Books or websites for basic woodworking projects?
November 28, 2018 8:12 AM   Subscribe

Can you recommend any books or websites with basic to intermediate woodworking projects?

My daughter and I are almost done putting together her tree house and now that we've got a taste for carpentry we'd like to transition in to building smaller stuff like furniture and the like together in our garage. If you were a relative newcomer to woodworking, was there a particular book or website that you found useful to help you a) envision projects and b) actually complete them? I'd love to start working on some simple projects to hone my skills but I'm a little overwhelmed by what Google is showing me and I would love a book or other resource to help me know where to even begin. Thanks!
posted by saladin to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Also if there's a particular project that you'd recommend (rather than a collection of them) I'm all ears.
posted by saladin at 8:12 AM on November 28, 2018

She gets looked down at by pros, I think, but Ana White has tons of projects that can be put together rather quickly and without advanced techniques or expensive shop tools.

The materials aren't top-shelf and the design is a little...naive? But you could pick a couple of ideas there, build them, and then graduate to items from the New Yankee Workshop books afterwards.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:52 AM on November 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

Nick Offerman's book Good Clean Fun is a pretty good all-around look at woodworking. There are a few small projects in there as well as general articles about woodworking and different woodworkers. Keep in mind though his projects are a bit different than most woodworking projects in that they're usually done with live-edge wood and very little is straight-and-square stuff you'd do on a table saw.

I think the best suggestion I can give you is to check out David Picciuto's YouTube channel and website. David is one third of the Making It podcast (along with Jimmy Diresta and Bob Claggett... two other amazing makers but not strictly woodworking focused) and I love his sense of humor and the style of his later videos. He has a lot of simple projects that he does on a bandsaw or with basic tools. Stay away from the laser cutter / CNC projects.

If you have a bandsaw, look into making bandsaw boxes. They're fun projects that can be done with scrap wood. The above mentioned site has a couple, and David has even released a book on making them.

My first woodworking project was a box (that I made for the MeFi Secret Quonsar a couple years ago), which is a good way to get started. You can use mostly hand tools for a basic one and as you improve you can get more and more elaborate, like Jesse in Breaking Bad.
posted by bondcliff at 8:53 AM on November 28, 2018

Also, check out the books of Christopher Schwarz. He's the former editor of Popular Woodworking and an advocate of using a basic set of hand tools to do everything. He's also a woodworking historian and a pretty interesting dude.
posted by bondcliff at 9:01 AM on November 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

Yayy for teaching your daughter woodworking! Well, I had two thoughts - one is maybe you guys would enjoy watching the PBS series "the woodwrights shop" with Roy Underhill together. He occupied a Bob Ross like place in my heart and I loved watching that show as a kid (and now).. of course he's much more serious and informed about wood, woodworking, and its history than Bob Ross ever was about painting (At one point I believe Underhill was the master carpenter at Colonial Williamsburg!) I think those episodes are available on the "passport" PBS app (it's like PBS's version of hulu, for roku and tablets and so forth.) He probably also has some books I'm just not familiar with induval titles.

The other thing I was going to mention is more of a "down the road" sort of suggestion, but theres a series (several volumes) of unglamorous-looking books called "Tage Frid teaches woodworking" which are often used as text books. They're quite serious and could lead to a high level of mastery, but they also cover all the basics very well.

A fun thing to start with might be a dovetailed box.. If she's dextrous enough to work with a zona saw and chisels. It's fiddly but very very rewarding when they fit together! You will need to figure out cchisel sharpening, but thats fun in its own right.

All that said, that site mentioned above and quick projects that use kreg (sp?) jigs and ply and so forth are ok -- Everything has its place .. If you guys are interested in how wood as a material works, its history, how joints go together, you'll get more of that kind if thing from underhill and Frid.

Maybe anothet, middle path is to buy a small lot of tautons fine woodworking magazines as well as some popular woodworking issues, flip through, and see what you're feeling project wise.

Lastly, for wood-nerd level guidance, most woodworking books published by Taunton Press will be pretty good and they have nice compelling photos , unlike the frid books. Theres a newish one that's trying to scratch the same itch as the frid series - a compendium / full course kind of thing.

That Nick Offerman book sounds promising too, though I haven't encountered it in person yet.

Good luck : )
posted by elgee at 9:32 AM on November 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

A possible "next project" suggestion:

Do you have a woodworking bench? Building the bench on which her next projects will be created may be a rewarding next step.
posted by csmason at 9:45 AM on November 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

Note: There are two sorts of wood workers, there is the folks who use power tools or whatever is at hand and then there is the folks who reject such heresy and only use hand tools, which is the one true way. Your local community college likely has courses in both and should seriously be considered you first option. Big benefit is that it will be a group of folks just like you and they will have both resources and the interest to foster your hobby.

