Reply To: How do you think about new projects?
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That’s a simple question with a long, long answer, or lots of answers, here’s my initial thoughts. 😂
Woodworking is a lot like sewing in the sense that you outline above: decompose the problem until you get to something you can manage. So, for a chair, you might focus first on making two side pieces. For each side piece you might focus first on making the tenon joints between the top rail and the legs, etc. If you are interested in complex joinery (e.g. japanese joinery) there are lots of great books out there. Always decompose the project and you will be fine.
Remember though, you have to be able to connect all the peices together, so once you’ve decomposed the project, consider how you will join all of those peices back together. E.g. you can’t glue the bottom rail on after the top rail as there won’t be enough space, so you need to glue both rails as the same time.
Here’s some general tips that people have given me (I’m only a few years ahead of you in my learning) IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER:
1. The obvious one: Measure twice and cut once (as I’m sure you know from sewing)
2. If you need two of something, e.g. two identical side rails, cut them both at the same time, so any marking, or stop-blocks or jigs don’t have to be reset (and might be so incorrectly)
3. Have a sharp pencil always, a blunt pencil will give you marking errors. Ideally use a marking knife instead, and make a knife wall.
4. Sharpen your tools more often than you think you need to. You won’t know what sharp really is in the early days.
5. Take shallow cuts, and check measurements OFTEN
6. You will never have enough clamps.
7. Dry fit everything before you glue up (see 6 above), so you can check for fit AND glue-up strategy.
8. Get a decent square, and check it for squareness when you buy it. To do this, get a small engineer’s square milled to precision. Something maybe 3 or 4 inches long. My first square was not square, I found that out later after a few difficult projects. A small engineer’s square should not be expensive.
9. Lumber preparation is really important. If you can make things straight and square by hand, that’s fine. If you can’t, and you can justify the spend, consider getting a jointer / planer. It will save you countless hours and a lot of heartache.
10. Wood is variable. Sometimes you do everything right and it still goes wrong. Built in tension, moisture, checks, etc. Sometimes you just need to give yourself a break and fix problems later.
11. Cheap sandpaper from ebay is not cost-effective in my experience. Decent stuff lasts longer, so it costs more but is cheaper in the long run.
12. Keep one set of chisels for fine work, and one set for “beater” work.
13. An Impact Driver and Drill Driver will transform your work so much you won’t be able to imagine what you would do without one.
14. Get or make a decent, solid and heavy workbench, and add in at least one decent vise. Old Record Quick Release vises are awesome. I use two, one from the 1920s, and one from the 1930s. Lots on ebay. 52 1/2 and 53.
15. Get a decent set of saws. Don’t have to be expensive, just sharp, and ideally re-sharpenable. For non-sharpenable saws I’ve started using japanese saws with replaceable blades recently. They are amazing. Still love my other vintage handsaws though.
16. Choose the right glue for your project. E.g. if you are building something for indoors, Tightbond 1 should be fine. For outside, Tightbond 3? if you need a long open time for a complex glue up, maybe 30 minute epoxy would be better. Vintage repair? Hide glue. etc.
17. If “no battle plan survives contact with the enemy”, then no woodworking plan survives the first cut. Be ready to adapt and overcome, work out ahead of time where your tolerances are.
18. Keep safety in mind. PPE is really important. Glasses ALWAYS. Pushsticks ALWAYS. Respirator as needed, ear protection as needed. The jigsaw, tablesaw, planer, lathe will all try to kill or maim you if you let them. Once you’ve been woodworking for a while you will, like all of us, have your own near misses and accidents. Make sure none of them are life-changing.
19. Above all else, enjoy the craft.
Can anyone else add to this list?