Vital skills? Projects for learning them?

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Forum topic by AnnaEA posted 08-02-2010 09:21 PM 1834 views 0 times favorited 17 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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86 posts in 3339 days

08-02-2010 09:21 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question beginner skills

I am a pretty inexperienced woodworker – I’ve been the extra hand on lots of different projects since I was a kid, but rarely done anything independently.

I now have the time, space and inclination to start setting up my own workshop and am starting with this idea that if I build a fair amount of my own stuff (sawhorses, bench, jigs, etc) by the time I have it built I will have improved my skills enough that I’ll actually be able to make things other people might want to use.

So, I’ve started with sawhorses, which I can build with my hammer and saw, and from there I’ll build a bench. I’ll be working mostly with hand tools, but I do have access to a pretty well equipped wood-shop.

What do you think are the vital skills for a woodworker to have? Are there any projects you would recommend as being particularly good for developing and improving those skills?

-- Work hard, play hard, drink good beer.

17 replies so far

View PurpLev's profile


8551 posts in 4132 days

#1 posted 08-02-2010 09:25 PM

by far the most important skill, which everything else relies on is – milling lumber S4S (Surfaced 4 Sides).

not a hard skill to learn, but can be frustrating until you ‘get it’.

More skills worth mentioning:

Sawing straight lines (ya, not that trivial)
chopping mortises
cutting square and smooth tenons

I think with those 4 skills you can pretty much make anything.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View TomHintz's profile


207 posts in 3881 days

#2 posted 08-02-2010 09:52 PM

One thing I have seen for 30-some years now is people using the experience of outfitting their own shop as training. When you build drawers for chop cabinet, use dovetails to practice them, make raised panel doors to practice them, even if they are out of junk wood and get painted. Learning all of the skills to build things like that will stick with ou forever. I even have a story that tons of new woodworkers have read on that very thing at the link below. Take your time, be safe and have fun.

-- Tom Hintz,

View GregP's profile


154 posts in 3360 days

#3 posted 08-02-2010 10:19 PM

I think the most important thing, is getting in there and doing it. There are many different methods for virtually every aspect of woodworking and as your tools improve your methods will change. For now I’d stick to the basics and learn everything you can about wood movement. I’m sorry I can’t be more descriptive but I think outfitting your shop will be a good start. Some things I can think of.

A workbench
An Auxiliary table
A Router Table
A Cross Cut Sled
Various different rolling carts to put your power tools on

Just a few ideas to get you started.

-- Greg P, Washington State,

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3558 days

#4 posted 08-02-2010 11:37 PM

You don’t need a mortise and tenon joint to make a sawhorse or a bench – but you have the option of using them. I’d recommend that you make your sawhorses and bench using some different, more challenging, joinery.

If you search this site you will find some very interesting sawhorses that are a cut above the rest. You’ll also see lots of benches. I particularly like these because it is so easy to create different top bars for different purposes and/or replace the top bar.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View AnnaEA's profile


86 posts in 3339 days

#5 posted 08-03-2010 01:57 AM

I just finished putting together my basic sawhorses—I do definitely want to make some more sophisticated versions (I’m thinking X-mas gifts for the other woodworkers in the family!). This time around though, I opted from something I knew was with-in my skill set. I was surprised by how much my craftsmanship improved just between the first and second sawhorses.

The bench plans I intend to use are for a handtool user – I pulled them the ‘net years ago, and am not sure if they are still extant. It’s built with mortise and tenon joinery, and uses lamination to make the bench top out of 2×4 pine. It’s intended as in inexpensive bench for a beginning woodworker to build. I’m really looking forward to getting started on it.

Other projects I know are in the works, though I haven’t gotten so far as identifying plans I want to think about, include a rolling lumber rack and a tool chest.

-- Work hard, play hard, drink good beer.

View AnnaEA's profile


86 posts in 3339 days

#6 posted 08-03-2010 04:37 AM

Wow. I hit google to see if the bench pages I have printed out are still up, and they are gone gone gone. But apparently the Bob and Dave Bench style has become pretty popular in its own right since then, and I was able to find a lot of other benches inspired by it to study, as well as a .PDF archive copy of the original pages.

Add to my project list a drill press stand – I’ll be able to practice some nice cabinetry work on that one.

-- Work hard, play hard, drink good beer.

