Woodworking For Dummies, 2nd Edition
Book image
Explore Book Buy On Amazon
Woodworking brings together nature, humans, and technology to produce long-lasting pieces of functional art. A great woodworking project begins with knowing how to choose the right type and piece of wood. Then, following a step-by-step process helps you craft a successful piece every time.

How to buy wood for woodworking

Whether you see woodworking as an art or a craft, your finished piece begins with a great piece of wood. Buying wood can be a challenging experience. You’ll need to think about many details, such as the wood’s grade and cut and how it’s sized. The following will help you make sense of these details.

Take a pencil, measuring tape, scrap paper, a small block plane (to check out the color and grain of the wood), and a calculator to the lumberyard and write down all the dimensions and total board feet for each board. This way, you can double-check the salesperson’s calculations and make sure you aren’t overcharged.

Wood grades

Wood grades refer to the number and severity of the defects in a board. The following list explains the different wood grades, according to the National Hardwood Lumber Association:

  • Firsts: Very few, if any, noticeable defects.
  • Seconds: The occasional knot or other surface defects. Firsts and seconds are often grouped and referred to as FAS (firsts and seconds). These are the grades you want for furniture building.
  • Selects: A few more defects but nothing so big or frequent that it can’t be cut out. Avoid this grade for fine furniture, though, because it adds more work to the process.
  • Common (four grades: #1, #2, #3a, #3b): Too many defects to use for furniture.

Types of woodcuts

How wood is cut affects its quality. The following list explains the types of cuts:

  • Plain-sawn: The most common boards at your lumberyard. They have growth rings that run less than 30 degrees against the board’s face (flat part). The face grain looks somewhat circular and wavy.
  • Rift-sawn: These boards have growth rings that meet the face at 30 to 60 degrees. Rift-sawn boards have a straight grain pattern as opposed to the circular pattern of plain-sawn boards. They’re also more stable and more expensive than plain-sawn wood.
  • Quarter-sawn: These boards have growth rings not less than 60 degrees from their face and a straight grain pattern with a flake (ribbon-like figure) in the wood. Quarter-sawn boards are more stable and expensive than the other types of boards, and you can find them in only a few species of wood, such as white oak.

Wood defects

It’s okay to buy wood with knots, splits, cracks, and checks (separations). These defects affect only a small area of the board (if they exist over most of the board, don’t buy it), so you can plan your cuts around them. Avoid boards with warps, twists, or bows. It takes a lot of time to flatten a board with one of these defects.

To test for defects, place one end of the board on the floor and hold the other end to your eye. The board should be straight and true. If not, leave it at the lumberyard.

Sizing up wood

Wood is sold two ways: dimensional and by the board foot. Here’s the difference:

  • Dimensional wood is smooth on all four sides, cut to precise widths and thicknesses, and is sold by the linear foot or the board.
  • Wood sold by the board foot may or may not be smooth on all sides, and only one edge may be square. A board foot is a board that’s 1 inch thick (called 4/4) by 12 inches wide by 1 foot long. To figure out how many board feet are in a piece of wood, multiply its length (measured in feet), width, and thickness (measured in inches) and divide this number by 12.

Useful supplies to have in your shop

There are a variety of supplies you need to make your woodworking projects. These include glue, sandpaper, tape, rags, and brushes, to name a few. Here’s a list of useful supplies:

  • Aluminum oxide sandpaper: It’s very durable and useful for any type of wood. I keep a variety of grits between 80 to 220.
  • Silicon carbide sandpaper: Silicon Carbide sandpaper is often used for metal surfaces but is excellent for polishing finishes. I always have 400 and 600 grit on hand.
  • Steel wool. I keep a supply of #0000 and use it to polish finishes.
  • Pencils: #2 pencils tend to disappear in my shop, so I keep a box of them.
  • Razor blade knives: These always get dull when I need a sharp edge.
  • Disposable gloves: I prefer nitrile, but vinyl gloves are okay. I choose the powder-free versions.
  • Dust masks and respirators: I always wear a dust mask while cutting and sanding and a respirator when using oil-based finishes. An N95 mask will work for wood dust, but for oil-based products, find a good respirator approved for such vapors.
  • Painter’s tape: I like to keep both 1- and 2-inch widths around.
  • Acid brushes: Both 1/2 and 3/8-inch are fine. Mostly, I use them to spread glue.
  • Nuts and bolts: A variety pack of various sizes of nuts, bolts, and washers allows me to make jigs, among many other uses.
  • Screws and nails: Screws and nails of various types and sizes are useful for mechanical joints and jigs.
  • Wood glue: I prefer Titebond II. Don’t buy a bigger bottle than you’ll use in a few months because it doesn’t last forever.
  • Polyurethane glue: I typically use Gorilla glue because it was the first polyurethane glue, and I trust it. It doesn’t last forever like wood glue, so don’t buy too much at a time.
  • Scraps: I always have a variety of wood scraps on hand to make jigs, test cuts, mock-ups, and backer boards to avoid cut-outs (chips in the back side of the board caused by the cutting process).
  • Rags: These are for general cleanup (except for glue).
  • Paper towels: These are for cleaning up glue.
  • Water: If your shop doesn’t have a sink, keep a bucket of clean water handy for cleaning up.

