Before You Start

Hey All! This page is where you can learn the basics in starting to build your own projects. Read for tips & tricks, tool information, safety gear that is A MUST HAVE, and products that I have found to be the ones I tend to lean towards using. If there is anything that I haven't covered, and you want to know, just ask away OR if there is something you think that should be added, let me know.

Tools

Having the right tools for the job is a main key to not only success but to safety as well.  Make sure you take the time to get to know your tools, how they work, what they are used for and any safety tips for using them.

For all of you who are still new to the world of building, you don't need to buy the most expensive tools or have every single tool to start with. A brand that keeps the prices pretty reasonable and has a great selection of tools available is Ryobi. I would start looking at those for starting your collection.  When I started years ago, my first set was a mixture of Ryobi, Mastercraft and Craftsman. Eventually my collections started switching over to mostly Dewalt, as you see in my main photos. However, there are definitely some tools that Ryobi makes that Dewalt does not, and there are also some tools made better by one brand than another, so its absolutely fine to have a mixture of brands in your set.  Here is a list of the basic tools that you will need in every project.

Pencil - Always having a sharp pencil is the best thing for accuracy.  Always make sure you have a pencil & sharpener laying around. However, Mechanical pencils are not a good option. As great as they are for not having to sharpen, they do not hold up against pressure when using them on wood.

 

Tape Measure - For building projects you generally won't need anything more than 12'. However its always good to have one in your tool collection that is 25' for other things around the house. 

 

Speed Square - This tool allows you to make sure things are square all throughout the job, and helps with marking off straight lines

 

Clamps - Get yourself at least 2 or 3 to start with. The size of your project will determine the size you actually need. I would recommend to get one large one, in case you do have a larger  project. 

Drill - Start yourself off with  a decent drill as it will be used the most out of any power tool. Keep in mind that every drill feels different, so try them out and see that it feels good to you. One thing that I recommend is that you do buy a cordless drill. This you the mobility to move around as you need and use it where ever you need it. 

Circular Saw - This is a great saw to start with. Its small and portable and isn't hard to use. Once you make your first cut and see how it feels, the rest will seem easy.

 

Hammer - Depending on the type of job, there are different hammers available. The standard hammer, Rubber Mallets for working with softer woods, not meant for hitting nails, and the trim/finish hammer for using on finish nails. Ex. applying backer-board on the back of a cabinet.  

Wood Glue - This is key to adding strength between boards, I use it in between every joint. However, make sure you do not use to much as stain does not adhere to it properly. I prefer to use Gorilla Wood Glue just for the applicator alone. The seal is built in and makes it easier to close/open and it can't get lost. 

As you get more comfortable with building, you will start to take on some more difficult projects. Which in turn will mean some new tools will be needed to be added to your collection. 

Take a look at some of the other tools

Jig Saw - This is the saw that you will use when you have to make small and more precise cuts. It works in an up and down motion much like a normal handsaw would. However it also allows you to make cuts that are curved which is more useful in detailed work. 

Kreg Jig - when building larger furniture projects such as tables or benches this tool is a must have! It makes quick and easy pocket holes to make attaching the boards together easier and more secure. There are several versions of Kreg Jigs out there, the 2 main ones I use are the K4 System and the HD. The HD will be used when using larger stock boards like 4"x4" boards. It creates larger pocket holes then the regular K4 system. 

Mitre Saw - Buying a Compound Bevel Mitre saw allows you to make precise angle cuts quick and easily. There are so many variations and sizes out there, buy what works best for you and your space. Myself I have a 12: Dual Bevel Dual Compound Sliding Mitre Saw. It allows me to do any type of cut needed.

Finishing Tools

Sander - There are many times of sanders out there, but a good one to start with is a random orbital sander. Later as you get into more detailed work for you will want to get yourself a Corner Finish Sander to get into those tough spots that an orbital can not reach. Keeping a good stock of different grits of sandpaper is a must have too. 

Brad / Finish Nailers - Now here comes more options too. Ryobi makes battery powered option ones that would be so easy and portable. The main type is to buy a small air compressor and buy the Nailers to go with it. This is the method I am currently using and it still works for me in the space I have. Just make sure you buy yourself a good hose to go with it. 

Brushes - Buying and maintaining the right paint brushes makes the finishing project easier. Sponges brushes are good for staining when you don't want to use clothes for it. The one thing about them is they are disposable, so make sure you buy bulk packs, which are available at the dollar store. You will need a good Bristle brush for putting on your Polyurethane or Varathane top coats

As you progress and move on to even more advanced projects, it will bring out the need to bring out more tools. I won't get into details about them all, but a few things you will more than likely use are a table saw and router. Table saws are useful for ripping long lengths of board, however they take up a lot of space. Instead of using a table saw myself, as my workshop is too small for it, I use a Kreg Circular Saw Guide. A router will be more than likely be used to add details to edges of table.

