Woodworking, unfortunately, is a rather intimidating hobby to start. Not only do you need a fair amount of tools and supplies, but power tools can be dangerous to use if you don’t know what you’re doing, adding a whole other barrier to entry.
Therefore, the best way to start woodworking is to take a class. Community colleges, adult education offered by your local school district, private makerspaces, and online sources are all places to look to find a high-quality class.
But maybe that’s not feasible! That’s okay – we’ll go into some DIY options for starting woodworking as a hobby too!
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Part 1: Finding a Good Woodworking Class
If you have the means (aka, money,) you should absolutely take a class to learn woodworking. Preferably an in-person class; that will allow you to test out the various tools, learn how to use them safely under supervision, and figure out which ones you use often enough to purchase for home use.
Taking an in-person class negates the need to buy tools from the beginning, since you’ll have access to the tools at the shop.
This will save you a ton of money initially, and when you finally do purchase your tools, you’ll know exactly which ones to buy, and have the experience to purchase the right type and quality tool you need.
And if you don’t have a friend to take the class with you, and are nervous about taking the class by yourself – don’t be!
You will be far from the only person there alone. Trust me. I love taking classes (see my about page,) and while there are usually a few couples, most people sign up for classes by themselves.
Now lets get into finding a good woodworking class. If you live near a city, you’ll probably have a fair number of options.
If you live out in the country, you might be limited to an online course. On the flip side, when I lived in the country, most people around me had some familiarity with woodworking and basic power tools. If you know a few people, it probably wouldn’t be hard to find a friend to teach you the basics.
Finding a Woodworking Class In Your School District
Woodshop classes at the middle and high school level have really fallen out of favor lately. The good news is, some of these school districts still have the space and equipment, and so have turned the shops into an adult-education program in the evening to bring in a little extra cash.
You won’t find this in every school district, but if you live near a large city in the US, you have a chance of finding a program close by. Start by searching “adult enrichment nearby school district.”
Start with school districts close by, then expand out until you find a district with woodworking options, or you get further away than you’re willing to drive.
Since these classes tend to be run by non-profit school districts, they’re very affordable, which is why I listed them as the first option.
Unfortunately, they’re getting harder and harder to find. If you’re not able to find one, keep reading!
Woodworking Classes at Private Makerspaces
If you’re in a metropolitan area, there’s probably a makerspace nearby. I’m in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area right now, and actually have a couple to choose from.
In addition to access to a woodshop (aka, you don’t have to buy tools!) makerspaces often offer classes. Sometimes these are only open to members, sometimes they’re open to everyone, so see what your makerspace has!
Unfortunately, these classes are often one-time workshops, not ongoing classes that you take for a month or two. That’s alright, especially if you have some experience and are just trying to grow in a skill or two (I’m hoping to take a welding class sometime soon!)
But it’s not really ideal if you’re starting woodworking for the first time. If you’re just getting started, it’s really better to find a class that’s ongoing for a month or two, so you can get used to building projects over time. You’ll get exposure to more methods and more tools than a single workshop would provide.
Private makerspaces also tend to be pricier than the public community options, which is another reason it’s not my first choice for beginners.
Local Specialty Woodworking Stores Often Offer Classes
Have you ever walked into Home Depot, and seen a sign for a Saturday workshop?
Both big box stores and small woodworking stores offer workshops on the weekends to train people in new projects or a new tool.
The good news is that these workshops are relatively well-priced. The bad news is that they double as a sales pitch for whatever the store wants to sell.
Regardless, it’s another way to get out and learn something you might not be comfortable doing. Rockler and Woodcraft are both woodworking specialty stores that offer in-person classes regularly.
Finding a Woodworking Class at a Community or Technical College
I’ll start by saying that this route is probably overkill. Community/technical college classes are preparing people for a career in construction or woodworking, so if you go this route, you’ll typically have 5-6 hours of class a week for an entire semester.
That said, this is what I did, and it was great. I started with a general “construction 101” course, where all the other people in the course were preparing to become construction workers, and I was there for fun.
It was incredibly thorough. I passed a safety quiz on every single tool before I touched it, and during our “lab” time, made three different projects that are probably nicer than anything I’m able to make in my home shop now.
