Adam Roman – What I learned from my first real woodworking project

Hi everyone, my name is Adam and I am new to woodworking. I am here to share my perspective on what it’s like for the newbie woodworker. Jay was gracious enough to allow me the opportunity to share with you guys my experiences. So to set the stage I am not someone who grew up with a father or grandfather showing me the ropes of woodworking or handed me down tools. I am 40, married with 2 kids, live in New York my whole life, been working in corporate America for almost 20 years, I love technology, video games and Star Wars.

A few months ago I had to get a bookcase for my son’s small room. And what my wife picked out was one of those sticks and canvas ones….for a $110 with shipping….a $110 dollars for a little tiny bookcase made of sticks and 2 pieces of canvas…I couldn’t do it on principle! So what do I do? I say I am going to build him some shelves! Now mind you I have NEVER build something from scratch before. I have put together my fair share of prefab, pre-made furniture but nothing from basic materials. So I go out to Sears, buy a circular saw, nails, some ¾ plywood and 2 weeks later (yes 2 weeks of going out to the garage after work, literally not knowing anything about measuring or what I was doing) I built two boxes without a top. And I LOVED it!

So after doing some research on the web I found woodworkers like Jay Bates, Steve Ramsey, John Heisz, Izzy Swan and a ton of others. I started watching every video about woodworking I could get my eyes on and I still do. So what do I do after building my little book boxes? Of course I decide to build my kids a play table with cube storage chairs! Not just a 4 legged table…oh no I am going to build a Trestle table! Because I am SOOO experienced now. I found plans on ana-white.com and just decided to run with it.

Here you can see all the lumber pieces I picked up – some 2x4s, 2x2s, 2x1s, 1×12 boards and a 2ft x 4ft sheet of ¾” plywood.

Lumber

And fairly quickly I got to here. I borrowed a neighbor’s compound miter saw to do the angle cuts on the legs.

table1

The top was easy but I did have a little hard time with the circular saw cause I did not have a straight edge. So at one end of the plywood panel I used that was a bit of a bump that I had to sand down.

table2

table3

table4

Next were the storage cube chairs. These were very easy to construct using Kreg Pocket Hole screws and glue for the little lip in the front and back.. I did not have a proper workbench assembly area and one of the cube’s sides didn’t go together perfectly flush to the top so again I had to do a little extra sanding. Also I didn’t have a router so I used my orbital sander to round off every sharp edge.

chair1

A couple of coats of spray paint and casters from HD and bam…instant storage and chair! Spray painting is a skill that needs to be developed. I probably should have primed it first as well but as you will see it still came out nice.

chair2

Here is the final stained product. I put 3 coats of minwax stain with 3 coats of poly using foam brushes while sanding in between each coat with one of those green scour pad sponges.

table5

Now as you can see it came out pretty good but for my first real woodworking project but I probably should have started with something a little simpler. So what I want to do is share what I consider some important lessons I learned from my first go at it:

Number 9 – If at all possible avoid buying your lumber on Saturday morning from the big box stores. I “ran” out at 11am to quickly “pick up the wood” at Home Depot and it turned into a 3 hour marathon! Between me trying to find straight boards, the weekend crowds and honestly me not know where everything was it took way too long. Next time I am going on a quiet weeknight.

Number 8 – Make a list of everything you know you will need and then get all your supplies at one time before starting your project. You are going to forget something but in this case I forgot a lot of somethings. All those trips back and forth was time I could have used to finishing up the project sooner.

Number 7 – You need space to work. I don’t have a shop set up yet so I just have a corner full of my tools and when you don’t have a work area where you can keep your tools on hand things get left EVERYWHERE but where you need them. I can honestly say I spent more time looking for a drill bit or my tape measure than I did actually building the table. I recently got a work apron, which helps some, but I am looking forward to warmer weather to set up a proper workshop.

Number 6 – Do not underestimate the importance of dust collection! It amazes me how much sawdust gets kicked around by these tools. As you start you are not going to have a full DC set up so try to work outdoors or as close to the door as you can. It was warmer out when I was building this so I could open the garage door but at night it would get too cold and I couldn’t do it. So I learned quickly to save my sanding for during the day so I could do it outside. It goes without saying but a proper filter mask is a must.

Number 5 – When the experts and directions say wipe of the excess stain…wipe it off! It looks great but it’s a bit darker than I wanted it cause I didn’t wipe off the stain. The worst part is I don’t even have a good reason why I didn’t.

Number 4 – It’s easy to get sanding happy. So I got back later than I wanted to after my vacation to HD but was still able to cut everything. But I was fired up to keep going and I wanted to see how smooth the wood would be after a little sanding….well a little sanding turning into 3 hours of orbital sanding madness. I obviously got a little too into it and ended up sanding edges that didn’t need it which caused me some minor issues later on in the build.

Number 3 – Do not forget the glue! If you watch or read anything about a woodworking project there will be a section where instructor is using glue. They don’t use it for fun…this stuff is unbelievable! It makes for such a strong permenant bond and early on I forgot to use is in some spots which combined with my sanding error created a wobbly table which leads me to …

Number 2 – Shims. These little slices of wood are games changers when you mess up. I spend 2 nights trying to figure out the wobble when I figured out a couple of shims in between the leg tops and table top locked everything in nice and tight.

Number 1 – You will make mistakes and its OK! This will ultimately be my biggest personal challenge to remind myself it’s ok to make a mistake. Most mistakes are correctable and this isn’t heart surgery. It may sound cliché but you really do learn more from mistakes and how to fix them.

