MAKE TIME: 10 Top Tips For Better Woodworking

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10 Top Tips For Better Woodworking

For those of you about to embark on the rollercoaster that is working with wood, or those of you who have already started but have had less than sterling results, the following tips should help you get better quicker.

  • Learn how to use hand tools - Machines are great, don't get me wrong they have a place in every modern workshop. However, learning how to use a tenon saw, chisel and a plane fosters a much deeper understanding of how wood behaves. I'd hazard a guess that most amateur woodworkers rely on power tools because they don't know how to use hand tools properly. Once you are confident in using and maintaining your handtools you'll find yourself reaching for those power tools less and less, enjoying the quiet satisfaction of a task completed with little dust, noise or danger.

  • Learn how to sharpen your tools - It may be a blow for you to find out that new chisels and planes are not sharp out of the box. More often than not, they aren't even ready to sharpen. In my experience, most blades come with the factory grind on the back of the blade which needs to be polished out before the real work of sharpening begins. 

  • Beg borrow or steal a decent workbench - The importance of a good bench cannot be overstated. At the very least, it shouldn't wobble about. Ideally, it'll be at a height that suits you, with a front vice to grip your work firmly. It doesn't have to be fancy, just solid. 

  • Throw away your tape measure - I'm kidding, sort of. I avoid using absolute measurements as much as possible.  Numbers complicate matters, and can inadvertently end up written down the wrong way round. If something needs to be marked out I'll use a full-size drawing, a piece of prepared timber, storey sticks, marking gauges in fact almost anything except a ruler if it can be avoided. I rarely need to know the exact measurement or size of anything once the initial design is complete. 

  • Be brave and saw to your pencil line - When we're cutting out the waste from our joints there are only two things to consider: the bit we want to keep and the bit we chuck away. Dividing the two is a very skinny pencil or gauge line. If you want your joint to fit with minimal fussing you'll cut right up to that pencil line, leaving no waste. 

  • Learn to love your face marks - Face marks are reference marks which denote among other things, the best face and best edge. We use these faces to reference our squares, gauges, and fences. Pay attention to your face marks and you'll avoid some of the most common errors that result in gaps and misaligned surfaces.

  • Stand up straight - Poor posture is not only hard on your body, it's also disastrous for your technique. Don't hunch over in an attempt to see the line better. You'll see it just as well from a more upright position, and have fewer aches and pains at the end of the day.

  • Get proper glasses - This one is for those of you who wear reading glasses. Go to your optician today, and tell them you want a prescription for woodworking. If you can't see that fine line, how are you going to cut to it?

  • Keep it simple - It's very easy to get carried away with grand dreams and schemes when thinking of your first/next project. But you'll enjoy what you're doing far more if you can break it down into easily managed operations. You'll get greater satisfaction from making a simple project in just a few days, than one that gives you a headache and takes months to complete.

  • Learn how to sketch - You don't have to be an artist to be able to make a rough sketch or a working drawing. Rough sketching helps your ideas become a reality; they're not meant to be masterpieces and you don't have to show them to anyone else. Make loads of quick rough sketches until you've got twenty ideas. Then you can pick one or two that you want to develop into a more detailed drawing. The final drawing should be annotated with general measurements including the length, width, and thickness. 

List by Helen - Updated August 2018

Our classes are designed to give you a solid grounding in woodworking technique and theory. That means we cover a lot of material in a short space of time. To help you retain some of that knowledge, we've compiled a list of books which you can refer to.

The Perfect Edge - Ron Hock *
Understanding Wood - A Craftsman's Guide to Wood Technology *
The Essential Woodworker - Robert Wearing *
Freehand Sketching For Technical Students - Glenister (out of print) * eBay might have a copy.

Take a look at our Library Thing catalogue. Students past and present are welcome to borrow any of the books listed, you only have to ask.

* We earn a small referral fee from Amazon