View swirt's profile


4154 posts in 3455 days

#7 posted 08-03-2010 05:07 AM

You’ve built saw horses, which are a great help until you realize they are too high to saw well on. So now you can progress to saw benches. Depending on style you can practice dados, mortises, tenons, chunky dovetails …

Here are a few

Click for details

Click for details

Click for details

Time building useful shop items can be a big help to your eventual productivity and is a great way to practice your skills and learn some new ones along the way.

-- Galootish log blog,

View David Craig's profile

David Craig

2137 posts in 3592 days

#8 posted 08-03-2010 12:09 PM

Since you are mostly going to be working with hand tools, I would definitely add sharpening to the list of essential skills. You are going to be working with chisels and planes to clean up your boards and saw cuts for joinery eventually. These tasks are frustrating and nearly impossible without a sharp blade. I can tell you that my own hand tool use was set back a couple years because of my ignorance in putting a nice edge on my chisels. Perform a google search on the “scary sharp” sharpening method. You will find videos and websites that explain the process in great detail. The supplies for sharpening are pretty basic, you will need various grits of stick on sandpaper and a piece of glass. Look at garage sales and check with your family of woodworkers and see if you can get some chisels to work with. I would also recommend an abrasive cleaning stick (a piece of rubber like material in a block that is used to unclog sanding paper). I see them at Lowes. They cost about five bucks and greatly increase the life of your sandpaper.

Good luck and welcome to this site. You are starting out in the right direction by working on shop projects and asking questions.


-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

View Catspaw's profile


236 posts in 4299 days

#9 posted 08-03-2010 01:17 PM

You can’t learn woodworking by reading. There’s just no substitute for doing. Reading and this forum, of course, puts the ideas in your head. But, you have to do to gain the experience.

You’ve already figured out the right track to be on. Building your own stuff forgives the mistakes better than practising on a paying client.

Look at how other things are made. There’s usually a reason for why those things are made they way the are. Kitchen cabinets are a good example.

Then decide what ways you like and what you don’t.

Like they say….How do you get to Carnegie hall?....practise, practise, practise.

-- arborial reconfiguration specialist

View rance's profile


4271 posts in 3644 days

#10 posted 08-03-2010 01:31 PM

The one RichGreer linked to
The middle one Swirt showed
And the 3-legged sawhorse

There’s nothing like a good class to take. They’ll teach you safety & technique.

-- Backer boards, stop blocks, build oversized, and never buy a hand plane--

View snowdog's profile


1166 posts in 4466 days

#11 posted 08-03-2010 02:23 PM

Good luck with the journey. I love building things for my shop. Don’t be afraid to fail, my fire place love my failures :)
A sharp tool is a happy tool!

-- "so much to learn and so little time"..

View spclPatrolGroup's profile


233 posts in 3378 days

#12 posted 08-03-2010 04:14 PM

I think the most valuable skill is patience, and yes it is a skill, I am the poster child for making stupid mistakes because I am for some reason in a hurry to do everything, and generally the fix takes 4 times longer than it took to make the mistake, I have recently been using more hand tools, I find I make less mistakes with them, because every action is more deliberate. As for other recommended skills, it depends on what you want to make eventually, I would say once you learn rail and style panel construction there are many things you can do with it, from trunks, furniture, cabinets, doors, windows, and the list goes on.

View miles125's profile


2180 posts in 4489 days

#13 posted 08-03-2010 04:28 PM

Develop drawing, sketching and a sense of design. Fundamental stuff for a well rounded woodworker.

-- "The way to make a small fortune in woodworking- start with a large one"

View AnnaEA's profile


86 posts in 3339 days

#14 posted 08-03-2010 08:15 PM

Sharpening I do need to find a class on—I’ve tried to learn it from reading and doing, and I am horrible at it. If anyone knows any good online tutorials or videos to check out, I’d appreciate it. I’ll check out the scary sharp reference for sure.

I am working on learning Sketch-up— dasHusband wants a little wall rack with hooks for keys and a bin for mail in the entry way, and I’m using that project to learn how to use Sketch-up on. Hopefully by the time I have the right tools and skills to build it, I’ll have developed a decent plan from my little scribbles.

-- Work hard, play hard, drink good beer.

View Knothead62's profile


2600 posts in 3444 days

#15 posted 08-04-2010 12:14 AM

I don’t know about the rest of you guys but my learning curve involved bandaids and tweezers. Seriously, I guess it would be patience as mentioned by spclPatrolGroup. I find that the slower I work and think about what I’m going to do, the fewer mistakes I make. When I’m doing something new, I try to imagine everything that is involved and how it will turn out. I’ve prevented some mistakes that way. By not doing it, I really screwed up- thinking about a project I’m on right now.

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