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Carpentry is a beautiful trade, a much sought after skill and often produces some of the most valuable pieces of furniture in existence.
Wood is an amazingly friendly, soft, forgiving and ultimately rewarding material to work with.
Anyone can learn the skills necessary to become a carpenter but it takes years and years, dedication and passion, drive and ambition to become a master carpenter and distinguished craftsman.
Like everything in life you have to start somewhere and as they say the beginning is as good a place as any.
While you may dream of producing fabulous furniture one day, you need to realize that Basic Carpentry is where you need to start.
Don’t dismay for the personal rewards and self grin factor will be every bit as good as those of the old antique furniture makers.
The picture below shows a set of garage doors which can be made with basic carpentry tools and skills.
The picture below shows a view of the outside of the same set of garage doors as in the picture above.
Think of it this way.
Today you don’t know how to make or put up a bookshelf.
By tomorrow you could have a beautifully sanded, stained, sturdy bookshelf adorning your wall while looking around your home for the next project.
You will find yourself visiting this shelf, standing in front of it while saying to yourself “I did that. I really did that”.
This grin will be virtually impossible to remove until you’ve finished your next piece, at which time it will only get bigger and why not.
This is the way life should be. This is the feel-good factor and the impetus to learn and improve your skills.
Before diving in we need to look at some basic carpentry tools and tips. Below is a list of carpentry tools and some tips about buying and using them.
Carpentry Hand Tools
The picture below shows two typical Hand Saws. The top saw with Yellow/Blue handle is old and not as sharp as it once was. I use this for cutting softer materials e.g. plasterboard, plastics and some thin delicate pieces of timber.
Note that both saws are shaped at the handle with both a 90 degree and 45-degree straight edge. Also, note the lines drawn on the timber with both these saws.
The hand saw should be your best friend as you start your carpentry journey. You need to learn how to cut squarely and smoothly.
The saw will do the work if you let it. This can take practice.
Old hand saws are great for cutting softer materials like plasterboard and plastics. Don’t throw out your old blunt hand saw.
The carpenter’s pencil differs from ordinary pencils in that it is flat in shape so that it does not roll and the lead in it is very strong as it often has to mark very course materials.
While the carpenter’s pencil is generally the tool for the job it produces quite a thick line and if you cut the wrong side of this, it could ruin your job.
While I have several carpenters pencils I tend to use ordinary pencils though quite a lot of them.
You will always set your pencil down somewhere and forget that location so having many to hand is a good idea.
You can also sharpen both ends for when the lead snaps mid line drawing.
The carpenter’s square or set square is invaluable and you will find that over time you will acquire many.
You need to square timber often i.e. draw four lines around the piece of wood you are working with.
One to see if you can cut along the lines and the other to see if the lines match up which is an indication of whether or not your square is still at 90 degrees or square.
The picture below shows two typical Set Squares. The top one with 3 brass rivets is fixed at 90 degrees and the one for the basic carpenter. The bottom one is an adjustable square and when set for an angle allows easy transfer of that angle from one timber to another.
One way to tell if your square is still square is to set it on a piece of timber and draw a line.
Without moving, turn the square over to start at the bottom of the line you have just drawn. Draw again. If you now see just one line, your square is square.
If it is not square it will show up as two lines going at slight angles indicating it’s time to get a new square.
Also, note that most hand saws are shaped at the handle to act as a square 90-degree angle and a 45-degree angle. This is very handy.
The tape measure is another tool that should be your best friend, always to hand and another tool that you will find you will collect many of over the years.
Most are still marked with both metric and imperial scales.
The picture below shows two typical Tape Measures. The top black one is 25 foot in length and wider than the red one below it which is 10 feet long and the most suitable for the beginner.
Tape measures come in many lengths and widths. The most common are generally 10ft long. This is a handy size and weight for most DIY home jobs.
If you are going to build something like garage doors or a pitched roof then you will find a 25ft tape measure is perfect for this sort of job.
You will need several sheets of differing grit (degree of roughness) sandpapers.
Every time you cut a piece of timber you will leave small rough splinters in the end which need to be smoothed off.
