Want to learn woodworking as a new hobby, but aren’t sure where to start? You’re in the right place. Here at Pine and Poplar, our mission is to teach beginners how to confidently build magazine-worthy furniture with simple tools and techniques.
If you want to learn how to do super complicated joinery and spend $10,000 on intense tools, this isn’t the place for you. This is the place for those who want to build things they are proud of without having to dedicate their whole lives (and all of their garage space) to woodworking. A place where we build things like this:
Getting started with beginner woodworking isn’t as complicated as you might think. There are just a few key things you need to get sorted out before getting started. Let’s dive on in!
- How to Learn WoodWorking
- Step 1: Prioritize Safety
- Step 2: Set Up a Workspace
- Step 3: Gather Tools
- Step 4: Learn to Safely Use Your Tools
- Step 5: Master Your Measuring Skills
- Step 6: Feel Confident Buying Wood
- Beginner-Friendly Woodworking Project Ideas
- A Few Things I Wish I Knew When Starting Woodworking
- Beginner Woodworking Skills
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Next Steps
How to Learn WoodWorking
If you’d like a printable cliff notes version of this post, be sure to download the free 5 Steps to Getting Started with DIY Guide.
And if you’re really ready to dive into DIY and would like someone to walk you through learning how to safely use your tools and your first few projects, check out I Made That. It’s the online course designed to take you from DIY wannabe to fearless furniture builder in just 5 weeks.
We share all the tips and tricks you need to know for more professional-looking furniture projects as we walk through 4 strategically designed furniture builds. Each project was designed to teach you different skills that you can apply to countless other projects. Learn more about the self-paced course here.
STEP 1: PRIORITIZE SAFETY
Before we can talk about using power tools and building furniture, we need to understand the importance of safety. When you know how to properly use your tools and you follow best practices, the chances of injury are slim, but you always need to be aware of the risk.
Always respect your tools. Even as you get more confident using them, you need to remain vigilant.
As you’re working on projects, you should always have three forms of safety gear: eye protection, ear protection, and dust protection.
We’ve linked our favorite PPE in our Amazon Storefront. I’d especially recommend the headphones linked there. They have a Bluetooth connection so you can listen to music or podcasts when doing some more mundane tasks like sanding!
STEP 2: SET UP YOUR WORKSPACE
This is the step that holds so many people back from getting started with DIY and woodworking. So many people feel like they don’t have the space for a dedicated workshop, so they can’t DIY.
But that’s not true. You don’t need a large, dedicated space to DIY. When we first started, we didn’t even have a workbench. We would cut and assemble everything on the ground–either in a small corner of my in-law’s garage or on the driveway. I’ve even known people who’ve DIYed on their apartment balcony or roof!
What you do need for a workspace is a place big enough to cut and assemble your project. If you don’t want to subject your poor knees to working on the ground, grab a collapsible workbench or make your own using a pre-cut piece of ¾” plywood and some saw horses.
If you aren’t renting or borrowing tools, you’ll also need a spot to store them. A small corner in the garage was what we started with.
If you want more ideas for your workspace and plans for a rolling workbench and miter saw stand with collapsible wings, be sure to check out the Ideas for the DIYer’s Workshop Guide.
If you genuinely don’t have a space to DIY, check to see if there is a Community Woodshop near you.
STEP 3: GATHER STARTER TOOLS
Notice I said “gather.” not buy. If you want to and have the means to buy tools from the get go, do it! If you want to dip your toes into DIY and woodworking before making an investment in tools, that’s fine too. We’ll share a few tips on getting tools for less, and maybe even for free, in just a second.
What Tools Do I Need for Beginner Woodworking?
The essential tools of DIY woodworking are a miter saw, a circular saw, a jigsaw, a drill, a brad nailer, a random orbital sander and a Kreg pocket hole jig.
Yes, that’s a lot, but fear not–you don’t need to buy them all at once. If you already have a starter project in mind, check out the recommended tools for that project and start there.
If you aren’t sure on your first project, I’d recommend a drill, a Kreg pocket hole jig, and either a miter saw or circular saw. Generally I recommend starting with a miter saw, even though a circular saw is technically more versatile. Check out this post for more information on the differences between circular saws vs miter saws, the pros and cons of each, and our recommendations on who should get which one to start.
Other Helpful Resources About Buying Tools:
- Beginner Woodworking Tools: what each tools is used for and specific recommendations for which models to buy
- Which Kreg Jig Should You Buy in 2023?
- Free Download: The Essential Tools Roadmap
How to Get Woodworking Tools for Less
Option 1: Borrow Tools
When we were first starting out, we bought a $19 Kreg Jig and then borrowed the rest of the tools we needed from family. Ask around and see if any of your friends or family members have tools you can borrow.
