While woodworking ranges from basic projects to complex pieces of furniture there is one truth every woodworker knows: without learning dozens of woodworking tips nobody advances in the craft.
Fortunately, most woodworkers are humble and like to share what they have learned.
In this article learns some of the tips and tricks I’ve accumulated in my nearly 30-year woodworking career and how you can apply them to your projects. And, of course, if you think we’ve missed something just add it in the comments.
Artisan Course with Paul Sellers:
› Working Wood 1 & 2 at Amazon ($119.41)
Books with great woodworking tips:
› Great Book of Woodworking Tips at Amazon ($24.95)
› The Complete Book of Woodworking at Amazon ($18.39)
Popular Woodworking Professionals
One of the best ways to learn woodworking is by studying some of the professionals that have spent decades on building out tips and tricks.
Among the most popular are:
But the best way to get better at woodworking? Keep learning, watching videos and trying new things. Because of the wide variety of projects there is no one single method to make great wood projects.
Woodworking Tip #1 - Invest in the Best Dust Control System You Can Afford
It’s no secret that inhaling dust is bad for your long term health.
But it is surprising to a lot of woodworkers just how small dust particles are and how long they stay in the air.
For example, dust that is just 5 microns small can hang in the air for 30 minutes. So, after making all those cuts, the big particles are gone you take off your safety mask.
But the most damaging particles are still in the air. How do you help avoid this? Consider investing in:
- Central dust collection to pull the maximum amount of dust directly from the tools
- High quality respirators
- Dust filtration systems that circulate the shop air and filter particles
- Downdraft tables for hand sanders
- Frequent emptying of dust collection traps on power tools
- Miter saw dust hoods
Woodworking Tip #2 - Master Different Joinery Methods
At its very basic form, woodworking is joining wood together.
And with countless types of wood joints, there is always a few ways to best assemble your project:
- Dovetail joints are top-end joints for boxes and drawers
- Loose tenons like those created by a Festool DOMINO are top-of-the-line
- But standard joints like half-lap or mortise and tenon are great for many jobs
One of the best ways to learn joinery is with simple scrap wood you likely have in your workshop.
Woodworking Tip #3 - Join a Local Woodworkers Guild
A guild can help you learn, save money and keep you energized about woodworking.
Going to events is optional (but encouraged).
Through my area guild I’ve learned more about the local woodworking community than any research I could have done on my own.
And, since guild members represent a large buying force, most of your area guilds will have access to exclusive discounts at local hardware and lumber yards.
I’ve paid for a lifetime of memberships with the discounts I’ve received. So don’t view the membership fee as a cost.
Woodworking Tip #4 - Spend Time at a Tool Store
I’ve spent hours in the aisles of Rockler and ACME Tools just checking out the variety of tools, blades and gadgets.
And I’ve found many things I wouldn’t have discovered online:
- Shelf pin jigs
- Router table accessories
- Bench dogs
- Exotic wood varieties
- Tools variety like learning about alternatives to Festool domino joints
Looking is always free – and if you have a store similar to these near you the staff is usually incredibly helpful with their knowledge of the tools and trades.
Woodworking Tip #5 - Learn ABout Lumber Grades
It’s no surprise that the wood is the most expensive part of any project.
But learning the various lumber grades is a must for any woodworker. And doubly so if you are starting into woodworking to make money.
- I used 500bdf of #1 common walnut for a (massive) kitchen and built-ins for a home vs. purchasing Select grades – and saved hundreds of dollars. Why? I knew the homeowner was going to stain the wood dark, and mineral stains would blend in the finished project.
- But for a cherry bedroom I chose curly cherry since the boards were oiled and clear-coated.
Woodworking Tip #6 - Buy Some Tools Once and Avoid Upgrading
In every workshop there are a few centerpiece tools. And if your woodworking ambitions involve decades of use then a few tools should be purchased once.
Why? Economics of constantly climbing tool costs, durability of key tools to last decades, and price differentials today vs. in the future.
Or, another way to put it, avoiding future upgrades to existing tools allows you to spend your future dollars on other tools.