The picture below shows a typical sheet of Sandpaper along with some old used sanding discs from a power sander. While the sanding discs are too worn for the power sander they are still fine for hand use.
Always keep your sandpaper dry and away from moisture. It will be ruined in a shed during winter.
There are also metal types of sanding discs and sheets for various power sanders. Even a worn one of these nailed to a block of wood for hand sanding will last for years and years.
The list of Carpentry Hand Tools is endless and those above represent the very basic that you will need to get started with woodworking.
There was a hand tool for every conceivable carpentry job long before there was any power tool.
Carpentry Power Tools and Tips
As with the hand tools, there is an endless array of Carpentry Power Tools.
The more skillful you become the more you will come to appreciate these tools. There is no need to rush out and fill the shopping trolley.
As your skills improve and your workload increases you will start to find that there is a genuine need for these tools but not now.
Some basic power tools which will make your carpentry journey much easier are listed below along with some tips on each.
The Skill Saw
The electric skill saw or circular saw is a must if you are going to be cutting sheets of timber, say for a floor covering or your shed roof before applying shingles.
These are not expensive and the purists would advise that you buy at least good quality power tools.
I would suggest that you buy cheap power tools to start with, simply because you need to learn what these tools can do before you go shopping for one that will last for years and years.
The picture below shows a typical electric Skill Saw.
The cheaper skill saws will go off square quicker than the more expensive ones and you could find cutting a straight line difficult.
Bear in mind that when cutting sheets for covering a floor or roof that absolute straight is not always required since it is extremely unlikely the frame for the sheets will be square.
When you find the skill saw is wandering too much you can simply screw or nail at the straight edge to the sheet you want to cut and make your skill saw move against this while cutting.
You will then find you are cutting straight lines.
The jigsaw is a fabulous must-have power saw for small intricate work where you want to cut curves. It is best suited to thicknesses of up to 1 inch.
Again buy a cheap one to start with until you learn the limitations of this tool.
The picture below shows a typical electric Jigsaw.
The jigsaw blade is not supported at both ends so this gives it a tendency to wander off true.
Always go slow and appreciate that there are certain small radius curves that the saw will not cut.
There are special more expensive saws for this very purpose but you are not at that stage yet. Consider when cutting curves to go a little bigger and finish with sandpaper.
This needs no introduction and is a universal tool for any work you are going to do.
It is not limited to carpentry so this is one of those tools that you can go and should go expensive on.
There are many cordless drills on the market but I suggest you avoid those, to begin with simply because a drill that you can plug in and use, is vital.
Picking up a drill when you need it, only to find the battery is flat and the spare is flat and it will take at least 4 hours to charge to be of any use is let’s say undesirable.
Only you can imagine the sort of language you would use at this point but I’m pretty sure I could guess.
The picture below shows both a typical cordless Drill (top) and a typical electric Drill (bottom).
The electric drill is primarily designed to drill holes. Therefore the forces placed upon it are primarily designed to run along its length.
The reason for mentioning this is that there are so many attachments on offer to turn your drill into so many other tools.
There are attachments to turn your drill into a skill saw, a jigsaw, a power sander, and many other options.
From experience, these attachments will wear out your drill much quicker than only using your drill for drilling holes.
The reason for this is the end bearing of your drill is not designed to take lateral (sideways) loads.
For the most part, nearly all drills are encased in plastic and this also does not take lateral loads with ease. The best advice is, put more money into your drill and keep it for drilling.
Ignore the attachments route and but the cheap versions of the power tools until you know both their limitations and your own.
Only upgrade these tools as your knowledge and your needs grow.
The picture below shows timbers being set to start a pitch roof build.
The picture below shows the first roof timbers (ridge board) being set.
The picture below shows the roof frame well underway. This may appear to be advanced carpentry but it is not that difficult or far removed from basic carpentry. It mainly involves a lot of repetitive angle cutting.
Summary of Basic Carpentry Tools
So there you are. An introduction to the basics of carpentry tools and some tips to help you get started.
As with all skills attained, you must make mistakes, to begin with, but these are the best, never forgotten lessons.
Be prepared to have a go and learn a new skill.
To start with, go slow, take your time and you will be very pleased with your results and more importantly, pleased with yourself.