Taunton Press is an excellent resource of projects that have actually been built by experts who teach woodworking. Taunton includes books and a great magazine. I would suggest this replacement for that high school shop class we all skipped. Peter Korn's Woodworking Basics is oriented towards hand tools or the definitive guide to making boxes, that is part of their "Complete Illustrated Guide" serious and is on my own list to get. If hand tools are your speed (or lack, heh) then I would point you to Lost Art Press operation and you can find the "Essential Woodworker" which I have heard described as "The Book". It is nice - here is a PDF sample.

My issue with Ana White is the projects are often just grabbed from plans on sketchup - which is super usefull once you've built a few objects or find popular projects, but not handy as an instructional source. Hint: guess how I learned that lesson!
posted by zenon at 12:38 PM on November 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Hi, former junior high school wood-shop teacher here.

When people say they want to get into woodworking, they are like the person in the Jack Frost poem, where two roads diverge in a wood. Down the first path is way of the serious woodworker, who will amass in a shop a series of large equipment pieces necessary to the work of what is essentially a hobby cabinet maker-- table saw, jointer, mitre saw, planer, belt sander, glue-up rig, and so on. The traditional first project (especially for eighth graders) in this path is a cutting board. It is relatively simple, but uses all the tools in a way that is good for beginners. It does not sound like you want to go down that path. If you do, let me know, and I can give you some pointers.

Instead, you want to build cool stuff with your daughter with hand tools. This is the second path, and I think more enjoyable for a home enthusiast. The best tools to start with in my opinion are a powered drill and a portable circular saw. The third tool I would recommend would be some sort of powered hand sander.

The most important lesson I can tell someone starting out, the one that isn't intuitive, the one that will make all the difference, is this: Spend at least as much time on finishing your project as you did on building it. Finishing here means sanding, staining, it. If the picnic table took three hours to build, spend a minimum of three hours sanding it, and then stain. Honestly, it wouldn't be amiss to spend ten hours or more sanding and finishing a picnic table.

As for good starter books or websites, most of the ones mentioned upthread are good.

The real stand-out winner, though, is wenestvedt 's recommendation for Ana White's website. She does what you want to do, the exact kind of projects, and often involves her children. She often makes videos, too, which are very helpful at your novice skill level (although about half are focused on home construction-- skip those in your situation). Someone called her design style naive, but her craft skill is flawless, and in her most recent works like the travel trailer you can see she really has professional skills.

But whatever you do, don't be like my insensitive junior high students and call her Eskimo Martha Stewart, because if you do I will ride my bicycle to your house and punch you in the face. Come on, it's 2018. (Not angry at you obviously, but my kids can do so much better sometimes.)
posted by seasparrow at 12:57 PM on November 28, 2018 [6 favorites]

When I started, I had a sabre saw, a back saw, a sander, and a few other implements of destruction.
I made some simple furniture and it was functional, but it had a wealth of issues.

What made the biggest difference for me was taking a night school class taught by a weathered shop teacher. The most important skills that I developed were:
  1. Picking out decent wood (trial and error)
  2. Learning how to make panels
  3. Learning how build taking wood expansion into account
  4. Basic joinery
The class was essentially one night of orientation to each of the tools. The rest of the sessions were 3 hour classes of access to tools and an experienced woodworker. Over time, it became clear that the class was an exercise in time and resource management. How many cuts could I do at once on the table saw to make the wait worth it? How efficiently could I fix the set up errors that other people made (to be fair, that was me when I was a noob)? And so on.
I got inspiration from watching New Yankee Workshop. One nice feature of some of his shows is that he will show multiple ways of doing some of the cuts. The accompanying books are pretty good. I built several of his projects including the blanket chest and bedside table. Later, I made a chest of drawers that was copied in style from my spouse's chest. All of those pieces are still in use 20 years later.
Eventually, a friend in the class and I made a deal that if he bought a table saw, I'd but a planer and jointer and we set up a shop at his house. At this point, I subscribed to Woodsmith. I found their plans very well done, clear, and easy to follow, albeit more complicated. To be fair, they do try to put in one "weekend project" per issue, which are less complicated.
And yes on starting with a cutting board.
One of the first projects I did with my son was a whirligig. He picked the shape of the body and I taught him how to cut it out with a sabre saw. I did most of the rest of the work and it was very simple.
posted by plinth at 1:25 PM on November 28, 2018 [3 favorites]

So, this very day, Joel Moskowitz, owner at Brooklyn keepers of the woodworking faith Tools For Working Wood published a blog post about this topic, under the tile "The Future of Furniture - Part 4 - What Can a Newbie Build?" using several examples of project books as the thematic thread. It is a good post and describes authors and designers advocating simplified construction methods used to make practical furniture. You can read it here.
posted by Glomar response at 4:47 PM on November 28, 2018 [4 favorites]

I'm surprised Paul Sellers hasn't been mentioned - here he is showing how to make a small three legged stool, a nice small project for you and your kid.
posted by kev23f at 9:20 AM on November 30, 2018

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