Here’s a few great examples:
While the list continues, having to upgrade some tools later is an unbalanced cost.
For example, and a lesson learned, in 2001 I bought a 16″ drum sander for my workshop instead of spending an extra few hundred on a 22″. Because of this I couldn’t tackle larger projects and wider cabinet doors.
So I upgraded in 2007 at a substantial cost as this tool had exploded in popularity.
Woodworking Tip #7 - Buy or Upgrade to a SawStop Table Saw
If you haven’t heard of SawStop table saws then it is well worth your time to research how this system works.
In a nutshell, the SawStop system will instantly stop and lower a table saw blade if it detects electrical current from you. As in, your finger or hand that came in contact with the moving blade.
And just to drive the risk home: did you know there are over 10 amputations a day related to table saw use?
We all know if we are abusers of removing our saws guards and riving knifes. And making a lot of projects involves all ten fingers.
Woodworking Tip #8 - Spend Time Setting Up Your Workshop
Every now and then I fall into the trap of finishing a project and letting the tools lay around a bit too long.
And sometimes it’s because I haven’t had a good, organized place to store them.
So, after spending thousands of dollars on tools the best investment in them is keeping them organized, clean and put away.
Woodworking Tip #9 - Use Jigs For Accuracy and Convenience
First, it’s amazing how many different types of jigs there are.
But they are just plain indispensable for woodworking.
For example, without a shelf pin jig it would be impossible to use shelf pins as the hundreds of holes that make up a typical kitchen or cabinet project would be too time consuming to drill.
So, as you continue to tackle woodworking projects keep an eye out for jigs to make your projects easier to build. And higher quality.
Woodworking Tip #10 - Use soft close hardware for drawers
In this day and age there’s no sense using anything but soft close drawer slides.
For just a few dollars more per drawer you’ll be able to find soft close drawer slides of all types.
And that includes side mounts, undermounts and even adapters for existing bottom mount drawer slides.
Bonus Tip: Learn how to build and install Blum undermount drawer slides. You won’t be disappointed with their performance.
Woodworking Tip #11 - Cabinet Doors Demand Soft Close Hardware Too
There’s no sense having drawers that don’t slam and doors that do.
So, similar to drawer slides invest in soft close cabinet hinges for your doors too.
Already have cabinets without soft close hinges? Well, check out soft close dampers for existing doors.
I use them on my cabinets and they work great.
Similar to drawers, I’m biased after years of great success with Blum hardware…
Woodworking Tip #12 - Lift Less and Have Tools Do the Work for You
In the last few years I’ve really started to explore niche brands like Fastcap.
Fastcap tools, for example, uses the same Lean manufacturing processes to identify and build tools that Toyota started decades ago.
And one of their most popular inventions? The FastCap Cabinet Jack.
If your projects involve even occasional installation of cabinets you’ll want to check out this cabinet jack. Using a fast adjustment system it will adjust to a wide range of heights and a micro-adjustment lever to accurately position cabinets.
And then hold them in place for you while you shim and install screws.
And the cost? Typically around $50 per jack.
Woodworking Tip #13 - Use the RIght Screws (P.S. Put Away the Drywall Screws)
Take the drywall screws out of your cabinet and furniture screw bins.
With the huge variety of custom screws available for cabinetry there’s no reason not to use the right cabinet screws or assembly screws.
And, with advanced designs, screws are available that will hold in MDF, not require pilot holes and keep your drawer and hinge hardware firmly seated.
Woodworking Tip #14 - Buy at Least 20 Clamps ... and Then 20 More
I can’t think of another hand tool that I own more of.
As a cabinetmaker I own dozens of pipe clamps, and a bunch more cabinet clamps of all shapes and sizes.
But I’ve never felt I had too many. In fact, I’m always looking at clamps I’ll maybe use 1-2 times a year and looking for the right project to justify a purchase.
So, unlike some of the tools I recommend buying once, I’ll always recommend grabbing a clamp or two. Just make sure to have a place to store them.
Woodworking Tip #15 - Invest Time Finding a Hardwood Supplier Close to You
Your woodworking projects are based on … wood.
