Getting Started in Woodworking

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DIY Coffee Table Build

I started woodworking in the fall of 2014 accidentally. Sarah and I had just moved to our first duty station in Colorado Springs from the Naval EOD school. We had an 1800 square foot townhome with only 700 square feet worth of stuff. Our new home had a dining room and Sarah wanted a farmhouse table.

We began our search for a farmhouse table at all of the local furniture stores. We found two categories of tables.

  1. Tables from national retailers which were too expensive ($800-1200) and not made of solid wood
  2. Tables from custom furniture makers which were way too expensive ($2000+)

Since neither of these options would work for our small family that was just beginning to be established, I started poking around online. It was at this point I stumbled upon the massive DIY category that has emerged online. There were dozens of sites showing step by step how to make anything you could imagine. And most were free!

For me, it was off to the races. I was building my first table within the week. What could be more masculine than making your own furniture? Here are the steps you can take to get building!

Establishing a “Shop”

Garage_Workshop

I have shop in “quotes” because almost all DIYers do not have the luxury of a dedicated shop where they will only build things. There are several options for shop location.

  • Home garage– a great option that 90% of people go for. You can easily move your tools out of the way and still use it as a garage. For a while, my detached 2-car garage was a shop, gym and 2 car garage. (it was tight)
  • Basement– This is attractive option as it is probably heated and cooled and has power outlets.
  • Patio– You can drag all of your tools out every time you work or depending on your climate, some people leave their tools exposed (not recommended)
  • Driveway- I once did an axel swap in a 98 Jeep Wrangler in my driveway!
  • Self Storage Rollups- Check to see if you are allowed to work in them. (or just ask for forgiveness after)
  • Someone Else’s Shop-  Do you have a friend or relative with a garage you could use? Offer to pay the $50 or $100 to “rent” time in their shop. It would also help with tool purchase if they already have some in the garage.

Whatever you choose, just choose something. I had to move into a one-car garage about 6 months ago and it is less than ideal. It is a little cramped and only has one outlet, but I have made some of my best work there! The important thing is to get building, so don’t stress the location too much.

Tools

For acquiring your first tools, there are generally two schools of though.

  1. Buy cheap and upgrade later
  2. Buy quality so you don’t have to upgrade later

While both options have their merits, I will focus on the first and assume that you are like me. I didn’t have a fat stack of cash to throw at tools and I was not even sure I would like it or be good at building.

Craigslist  This is the single best way to find cheap tools that will get you going. I bought all fo my first tools here and rarely paid over $50 for them. I have since sold all of these tools (on craigslist for the same amount I paid for them) and upgraded. But I still find really quality tools here all the time.

Here is what I think you need to get started (in this order):

  1. Miter SawBuilding with power tools outside
  2. Drill
  3. Pocket Hole Jig
  4. Table Saw
  5. Random Orbital Sander

While you might not be doing any fine woodworking (who has time for that?), this set of tools will get you a long way!

 

Free Plans

In the beginning, and with limited tools, it is easiest to let other do all of the design and planning work. You will have enough of your plate getting used to your new tools. Plus, there a lot of great plans in the interwebs that are free for the taking. Some that I have used are

By now, you have a place to build, tools to build with and free plans. Why are you still here? Go Build something!

What I just laid out is a foolproof way to get started building your own furniture (or anything really). This is where everyone I know started, but this is not where it has to end! If and when you get bit by the bug, you will want to learn new techniques and acquire new tools. A great avenue for me to learn has been Youtube. There are dozens of builders who upload an in-depth project video a week. This is what I consider my continued education. Below are some of my favorites.

These 6 channels have enough material, to plant you on the couch for days so pace yourself!

 

I hope you enjoy building with your hands! If you have any resources that helped you starting out, or you have a recent project you are proud of, I would love to hear from you! Post in the comments below.

 

 

 

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