So you want to start woodworking? (version 1)

This is the first version of a short piece I imagine myself writing over and over again, as I learn more myself and find new material. It is essentially what I wish I had been able to read before I started.

So you’re thinking about woodworking? Before you buy a single tool, let’s figure some stuff out. You need to be able to work someplace. There are plenty of ways to get around not having space for a big shop, so don’t let that stop you. You will though need a space that you can work in without getting in others way (or others being in your way).

While you’re thinking about that, go buy “The Naked Woodworker” DVD.

This DVD is meant to take you from having nothing to having everything you need to build furniture, so you may still find it a bit intimidating. It has you spending between $500 and $800 to get started. I’m going to guess that your curiosity isn’t quite that high just yet. That’s fine. So long as you’re curious enough to spend $20, get the DVD and watch it.

Let another weekend or two go by. By now you’ve hopefully figured out a place you’re going to work in (even if it’s the back yard). If you’re still curious and want to try this out, build the saw benches he shows you in the DVD. That runs, depending where you live, at $20 to $30 in materials. You’ll also need a saw, some screws, a carpenter’s square, and a brace (a drill will work just fine for now, and if you don’t already have one, you should get one – whether you intend to continue woodworking or not).

Let’s assume here there isn’t a cool tool-swap event in your area that you are aware of. That means you’re either going to need to take some time, going to garage sales, scanning craigslist, talking to relatives, or you’re going to need to buy some affordable but useful tools new.

For a saw, I’m still using a Stanley SharpTooth 20″ panel saw ( I couldn’t find the saw on Amazon, so I went to and bought it there; cost about $13 dollars.

A Carpenter’s square, brand new, costs around $15 to $20. Here’s one on Amazon:

You’ve probably already got a drill and some drill bits. If not, go buy one. Even if you never do any woodworking, you need a drill for occasional stuff around the house. While we’re on the topic, other tools you just need to have – whether you take up woodworking or not – include a hammer (if you don’t already own one get a 16 oz. claw hammer with a wooden handle), a tape measure, a utility knife, a pair of pliers, and a set of screwdrivers for use around the house.

Outside of the tools you really need to have if you’d like to consider yourself an adult who doesn’t need to call someone else to change a burnt out light bulb, you could need to spend about $50 on materials and tools to do a woodworking project. You might be able to spend less if you’ve got time to hunt garage sales, auctions, craigslist, and the like.

If building a couple saw benches just isn’t what you want to do, you can with the same materials build a box. I didn’t have The Naked Woodworker when I started, and I wanted a box to keep dog toys in, so that’s what I built. Check out this Shaker Carry Box ( To build that you would need a coping saw in order to cut the holes for the handles and the curves in the wood.

Some advice: I hate using a coping saw. If my introduction to woodworking involved a lot of work with a coping saw, I wouldn’t pursue the hobby. You may decide you hate it too. In which case I’d skip the large holes for the handles, and make rope handles instead. Drill out two large-ish holes (3/4″) a hand-sized distance apart where the handle would be. Take a length of some rope you find comfortable that you feel matches the look of the box well, slide it through one of the holes from the outside to the inside of one hole, tie a knot it in, repeat on the other side – deciding on a length you like – and tie that end off. You’ll still either need to use a coping saw to cut the curves in the box, or decide that curves aren’t that important and leave the box square. I suppose you could also cut some corners off, sand them down a bit, and end up with something not quite a graceful curve but not a box either. It would work.

Want to make it a bit nicer? See if you can find “cut nails” at your local hardware store and use those to hold the sides of the box (or parts of the saw bench) together (google “cut nails” and look at the images for an idea what these are). If you can’t find cut nails, and you don’t want to use normal nails or screws, purchase some wood glue and use that.

Whether you build the saw benches or a box, a No. 5 Jack plane would be a very good tool to have. You can use this plane to make the edges of your boards smooth, straight, and level. This is a tool you don’t need if you aren’t going to take up woodworking. If you do, you won’t be able to get by without it.

You don’t want to buy this tool new. New tools – in the price range you’re going to want to spend just now – are crap. Maybe a family member has an old one you can use. Or you may find one at a garage sale, a used tool store, or craigslist. Until you’re better educated about what is good and what isn’t, don’t spend very much money (think $20 or less). In a perfect world someone else who is knowledgeable about what a good tool is and isn’t will help you purchase this tool, and it will last you the rest of your life. If you don’t luck out and have someone that can help you do this, don’t worry. Just don’t spend very much money, and assume that someday you’ll replace this tool.

At this point you’ve spent as much as $70 – perhaps less – and you’ve got what you need to do your first woodworking project. If you decide you don’t care for woodworking, you aren’t out much. The tools are mostly still useful to have around. The DVD you’re stuck with, but maybe you can make a gift of it to someone else who’s interested someday.

If you have enjoyed yourself, you can build more simple boxes, identify some other small projects, and start accumulating some of the other tools Mike Siemsen talks about. Once you’ve got what you need, you can build the bench he shows you, and really get started!

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