In the end what you need to have is patience. Now please understand I didn’t have a full weekend to knock this out. It was a half a Saturday and a lot of after work nights so I got impatient. Ultimately it didn’t burn me this time but it will! Relax, enjoy the process, measure twice cut once, be safe, take your time cause you will enjoy yourself more and have a better project in the end. Take your time and enjoy the journey cause in my opinion that ‘s what it’s all about in woodworking. It’s not about the table, it’s how we got to the table.

Adam
NY Woodworker
http://nywoodworker.blogspot.com

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28 Comments

  1. Warren

    Congratulations and welcome to the fold. Woodworking is not a hobby, it’s an obsession. The guys you mentioned, Jay, izzy, Steve and the rest are great. But if you haven’t already done so, check out Norm Abrams and the New Yankee Workshop on YouTube. I used to watch him religiously every Thursday night. He is a great teacher and breaks down each task into manageable pieces. Keep at it and good for you.
    Warren Valente
    Ocean Aire Woodworking

    1. AdamR

      It really is an obsession. I can honestly tell you I haven’t watched much TV anymore. My free time is all about youtube videos and reading. I must have designed and redesigned my future garage corner workshop 50 times over! I have found Norm and watched several of his episodes. While I enjoy and learn from Norm it’s people like Jay, Steve & Izzy who I am “growing up with ” and are becoming my “Norm” Thanks Warren!

  2. Frank DiGiorgio

    Great post Adam – your tips are spot on. I too am a newb and have been following all the names mentioned above and trying to learn as much as I can. My wife started “crafting” last year so she asked if there some small wood projects I could do for her. I was learning by trial & error :)

    My skills have come a long way. I’ve done several “primitive” shelf’s for the house and right now, i’m in the process of building her a Stepback Cabinet for the family room. It was my Valentine’s gift for her. As you know being in NY [I’m in PA], this winter has been rough – too cold to work in the garage so I do what I can, when I can.

    My best find was talking to a friend of a friend and he gave me the number to a guy close to home that does his own mill work. Find one if you can – you’ll get better quality boards at 1/3 – 1/2 the price of the big box stores.

    Good luck on all your future projects…

    1. AdamR

      Thanks for the mill tip Frank. This winter has been brutal and my garage just doesn’t retain enough heat to work in either. It’s supposed to be in the 40s this weekend I just have to convince the wife to spare me sometime cause her and kids are going stir crazy too. Good luck with the Stepback Cabinet!

  3. J. Mennella

    These are fantastic tips for a lot of work we do (refurbishing furniture, etc), not just woodworking. I wish I had seen this before tackling some of our projects, it would have saved me some heartache (and many trips to Home Depot). You’ve also shared some tips that we didn’t know and can’t wait to us in the future! Well done!

    1. AdamR

      Thanks! Plus I don’t know about you but I end up always finding something extra to spend money on when I go into those stores now. :-)

  4. donjoe62

    Welcome Adam. I think you’ll find you learn with each new project. I’m a granddad and I’m still learning all the time.

    1. AdamR

      Hey Don funny you say that cause when I had to come up with a name for my blog I initially thought of “newbie woodworker” or something like that. But the more I thought about it and the more I learn I realize we will always be “newbies” cause we will always be learning something new. I personally like it.

  5. Dan

    As others have stated, we all started somewhere and by the looks of your projects you have a great start. The sites you are following will be a real encouragement and very helpful by showing you how to do things with minimal tools. Have a great time.

  6. Derek

    Great job on your project Adam. Always keep the enjoyment you get from working with wood and yes even the marathon sanding events we all have to endure. Never stop learning Adam. Woodworkers such as Jay, Rockin H, Rob’s Garage, Steve at Mere Mortals and wood work web have a ton of resources and information you can avail yourself of. One more thing, buy the best quality tools you can afford as you progress with building a shop. Have fun Adam.

  7. Andrew

    Go big or go home on your second project. I built an adirondack chair when I was 12 and I’m still improving at 15

    1. AdamR

      Kitchen Table! The wife was initially against it but when she saw how good the first project came out she quickly jumped on board! Now she has done a 180 from saying “um I don’t think it’s a good idea” to “You better move me up to the top of your project list!”

  8. bryan patterson

    wonderful job there Adam i like you do not have a shop dedicated to woodworking so im working outside keep up the good work man!!

    1. AdamR

      Thanks Bryan – In NY it’s been too cold to even work in the garage. By next winter I have to think of a heating solution cause by then the shop will be up and I don’t think I will want to take 3 months off from making saw dust. :-) Enjoy working outside at least you don’t have to stress dust collection.

  9. Tim

    Yep, you’ve got the bug. Wait until the “I need more tools” stage starts. (Hint: It never stops!)

  10. AdamR

    Tim that bug bit too early…it’s also going to be a topic for another article I am working on. As you know not only is there a tool for every job but multiple levels of quality of each tool! It can get so crazy so quick!

  11. Robbie

    Awesome job and article! I just discovered your blog courtesy of the drunken wood worker. I too am a newbie. Only been wood working for six months or so. But part of that time includes a cross country move a month ago. I’m impressed you already have a kreg pocket hole jig. That’s on the dream list. With having six kids that one might have to wait for a while… keep up the good work.

  12. Reginald Taylor

    Adam, I know how you feel because I have been a industrial maintenance technician most of my life. But, i have done some remodeling projects and i started woodworking about 10 years ago. I realized woodworking is different and you have to take your time and be patient. I have to made a headboard for my son but i got in a big hurry. I had to strip the finish off and start over becuase i started putting the second coat of finish on it before it was dry. This was my second project that I worked on in my woodworking years. I will have to say great job on your work.

  13. Ian

    I would be interested in knowing where you are at with your skill level and projects now, Adam. I am sure that after some more builds your knowledge has more than doubled.

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