Working with Wood

Between shopping for your wood and working with it there are some things that you should remember. These tips will help you be successful in building your own project. 

  • Using wood glue is a must in your projects. I always have some handy and use it in between every wood joint to help with making it more secure and to strengthen the joint.
  • However, do not use too much glue as you do not want it to seep out of the joint and get onto the exposed wood. Glue does not allow proper absorption or coverage of stain to your project without a good sanding ensuring that the project is free and clear of any left over Glue.
  • Remember that when you make any cuts, the saw blade removes excess material. This is called Kerf, aka Sawdust. To make sure your cuts are acurate and not to small, make a line where your cut should be and cut to the outer side of that line.
  • Always cut factory ends first as they may not always be square. 
  • Clamps are a woodworkers best friend. They ensure that your project will not move on you when you are nailing and they help keep you safe as they keep your hands away from nailing or cutting the area.  
  • When adding supports to a project keep in mind these rough measurements. When using 2" thick boards, your boards can span approximately 4 feet without needed added supports. When working with 1" boards that span lowers to approximately 3'.
  • Take the time when finished building the project to properly give it a good finish. Why bother spending all that time building it if the stain doesn't give a good look since the boards weren't fully smooth. Always start with a lower grit (coarser) sandpaper and work your way to a finer grit (higher number) The coarse sandpaper allows you to take out any rough marks, and even out the boards. 

 

When shopping for the wood for your projects, there are a few things you need to remember to do.

  • Make sure that your boards are straight, look down the length of the board to check Straight boards are a must when doing projects
  • Also be sure you check for any cracks on the boards. 

 

As you start out you will realize that dimensional wood boards are not actual. For example and 2" x 4" board is actually 1.5" x 3.5". Here is a list showing the Actual Dimensions. Keep these in mind for when working with plans and designing your own plans. I suggest saving and printing these out to keep visible as a reminder for when needed. Even now I pull it up to confirm some sizes for when designing my projects. 

 

Plywood is a separate case, There are varying thicknesses, but the sizes the boards are available in are standard Full Sheets, Half Sheets, and Quarter Sheets. Here is a chart showing you the most common options available when shopping for plywood. 

Be Safe

Always working safely with tools is no brainer. Common sense is best tool in being safe, if it doesn't seem safe or a seem like a good idea, it usually isn't.  There are 4 basic tools you can use in every project to help keep you safe and healthy. 

Safely Glasses - There is no more uncomfortable feeling then having something in your eye. What worse is if it is too small to be able to get out easy. Always wear your safety glasses when making any cuts or sanding to help protect your eyes from any saw dust or stray pieces of wood from getting into your eyes.  Find a pair that is comfortable for you to wear. 

Work Gloves - I use these every time I am loading and unloading the wood for my projects, doing any bigger jobs around the house, or working with any metal. You don't have to use them the whole time you are working on your project, however they will help protect you from any splinters you could get. Just make sure you find a pair that fits you comfortably so they are not falling off or are too loose. 

Ear Plugs - The noise from saws, sanders, nail guns and air compressors in a confined space can get too loud and cause hearing damage over time, like any loud noise could.  Ear plugs come in a few styles, so find what is comfortable for you. I prefer this kind as I can easily take them on and off as needed and they are as comfortable as ear plugs can get. Half the time I end up leaving my workshop with them still around my neck as I forget that they are even there. 

Dust masks - Any time I am sanding I wear one to help protect myself from inhaling the dust particles in the air. You don't have to purchase one of these more expensive ones with cartridges right away, using the basic white disposable ones are fine to start with. 

 

Power tool are able to cause lots of harm if misused. Saws can bind with pressure on both sides of the blade, causing the boards to back back at you and Drills are able to twist in your hand if they catch onto something.  Trust me, both of these can really hurt. I have seen boards buck back at people and I myself had a drill twist back on me and had the battery pack slam into my jaw when I was working in a tight space. So always be mindful of what you are doing and remember the safety tips for the tools that you are using. Some other safety tips to remember when working with tools are:

  • Never Cut a small piece of wood that requires you to get your hand too close to the blade, Try either clamping the board down instead of using your hands, or cut the pieces from a larger size board. 
  • Only ever secure one side of the board when cutting to prevent the board to buck back at you. 
  • When using nail guns, always keep your hands out of the way. Nails can always go sideways if they hit a knot or come through the board to far if you are using the incorrect size nail or the incorrect amount of pressure.
  • Always unplug or remove the battery from your tools when making any adjustments to the tool or when changing the blades or bits. 
  • NEVER use a tool in a manner for which it not intended to be used for.