You might get lucky and find a new DIY buddy in the process. If they’ve been using tools for awhile, they might even be willing to teach you a thing or two about how to use them!
Option 2: Check Estate Sales, Garage Sales, Pawn Shops, and Facebook Marketplace
All of the places above are a great place to find used tools. There’s no need to get the newest “fanciest” and most expensive tools. A drill is a drill as long as it works! Buying second hand is a great opportunity to save money on your tool collection.
Option 3: Check for Rental Opportunities
Check your local public library. Some public libraries offer tool rentals that just require a library card to use.
Check localtools.org/find to see if there is a dedicated tool library near you.
Check to see if there’s a Community Woodshop space around you. They provide both a space and the tools you need to get started with woodworking. You’ll also be able to connect with fellow woodworkers and potentially even take classes there.
If there’s a tool you need for just one project, many Home Depot, Lowe’s, and other hardware stores offer tool rentals. This isn’t an economical solution long-term, but it’s an option for one-off tools or if you want to try a tool for a day to see if it’s right for you!
Building Your Tool Collection
Let me make something very clear: you do not need to buy all the tools at once. You just need a few tools to start.
When you are ready to start building your personal tool collection, I recommend buying the first few essentials that you need for a project. Every project (or two, or three), invest in another tool.
This will spread out the costs over time and you’ll still be saving money along the way. Saved $1500 by making that dining table yourself? Great! Put $100 worth of those savings towards a new circular saw to add to your workshop. You still saved a ton of money on your project and you have a new tool that you can use on projects going forward. It’s a win-win!
STEP 4: LEARN HOW TO SAFELY USE YOUR TOOLS
Now that you’ve tracked down some tools, it’s time to learn how to use them. I highly recommend reading the manual before working with a new tool.
Because there is an inherent risk when working with power tools, I don’t think it’s something you should just “dive on in and figure it out as you go along.”
Tool manuals might be boring, but they will give you the key information you need to use a tool safely. They’ll highlight safety features and common things like how to install a blade.
If you’re more of a visual learner and prefer video, there are plenty online to supplement your manual reading. Fair warning though: be careful with which video you watch online. I’ve seen a lot of misinformation and advice that completely contradicts the safety guidelines set in place by the tool manufacturers…even from “big” accounts.
Helpful Resources for Learning How to Use Tools
- Miter Saw 101 (this video lesson was pulled straight out of I Made That)
- The Guide to Cutting Plywood with a Circular Saw
- 5 Ways to Make Straight Cuts with a Circular Saw
- How to Use a Pocket Hole Jig
- Check out Power Tools: Explained. It’s our video library walking through how to use the key power tools of DIY.
STEP 5: MASTER YOUR MEASURING SKILLS
One of the most important skills in woodworking, potentially the most important skill, is measuring. You need to feel confident using and reading a tape measure.
Check out this post on how to read a tape measure. It also includes a few tips to help you get the most accurate measurements possible.
And when you’re ready to start measuring and marking angles, check out this post on marking angles with a speed square.
STEP 6: FEEL CONFIDENT SHOPPING FOR WOOD
If you were to guess that a 2×4 is a piece of wood that is 2″x4″, you’d be wrong.
Don’t worry, you’re not alone. On our very first DIY, we were overly ambitious and made our very own plan. We quadruple checked all our math and our shopping list and then hit the ground running. We made all our cuts, but when we went to assemble it, nothing fit together.
That’s when we learned that the nominal sizing of wood is different from the actual sizing of wood.
Luckily you’re reading this, so you don’t have to learn the hard way like we did. You also won’t have to spend an hour in Home Depot questioning what wood to buy!
In our Ultimate Guide to Buying Wood for DIY Projects, we cover things like the real vs. nominal sizing, the pros and cons of using different wood types, and how to find the best boards for your project.
When shopping at Home Depot and Lowe’s for wood, you need to be selective. Don’t just grab the first board you see. Look at the grain patterns to see which ones you like the best. Then look down the board to see if it’s straight. In the example below, it’s crooked. That’s a board you’ll want to put back. Read the guide for more details on what to look for when selecting wood.
Beginner-Friendly Woodworking Project Ideas
Now that you’ve figured out where you’re going to work on your DIY projects, you’ve gathered a few tools, and you’ve learned how to use them safely, it’s time to pick your first project.
Here are a few beginner-friendly projects to check out:
- DIY Canopy Bed (yes, it’s large, but it really is a beginner-friendly build!)
