Woodworking Introduction

    Wood working is a far less subjective term than Photography. Those of you who use wooden implements to feed yourself, play music, sit on, or to play fetch with your favourite pampered pooch.. I think most would intuitively grasp that they're not wood working. If you're cutting, shaping, smoothing, or joining wood, then you're definitely working with wood. Personally, I define wood working as:

    "The noble art of creating sawdust in allegedly beneficial ways". Can you see how I may be self taught... or highly enlightened... you decide. :~D

    I got into it because it's really hard to find furniture that fits my needs, and so I can fix things when I need to. Starting out isn't very scary at all, and so if you're interested I'll outline where I started and some suggestions to help newbies get started.

    From humble beginnings... a monster grew, but don't discount humble toolboxes.. or yourself:

    Unfortunately, I grew up without a male role model capable of anything approximating "proficiency" in the various manly arts of.... Wait, what?! Doing what we're told by the womenfolk! Just kidding!... I mean... err...  wood/metal/mechanical work fields. I didn't have a man shed, or a man cave to retreat to. Heck I barely had any tools whatsoever. I had a hammer, a pair of pliers, a measuring tape, a hand-powered drill with a few bits, some screwdrivers, a shifting (or adjustable) spanner, a rusty saw, and a broken chisel. However, in the primordial era that predated YouTube and maybe even before the kitten-mangled ball of yarn known as,"The Internet". I watched a lot of DIY shows on TV and picked up a few things here and there. It's amazing what you can do with this meagre collection of tools, especially when you take the time to plan your projects carefully.

    If you're just starting out, start by keeping absolutely everything simple. Don't rush out and buy an entire workshop. Buy only the tools needed to do the immediate job. As you do more projects, your toolkit will expand accordingly. If you let things like sales sway you, you'll end up with a ton of stuff you'll probably never use.

    Rome wasn't built in a day, start with a nice useful and simple project!

    If you've never used a drill before, or haven't done wood working in "a while", then why put yourself into a "sink or swim" situation? Let's start at the most basic project that leads beginners in pretty much every wood working direction. The humble wood box.

    Why the box?

    Boxes are great for storage, and the joints can be done in a lot of different ways. If you make a rough fruit crate that's simply nailed/screwed together, any mistakes give it a rustic/shabby chic look that makes it look intentional.  Once you get more comfortable, you can start getting fancy, using stronger joint styles, better woods and better finishes, smaller scale, finer work like inlays, try making boxes of different shapes to learn about adjusting angles (try a pentagon, hexagon, heptagon, or dodecagon... or for extra credit to prove your complete mastery of wood working, a dodecahedron!)

    However, there's absolutely nothing wrong with keeping it simple and using a rectangular or square box design. If you think about it, this is extremely similar making drawers! Alternatively, turn the finished box on its side with the open side facing you, and run some planks horizontally across the inside of the box, and you have shelves! Put some wheels on the bottom of a box, and you have a trolley! (Wheel them under your bed/bench for more storage!) Put your box on the wall, hinge the lid so it opens sideways, and you have a cabinet! Make a nice low-lying box and you have a toy box, or a coffee table (with storage). Awesome, right? Let's go bigger, lets make a huge 3m x 5m x 3m rectangular box and put a metal roof on it, a few windows and a door... that's called a shed! Even bigger, maybe by joining several boxes together and stacking a roof on top, voila, a house! Build a box frame, and put a sheet of flat wood only on the top, and you have a table! If you put boxes inside boxes, (also called "nesting boxes") in creative ways, you can make some really nice stuff that is well organized and/or aesthetically pleasing.

    You'll never look at boxes the same way!

    Before you begin though..... thoughtful design gives you a specific goal, and ultimately saves time and money. Start with a plan!

    When starting any project, I grab some paper and a pencil, and invest a bit of time and thought over my favourite beverage. Afterall, I'm trying to be manly here, not a savage!

