“A rough woodworking guide” is not meant as working with rough wood, though I imagine you will be at some point. Instead we’re talking about planning, layout and a few tips to help you on your way. Helpful tips not provided by your neighbor or close relative that took woodshop 22 years ago.

Buying woodworking guide 101 books or Woodworking Guide for Dummies, is not a bad idea, but some of us like to read little and do lots. After all, the best teacher is experience right? Absolutely! So here’s an idea Mr. Part-time Architect, follow the plans you bought.

Planning Your Project

When starting out with anything, it’s always a good idea to have a plan. In woodworking, it’s a good idea to start out using plans. It’s not enough to start small or buy the best tools, you have to know what you are going to do. Woodworking plans do just that. They will help you build your skill level and eventually give you an idea of what’s possible to build and what’s not.

A 4’ bookshelf has certain criteria it will have to meet to stay a bookshelf and not an upside down canoe.  If is not built properly, according to the plans, it falls over face first (wounding the dog and forcing you to leave the house for a few hours). Yes, it has happened. Follow the plans to the letter. You can make adjustments and alterations later in your career. The phrase is “let experience be your guide” not “experiment,” Dr. Frankenstein.

Find a written guide as well; something that you can keep handy to cross reference. There are often several methods for accomplishing the same result and some are better than others. Having a builder’s encyclopedia on the shelf in your shop looks good. You can tell your buddies it was a gift from your mom and it’s there for show, then reference it when they aren’t around. You look like a shop pro and mom gets credit for being so thoughtful; everybody wins.

Two Tips to Help out the New Guy

Over gluing is probably the biggest newbie problem. Wiping off glue or waiting for it to dry and scraping it off just won’t work. The glue will get into the pores and dry.  That’s what it is designed to do. Once the glue has dried into the pores, sanding is an option, but will often create a dip or “saddle” in your finished piece. 

Here is a simple tip to help keep glue from ruining your finish before you even start; apply some masking tape to both sides of the joint you are gluing. Do this to the outsides where you do not want there to be any glue. Make sure to rub the tape vigorously to help it adhere to the surface. Doing so will help keep the glue away from where you don’t want it.

Finish Your Day & Your Project with Finishing

No, I don’t just like typing the word, so hear me out on this one. Over gluing is the first biggest mistake new woodworkers make.

The second big mistake is with stain or varnish. The woodworking guide and magic 8-ball says that you will stain, varnish or otherwise coat some piece with some chemical and then touch it to see if it’s dry. Why would you do that?

The best way to avoid this classic mistake it to make staining, varnishing and painting the last thing you do for the day and let it dry overnight. Some chemicals can take up to 24 hours to dry depending on the weather conditions, so a good 12 hours to reach a hard shell surface is not a bad thing.

Remember to make it the last step in the building process as coating before the project is done is asking for finish damage.

The best woodworking guide really is you. Taking a class for the basics or even downloading a Woodworking ebook (plug plug) is a good first step as well. You may become frustrated as woodworking can be challenging, even with a woodworking guide or teacher on hand.  Remember that the rewards and accolades are well worth the time and effort.  The more you do, the better you'll get.