If you have an abundance of time and are willing to go all-in, I really do recommend taking a community/technical college class.
The sticker price is a bit higher than some of the other options (probably between $200 and $600,) but when you consider the number of hours of instruction you get, the per hour price of the class is laughably low.
Some warnings though; for most colleges, you’re going to need to apply to the school first. As long as you’ve found a PUBLIC school (avoid the for-profit ones,) this is either free or a negligible fee.
Additionally, some degree programs only allow you to enroll in the classes if you are enrolled in the entire program. Confirm that’s not the case before you apply to the school.
To find a class, be on the lookout for something in the construction, cabinetmaking, or carpentry departments. You’ll then want an entry level course that talks about building familiarity with power tools, and discuss a project-based component.
This course at my local technical college is an example of what you might want to look for. This other wood art course they also appear to offer looks super interesting too, but I don’t think it’ll build your familiarity with power tools.
Online Woodworking Classes
If you’re not able to find a class near you, there are classes available online. Unfortunately, I think one of the most valuable aspects of a class is being supervised by an expert; having someone there to instruct you really pushes you to try new things and start a power tool for the first time.
Online classes obviously lack that aspect, which makes them less valuable to me than the in-person classes.
However, I do think purchasing an online class is still easier than trying to DIY-it with Youtube videos and tutorials. Classes really walk you through each step to grow your skills. They’re (hopefully) well-organized, and save you time and effort in the learning process.
If you’re going to go the online route, I recommend Steve Ramsey’s Weekend Woodworker Course. It’s designed to be completed in 6 weekends, with one project to tackle per weekend.
Part 2: Learn Woodworking On Your Own
The tricky thing about woodworking is that there are a number of barriers to entry, aka, things that prevent people from just picking it up. Here’s a short list:
- Tool Expense
- Fear of Power Tools
- Finding achievable projects
If you’re going to pick up woodworking as a hobby on your own, you’re going to need to tackle all of these things.
Finding Starter Woodworking Projects
The best starter projects are ones that are simple, and don’t require a ton of tools to build.
Tool-wise, I consider starter projects to be ones that really just require a saw to cut the wood, a drill/driver to drive screws, and a clamp to hold the wood together while you add the glue/screws.
While in many of these projects, the authors use a few more tools to make things easier (a nail gun for nails, a sander to smooth the wood,) they’re in no way required.
Here’s a short list of starter projects for you to check out:
- DIY Laptop Stand, Anika’s DIY Life
- Blanket Ladder, Ana White
- Wooden Arrow Wall Art, Cherished Bliss
- DIY Stained Wood Tray, How to Nest for Less
- Laptop Couch Desk, A Butterfly House
If you don’t see anything above you love, the “plans” section of Ana White’s website can be filtered by “starter.” All the projects left only require a few tools, so browse and see if you can find a project you like.
It would also be negligent of me to not mention your local library. Libraries often have project books available with a number of simple starter plans in them!
And it might be easier to start with a plan out of a book than the internet, so you’re not try to juggle technology and power tools at the same time.
Acquiring Woodworking Tools
To start woodworking, you need two things:
- A way to cut wood
- A way to connect wood together
That’s it. Yes, I could name 15 different tools for you to buy right now, but honestly, I don’t see the point of buying tools until you actually need them.
Instead, find a project you want to build. Buy the tools you need to build it. Slowly, you’ll grow your tool inventory, until you have all the tools you need to build whatever project you dream up.
Minimum Tool Requirements
As I said above, I am not a proponent of buying every tool under the sun for your first project. I’d hate for you to do that, then realize halfway through the project that you hate woodworking.
Instead, buy what you need. At minimum, you’ll need a drill/driver, and a saw. Some projects require more (a lot more,) but you should be able to find at least a few projects with minimal tool requirements (see section above.)
Drill/drivers are affordable easy to find, and you may already have on since they’re also useful for general home improvement tasks.
I’d recommend getting a decent quality one (aka, don’t buy it at Harbor Freight,) simply because you’ll use it a lot, and even if you don’t stick with woodworking, it’s a good tool to own.
Also, the Harbor Freight drill/drivers are awful. Guess how I know…
I have this Ryobi Drill/Driver, and it’s a good buy for the price. The battery charges in 30 minutes, and the drill has plenty of power. The clutch locking mechanism (what holds the drill bit in-place) occasionally fails on me after 2+ years of ownership, but that’s a minor inconvenience.
