The Most Common Beginning Woodworker Mistakes and How to Prevent Them

Last Updated:  June 3, 2022

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I’ve made just about every mistake there is to make….multiple times. Let me share the most common mistakes that beginners make to keep your frustration level low and keep from redoing projects.

Sanding Across the Grain

Sanding involves finely cutting the surface of wood, so it matters how you do it. The first step is to recognize which way the wood fibers are running length-wise. Sanding across these fibers cuts into and tears them irregularly and these gouges aren’t easy to get out.

Now, think about sanding in the direction the fibers run. Running the sandpaper is this way cuts the fibers more evenly and cleanly. Random orbit sanders were invented to prevent having to worry about this. The base of the tool moves in an irregular direction so that the sandpaper won’t sand in one place too long and creating large scratches.

Drilling Too Far

Beginners aren’t the only ones that commit this mistake. If you’re trying to drill a hole that doesn’t go all the way through, it’s easy to drill too far and poke it through the other side. Mark your drill bit with some masking tape to remind you of how far to drill down.

There are also tools like the speed square that are a bit different from a try square in that they can do some other carpentry measurements, but they aren’t able to measure an outside angle.

Skating Drill Bit

We’re always trying to be accurate as woodworkers. A skating drill bit can derail that. This usually happens with a twist bit that doesn’t have a sharp point on the end. It takes a second for the bit to bite into the wood and it wants to skate around. When it does finally bite, it could be off of the mark. 

You can prevent this by either using a scratch awl and punching an indent or pushing the drill bit down and creating an indent. That indent will keep the bit in place as the drill starts.

Raise the Wood Grain

Finishing can be tough for beginners because there are so many techniques and products to choose from. One mistake beginners make during finishing is not accounting for raised grain. 

So, you’ve just sanded the wood smooth and gotten it the way you want it, but after the first coat of finish it has a really rough texture. Wood fibers react to liquid and stand up when they come in contact. 

This characteristic of wood is easy to handle. You could wet the wood and then sand it before applying finish. But, I think it’s easier to lightly sand the project after the first coat of finish.

Measuring Incorrectly

It can be tough for beginners to be consistent with their measuring. It’s easy to look at the tape and go by the wrong mark. 

Beginners also usually don’t know that the hook on the end of the tape is loose because you use it differently depending on the situation. The distance from the hook to the tape is made to allow for the thickness of the hook. So on an inside measurement the hook is pushed all the way in. On an outside measurement it’s extended.

You’ll get better results if you take your time and make sure you measure correctly.

Using a Tool Incorrectly

Many beginners pick up a tool they see someone use and go to work. This can be dangerous if you don’t understand the tool and how to use it safely. If you’d like to learn more, I have an entire playlist of videos for the basic woodworking tools.


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