Help for fresh woodworking enthusiast
July 30, 2013 10:15 AM   Subscribe

Due to some large amounts of used wood lying around, I've recently enthusiastic about woodworking, specifically re-using used wood, but I'm already floundering on my first, super-easy project. I have a number of questions on this project and other intro-woodworking issues.

So far, I've collected a number of links to cool projects, but then the other day I unearthed an old and grubby little table (small coffee-table size), all covered in caked mud and rusty. My plan was to wash it down, sand it, replace nails, soak in oil, and then maybe finish, but when I took the mud down I discovered that it is covered in woodworm holes (though I am not sure that there still is woodworm in them - I can't see any evidence of insect-poo). The questions:

1. Can I do something to make sure I don't introduce a woodworm infestation into the house if I clean the table and bring it in? I was thinking about sanding it down super-vigurously, and then dousing it in oil. Do woodworms get suffocated by oil? This is my hope...

2. I've just washed the table, it is still drying, but I am itching to start sanding it down. Do I need to wait until it is dry?

3. If it is unrealistic to bring it into the house what with the wormholes and all, can anyone imagine an outside use for it? Unfortunately, I can't take any pictures, but the table is square, cca 70 cm x 70 cm, cca 30 - 35 cm tall. If I were a kid, I'd use it to play orchestra - it looks a bit like a stand for a small conductor. Since I'm grown up, what else could I do with it outdoors other than set plant pots on it?

Secondly - are there any resources out there for beginner-level working with reclaimed wood?
Complications: I don't have a workbench, have a relatively basic collection of tools and am rather puny. Youtube is difficult where I currently am (with the wood), since the connection is slow. Google searches seems to turn up results for really advanced woodworking, whilst I'm pretty much your village idiot equivalent with scant resources...

Before I found the table, I had planned to do something else as my first project ( a kind of flower box, or else a box with a door on it), and I have some additional questions about that:

1. how do you nail two planks of wood together to form a 90 degrees angle? I'm thinking: long side of one plank aligned with thickness of other plank (don't know how else to say this - basically, we assume the plank has a length and a width, which gives you the plank surface, and then also a tickness, or depth, which is how thick it is), and then just go to town with a hammer? I found this guide for joining wood, but don't have a drill - can I just hammer away in the hope that the nails will create their own holes as I go?

2. I want to cut the wood pieces to size. Since I don't have a workbench, I need another way of keeping the plank steady whilst I saw it. There is a sort of veranda without rails where I live, so I figured I'll position the plank on it, kneel on the plank and saw the surplus off. Is this a good idea?

Thanks so much for any advice, I can't wait to get started!
posted by miorita to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'll skip the woodworm and move on to the second batch of questions.
1. yes, that's a fine way to nail two pieces of wood together (the "butt joint" very much like this image but using nails as the fastener) You need to choose your nail to be long enough that it sticks well into the second piece of wood, or it won't grab hold well. You also need to drive the nail straight; one of the common beginner-project features is nail tips poking out through the sides of the second piece of wood. So, I haven't got a numerical guide for you, but you want the nail length to be as long as possible but not so long that you're liable to drive it off track.
As you're unacquainted with woodworking, I recommend that you take a box of nails and a scrap of wood, and practice banging nails in. You want to be able to drive it in without the top part bending over, and to hit the nail reliably without missing and scarring the wood, and to keep it as perfectly straight along the intended path as possible.

2. Yes, you can do that, but especially if you're working with a hand saw, it'll get awkward, and the larger the project is, the more you'll wish you had a better solution. Consider buying some C-clamps so you can clamp the board to the edge of your table/deck/worksurface; they make really fancy strong durable high-quality clamps, but you're a great candidate for whatever's on the bargain table.
posted by aimedwander at 10:45 AM on July 30, 2013

Best answer: how do you nail two planks of wood together to form a 90 degrees angle? I'm thinking: long side of one plank aligned with thickness of other plank (don't know how else to say this - basically, we assume the plank has a length and a width, which gives you the plank surface, and then also a tickness, or depth, which is how thick it is), and then just go to town with a hammer?

In most cases, such a joint is made with carpenters glue plus some additional fastening (nails, screws). But you will only end up with a 90 degree angle if the side of the plank you're fasting to has been cut to form a 90 degree angle with the face of the board.

I found this guide for joining wood, but don't have a drill - can I just hammer away in the hope that the nails will create their own holes as I go?

No. There's a very real possibility that you'll end up splitting the wood doing that. Drilling a pilot hole is almost always the suggested course of action. Eggbeater drills are relatively cheap, and having one will make things much easier.

I want to cut the wood pieces to size. Since I don't have a workbench, I need another way of keeping the plank steady whilst I saw it. There is a sort of veranda without rails where I live, so I figured I'll position the plank on it, kneel on the plank and saw the surplus off. Is this a good idea?