- DIY Wood Stool
- DIY Porch Swing Bed
- DIY Hexagon Shelves
- DIY Coffee Table with Storage
- DIY Large Slatted Planters
- DIY Ottoman Coffee Table (it would also make a great bench)
- DIY Sound Diffuser Wall Art
- DIY Platform Bed
- DIY Outdoor Side Table
- DIY Pottery Barn Inspired Wall Art
A Few Things I Wish I Knew When Starting Woodworking
This short section will be a mix of practical advice and words of encouragement I wish I would’ve heard when getting started.
- Your project is not going to be perfect. That’s okay. Look a little closer at things from Pottery Barn or Restoration Hardware. Their doors aren’t all perfectly aligned. Their finishes aren’t all perfectly consistent and their seams aren’t all perfectly flush. If production made furniture isn’t perfect, why should we expect ours to be? Also, you can fix so many imperfections with wood filler and sanding!
- When applied properly, wood glue is stronger than the wood itself. It’s great to use on DIY woodworking projects, but fair warning: it doesn’t stain. Wipe up any glue that squeezes out with a wet towel. Make sure it’s wet enough that you’re actually wiping it up and not just smearing it around!
- Clamps are super helpful. They are your extra set of hands, they can help close gaps and straighten out boards. The Irwin Quick-Grip line (affiliate link) is the best and well worth the extra money. Don’t cheap out on clamps!
- During every project, you’ll hit a snag or a point where you question why you even started. Keep going. It gets better. Some of my favorite projects were a result of something not going according to plan and needing to pivot. The pivot made me think more creatively for a solution that ended up being even better than the original design.
- Sanding makes a huge difference. Not only will it make your project stain better and feel smoother, but it’lll also save you a lot of headaches down the road. We didn’t sand our first few projects and they are a nightmare to dust. The dust gets trapped. The duster snags on the rough wood. It’s not smooth to the touch. Don’t skip the sanding!!
- Speaking of sanding, make sure to sand off all the excess wood filler. If it’s not directly filling a nail hole or seam, the excess will stain funny and draw more attention to what you were trying to hide.
- Whenever you grab a new board from Home Depot or Lowe’s, first trim off a bit of the end. Oftentimes the ends are super rough (aka impossible to sand smooth) and unsquare. Trim them off to get a smoother start to your project.
Beginner Woodworking Skills
Be sure to check out the following posts to dive into more specific woodworking skills. These skills will help you uplevel your projects and make them look more professional.
- How to Sand Wood + Common Mistakes to Avoid
- How to Stain Wood
- Wood Filler vs. Wood Putty (+ check out our experiment to find the best stainable wood filler)
- How to Finish Plywood Edge
- Kreg Jig Depth Collar Settings
Frequently Asked Questions
Are there classes to learn woodworking?
Yes! You might be able to find in-person classes, but these are generally focused on “real” woodworking aka using hand tools and more in-depth joinery techniques. If you would like to learn how to build impressive-looking furniture with minimal tools and simple techniques, we have an on-demand course available just for that. Learn more about I Made That.
Is it cheaper to build your own furniture?
Generally speaking, yes. Learning to build your own furniture will save you a lot compared to retail prices, especially if you have expensive taste like I do. Not only will building furniture yourself cost less, but it is also likely to be more high-quality furniture made from better materials.
That said, if you’re buying an entire workshop worth of tools for just one project, chances are you won’t be saving any money. And if you’re comparing your real wood furniture to something made from particle board at IKEA, chances are the cost will be similar. The quality on the other hand will be much better for the pieces you build yourself.
How do I know what screw size to use?
These are the types of nitty-gritty questions we dive into in I Made That. Here’s a quick rule of thumb: the screw should be the thickness of the board you are drilling through + approximately half of the thickness of the board you’re drilling into.
For example, if you’re securing a 1×2 to another 2×4, after reading the wood guide, we know the 1×2 is ¾” thick and the 2×4 is really 1.5” thick. So you would want a 1.5” screw. ¾” to go through the first board and then another ¾” to go halfway into the 2×4.
Where do you buy your lumber?
We buy all of our lumber at Lowe’s or Home Depot. Yes, you can shop at lumber yards for more varieties of wood species and sizing, but we chose to stick with the basics.
Why? Because we are trying to keep things beginner-friendly. Lumber yards require a whole different technique of measuring lumber (known as ‘board foot’ if you’re curious) and often require more advanced tools like table saws and planers to prepare the wood to be building ready.
If you enjoyed this post and found it helpful, I invite you to enroll in I Made That: the course designed to take you from woodworking wannabe to fearless furniture builder in just 5 weeks. We teach you how to build magazine-worthy furniture using simple tools and techniques.
It includes video lessons dedicated to specific DIY skills as well as four complete project walkthroughs. Throughout each project, I’ll share tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years to make your projects easier to assemble and look better in the end. Get the course.
If you aren’t quite ready to dive into the course, but want more helpful resources and project plans sent to your inbox, be sure to join our email list.