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Advice for Beginning Woodworkers

Much can be accomplished with saw, hammer and rule, and the third of these even is not essential.

Bernard Jones, The Complete Woodworker

Table saw and sliding compound miter saw. Yes, I still use them, they work.

A recent posting on The Offcut about how many tools a person should have in their tool box has given me reason to mull over my career as a carpenter. When I was a full-time framing and finish carpenter I had close to $5000 worth of power and hand tools in the back of my ’84 Chevy pickup truck. The tools I used were tough, dependable and increased my efficiency-in the world of construction making money for the contractor was all that mattered. It was hard, brutal work, I remember the physical and verbal abuse I had to endure on the job site from my supervisor, co-workers and contractor. I put up with it because I wanted to be a carpenter and I became a cracker jack one, but when I finally did walk away from that life I was very happy. The historic preservation carpenter job I have now is very laid back, there isn’t any production work to speak of and I don’t have to supply my own tools.

Slick, drawknives, a Monkey Wards chrome vanadium hammer, a handmade gauge for making out shingle bolts and a full tool chest.

If you love woodworking and love what you make you are on the right course. Be passionate about it. If you are just starting out in woodworking and are not sure what it is that you want to make, then by all means sample, sample, sample many different things, don’t be afraid to try something new. After a while you will figure out what it is you want to focus on. I grew up with traditional woodworking, it fascinated me so much that I had to explore as much of it as humanly possible. Seven, eight years ago, though, I realized that I wanted to focus on guitar making, which right now for me means just making and selling guitars.

MDF milled for molds to laminate guitar sides, I spent the last 2 days working on these.

Here is some advice I always give to beginning to intermediate woodworkers-don’t spend all your time making tools and tool chests, unless that is what you want to do and make! I know that many wood working magazines today tend to push tool, work bench and tool chest making, that doesn’t mean that you have to make those things all the time. If you want to make copies of Stickley furniture, then make copies Stickley furniture. The tools are there to help you make that chair, cabinet, violin, etc., which is the whole point of woodworking! You need to be your own influence! Read the great classic how-to woodworking books by Moxon, Asher, Nicholson, Ellis, Hayward, Jones, Hasluck and Underhill, those authors show the tried and true methods that have been passed down since the days of cruck house construction. Learn from the masters first, then go look at the stuff published by current and trendy woodworking magazines.

Some more advice-learn how to use hand tools before you learn how to use power tools. I found out that no beginning woodworker wants to hear that. No one wants to learn how to draw first, they all want to paint that masterpiece first thing.


  1. Treasured thoughts and valuable advice Wilson - thanks. Few can draw on such breadth and depth of experience.

  2. Thanks for the kind words, Rob!

    I know I just turned 50, but I feel just like I did when I was 25, young and wet behind the ears, and writing this post really makes me realize how long I've been involved in wood working as an amateur and professional. One thing I've noticed working with men who are in their late 20' s and early 30's is that they aren't willing to be disciplined, they don't want to do things "the way they were done" even though they have no idea how to do or accomplish the task at hand. I thank my parents for pounding that discipline into me.

  3. GREAT post!
    Getting back into furniture building and living in an apartment - I have great respect for the old ways.
    Its a great point - every time I read a woodworking blog, I wonder if I should not just be in the shop trying something out. Its a hard place to be though, if your not sure quite how your design will play out

  4. Wonderful sentiments, Wilson.

    I wish someone had told me "hand tools before power tools" 10 years ago; it might have saved me a bit of money and pushed my hand tool use up a few years.

    Keep writing; I'll keep reading.

  5. Thanks, Ethan!

    Keep at the hand tool work, it's worth every minute you hold one in your hand!

  6. Anonymous:

    I feel the same way about reading blogs and doing research on the internet, there is enough work and knowledge to find in the shop!


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