Woodworking: A Beginning? -OR- Probably Not How to Begin Woodworking

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My first bench! It’s about time we had something to throw our stuff on but never sit on . . .

It had just rained, and, despite knowing the exact location of where I was headed, I was not exactly sure where I needed to park. He had told me to pull around to the alley. What alley? Is this the alley? I pulled onto a side street one house down from my destination – the house with the giant sign out front: “CLEAN PALLET BOARDS FOR SALE”.

There was no sidewalk on that side of the road, so I trudged through the soaking grass, admiring the grey of the sky. Walking passed the sign out front I was presented with a mental dilemma – those of you with social anxiety will understand – : the front door was open and only the clear screen door was covering the portal. Oh the pain of being seen without the appropriate time to prepare.

I knocked. A dog barked, turning away from me as often as its wariness would allow to check that a human was coming. A few more dogs showed up. Then a woman’s voice, very nearby: “someone’s at the door, hon . . .” A few more moments passed before the man limped up to the door. I smiled and explained that I had been the woman on the phone yesterday, and that I was here to pick up that wood. “Oh, you need to come on around back.” At this point his daughter had joined us all as well – a girl of about 14 with a simple, pretty face and an observant gaze. I quickly asked for clarification about where, exactly, that alley was. “Up this road over here,” she pointed, “and your first right.” She was so calm. It helped calm me.

I pulled my SUV around to the back gravel lot behind their house where there were three stacks of wood piled 5’ high. The man came out, daughter at his side, and I could see the reason for his limp: a prosthetic leg. He began asking me about what type of wood I wanted, it took everything within me to not shrug childishly. I told him that I could just use whatever’s on top and whatever is easiest for now. I wouldn’t be making anything exciting for a while and it would all just be practice. The father-daughter team began unpacking 10 pieces of wood, and the girl would then carry them over to the back of my car.

I left already feel accomplished. The smell of lumber filled my SUV and I inhaled deeply, smiling sillily.


Look, starting new things is awkward. It just is. But nothing beats that sense of daring excitement that comes after a new endeavor, and I’d only just gotten the wood to get started.

I had previous experience with a bit of carpentry: I had framed several paintings over the years, but my experience was limited to using a mitre saw, a table saw, and a band saw. This whole process began with my purchasing a Ryobi circular saw with leftover loan money. A whole $40! I brought it home excitedly, immediately taking it out of the box and assembling it, skimming over the manual – only spending time reading how to use it and the safety.

That night I cut up the wood I had purchased along with my saw – to create a set of rustic, barnwood inspired frames for my small cowboy paintings I was about to display in the annual MFA show at the Reece Museum. I loved them, and loved the added element of wear and home-made it brought to my paintings. Most artists want the frame to disappear, to merely set apart their painting from the wall. Mine added to the rustic feel.


Sometimes you love something because it’s awesome, sometimes you love it because you made it. But, I mean, it was a cowboy theme!


I was proud. But, of course, I almost immediately was offered carpentry lessons by the man of our group. He meant well, and you can definitely see above that my frames aren’t exactly pretty, but it was crushing and I replied defensively.

I was deterred, for a while. But after graduation, I set up a workbench.


Look! That’s the pallet wood I got on the side of the workbench!!


I did research on several simple plans and evaluated what our house could really use that would be an easy project for me. It’s always best to start with something simple. Trust me, I have dove in headlong to so many new materials that it’s mind-blowing – take it from the expert: doing this will only result in disappointment at not being able to live up to your own expectations. Start small. Start easy.

I settled on an entryway bench. Our entryway is . . . pretty much non-existent and I really wanted to give us both a space dedicated to that transition from inside to out. Transitional spaces are key.

I created a drawing of what I wanted, but kept it vague so that I could change it around when things didn’t go according to plan. They never do, so just allow your mind to accept it by preparing for it. Then, I got to work.


First I built a simple rustic frame. Note: as much as we all want to believe that nails are the way to go … they aren’t. Use screws.
I laid all of my top planks out before i got to hammering again. This let me work on spacing, but they don’t stay put when you hammer. Just so you know.


I had also created a quick shelf previously. The process was super simple. I only have one word of advice here: don’t decorate your shelf before you have everything hung that you want hung. Hammering + delicate items = heartbreak. It sounds obvious, but I get overly excited sometimes and just have to see how much succulents will look in a new spot. They looked amazing, by the way. Just before they fell to the ground.


A simple shelf for simple times.
Note: do not decorate a shelf while there is still hammering to be done to hang things. It doesn’t end well.


Woodworking is like sewing: it takes research, planning, preparation, and the patience of execution. I’m not great with sewing either. I lack in the preparation department – I end up running around looking for all of the items I need as I go. I’ve turned this into an artform in my cooking, but that’s taken years. I must say though, no matter how lacking you are, you have to get out there and try those new things you’ve been thinking about. It’s completely worth it. Even a crappy piece of work is extremely satisfying to make.


A new bench for the entry. I’m thinking I’ll move the first one into the bedroom to hold a few book piles.


I won’t be able to complete all of these plans with the wood I have, so I’ll have to go grab more from that brilliantly genuine man and his daughter. It makes me nervous even thinking about it, but I know it’ll get easier each time. Check out my stash of plans and ideas for all sorts of projects on my Pinterest Crafts board here.

Start something new. Begin planning and gather your supplies now. That’s the first step. Get started!!


Ta da!

Let me know your thoughts or ideas!