if round you sand on the side moving down.
  • Jointer - flattens a surface/edge so you have a completely flat side to “join” with others
  • Planer - like a joiner, but done differently? requires a flat surface bottom. You can adjust height to adjust depth of cut. Use a push stick.
  • Router table - used to round edges. go in one direction. go fast, because the blade is spinning 30k RPM, and will burn the wood or rough it up if you go too slow or sit still for too long. Lots of different bits.
  • Barrel sander - sands a flat surface, can adjust height to shave off what you want to shave off
  • Orbital sander - handheld sander, usually used for larger flat surfaces (eg. table tops)

For tools, you usually pay for what you get. Ryobi = cheap, but great for weekend warriors. Delta is high-end. Milwaukee and Skilsaw are solid contractor grade.

Sawdust. Always be cleaning. Use a mask. Have ventilation. Have shop vac where you can.

When jointing/planing, score the wood with pencil to see if you need more passes. When done, mark the smooth surface with X so you know it’s been worked. If you know you have a 90deg angle because you’ve worked a surface and edge, mark the 90deg on corner with square.


Type of wood has a huge impact on the woodworking process. Usually measured in board feet: length x width x height / 144 = 1 board foot. When budgeting wood, allocate ~25% as waste. Douglas Fir 2x4s are a good place to start since it’s softer/easier to work with.

  • Pine: a softwood that is relatively inexpensive and easy to work with. It is commonly used for construction and framing, as well as for making furniture and other decorative items.
  • Oak: a hardwood known for strength and durability. Often used for flooring, cabinetry, and furniture making. Oak is also a popular choice for millwork and decorative molding.
  • Maple: hardwood known for its tight, uniform grain pattern and smooth finish. Commonly used for cabinetry, furniture, and flooring, aka construction.
  • Cherry: hardwood with a rich, reddish-brown color and fine grain. Super popular for high-end furniture, cabinetry, and decorative items, aka woodworking craft. North American Cherry is pretty great quality.
  • Walnut: hardwood w/ distinctive grain pattern. Furniture, cabinetry, and decorative items. Due to the popularity of Walnut, gotta make sure it’s sustainably sourced, def concerns about overharvesting.
  • Poplar: hardwood that’s relatively inexpensive, easy to work with. Used for construction, furniture, and cabinetry… especially if you’ll be painting or staining.
  • Mahogany: exotic hardwood - rich, reddish-brown color and straight, fine grain. Furniture, cabinetry, and decorative items. Prized for durability, stability and resistance to rot + insects, so good choice for outdoor.

Local shops in SF Bay area:

  • Aura Hardwoods Inc for good stuff
  • Global Wood for the exotic stuff.
  • Economy Lumber or Pine Cone lumber for contractor grade / bulk stuff
  • Home Depot / Lowes good for cheaper pieces, smaller amounts

Joining wood together: metal, glue, clamps, joints

Lots of ways to keep wood together

  • Metal nails/screws are inelegant but get the job done, usually used primarily for construction.
  • Joints are intricate but tough to pull off.
  • Glue is easy, but you may not want the chemicals.

Gluing basics, how-to, and tips

  • TiteBond 2 is the standard, cures in ~5-10min. OG and 3 can be used, but they cure faster so may be more difficult to work with. TiteBond 3 is waterproof, used for boats.
  • Apply with paint brush, smooth it on. Leave it empty closer to an edge where it might be visible; then: clamp down, mallet to adjust minor spacing, keep it tight, leave for ~15min
  • If you mess up, or a piece comes off, you can always sand the glue off.

Finishing, stains, sealing, painting

  • Woodworkers try to avoid finishers, rather let the natural beauty and properties of the wood speak for themselves.

Where to learn + do woodworking

  • Woodworking for Mere Mortals is a great YouTube channel to start with
  • Find a local woodshop. Many counties have affordable (~$100 per) classes you can take. You get an expert, guidance, and all the tools you need.
  • Find a local maker space. Instead of buying all the tools for home, you can find a workshop that’s got it all where you can be a member.