Getting Started in Woodworking With No Tools
Reader Brady Fretland writes:
I’m tired of drooling over the designs in your employer’s publications and want to get to work. However, here is my situation: My tools consist of a framing hammer, a ball peen hammer head with a broken handle, a Delta compound miter saw that hasn’t even made it out of the box yet, and a little Black and Decker multi-purpose drill-screwdriver tool.
No chisels, no clamps, definitely no spokeshave, 17 different wooden mallets, or pi-angle truffle planes designed and manufactured by the Elves of Middle Earth. My experience consists of several month-long forays into and out of frame and finish carpentry, before seasonal layoffs and thus, reality, intervened.
My completed projects include some restored floors and mouldings in a huge Victorian in South Minneapolis, and a letter holder made of a clothespin screwed onto a piece of 1 x 2 and stained with linseed oil for a 4th grade 4-H project.
I’ve read Woodworking Magazine for almost two years now, and have taken note of the required reading lists from your blog and from the Autumn 2006 issue, though I haven’t made any purchases. I also haven’t bought any of the recommended tools, because while it would be nice to own and eventually use a Lie-Nielsen jointer plane, I shy strongly from dropping $300 on one until I know that I’ll need it and have a damned good use for it.
So, from the recommendations in your reading materials and the projects they suggest, can you name for me: Two books to start with, four must-have tools, and a good couple projects to keep me busy this summer? I realize that you’re busy and I just dropped a tall and unbelievably generalized order on you, but just remember when you started, and shoot for something off the top of your head. Any advice you can give is much appreciated.
Editor Chris Schwarz responds:
I’ve been woodworking a long time, but I can still taste the frustration at getting started that you are experiencing. Right after college I was cursed with a burning desire to build furniture but had almost no tools. No shop. No money. And I wasn’t smart enough to have any good books (and I’m a writer — how dumb is that).
But I sat down at the kitchen table one night and sketched out a bench we needed for our kitchen. I went to the lumberyard and bought some pine. And I built the entire project with a circular saw (1960s vintage), a cheap drill, a block plane and a hammer. I keep the piece around to remind me (see above).
I built four or five more projects this way, and then the path became clearer. I could see better what tools I needed and the next steps on the path.
So here’s my advice: We have a special section of our web site called “I Can Do That,” that shows you how to assemble a very low-cost toolkit for building furniture. There’s a free digital eBook you can download there that shows you how to use these tools. And we have a few basic projects there built using these tools. (We feature one of these projects in every issue of Popular Woodworking).
Here’s where you can get started:
After that, I would buy a good book on hand work. Either Aldren A Watson’s “Hand Tools” or Robert Wearing’s “The Essential Woodworker.”
And readers: If you have further advice for Brady, please post it in the Comments section. Any tips on getting started are appreciated. The hardest part of starting in woodworking is starting.