    Alternatively, these days, you can use software to help you design, Computer-Aided Design (a.k.a: "CAD") software can be extremely helpful and speedy (compared to detailed hand-drawn schematics) but some are very complicated, take quite some time to master, and others are just prohibitively expensive. Try some free ones by searching for "free CAD software" in your search engine of choice.

    Questions I ask when I'm doing my design:

    Question 1: What does this project piece need to do?

    There's a famous wood working saying "Measure twice, cut once". I think before you even think about cutting anything, having a complete design outlining the dimensions of the finished project, and then drilling-down into the exact dimensions of each component piece, and how many of each piece you need (also known as a "cut list") is a huge benefit while shopping for (and cutting) wood. It also helps to figure out how to minimize wasted wood (if a cut-off can be used elsewhere in the project.. or even another project). A completed scaled diagram also gives you an idea of what it will look like when it's done, and whether you think it'll be aesthetically pleasing as well as useful. It's also handy to have a picture to point to when explaining it to potential helpers!

    Note: Don't just measure the project itself. Make sure that it does what it is intended to do. If you're building a shelf. Find the sizes of each item you want to store on the shelf and design the height and depth of each shelf accordingly. Or make it adjustable!

    Question 2: What's the best way to do this?

    Designing isn't just about the "what you need" aspects, but also often determines the answer to "How do I do this?". Whether you use nails, screws, glue, biscuits (the wood kind), dowel joints, pocket joints, merely interlocking wood pieces, (or a combination) to do your joints... these choices will have a huge impact on the method required. Obviously, each approach may also need different skills and equipment to do it well. All of them have their benefits and drawbacks. So keep this in mind! When you're starting out, keep it simple, and just do what you can!

    Questions 3 & 4: Will it fit into the intended space? Are any modifications necessary to make it work the way I want it to.

    It may sound obvious, but your finished work piece may have to consider the world around it. If a table is too big to get through any door or window of the house, there's no point in making it that huge.... So, you may need a design capable of "on site assembly" (a.k.a., it comes apart and can be assembled again). Similarly, if you're making a cabinet or book case, you may need to shape it to fit around skirting boards or cornices, light switches, etc on your walls. Similarly, making something more useful may only require a minor tweak. Putting wheels on it, or providing storage for related tools, materials, consumables, thingies, doo-dads, whatcha-ma-call-its, and my personal favourite, whosiewhatsits! Alternatively, if you're unsure how everything will play out, adding adjustable features like height adjustment, or adjustable feet for uneven ground would be a benefit. Naturally they add cost to your materials and complexity into your design.. so there's an obvious trade off there.

    Once you move beyond the design phase, you don't have to do it alone when you're just starting out, have an injury, or making a larger project.. or just like having someone to talk to!

    I don't want to insult anyone, but if you're just starting out, it makes sense to have someone more knowledgeable "at hand" to guide you on the basics. It doesn't even have to be at home! You might do a course, you might join a men's shed, or a wood working club/society. There's any number of ways to get a "good start". If you're truly stuck at home, I know some might not have skilled people to help, so just getting someone to help, even if they're not more experienced, can be a great idea. It never hurts to have a second pair of eyes, and a helping hand to distribute weight loads.

    Having said that...

    Just remember that everyone involved needs to be kept safe. So make sure there's enough protective gear for everyone. Bits can fly across a room, tools can keep spinning long after the power is cut off and people can move around unexpectedly with large planks of wood and smack you in the face... despite the numerous advantages of having helpful people, there are down sides to having other people around. So make sure you keep a safe awareness of what's going on around you, and encourage others to do the same.

    While improvising is a key part of wood working, there's usually a couple of ways that work well, and a tonne of ways that might work, but are dangerous and unlikely to produce a good result. Don't guess how things work. Take the time to familiarize yourself with each tool you plan to use. Practice on some scrap piece of wood. If it's uncomfortable to use, the odds are that you're doing something potentially unsafe, and as soon as you feel uncertain about something, stop  and make sure it's the best way to do something.

    There's plenty more to consider, but those aspects of wood working can be dealt with in other articles. Stay tuned.

    I hope this helps! As always stay safe and have fun!


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