Hey, nice wood man.
April 13, 2008 4:00 PM   Subscribe

I want to get started with woodworking. Where can I start?

I want to learn how to build things out of wood, I guess starting small with boxes or whatever a good first project is. I've looked at forums like craftster or the other ones out there, and if I look by project, I feel overwhelmed because I don't have all the tools. I don't have any tools. I also have a small apartment. I've always been decent at putting furniture together and like finishing wood, painting, all those home projects. What's a good woodworking starter project that will give me skills I can build on? I'm also a small woman so I never took shop or worked construction, though I always wanted to.
posted by sweetkid to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Take a continuing ed class in woodworking at a local college or high school. You will learn to use the tools and complete a small project (almost certainly a stool!).

Start off with Shaker furniture, if you like the style. Pine is cheap and easy to work (though tough to finish nicely), the lines on Shaker are typically straight, and the joinery isn't too bad.

Buy tools as you need them for a given project. You might feel overwhelmed sometimes when you see Norm on TV in his $100,000 workshop of high tech tools. But remember that he is often using all those tools to reproduce an antique piece that was made entirely by a set of hand tools that could fit in a single tool box.

Accept imperfection and have fun.
posted by LarryC at 4:21 PM on April 13, 2008

I wouldn't start with Shaker furniture, attractive though it is; it will be satisfying as a non-first project but might be a bit too hard to start with.

For simple you can't get much easier than a small bookshelf-sort-of-thing. You need only a set-square (for drawing a line at right angles across the plank, a saw (for cutting the plank into sides and shelves, and and a screwdriver with screws (or hammer and nails) for assembly. I'm assuming that because you at least imply you won't have a workshop you are not very much into power tools. Learning to saw a plank in two cleanly is pretty much the most basic skill after hammering nails. Or you could ask your wood store to cut the shelves to length (but then you're not learning from the wood.)

Butt the shelves against the sides - no need for routing or complex joints for basic shelves. The shelves will be horizontal (of course), so add another piece the same length but oriented vertically to add rigidity to the thing, something like this, which is theoretically a view from the front, omitting the right-hand side:


where xxxx is the piece that's vertical. The screws or nails go through the upright into the ends of the shelves (and into the xxxx piece). Screws put into the end of the grain don't hold so well, so don't over-screw them or the wood will strip. You could use carpenters' glue in the joints for extra strength, but I generally don't.

A powered screwdriver makes this a quick project, and a folding workbench like the Black and Decker model is handy if you want to preserve your tables.

Do take a class if you can, as LarryC says, to get exposure to the ways to do things.

I'm still using bookshelves made by my kids many years ago.
posted by anadem at 6:02 PM on April 13, 2008

I've taught woodworking (K-8th grade) at a NYC elementary school for over ten years. I'd suggest starting with a project that introduces you to the basics and requires only a few easy to use, inexpensive tools - a toolbox. Believe me, if my 5 year olds can build it you can! Email me, and I'll give you more info (tools, materials, plan, etc).
posted by blaneyphoto at 6:11 PM on April 13, 2008

At one point, I knew nothing about welding; but I spent $300 and two nights per week for 12 weeks and ended up being a pretty good welder. LarryC is right: your local community college can be a goldmine of useful skills acquired cheaply and quickly. My teacher was a mostly retired welding inspector who just loved teaching people to weld. Honestly, it's the best $300 I've ever spent.
posted by popechunk at 6:43 PM on April 13, 2008

I can't find any community college classes in NYC, so perhaps that is my next question. Brooklyn?
posted by sweetkid at 6:49 PM on April 13, 2008

Bird houses are also a popular first project. You can get kits, even, but if you want to do the cutting yourself, there are birdhouse plans a-plenty -- the first Google hit there looks pretty interesting - the site, freebirdhouseplans.net, has six different house plans for different types of birds - blue bird, flicker, phoebe, purple martin, woodpecker, and wren. I think this is an excellent way to begin!
posted by amtho at 7:52 PM on April 13, 2008

Hi there, sweetkid - and welcome to the craft.

I think it's possible that carving might be a good way to start for you. It doesn't take a lot of tools, there's relatively little mess (shavings and chips, rather than sawdust), and you can do it in a small amount of space, and without needing help or a lot of upper body strength. A small table, a good raking light, a vice, a block of good carving wood (basswood is a good start) and some simple tools are really all you need. And it's not all bird decoys - you can make things like bookends, finals, simple bowls and spoons. Also, there are a number of carving magazines with patterns.

I'll continue looking for classes in NYC / Brooklyn for you, but you might want to consider that option.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 11:18 AM on April 14, 2008

Thanks everyone! Such great responses, and a great plan from blaneyphoto. Plus, I finally made favorited posts.
posted by sweetkid at 7:24 PM on April 14, 2008

Seems like some classes where you get to use others tools would be great for you.

I've only been to 3rd Ward for parties and other events, but you might want to check out their next series of Woodshop classes. This round is all full, but check the schedule for updates. Their shops always looked decent from the hallway windows.

Its on Morgan Avenue in Williamsburg. Might work out if you cannot find a college course to match your schedule.

A quick google search returned Carlton Woodworking's Weekend Classes, which at $500 for the two-day intensive seems fair. Located in Williamsburg as well.

I do not know their Continuing Ed policies, (and i should, it being my alma mater) but Pratt Institute (Clinton Hill) has 2 sections of Woodworking: the first is Tools/Theory and the second Construction, both offered next in the Fall semester. TECH-519 and TECH-520 are the course sections.

other google hits:
Long Island School of Classical Woodworking
Purchase College Sculpture Programs
Peter's Valley Craft Center in Delaware Water Gap, NJ

Good Luck!
posted by stachemaster at 1:31 AM on April 15, 2008

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