Reading woodworking plans

Every woodworking project starts with a plan. A project plan contains all the details you need to acquire and organize the materials, mill the wood to the proper dimensions, and assemble them into a finished piece. Here are the components of a plan:

Materials list: This list details the project’s parts, including the number and dimensions of each piece. This list often also includes the total amount, in board feet, of each type of wood you need for the project. If it doesn’t contain a board feet total, you will need to calculate it yourself to order the proper amount of wood.

Tools needed: Knowing what tools are required for a project is important, so you don’t get stuck in the middle of the project without a critical tool or an alternate plan to accomplish the goal.

Project drawing/picture: This is a drawing or picture of what the finished project will look like. These can be pretty rudimentary but should give a sense of the scale and feel of the project.

Measured drawings: These are drawings of different sections or views of a project with the dimensions for each view and piece. These drawings can be simple with just a couple of views (top and side, for example) with dimensions or very elaborate with fine detail of each joint you need to cut (plans in this book are on the more detailed side).

Procedures list: This is a list describing each step in the project. Some plans simply list each component, such as the legs, rails, and top of a table, whereas others go into more detail.

Cut list: The cut list is a layout of all the parts for a project on boards. Plans that use dimensional wood, such as plywood, may offer a cut list, but others will not because they won’t know what size of wood you have on hand. I recommend creating your own cut list based on the materials list to make sure you optimize your wood usage.

Steps in the woodworking building process

Woodworking is painstaking and rewarding work. Following a plan helps ensure that your woodworking project comes out the way you envisioned. The following list sets out the steps to follow to build a piece of furniture (or any project for that matter):

  1. Read the plans. Familiarize yourself with the plans and procedures before buying or cutting wood. Make sure the project is something you can handle.
  2. Check and double-check the material list. Organize the list to efficiently get the supplies you need before you cut a board.
  3. Plan your cut list. Go through all your wood and determine where each cut will go. Choose the most appropriate part of the board for each part of the project. For instance, choose matching tabletop pieces according to grain patterns and color consistency. Also, plan your cuts to minimize your saw adjustments (do all the crosscuts first and then all the rip cuts, for example).
  4. Pre-mill all the boards to get straight and flat pieces. This goes hand in hand with the cut list planning procedure in Step 3.
  5. Mill the boards to their final dimensions. This involves planing and jointing the boards.
  6. Cut the joints.
  7. Dry fit the assemblies to make sure everything fits properly. Make sure your assemblies and subassemblies fit together properly before you add any glue. You also want to use this step to practice the assembly procedure. Repeat the procedure until you can do it smoothly and efficiently.
  8. Glue the assembly and clamp it. Work quickly and pull each joint fully together before moving on. This minimizes the possibility of joint freeze-up. When clamping, be careful not to use too much pressure. Use just enough force to pull the joints together. You don’t want to squeeze all the glue out.
  9. Square the parts. Tabletops should be perfectly flat, and other assemblies should be perfectly square. Use a straightedge to check for flatness and a tape measure (measuring diagonally across the assembly) to check for square.
  10. Clean up. Put the assembly aside so it won’t get bumped, and clean up all the glue seepage before it dries.
  11. Take a break. You’ve earned it.

Steps in the finishing process

The next step after assembling your project is to sand and finish it. This process often takes as long or longer to complete than what you do when laying out, cutting, fitting, and gluing all the parts together. The following offers an overview of this process.

Always wear a dust mask when sanding and a respirator when applying stains, paints, or topcoats.

  1. Remove excess glue. Often, even if you were diligent in cleaning up excess glue when you assembled your project, some joints will have oozed a little glue as they dried (this is especially the case when using polyurethane glue on joints that are fairly tight). Glue removal can involve scraping or sanding.
  2. Fill holes, splits, cracks or checks and raise any dents in the wood. You can use wood fillers for small defects or a Dutchman for larger ones. Chapter 17 shows you how to do these steps.
  3. Sand or scrape the wood smooth. When sanding, start with a fairly coarse paper. I usually use either 80 or 100 grit for my first pass. Then progressively use higher grit paper until I get the smoothness I’m looking for. When using a scraper, sand up to 120-grit paper, then switch to the scraper to produce a smooth finish.
  4. Apply color if your project calls for it. Apply the stain, dye, or paint according to the product instructions. You will need to wait for the color coat to dry before proceeding to Step 5. Place the used applicator in a bucket of water. If you used a water-based stain using a brush, rinse it thoroughly with water and let t dry. A rag used for a dye can be thrown out, but ones used for oil-based stains must be rung out and laid flat on a nonflammable surface to dry before disposing of them.
  5. Gently remove dust particles from the finish. Unless you have a super-clean shop and excellent dust collection, you’ll likely end up with some dust particles in your stain or paint (dye often doesn’t hold dust). Use #0000 steel wool to remove the dust particles.
  6. Apply the top coat. Depending on the type of topcoat you use, you may need to apply multiple coats to get the desired result. This is especially the case with oil finishes.
  7. Clean up. After each coat of finish, it’s important to dispose of rags safely by soaking them in a bucket of water, ringing out the water, then laying them flat on a nonflammable surface to dry. Put them in the trash only after they’re dry.
  8. Polish the finish. After the topcoat has dried, polish it with #0000 steel wool. Oil finishes often only need a buff with a soft multi-fiber cloth to bring out the desired sheen.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Jeff Strong is the Founder and President of REI Institute, which focuses on neuro-developmental disabilities.

This article can be found in the category: