Since money and space are usually in high demand, you want your purchases to make sense and work for you as far into the future as possible. To do this, the focus should be how to expand your capabilities rather than getting one project done quickly. With this in mind, and based on what I've learned over the past three decades, here's how I would proceed if I were starting over now.
The Japanese saw is a favorite. A much smarter, efficient and exact cut can be made using this saw as opposed to a European saw. The difference between the two is simple: tooth direction. European saws cut when pushing the saw as opposed to Japanese saws which cut on the pull. One uses much less energy when pulling - perhaps that is why the horse was put in front of the cart. A Japanese saw is a must have in any shop.
To corral shelf-dwelling books or DVDs that like to wander, cut 3/4-in.-thick hardwood pieces into 6-in. x 6-in. squares. Use a band saw or jigsaw to cut a slot along one edge (with the grain) that’s a smidgen wider than the shelf thickness. Stop the notch 3/4 in. from the other edge. Finish the bookend and slide it on the shelf. Want to build the shelves, too? We’ve got complete plans for great-looking shelves here.
Adjustable shelves beat fixed shelves in just about every way. They make storage and display space more versatile, of course. And they’re usually just slabs of plywood nosed with strips of wood or edge banding, so they’re easy to make. And because you can remove them, adjustable shelves simplify staining and finishing. The easiest way to support adjustable shelves is by using shelf standards are ($3 for 6 ft. at home centers). Just screw them into place and you’re done.
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Drill presses are available as both freestanding floor models and in benchtop designs. The drill press is powered by an electric motor, driving it via a system of pulleys or gears. The drill bit is locked into the chuck, then is driven down using a hand-powered lever system. A spring pushes it back up when pressure on the lever is released. The size of a drill press is determined by the throat, the distance between the supporting column at the rear and the axis on which the spindle of the drill turns; thus, a 15-inch model will cut to the center of a 15-inch workpiece. A number of adjustments including a movable table depth, a depth gauge to set the distance the spindle travels and pulley adjustments to change speeds increase the tool’s functionality. The drill press can be used not only to drill round holes of all kinds but also for sanding, grooving, and even mortising jobs with the addition of specialized attachments.
Tightening the nuts clamps the uprights against the shelves, holding them in place and providing shear strength (through friction) for the whole assembly. I know of an 8' tall, 12' long version of these shelves that has survived a few minor earthquakes while fully loaded with hundreds of books. Once the nuts are tightened on my smaller versions, I (all 240lbs of me) have a very hard time "racking" the shelves by pushing on one end of them in an attempt to get them to collapse: I can't.
I built my first bookcase in middle school. A multitiered assemblage of wooden planks laid across stacks of bricks, it was reminiscent of pieces from the early Flintstone Period--and I was proud to have made it myself. Since that masterpiece, I've built 50 or 60 more, most while working as a cabinetmaker for an interior design firm, where I learned the carpentry skills, design guidelines and construction techniques used in the bookcase shown here. Basically consisting of three plywood boxes fitted with a hardwood face frame, this piece looks built-in because it spans from wall to wall, and is trimmed with molding at the ceiling and floor. I used 3/4-in. birch plywood for the cases, 4/4 sustainably harvested African mahogany for the face frames and 3/4-in. mahogany plywood for the sides surrounding the doorway. With moderate skills and some patience, it wouldn't be hard to make this project fit any space.
I’ve got a three other bits of advice: First of all, get really, really good at woodworking. There are lots of people who enjoy it as a hobby. To sell your services, you’ve got to be able to do far superior work or do it much faster than everyone else (preferably both). Failure to do so means competing against hundreds of amateurs who make things for the pleasure of it, then sell their work at cost to fund the hobby. Second, develop great people skills. Most professionals do custom work and few focus on selling a product. Most of them sell a service, and a big part of that is getting customers to enjoy the experience of collaborating with a woodworker to create their dream products. If your customers don’t like you, they can usually save time and money by getting something from an online catalog. People who buy handcrafted items from woodworkers are often attracted to the idea of supporting artisans. The face behind the work is important to them. Last, develop an iron-clad work ethic. In this field you’re directly trading time for money, and that time is very limited. It’s important to be productive, so try to get 40 hours of actual productivity (as in making things) every week. Accounting, phone conversations and social media marketing may be important, but none of them provide an actual paycheck, so they don’t count as productive work.