Depends on how accurate (straight) you want the cut to be. A mitre box may be of some help to guide the cut. I also recommend you get an assortment of clamps for either securing wood while sawing it, holding pieces together when you drill a through-hole, or for use while gluing.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 10:46 AM on July 30, 2013

Best answer: Is it small enough to fit in an oven? You could try drying it (say, a couple hours at 150F followed by a couple at 250F) which I think would take care of any hidden woodworms.
posted by hattifattener at 10:47 AM on July 30, 2013

Best answer: I am not a woodworker, but I do restoration of art objects. Lots of your questions sound like restoration and conservation work. Maybe you can try these keywords in your searches?

For your last question-- yes, that's how I would do it (and did few times).

Have fun!
posted by Oli D. at 10:47 AM on July 30, 2013

Best answer: Nailing two boards together is fine, but may be frustrating and imprecise without anything to hold them down. Also, screws and (depending on the type of joint) glue are much stronger. I'd be inclined to buy a cheap drill, drill bit set, countersink bit, and box of deck screws.

There are literally dozens of options to join two boards together, with the best depending on skill, equipment, application, etc. Other options for you include pocket screws (may be the easiest method, but kits are not cheap) and mortise/tenon joints (much, much stronger than a nailed joint, but would require a fair amount of practice, in addition to a mortising chisel, handsaw, and some sort of clamp).
posted by deadweightloss at 10:55 AM on July 30, 2013

Best answer: 1. Put it somewhere where it's dry, put some white paper underneath and monitor over a week or so whether any sawdust falls out of the holes. If yes: woodworm can be locally treated with special insecticides - injected into the holes using a medical syringe with a fine needle. It requires some patience...
2. Yes, wait until it's totally dry, and until the woodworm has been treated (for the simple reason that you want to be able to see and access the holes, which is hard if they're clogged with sanding dust). Woodworking rule no. 1: resist the itch to do stuff too early.
3. Woodworm-treated antiques are decorating many a posh home. If you've done it right, there's no reason why you shouldn't have the table indoors.

Secondly, 1.: a trick to prevent the nails from splitting the wood, if you don't pre-drill, is to give them a whack or two right on their tip, so the tip doesn't wedge the wood apart so much. You might want to fix the planks with 90degree clamps so they don't hop about while you hammer. That said, a nailed on-edge connection is about the weakest joints you can make. To use dowels and glue isn't all that hard (but you will need a drill, see below). And to learn cutting dovetails, well, now there's some joinery that holds and is fun to make.

But honestly, if you're serious about getting interested in woodworking, you might consider buying some basic tools (a hand drill of a decent quality doesn't cost much, for example) and perhaps learn how to keep a chisel, a knife or a plane iron really sharp. Pro tip: Japanese handsaws - the ones that cut on pull - will lead to a great improvement of your workshop life quality).
posted by Namlit at 11:02 AM on July 30, 2013

Best answer: Most of woodworking is having the right tools for the job. The further you get into this the more you'll see the vast majority of your work going into making jigs and setting up your materials/tools. The cutting and affixing portion of woodworking is only half the battle.

So take Namlit's advice and get a few basic tools. Look for used corded drills if money is a consideration. You're not going to a job site, you'll be okay being tied to the wall.

aimedwander is right on that a mitre box will be ever so helpful. And Japanese handsaws are life changing. Cannot second that hard enough.
posted by beep-bop-robot at 11:43 AM on July 30, 2013

Best answer: Head to the library and pick-up the thickest book on woodworking you can find. For instance, the Black and Decker The Handy Guide to Easy Woodworking Projects is probably available from your library.

Much to my chagrin as an experienced woodworker, but certainly to your benefit, it seems that every book on woodworking is 75% basic skills - down even to "this is how you hammer" and "this is what a saw looks like" so there will be a lot of very basic, well thought out, visually presented information in just about every book on the shelves.
posted by lstanley at 1:23 PM on July 30, 2013

Response by poster: This is all incredibly helpful, thank you so much for your advice and for taking my blundering efforts seriously!
The plan now is:

1. Get tools: C-clamps (will get advice from the person in the shop), eggbeater/ other kind of cheap drill, a mitre box, screws, dowels and glue, chisel and plane iron.
2. Get some resources together – thanks lstanley for that reference!
3. Apply insecticide to flight holes on ugly little table, (I might even have some – shame about the oil, it was a good idea whilst it lasted). Then sand, replace nails.
4. Everything else.

If anyone has other secret resources for woodworking beginners, they will be terribly useful, too…

Now the challenge will be to translate all the tool-terms so I can buy them!

The Japanese saw will follow once I prove my mettle to myself – it will be a mission to order it online…
posted by miorita at 1:54 PM on July 30, 2013

Best answer: I've been building things for a number of years and am having plenty of fun. Go hang out on Lumberjocks if you want a woodworking community. Most of the projects there will be beyond your means at first, but it's a fine place to get ideas for how to solve a particular problem.

My absolute most basic woodworking kit would be:
- Hand saw. I second the recommendation for the ones that cut on the pull stroke.
- Combination square
- Tape measure
- Electric drill. Don't get an eggbeater drill, they're useless. Don't get a battery-powered drill unless you're going to spend at least $80 on it. If you want cheap and not terrible, get a corded drill. Make sure you get one labeled as a "drill/driver." This will have two speeds: a fast one for drilling holes and a slower (but more powerful) one for driving screws.
- Drill bit set
- A few driver bits
- A couple of clamps. Quick clamps are nice. C clamps will do the trick, but make sure they're big enough to fit both the board you're cutting and the work surface you're clamping it to.
- A number of drywall screws. On most wood you won't need to drill pilot holes, just clamp the pieces together and drive the screws straight in.

The miter box is a maybe. Don't get chisels and planes yet - they're very handy, but they demand careful sharpening and experienced use. In general, don't buy any tool until you need it for the job you're currently working on. Otherwise it's too easy to turn into a tool collector instead of a tool user.

I'm recommending screws rather than nails. Screws are stronger and pull the pieces together. Nails work loose and slip out if you don't have them placed right and reinforced with glue.

The very first thing I'd do would be to buy or build a sawhorse. Then I'd use that sawhorse to make a better sawhorse. Then I'd probably use the sawhorses to build a workbench. But you want to dive right in, so get some clamps that fit over your deck - a perfectly good work surface, actually. Not the greatest work height, but solid, which counts for a lot.

Go to your local library and get one of those intro to woodworking books, as suggested above. Read it all twice, but skip the parts about sliding tapered dovetails and other things you're not ready for. Make a rough drawing of your project before you start, it helps you start thinking about how the pieces will have to join together.

I wouldn't try to do the butt joint you have in mind for #1. The simplest and strongest way to do that would be to lay one board on top of the other and put two or three screws into the overlap. Joining the ends of boards so they lie in the same plane requires a bit more work, and if you don't do it right it'll fall apart pretty quickly. Later on you can get into pocket screws, which are super handy.

Good luck, and have fun! Memail me if you run into problems down the road, I'm always happy to talk shop.
posted by echo target at 3:06 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Pocket screws might be helpful for you. There are many ways to join wood at a 90 degree angle, but pocket screws are convenient and strong enough for the kinds of applications you are interested in. Kreg sells the most popular one. You can probably make do with their simplest model--no need to spend $130 on the big one.

In terms of not having a workbench, you can do an awful lot with a couple of sawhorses (you can even buy pre-made brackets and just put a couple of 2x4s, cut to size either by yourself or they can do it at the local big box hardware store if you buy the lumber there). Throw a piece of plywood up there and you've got a perfectly serviceable workbench. There are also designs of sawhorses that are well suited for kneeling on the board with one leg to hold it down and then sawing away.

The thing with woodworking is there are many ways to do things, and few really require power tools. There's a strong contingent of woodworkers out there who only use handtools. You might want to look around the woodworking subreddit. They are generally helpful folk and many of them practice their craft in small apartments. They can probably offer you a lot of advice on tips and techniques that you can use with minimal workspace, with or without reclaimed wood. Don't underestimate YouTube, either. There are a lot of great tutorials out there. I've been slowly trying to learn this as a hobby myself, and I find that in general woodworkers are very, very helpful people, overjoyed to share their expertise with anyone who is interested.
posted by synecdoche at 4:29 PM on July 30, 2013

Best answer: If you're nailing butt joint, try to angle the nails in alternate directions, so they act a bit like dovetails. If you want the joint to stay aligned you'll need to make a shallow groove to hold it. This is called a dado or if it's at the edge of the board it's a rebate or rabbet. Egg beater drills work great for drilling small pilot holes. Get one!

The English Woodworker has started an excellent video tutorial on building a simple cupboard and includes a video on making rebate with a chisel. If you can get even temporary video access, a youtube demo is often much more useful than any written instructions.

You'll need to invest in some kind of sharpening system. I like diamond stones and Paul Sellers has a youtube channel with great sharpening demos. Most of his videos are aimed at beginners with limited resources. He's in fact very staunchly against wasting money on expensive tools when there are cheaper, serviceable options. He builds a complete English joiner's bench from home center lumber. He rocks.

Chris Schwarz's The Anarchist's Toolchest from Lost Art Press does a fantastic job of outlining the uses of all the different tools. I wished it had been available when I started in the hobby.

Get a Stanley #4 hand plane and learn how to sharpen it. Sanding is for suckers. Go the hand tool route.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:30 AM on August 12, 2013

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