Seeing complex, beautifully built projects can be intimidating to newcomers. But take heart! Every skilled woodworker started out at as a beginner, struggling to cut a straight line. If you’re still early on the learning curve, here are 10 woodworking lessons that the Family Handyman team has learned the hard way. We’re sharing them so that you don’t have to! Learn from our mistakes and get your woodworking expertise kickstarted in the right direction.
1 The Forgotten Kerf
Let’s say you need to cut three lengths of 1×4 material, each 3 feet long. By happy coincidence you have a 9-foot stick of 1×4, so you quickly measure and mark two lines, and then make your cuts. But when you go to use the pieces for your project, you find that two of the pieces are too short. The reason is because you forgot to factor in the kerf, or thickness of the saw cut.
The kerf is determined by the width of the blade (usually 1/8 of an inch) but also the wobble in the cut, and the size of any material torn out by the blade. It’s the reason that you have to give a little extra thought to planning your cuts. Happily there’s an easy solution to remembering the size of your kerf. Make a partial cut into fresh material into scrap material, then train your carpenter’s pencil to the width of the kerf. Now, when you make your cut, it will match the line of your mark. Measure your next cut from the freshly cut edge, and you can stay ahead of this common mistake.
Blowout (sometimes called “tearout”) is the name for the ugly result when chunks or fibers of wood are torn out behind a saw blade. It can happen with any kind of cut, on a table saw or a miter saw, or even a router or drill. Avoid unnecessary blowout by paying attention to your blade before you start to work. A dull blade will tear as much as it cuts, and should be avoided for this reason and for safety concerns. Similarly, choose the right blade for the job: A saw blade with fewer teeth will cut faster, but result in more tearout. More teeth on the blade will require a slower hand but result in a cleaner cut. You can often find special blades for materials, such as OSB and linoleum, that are particularly prone to tearout.
Another trick is to protect the material with painter’s tape. Put the tape on the side that the blade will be emerging from, as that’s the area most prone to blowout. Blowout is one of those issues that will continue to be a problem for your woodworking career, but learning how to deal with it early on can seriously reduce the number of headaches.