WoodSkills and Norman Pirollo offer online woodworking classes, woodworking plans, video lectures and woodworking tutorials. The classes and courses provide detailed and comprehensive step by step sequences for woodworking skill-building. Each woodworking class and tutorial is based on actual furniture making expertise. As founder of White Mountain Design , Refined Edge Design , WoodSkills and Pirollo Design, I bring to you two decades of knowledge in furniture making. In recent years, I have authored three woodworking books:
Block planes have become one of the most oft-used tools in a woodworker’s workshop. Some traditional woodworkers even keep them in their aprons! These little planes can be used to trim your joints, put chamfers on board edges, trim end grain, etc. I would recommend finding a low angle block plane, because the low angle lets you cut difficult grain more easily.
Bruce Lamo has done woodworking pretty much all his life, although never exclusively to make a living. He prefers making furniture and working with solid wood, but often uses plywood when making cabinets. This article originated when a few friends were considering buying tools that based on his experience, he thought would not be a good investment.
I prefer the large size because it will cut the most sizes. Years ago I purchased a medium shoulder plane, but it didn’t cut the larger sized joints, so I sold it and purchased a large shoulder plane so I could cut and trim most sized joints. Most of your traditional woodworking hand tools can be vintage/used, but used shoulder planes can be very hard to rehab and get “square”, so I recommend spending the extra money on a new shoulder plane. See my recommendations in my hand plane buying guide.
Glue up a panel using the same material as your face frame. I generally size the top so that it overhangs by about 1″ on all sides, which means a 38-1/2″ x 13-1/4″ panel. Trim to size using a panel cutting jig. An alternative approach to building the top is to use a piece of 3/4″ plywood (same material you used for the sides and shelves), with wood strips applied to each edge as edge banding to mask the laminations, using the same approach as you used to edge band the shelves.
To be honest, I use to not know a thing about woodworking or power tools. In fact, I didn’t even know how to use a drill! And the thought of power tools and woodworking definitely sounded kind of intimidating and out of my league, like it was more of a rugged guy thing. I’m so glad those initial thoughts didn’t keep me from discovering one of my greatest passions.
You can do this with a dado blade, or alternatively, you can simply make two passes with a standard kerf table saw blade. I often do the “two pass method” for 1/4″ dado and rabbet cuts simply to save time, avoiding setting up a dado blade. Set up a sacrificial fence on your table saw because you will be spinning the blade right next to the fence. Set your blade height to 3/8″, and remove a width of 1/4″.
Nearly every woodworking project in one form or another will require you to check some intersection, joint, or board end for squareness, or "square." In some cases, you'll need to confirm that an entire assembly is square. For small projects, you can use a squaring tool, such as a try square, speed square, or framing square. For larger projects, you can check for square by measuring diagonally between opposing corners: The assembly is square when the measurements are equal. You can also use the 3-4-5 method, based on the Pythagorean Theorem: a2 + b2 = c2.
Using these bookcase plans, I built three of these for my children’s school about five years ago (five years in an elementary school is equivalent to a hundred years in a typical home). They have seen tons of abuse, and have held up beautifully. The school can’t wait to get their hands on more of them to replace the “bargain” bookcases they got from a furniture chain which have needed extensive repairs over the same five year period.
At some point dust collection needs to be considered. For safety reasons all power tools should run in conjunction with a good dust collection system. However the reality is that many woodworkers will put up with the dust for a while, if not forever. There are machines that really can't be run without dust collection such as a large planer or a bandsaw. The chips and sawdust must be extracted or else the buildup will damage the machine. A large shop vac may be sufficient for smaller machines, and portable dust collectors are available that can be moved from one machine to another. Dust collection is a reasonable investment that should actually be made early on. Your health is well worth the cost.
If you have an old cabinet or dresser that you can redo, consider taking out the drawers and just adding rustic wooden planks. This gives the entire cabinet a great rustic look and it is really easy to do. This is a great project for those old dressers that have broken or missing drawers. You can attach the wood pieces together and fix them so that they pull out for easy access to the dresser contents.
Preparation is everything. It took my friends a long time to learn that dropping by on their way home from work to hang out was not a really good time for me to stop and shoot the breeze. I typically spend a minimum of one hour and usually two or three hours setting up a three-hour class, going through all the operations I plan to cover that night such as getting the lumber milled, making sure the tools are in good working order and doing any of the critical machine setups in advance with no distractions.
