How do I get started in woodworking?

It’s not so easy a question to answer these days because those who did at one time teach woodworking were once craftsmen who changed occupation to enter the teaching realm with their craft skills as working men. That changed when instead of teaching aspects of life to equip young people to engage in adulthood they began predicting trends to meet the demands of commerce and educated children accordingly. The predictive abilities of recent governments were obviously incompetent all around the world and so we end up with waste that left people ill equipped in any sort of practical realms. All that being the case, we can no longer look to educators to teach craft skills such as metal work and woodwork. P1090397

I’m not sorry that schools internationally have mostly dropped woodworking because they were pretty much not the best places to actually teach such crafts in any sort of real way. That said, it did touch the palate of kids to give them a taste of what it takes to work with wood, so it’s not all always a waste. I wouldn’t really lament the loss of woodworking in schools as such but I would lament the loss of skilled craftsman teachers for younger people in truly structured apprenticeships and environments where mature and responsible young people can go to to at least experience a two week programme of real work. Our goal is to make that happen for more and more young people without becoming exclusive and excluding anyone else. DSC_0024

So I’ve decided to take this on. Let’s see what happens from here. The ingredients you need to work with wood are not complicated, not sophisticated but need to be thoroughly explained.  I’ll give it some thought and we can get started.  We should start soon. How do you take the first steps in today’s age?


  1. You may just light a fire that can’t be put out. Beware Xbox and Nintendo they may come for you.

  2. Paul I must say once again how much I appreciate what you’re doing.

    But I believe you’re wrong about one thing.

    Your last post mentioned that governments misunderstood or incorrectly estimated the best course for training young people into adulthood. But I don’t have any reason to think they even try.

    The current system in the industrialized countries doesn’t view me, or you, as a “citizen” to whom a government has certain obligations (‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’.)

    In the globalist system, we have become “consumers” or “taxpayers”. Their own publications make these assumptions are clear. Their enablers in the corporate media are only too happy to carry the message because the consumerism that fuels the entire system is the reason that “media” is itself a multi billion dollar industry (advertising).

    “Citizen” versus “consumer” versus “taxpayer”, it’s not a matter of semantics or pedantry.

    The goal of “the system” is to provide just enough peace for trade to continue. To educate a “consumer” just well enough that he can play his role and “consume” the products he’s told to. To “the system” it is desirable that young people not have skills to become independent, self-reliant, and content. It’s more desirable that they climb right onto the hamster wheel, with a focus on buying “stuff” as the unachievable key to happiness, all while just getting by after paying taxes.

    I realize how bleak I sound. But it’s not all that bad.

    The funny thing is that free will is still a human endowment, and the younger folk particularly are starting to see behind the mask. The “slow” movement, “tiny home”, “local food”, the cracks in “the system” are starting to show. The desire for happiness and fulfillment, for freedom, is still that strong.

    How does it play out into woodworking as a craft? Of that I’m not sure. I’m a “mid-career professional” with a much larger than average family to support. (Our grocer’s bill is larger than most folks’ housing payment.)

    So I’m on the “hamster wheel” and don’t see a way off until my kids move out. They may have a better chance; I encourage them to build their expenses around their income (rather than the other way around, which is more common) and that happiness is more likely to be found not in consumption, but in the freedom that comes from knowing you’ve got money saved to fall back on. I also encourage them to find a path that involves “making” not simply “taking” (money for time).

    I spend my days in an office, and from 6:30 to midnight in my shop making. I’ll keep looking for a way off the “hamster wheel” so that I can follow the advice I give my children….

    1. Freeman would be a better term than citizen. They do not want anyone to realize that they are as free as they want to be. Their power comes from people freely submitting to their demands. If we would all stand up and say no, they have no power.

      I am not sure where you live, but a garden and canning is a wonderful way to cut your food bill dramatically. It is also a good teacher for children. Chickens are easy to raise and the right breed will give you 5 to 6 eggs a week per chicken. There are a lot of things you can do to free yourself. We have been slowly doing it for a few years now. Your in a better spot, more hands means more work can get done.

    2. There was a time when a drill was a drill. I have bought three Makita screw-guns now and they became unusable because of their advanced batteries wearing out within a year and a half or so even though I use them so little. In times past they lasted years but not so today. When companies create fashion in working equipment and working clothes that at one time I never saw a man at work fool with we have a problem. To create political and socio economics you must create fashion and style and the desire for things to stimulate the systems that make people buy and then buy again. Obsolescence no longer comes by the product or the clothes wearing down and wearing out but by people wearing out their fashionable interest and appearance. It’s a sad day when people are afraid to go to work in the same sweater two days in a row and it’s all the worse when people buy power equipment because of the outside shape and colour of a plastic cover when the insides are essentially the same.

