5 Beginner Woodworking Tips I Wish I Had Known

Last Updated:  May 21, 2022

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Beginners can be excused for not knowing stuff, they are beginners after all, and we’ve all been there. But, there are a few things I wish I had known from the very beginning and I’m sharing those with you today.

1. Use Your Pencil Correctly

This almost sounds insulting, but I promise you it’s something you have to think about. Depending on the pencil you use, it’s got a certain amount of width to it. The lead is in the center and the wood or plastic surrounding the lead sticks out further. 

When you’re using a straight edge of some sort to mark a line, the pencil doesn’t just push flat up against it. The width of the pencil will cause the lead to mark a distance off to the side of where you wanted the mark. This makes your marks, and by extension your cuts, inaccurate. 

Also, if you change the angle of the pencil as you make a mark, it moves the line away from the correct measurement.

So, to make accurate marks always put the pencil on the mark and slide the straight-edge up to it. This accounts for the width of the pencil. Then keep the pencil at the same angle all the way through the line. 

I like to sharpen the pencil to be flatter on one side and I tilt the pencil outward until the lead is in contact with the straight edge and not the material surrounding the lead.

2. Don’t Measure From the End of the Tape

Tape measures have what’s called a “hook” at the end. This hook is made of thin metal and can easily get bent making your measurements inaccurate. 

To avoid the inaccuracy of the hook slide the tape forward a bit and measure from the 1 or 2 inch mark. That way you know the distance is correct. Just don’t forget to subtract the starting number from the ending number. So for example, if start at 1 inch and the other end of what you’re measuring shows 10 inches, then that length is actually 9 inches. Don’t forget and mark it down as 10.

3. Allow For the Kerf

Saw blades have a width and the slot that width cuts out is called a kerf. So, a saw blade’s width is the kerf and the width it cuts into a piece of wood is also the kerf.

If I make a mark that represents the width of a board I need, that means I need to keep everything from the mark over. If I line up the saw right over that line, part of the width of the blade is going to cut into the part I want to keep. So, I need to allow for the kerf and line up the outer edge of the blade teeth with the outer edge of the line.

4. Take Time When Sanding

Sanding is one of those necessary evils that we just try to get through as fast as we can, or skip altogether.

But, your finished projects will never have that professional finished look without knowing how to approach sanding and taking the time to do it well.

Sand incrementally, especially if you’re starting with a rougher surface. That means sanding with a lower grit around 80, and then going up incrementally. So, follow 80 grit with 120 or so, and then finish with 220.

Also, don’t sand in one spot too long. You may have edges that aren’t level and flush, and you’ll be tempted to sand in that one spot until it goes down. But, that’s a good way to get deep grooves and divots.

A good strategy to sand thoroughly and evenly is to use a random orbit sander and mark all over the area with a pencil. Once the pencil mark is removed in an area move on and don’t sand that area anymore until you’ve removed all of the pencil marks in your sanding area and you’re ready for a second pass.

5. Don’t Cut All of the Pieces At Once

Woodworking plans usually include a cut list, which is a list of all the pieces you’ll need for a project and their dimensions. I include a cut list in all of my plans, as well. 

But, this cut list should be for reference only. Don’t cut all of these at once, in the beginning.

The reasoning behind this is that you’ll make small mistakes with every piece you join together. These small differences in measurement will compound and you’ll need different measurements for each piece as you continue to assemble the project. 

The best way to account for this human error, that we all are guilty of, is to reference measure. Start by using the cut list for the first couple of pieces and then, as you dry assemble the project, measure the length you need as you go by holding the next piece up there and making a mark. You could also measure the distance you need on the dry assembled project.

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