I’m relatively new to woodworking, and I’m still in the very early part of my learning curve.
Here’s what I have learned so far:
1. Sharpen early and often – it’s taken me ages to build up the experience to know when a plane or chisel isn’t sharp. If you sharpen often you can sharpen in a really short amount of time; if you leave a tool to go properly dull it will make every sharpening session a pain in the…
2. Aim to create, not to perfect – I spent a lot of time in the early stages trying to get everything 100% correct. If it didn’t look like something Paul would have made I kept throwing things away and starting again. Don’t. Finish lots of things. The early things will be awful (mine were / are!), but you will learn new skills with every project, and eventually you will raise the quality of your work. It’s far better for your motivation to complete projects that are dead rough, than keep re-doing a single project that you never finish.
3. At the start of a project, think what tools you will need, and what tools you will need to keep those tools sharpened. Everything is a lot harder if you don’t have the right tools, or you can’t sharpen the ones you do have. On my most recent project I needed a spokeshave. I bought one, but couldn’t sharpen it by hand. So I built a sharpening jig as per Paul’s video. I messed that right up, but eventually managed to learn how to sharpen the spokeshave by hand..! 🙂
4. Try to make your timber square before starting your project. I made a lumber rack recently, using recycled timber that I thought was “straight enough”. It kind of was, I built the rack, and it is sturdy and strong, and works well, but it is butt ugly. It would have been a lot nicer if I’d squared everything off properly before I started, but I find squaring stock difficult, so I didn’t. That was a mistake.
These rough projects are teaching me skills. I have some lovely recycled mahogany that I plan to make into some nice boxes some day. Those boxes will be of the highest quality I can make, and will be the product of all the mistakes I’ve made along the way.
Still a beginner here too. I agree so much with what tenjin said, sharpen early, square stock up, finish a project even if it’s butt ugly. I got so many boxes, which are my practice for squaring, dovetails and pins, cutting tops inserts to fit perfect. Oh so many boxes. My wife would say they are getting better, until something clicked, and poof, I started making nice boxes that the whole family wanted. Then on to bigger projects, Pauls wall cabinet. Basically a big box, but with some extra features.
I never thought about what tenjin said about finishing a project even if it is bad. I was doing that, but didn’t realize how much it helped. I also kept my ugly work to reflect on sometime when I am doing nicer work.
It is very encouraging to read about other people having the same issues, and answers they and other people give. There was a while there that I thought I’d just never get it, lack of talent, but it’s all training. Just keep at it. Learning Biggie for me,, Sharp tools, knife line, and start with square stock (which I wasn’t doing for the longest time). Squaring stock, all 6 sides is very hard for me, but I have gotten to where I can do it.
I’m with tenjin.
Especially the thing about finishing project. Don’t be sloppy, but if you make mistakes, acknowledge it and move on.
For me it took about 12-15 months of practice (1-2 sessions a week) before I started to build up speed and precision. The best part was that I improved both speed and precision at the same time.
I just made a table, and now I spend about 15 minutes taking down a 1.2m long 27x125mm walnut board to 24mm thickness, making it smooth, straight and square. A year ago, I would have spend 1 hour, and ended up with a much thinner board than I intended.
It is only the hours I put into it. The planes get sharper and better set. Your technique gets better and you relax your grip (super important). Your senses will get sharper, and you will notice more details at an earlier stage, which again will prevent you from making too many mistakes.
I’m new to woodworking also, and I certainly agree with the answers in this thread. You’ll get vastly better with experience. I planed 26 square feet (~2.5 square meters) of hardwood last Saturday from the lumber yard “S4S” to within a hair of perfectly flat, parallel, and square on all 6 sides / edges (I have a problem with over-doing it on the flattening, but I seem to really enjoy planing). The point is that it used to take me a weekend of exhaustive focus just to do a single board.
You get better at absolutely every single thing, and each feeds into the other, so the improvements compound on each other. You get better at selecting wood, so you’ve got a better starting point — no knots, straighter grain, more convenient to go from boards to components. You’ll get better at knowing which pieces of which boards need to become which components, etc.
All the steps become more automatic, efficient, and accurate. You’re planing along, finish a side, check it to confirm what you already know (which is that it’s flat and true) and immediately take out the blade and strop it, replace it, and start on the other side without even missing a word in the lyrics of the song on the radio.
Having said all that, woodworking is supposed to be fun, and some people are going to be very very results-focused, and don’t enjoy the process as much as others. If that’s you, it might be that you’ll never be fast enough with hand tools, and so you should buy some machines. Or maybe you just don’t enjoy some specific things, like say planing, or chopping mortises. So get a thicknesser (“planer”) or a mortiser and only do the parts you enjoy by hand.
Don’t worry about being slow, slow is good.. Take your time enjoy the process.. I bet Paul would even tell you he is still learning. Once we stop learning then we should probably quit. It’s the process so enjoy it. Have fun with your mistakes, live the life of a woodworker, enjoy it. Yes you’ll get frustrated, but sit down and enjoy life. This is suppose to be fun, we have no time line unless you are a professional woodworker and have a timeline for a customer. So relax, I wouldn’t even set up a timeline for the project. It’s more important to concentrate on each phase of the project. I’m a beginner and I really have no problems with my slow pace. I’m enjoying the process, I’m enjoying the results. I’m enjoying the smiles of the people I have built these projects for. That is truly what woodworking is, the process, the skills and the end smiles.
You won’t know if it’s a long process unless someone tells you that you’re slow. And when someone tells you that you are slow, ignore them and move on what you’re doing. Don’t feel discouraged at all.
Now, things that can speed things up:
1) Shop drawings with lots of foreseeable details
2) Quality wood (straight and less grain variations for the most of the casework)
3) Scary sharp plane iron cutters, chisels, scrapers, knives and pencils
4) Reward yourself once you’ve completed a batch of tasks (surface planing, joinery cutting, dry fitting the joints…basically, when you feel like you want to stop, don’t, until you’ve completed a whole set!)
5) Coffee or tea is a must have
6) Don’t pay attention to your smart phone, don’t let the radio distract you…so no distractions
7) Always remind yourself—it took decades or centuries for the trees to grow and now it’s in your hands, so don’t let time pressure you and always work with great care.
8) Educate people that what you’re doing is special…
I’m also a novice.
One thing I have learned through painful experience is to get the wood as square as possible before you start building something.
If you are out of square you end up having to make compromise after compromise to get the job done.
It’s so much easier when everything is properly square.
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