If you’re looking to splurge a bit, I’d go for this Dewalt Drill/Driver. It’s brushless, meaning it has a motor that will last longer, and has a 1/2″ chuck, meaning it can take larger drill bits. I’ve never owned this drill, but I love Dewalt in general, and this would be my pick if I ever bought a heavy-duty drill.
While you might be able to get away on your first project or two with lumber cut at the hardware store, at some point early-on, you’re going to need to get a saw.
There’s some debate in the woodworking community about whether your first saw should be a circular saw or a miter saw. I strongly recommend going for the miter saw.
You can read a whole post about why I believe a miter saw should be your first saw, but the general gist is that it’s less scary and easier to use. Circular saws are cheaper and more versatile, but they can be dangerous, and if you’re new to power tools, miter saws are just faster, easier and safer.
Purchasing Affordable High-Quality Woodworking Tools
The first thing I always ask myself before buying a tool, is if the tool is a single-project tool, or a tool I’m going to be using all the time in the shop.
The answer to that question determines the quality of tool I buy. Daily use? buy a nice tool. Once in awhile? A cheaper tool will do.
Harbor Freight is known for selling “disposable tools,” aka, tools that are incredibly cheap, but also low quality.
You might be the person who immediately decides to never shop at Harbor Freight. That’s fine. But I think Harbor Freight has value in allowing you to test out a tool to determine if it’s something you actually want in the shop.
Sometimes, I’ll buy a Harbor Freight tool if I need it for a project, but am not sure if I’ll actually use it enough to justify a big tool project. If I use the tool enough to break it, up I upgrade to higher quality version.
Regardless, at some point, you’ll want to purchase high-quality tools. As always, you can purchase new tools from your local home improvement store. They’re new, reliable, and come from quality brands.
But another option is to explore used tools. You might be inclined to bypass this route, but older tools were often built to last, and are still going strong after 30+ years. My table saw was a used purchase, and it’s a great saw that is literally older than I am!
Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace are well-known places to buy used tools, but the real gold is found at auctions and estate sales.
If you live in a rural area, chances are these will be advertised in your local county paper ever weekend. Tools are thrown around like candy out there, and it’s really not hard to find quality tools at great prices.
Finally, be sure to check out thrift stores that also stock home improvement items. The Habitat for Humanity Restore is a national store. The one near me almost always has used tools available. You’ll also want to see if there are any local places near you that might also stock tools.
As an example, The University of Minnesota has a Reuse store that sells items that the university is getting rid of. I follow their Facebook page, and have seen tools pop up a number of times (as well as many very weird things. Apparently, universities own strange items.)
Another Option: Borrowing High-Quality Woodworking Tools
It can be tougher to find high-quality used tools in urban areas. First off, there aren’t as many auctions and estate sales.
But even when you can find them, urbanites don’t typically have the tool collection that people in rural areas do, so there are fewer tools available to sell off in the first place.
But urban areas have another great opportunity: tool libraries! This is the one in my area, and it costs an whopping $55 for an entire year. You can check out just about any tool you can dream up for a full week at a time.
This provides a great opportunity to do projects you couldn’t otherwise accomplish simply by borrowing the tool instead of buying it! And if you love a tool, and think you’ll use it a lot, you can put it on your “to buy” list for later.
Unfortunately, I’ve never seen a tool library outside of an urban area, but I’d like to think they’re becoming more common every day! Check and see if there’s one near you!
Learning To Use Tools Safely
This is a difficult one for me, actually, because the best way to learn how to use tools safely is under the guidance of an expert. And the easiest way to find an expert to guide you is by taking a class.
But since this is the “DIY” section of the post, I can’t just tell you to go take a class.
So my first recommendation is to find a friend who’s used power tools before, and is willing to make a project or two with you for an afternoon. That way, they can show you how they use the tools, and give you a bit more confidence to try them out.
And you probably don’t need me to tell you this, but Youtube is a great place to go to watch videos on how to use power tools properly. I trust Steve Ramsey’s Woodworking for Mere Mortals, and he has a great “basic tools” playlist that will get you started.