And finding a hardwood supplier near you has to be a top priority.
While I mentioned the Guild as a best place to start, there are plenty of places to look.
From Google, eBay, Etsy, Amazon and even Craigslist you’ll be able to find a supplier to keep your projects moving.
Projects involve live edge? Spend time looking at who supplies this specialty wood in advance so when a project comes around you are ready.
Woodworking Tip #16 - Skip Free Hand Scribing and Use a Tool
I started free-handing cabinet filler strips and counter edges by hand.
But with the advances in wall and contour scribes there just isn’t a reason to do this free hand.
And, scribes are available for:
- Following wall contours
- Wheel gauges for making perfect edge markings
- Multi-function compass and outside edge scribing.
You can check out our guide to scribe tools for more information.
Woodworking Tip #17 - Invest in a Drum Sander as Soon as You Can Afford It
A drum sander is a game changer for woodworking.
Without a drum sander the alternative is a belt sander. And, while I consider myself a master of this device, a drum sander will make your projects:
- Higher quality
- Faster to build
- Open doors to projects you couldn’t try by hand
Plan to build cabinets? I’d recommend investing in at least a 22×44″ machine for building face frames. While the entry level 16″ drum is appealing for price, it just doesn’t work as well for wider cabinet doors.
Woodworking Tip #18 - Research Hardware for Adapters and Upgrades
Part of woodworking is knowing the best solution to common problems.
Have a cabinet you’d like to upgrade to soft close? It doesn’t always require new hardware.
Soft close drawer adapters, for example, are a great alternative to replacing drawer slides and cabinet hinges.
Woodworking Tip #19 - Study Cabinet Construction and Try Different Styles
I started cabinetmaking building hundreds of face frame cabinets.
Unfortunately, that has my style of cabinets always moving towards a face frame. And, after some projects are complete, I’ll question if I should have switched styles to a frameless cabinet.
So, embrace the variations in cabinetry and furniture styles.
Try different joinery methods and see what works best. It will make routine projects more interesting if your hobby has turned into work.
Woodworking Tip #20 - Find a Water Based Clear Wood Finish for Beauty and Safety
I regret the amount of chemicals I’ve sprayed with an HVLP sprayer using a high VOC pre-catalyzed lacquer.
Due to what I know now about these chemicals I would have avoided this and switched to a water-based finished much sooner.
While I used the right protective equipment and vapor masks there is always some that gets past the protection.
So my recommendation? Experiment with wipe-on clear wood finishes like General Finishes Arm-R-Seal (non-airborne application) and always use the appropriate respirators.
Woodworking Tip #21 - Invest In a High Quality Dust Mask ... and Wear it
You’re finding a lot of safety tips on this list right?
Well, woodworking is hazardous and one of the most obvious and hidden issue is wood dust.
As mentioned earlier in regards to using a high quality dust system, it’s also best to just get used to wearing a respirator with filtration down to 3-microns.
And eye protection at all times, of course.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I get better at woodworking?
Like any job, sport, profession or hobby the only way to get better is to try new things. Then, repetition and commitment to quality is the best way to succeed.
What are the basic woodworking skills?
At its most basic form, woodworking is about joining wood together. And the skills to perform the job are then the ability to make a plan, measure and cut wood, join wood, sand and then finish. Each step of the process is its own distinct area and requires some research and starting with the right projects.
What sells well in woodworking?
The basic answer of anything that sells well in woodworking is high quality projects. Buyers know the difference between a low quality project versus a confident woodworker that charges what their time was worth. From benches to the popular breadboards the best way to sell your projects is through a quality brand.
While woodworking isn’t for everyone, if you’re willing to invest the time and use woodworking tips from everyone you meet you can quickly master one aspect of this complex hobby.
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Eric has been a professional woodworker for over thirty years and has worked in small cabinet shops making everything from kitchen cabinets to hand-made furniture. Now working from a home woodworking shop Eric is sharing his passion for woodworking, tool advice and how-to knowledge from his Minnesota-based woodshop.