Understanding Basic Woodworking Skills Everyone Should Know
Although this universal admiration for hand craftsmanship is appreciated, the truth is that carpentry is not a mystery. Fortunately, even if you miss a comprehensive high school shopping class and feel ill-equipped to tackle a simple carpentry project, it’s certainly not too late to learn. Experts at GM Carpenter arranged a list of some of the basic skills that are best developed. None of these skills require dangerous, expensive machines or exotic tools. They are the basic skills every woodworker should know.
Arguably the most missed industrial art category is the Timber Shop. Learning how to work in wood is not only beneficial, as it allows you to make and repair things around the home, but it also lets you communicate satisfactorily with a long history of craftsmanship. Carpentry was one of the first skills that humanity developed; the pre-industrial world was largely made of wood, and for thousands of years, all men had at least a rudimentary understanding of how it was shaped and manipulated. Until the second half of the last century, merchants and professionals alike had the confidence to be able to build wooden shelves, cabinets, or even chairs for their families.
Today, in our age of plastics and factories, woodworking has transformed from a common essential skill into something semi-mysterious or impressive. Because most of the 21st – consumers in the last century used to drive to big box stores for another mass-produced alternative when their desk collapsed or their chair broke, any man today can walk into a pile of wood with a saw and plane to form a beautiful and durable shape the replacement revered as Literally real.
Although this universal admiration for hand craftsmanship is appreciated, the truth is that carpentry is not a mystery. Fortunately, even if you miss a comprehensive high school shopping class and feel ill-equipped to tackle a simple carpentry project, it’s certainly not too late to learn. Experts at
1. Understand how wood works and behaves
Before placing any tool on your wood, you will need to understand its correct orientation and the direction in which you will plan the board. As the trees grow, the layers of growth rings keep building on each other and this results in a beautiful grain that appears in our planks. These pills can make planning more difficult if we ignore the ideal direction of work. Doing a wood grain is a bit like petting a cat – if you go from tail to head, the hair will stand up straight and you may get rejected hissing, but if you pet from head to tail, the hair will be nicely and smoothly elongated and purring will ensue.
It’s also important to understand how wood stretches and contracts as moisture fluctuates throughout the year. All wooden constructions take this natural characteristic into account and ignorance can be disastrous.
2. Sharpening of saws, planes and chisels
Lots of people have perpetuated the myth that handcrafted woodworking is really hard work, simply because they were using a boring tool. It goes without saying among carpenters that for things to run smoothly, you have to ‘let the tool do the work’. If your saw requires a lot of push to cut or if you find you need a starter to make sawdust with a hand plane, then you are not doing anything yourself. Sharpening your tools is an essential and foundational skill because it is something that has to happen regularly. Not only is it inefficient to work with boring tools, it is dangerous. If you feel you need to push the chisel with body weight to complete the cut, when this is done, you will lose control and stab your tool in whatever is in its path. Learn how to sharpen your tools and you’ll find woodworking is fun, safe, and effective.
3. Use the hand plane
With a lot of woodworking tools, the basic technique is pretty self-explanatory. But not all of them are very intuitive. Correct use of handcraft requires a little instruction and practice to develop the feeling of tuning pieces from coarse to fine. In addition, the rim could be skewed or the iron cap could be in the wrong place. Although these things require a little research to discover, using the hand plane properly is an undeniable skill. I encourage you to grab an old plane and hop on YouTube to search for ‘Adjusting an Old Hand Airplane’ or ‘How to Use a Hand Airplane.’ There will be more than enough hours of video to make up for what you missed out on in store row.
4. Preparing wood with hand tools
You probably have a 13-inch hardened table saw already, but most of us don’t. Beware of falling into the trap of feeling that you have to buy expensive machines to build things. When I work with wood, I only use hand tools and love every minute of it. If you learn how craftsmen used to work with wood before machinery dominated the furniture industry, you will find that handcrafted woodworking is both effective and applicable. There are many tried and true techniques to speed up the process that free us from the feeling that we have to do a perfect job of the machine by hand. The real key is to use the right tool for the job: coarse tools for rough work and fine tools for fine work. Still not convinced? Visit
5. Mortise and tenon cutter
This is the primary joint in all wooden constructions. When we have to join a horizontal member (such as a chair rail) to a vertical member (such as a leg), we need to interlace these pieces at right angles. By fitting a tenon into a suitable mortise (hole), we can create a rigid 90 degree joint. Although it may seem counterintuitive, achieving a well-controlled fit requires careful technique and practice. There are many ways to make mortises, but I use a sturdy chisel designed for the job and I simply specify the width of the melody based on the dimension of this chisel. The tongue cut is usually four straight saw cuts. When you learn how to position this joint properly and cut comfortably, the world of woodworking opens up to you. At this point, you know all of the woodworking required to build most tables and chairs.
6. Cut dovetail joints
But what if you want to make a box? The venerable (and highly spur) compatible joint is a very solid way to join plate corners. Of all the features that non-woodworkers admire today, the compatible joint is the one that creates the most awe. They consist of one side cut into wedge-shaped ‘tails’ mated with corresponding ‘pins’. When installed together, the wedge shape prevents the panels from sliding in one direction. This joint has been a very standard construction since the 18th century. Never intended to impress, it was intentionally hidden behind veneer, molding or paint so that no one would have to look at this ‘ugly’ carpentry. Visual carpentry was not considered an aesthetic asset until the Arts and Crafts movement. Today, making interlocking joints has become an essential test for serious woodworkers, but don’t let that scare you away from trying it. Check out a few of the four million ‘How to Cut Dovetails’ videos online then hit the store. It’s more straightforward than what people think: snipping tails. Trace the tails on the other board. Then cut the trash that follows. That’s pretty much it. All tuning is just an exercise.
7. Finish off your furniture
After investing several weekends in building a beautiful table or box, how will you end it? The finishing touches beautify and protect the piece you worked hard to build, so don’t scrub with oil and scrub. There are so many beautiful finishes that have become second nature to work with. I use shellac 99% of the time. Once you get frustrated, it’s really quick to apply, extremely forgiving, and easily repairable, and you never have to brush your brush (because it recovers in alcohol)! There are other varnishes that provide good protection for outdoor use as well.
I promise that if you give a little energy to learn how to properly finish your work, your enjoyment of the finished piece will increase dramatically. These final touches we provided