      1. I realize this is an old post, but still feel a strong drive to respond – just to get things off my chest, I suppose.

        About five years ago I (re-)discovered the Stanley Yankee screwdrivers and have come to love them. They rarely cost me more than a euro at car-boot sales as many people consider them obsolete and useless. But with a few homemade bits (especially the middle-sized #131, which takes 7mm bits, can be used easily with common 1/4″ hex bits that are slightly modified) and a DIY hex bit-holder, they’re as useful now as they were back then. I feel I have much more control over my work, never suffer empty or worn-out batteries, and they’re noiseless, quick and effective.

        And, though childish of me, I secretly relish using them in public – quietly showing off how quick and noiseless they are. Then again, if tools don’t make screeching, screaming noises, with hex-bits rattling over and chewing up screwheads, how will everyone else know you’re working? Hm…..

        My main cordless drill was, just like one of the other respondents in this thread, a birthday gift when I got to 19 (I am now 44), a copy of a Makita, using the same 7.2V Makita batteries. Not Makita quality and I know that having only 7.2 volts puts me very low on the manliness-scale, but it still works for me and gets the job done. Every few years I build a new battery pack, replacing the old cells with new ones (I have built a capacitor-discharge spotwelder for this – large capacitor bank, insanely large puck-type thyristor and some ignition electronics, and a power supply – all components were scrap-yard finds) and I’m good for another few years. Before that, I simply soldered the replaced cells. Not recommended, but when that’s all the tools you have, it’s what you use. So my cordless drill is now going strong for 25 years, though over the past few years it got used a lot less (only for larger diameter holes in steel, and, especially, stainless steel) as I’ve discovered the hand-drill (egg-beater style), which is now my go-to tool. Only for the ‘difficult’ holes the battery drill comes out.

        I’ve found a few more cordless drills on my road. Usually for free, as the batteries are dead. I sometimes remove the batteries and install a 2 or 3m length of cord, connected to a 12V gell-cell (lead-acid battery) of 7Ah. This works pretty nice too, and a few volts more (say, 12V for originally a 9.6V model drill) doesn’t hurt them, in my experience. When the battery gets down I recharge it with a car-battery charger. Still a pretty portable set-up, and I find the drills much easier to handle without that large, heavy, cumbersome battery attached to them.

        As for the rest, I strongly agree with the points being made by both you and the others. When things go defect here, I repair them. Last night I glued some new leather wear-patches on my steel-nosed shoes (which were issued to me for my first job, in 1999 – bet I was the only economist from my university-year who got steel-nosed shoes for his first job, as the rest of class went to work in banking, finance, insurance or consultancy – I preferred industry though). Shoes are still being used by me to this day, nearly 20 years later.

        This month I’m entirely overhauling my 1979 bicycle (completely taken apart, re-painting frame, replacing bearings, etc.) – the bike that I’ve been using since 1985. Even then it was a 2nd-hand one I was given to ride to secondary-school in the next town. That bike is today still my main form of transportation, and 3 speeds are plenty enough for the Flatland we call the Netherlands. Can’t beat that Sturmey-Archer AW-3 hub! Alas, Sturmey-Archer as a manufacturer is a thing of the past too.

        Waste not want not. When broken, repair. If necessary, modify.

        People often tell me it makes no economical sense to do so. I then tell them I am an economist. I tell them they are right. And I tell them I nevertheless still do it. Because of how my parents taught me. And because of an ‘inner drive’ to do so. The feeling of satisfaction when you’ve succeeded in repairing something that clearly wasn’t meant to be repaired. Or the sheer joy I feel of keeping an old thing working…. and working… and working…. with a few patches here and there, and signs of wear and use, but still working as it was intended to be.

        I find your blog (and its respondents) a haven of no-nonsense sanity and practicality, without the daily hype that’s so abundantly present all around.

        1. +20.

          Though I disagree about the economics – you’re getting something of value for nearly nothing save your time in each of these examples, which is a wonderful economic efficiency. Your naysayers are trapped in the groove, but not you.

  3. I started last month, I did a little overtime and squeezed a little bit out of the budget to get myself a few tools, no more than £50 in total to pick up a few old knackered bits and bobs from ebay supplemented with dirt cheap Chinese stuff to fill gaps. I had been collecting bits of old pallet wood, a few 2x4s and getting some knackered old furniture from skips to salvage wood.

    In place of any suitable workbench I made a bench hook to sit on the kitchen table and attach work-pieces to, I’ve since made a little birdhouse for the garden, a couple spatulas and a side-table to get a feel for a mix of different work and skills.

    I can’t explain why I have connected with it as a 29 year old when I just didn’t have any joy with it in school. Perhaps 13 years of working in the service industry have left me disheartened, it’s hard to put a finger on a single piece of work I’ve done in that time that I’m proud of and that realisation has had the biggest impact on me, everything I’ve ever done in my work life will be obsolete within the decade but that side-table will probably outlive me.