I created these hand tool buyer’s guides to help beginners who feel overwhelmed when trying to understand which hand tools they need first. It’s frustrating! Below you’ll see my summary list of the 20 basic professional woodworking hand tools that you should start to accumulate in order to start building the most basic woodworking projects. When you’re ready, you can follow the yellow buttons to visit each of the buying guides for each type of hand tool, to get help with understanding hand tool features, brands, & models. At the bottom of this page is a handy full list of tools that is sorted by “urgent”, “semi-urgent”, and “not-urgent” to buy.
Even though I have many large power tools I am still a fan of hand tools, in particular, planes and chisels. In many applications I have found they are the fastest means to an end. Other factors in their favor are their cost. Good hands tools are not cheap, but compared to their motorized counterparts, they are usually much less costly. Another is space. Besides taking up far less space in the shop, they often require less space to use. Think of edge joining an 8 foot long plank. On a jointer you need a minimum of 16 feet of work space. With a hand plane, you move the tool, not the material, so you only need slightly more room than the length of the material.
Power Tools — A good table saw is usually the most used machine in the shop. New saws have vastly improved fences and better safety features. A good contractor saw has adequate power and can come with up to 49" of ripping capacity to handle sheet goods. This would be my first big purchase. A router is often a highly coveted machine. There are almost endless cutters available now and it is hard to argue with their versatility. I recommend looking at the combo packages that include a plunge base. It is a good way to get two machines for the price of one. In my opinion, an elaborate router table is not necessary for most applications, nor are the expensive and bulky jigs and templates for making joints. What tends to happen is the tools start to drive what is made. Drawers start to fit the machine or template instead of the piece of furniture. Sufficient joints can be made with the table saw, by hand, or you can make your own templates to fit your project.
Dividers (or compass) are used for taking and repeating a measurement over and over again on a work piece. Traditional woodworkers rarely take measurements with a tape measure when doing fine joinery work, but rather take a measurement with dividers then transfer that arbitrary (yet accurate) measurement to another work piece. This removes a degree of inaccuracy.
Arguably the industrial arts class that is most missed is wood shop. Learning how to work with wood is not only handy, allowing you to make and fix things around the house, but allows you to satisfyingly connect with a long history of craftsmanship. Woodworking was one of the earliest skills mankind developed; the pre-industrial world was largely made of wood, and for thousands of years, all men had at least a rudimentary understanding of how to shape and manipulate it. Even up until the second half of the last century, tradesmen and professionals alike had the confidence to be able to build wooden shelves, cabinets, or even chairs for their family.
If you are wanting to build great looking chairs for your patio you've come to the right place. I bought a home late last year and didn't have any patio furniture whatsoever. My dad had built a beautiful piece for their home and so I credit him with design help and the inspiration to build my own. This setup is perfect for enjoying a relaxing evening out on the deck with friends or family. I built my chairs out of cedar because cedar does not rot and stands up against the outdoor elements quite well. You can use pine as long as it is painted or coated with a thick finish of poly.
If you enjoy these free bookcase plans be sure to check out these other free woodworking plans for shelves, coffee tables, entertainment centers, desks, Little Free Library, wine racks, jewelry boxes, home bars, kitchen islands, bathroom vanities, playhouses, picnic tables, dog houses, decks, workbenches, tree houses, pergolas, sheds, Adirondack chairs, bunk beds, and even chicken coops.
Drill four 5/8-in.-dia. 1/2-in.-deep holes on the large disc?inside the traced circle?then use 5/8-in. dowel centers to transfer the hole locations to the underside of the small disc. Drill four 1/2-in.-deep holes on the underside of the small disc and a 1/2-in.-deep hole in the center of the top for the dowel handle. Glue in the dowels to join the discs, and glue in the handle. We drilled a wood ball for a handle knob, but a screw-on ceramic knob also provides a comfortable, attractive grip.
As for schooling, many local school districts, community colleges and woodworking stores offer woodworking classes, but those are a mixed bag. A handful is really good and many are terrible. There’s also a big difference between woodworking for fun and doing it for a living, and most classes are geared towards hobbyists. Out of all the proper woodworking schools with good reputations, I’ve only had personal experience with Marc Adams School of Woodworking. That place I recommend 100%, as the instructors are generally active professionals in their specialized niches, so one can always pick their brains for extra information related to earning a living. The director of the school also does a good job of screening instructors to eliminate the ones that don’t interact well in a classroom setting.