5 Pro Tips for Working With Wood

A man using a jigsaw on a piece of wood.

Working with wood can be a little intimidating. Taking raw materials and turning them into a finished piece is a daunting DIY task, but it's one that anyone can learn. Start by mastering the fundamentals of working with wood, and soon you’ll be making custom creations you can be proud of. Here are five tips to get a professional finish every time.

1. Use Personal Safety

A woman wearing ear mufflers while working with a saw.

One thing all pros have in common is safety. If you're going to do any kind of woodworking, start by suiting up in all the proper gear. This means wearing safety glasses to guard your eyes from debris like sawdust and wood chips. If you're working with power tools, you should also have good ear protection. This can be earplugs or noise-muffling headphones. Wood can be full of splinters and rough places, and reclaimed wood may also have nails, staples, and other hazards, so you want to wear some good-fitting work gloves as well. Once you're attired properly, you're ready to work wood like a true professional.

2. Get Familiar With Your Tools

They say that every craftsman is only as good as their tools. And while that phrase was probably first said by a tool salesman, that doesn't mean it's any less true. Practice working with common woodworking tools so you feel very comfortable using them. If you're fearful or hesitant with your tools, then you won't be producing your best-quality work. Get some wood scraps and play around with a hammer, screwdriver, and basic saws. You also want to practice using sandpaper and a power sander. Feel your wood before sanding it, then do some sanding and touch the wood again. Getting a feel for the wood sometimes means literally feeling it in your hand, and getting a sense of how this material behaves.

Practice using power tools such as table saws and jigsaws, if you have access to them, so you can work on edging techniques and other decorative touches to your woodworking projects. Be aware of your hands and your body every single second you're working with power tools. One mistake can lead to a life-altering accident, so pay careful attention to your positioning at all times. Know where your hands and fingers are and where the blade is every moment, and don't look away while your power tool is turned on. If you need to stop your task in the middle, carefully remove your wood and your digits, turn off your tool, and then devote your attention to the distraction.

3. Practice Your Joints

Two pieces of wood with joints coming together.

Every woodworking project is only as good as the joints made to put it together. You want every finished project to be well-made, and that means it needs to be solid and sturdy. Practice your joints, and you'll be an unstoppable woodworking force. Get some practice boards, and work on creating smooth, perfectly-angled mitered joints. These joints are created by cutting two pieces of wood at an angle so they fit together snugly, with only a small seam that nothing can get through. The seam should be extremely tight, so practice it over and over again until you feel confident you can create this.

4. Work With Wood Putty

Wood putty is going to become your best friend during every woodworking project. This material allows you to fill small holes, knicks, and knots in wood to give it a perfectly even, smooth finish. Fill in these minor imperfections with wood putty, and let it dry completely. You want to overfill small holes and knicks a little because the putty will settle as it dries. Once the putty has fully dried, smooth it down with sandpaper to make the surface perfectly even.

5. Give Wood a Perfect Finish

Sanding an untreated wood box.

Even if your wood projects are made well, they won't look professional if they aren't finished properly. Before any project is done, it must be painted or stained for a beautiful finished look. After you've filled holes and knots with putty and the entire surface of your project is sanded down, clean it. Even a small speck of dust can compromise your finished project, so make sure every surface is clean before you forge ahead. Start by applying wood conditioner. Rub it right onto the wood with a soft cloth in smooth, even coats. Allow this to settle completely before you prime your wood.

Primer can be applied in a separate layer or put on the wood with a combination paint and primer or a primer and stain mixture. Paint your primer, stain, or paint onto the wood in long, even strokes using a paint roller or paint brush. Allow each coat to dry thoroughly before you apply additional coats.

Once you master the basics of working with wood, you can start to work on more advanced techniques to truly show off your creativity and DIY skills. Start by making basic wood structures, and after you get more comfortable with woodworking you’ll have the ability to make anything you can imagine. After all, every single pro started out as a beginner at some point.