  4. Sounds to me like you are off to a good start. You have leaped the hardest hurdle that most people stumble on. Just getting started.

  5. Your last paragraph has explained it too well, Gavin. You can believe to a venezuelan mechanical engineer with 12 years working in the national oil and gas industry.

  6. I’m 69 and retired now but during all of my adult life I worked as an electronics technician.

    I started out in the U.S. Navy in Interior Communications. One of the things I learn early in that occupation was when you done things right, like you do Paul, the finished results last longer and when you hang your hat on it you can look at and feel proud. Like I could see in your eyes at the completion of that stool. While the work I done aboard ship definitely would not last for generations it would last much longer than if I had done a half-ass job.

    Am I on a treadmill or have I ever been on a one. I’m positive the answer is yes to both. However, most of the time I have been doing, within reason, more or less, what I want to do, do it right and feel proud of the job I done.

    Lets face it “every thing you do you do because it is a source of happiness”. Sure a young kid doesn’t go to school because “it makes him or her happy”, but in comparison of what will happen it they don’t, will yes they will be happier if they go to school. If you feel you are on a treadmill get off. It may take sometime but get a plan and work you plan on getting off that mill and into something that inspires you. If you don’t, don’t blame someone else.

    “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.” – Abraham Lincoln

  7. Funny you should say that about your drill. I have an amazing drill, it’s a Panasonic, I was just using it yesterday. What is so amazing about it you ask? I got it for a 21st present, I am now 40! Can you believe it? Still using the same battery, although I do have a second one I brought a few years ago that does last longer so the original is finally on its way out. Those old Ni-cads last for ever! But you have to remember to use them/cycle them, if they are left sitting for long periods they will die sooner.
    If you ever see an old Panasonic grab it, you can still get replacement batteries for them online and the steel gearbox lasts forever. I highly recommend one from the mid 90’s, trust me I have one and its still taking a beating after all these years.

  8. I have to agree with the sentiments, all of them. For that reason and others I’ve been looking for and think I have found my way off of the treadmill. I’m still planning, but at 41 I don’t have all the time in the world to teach my daughter how to stay off of it herself, nor do I have the will do try to convince my wife of the correctness of the action I am laying the groundwork to undertake. She will have to simply see it play out and realize that I don’t have to die in a machine shop to ensure that there is food on the table. Arthritis is already setting in. I had my first heart attack at only 36 years old. I’ve been searching for how to live better since then and I think I’ve found it.

    Incidentally, someone broke into my garage on the morning of June 30th and stole all of the batteries for my electrical tools and the chargers that go with them. The only electrical things I’ve got left that weren’t made immediately useless are a bench-mounted drill press and the shop lighting. Losing my electric drill reminded me that a bit brace is an EXCELLENT replacement for boring larger holes and for turning the screwdriver tips that are normally used with the electric drill, a hand crank drill does wonders with the smaller bits, and neither has any batteries that can be stolen. Mine are more than 70 years old and still work like new. Take that, Big Box Stores!

  9. Great post as always Paul. And some really good comments. Ì added a link to it from my new blog. Hope that’s ok? If not let me know and I’ll take it down. I’ve only just started using WordPress and I linked to my blog from my newly upgraded website.
    Still heaps to do but I’m getting there.

  10. Having been a Craft Design and Technology teacher for 33 years, till 2002 and seeing how a government full of academics wanted to try to make all children designers, I made sure that my after school clubs allowed children to just make. Practical lads and lasses who were often a problem in academic lessons would be fabulous to teach on these occasions. I would have a dozen or so artifacts for youngsters to choose from and I had all materials cut to size ready, so immediately they could start making. In CDT lessons 2weeks of trying to design something would completely turn them off.
    Ask to see the backgrounds of MPs and try to spot any that have an engineering or practical background. You will have to look jolly hard.
    I have written to the minister for education and asked them to look at the German education system and why they have great designers, technicians and craftsmen. It’s all down to horses for courses not enforced equal opportunities.

    Carry on teaching the skills Paul and we will say ‘I too will something make and joy in the making ‘

    1. As with most things though; education is wasted on the young.

      I’m 44, in an administrative job at a university, but after thinking to myself that one day is like to be able to build my own beehives (because they are inordinately expensive) I attended a woodworking class that was aimed at women.

      I learned some of the basics there, but my real education came afterwards when I hungrily devoured any woodworking video I could find. I found several by random posters, but I knew I’d found the master when I found Paul’s channel.

      Now my problem is finding enough time and wood to make all of the things I want to make!

  11. What Paul said is the truth…You don’t get the best out of just watching videos about woodworking. You can’t smell beauty of the wood. I am 71 and just getting started. Canadians have always loved wood but never come out of the forest to smell it. This Canadian will

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