April 11, 2017 by Scott - Saws on Skates
So you want to build some DIY furniture? What tools do you need? How do you setup your workshop? What techniques do you need to know? How do you finish your project? What do you do with the leftover wood? All of those questions will be answered here in this Rookies Guide To Building DIY Furniture!
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Rookies Guide To Building DIY Furniture
I love building DIY furniture and I can’t wait to share all of my DIY tips and tricks with you! I want to make this guide your ultimate resource for building DIY furniture and you can help me do that. If you still have questions after reading this guide, please leave me a message in the comments and I will do my best to help you. Your questions will help improve this guide!
So, why do you want to build do-it-yourself furniture? People build DIY furniture for a variety of reasons, but many people say “to save money”. You can certainly save money DIYing your own furniture, but for me, DIY furniture is so much more than saving money. DIY furniture is about gaining knowledge, getting the look you want, using quality materials, creating a family heirloom and pride of doing it yourself. For me, building furniture is NOT just about saving money.
Before you pick up any tools you need to think about safety. Read, follow, and understand the safety instructions for your tools. If you don’t understand, contact the manufacturer or ask a pro. You also need to protect your eyes with safety glasses, your ears with hearing protection and your lungs with a quality respirator.
Understand the Plan
It’s important to understand the plan before you get started. Let’s chat about the most common terms you may see in a plan. We’ll start with the wood.
Wood dimensions can be confusing. Let’s take a 2x4x8, these numbers refer to the height x width x length of the board. Most wood you’ll find in a big box store is called dimensional wood. For instance our dimensional 2x4x8 actually measures 1-1/2″h x 3-1/2″w x 8’l. A dimensional 1×2 measures 3/4″ x 1-1/2″, a 1×3 measures 3/4″ x 2-1/2″, a 1×4 measures 3/4″ x 3-1/2 and so on.
Some of the plans I’ve designed use 5/4 wood – referred to as “five quarter”. 5/4 measures 1-1/8″, so a 5/4×4 would actually measure 1-1/8″ x 3-1/2″.
Types of Cuts
Rip Cut – A rip cut is made along the length of a board. A rip cut makes a board narrower.
Crosscut – A crosscut or “cut” is made across the grain of the wood. A crosscut makes a board shorter.
Miter Cut – A miter cut is an angle cut made on the face of a piece of wood.
Bevel Cut – A bevel cut is an angle cut made on the edge of a piece of wood. A bevel cut changes the profile of the wood.
You may see other terms like countersink, pocket holes, clamp, etc. I’ll explain all of these in the Proper Techniques section below.
Gather Your Tools
What types of tools are needed for the plan you want to build? Now is the time to gather all of the tools needed for your project. One note about tools. Just like a house or 401k plan, tools are an investment. Invest in the best ones your budget will allow. For most DIY furniture projects you will need a tape measure, miter saw, a cordless drill, a Kreg Jig, pocket screws and an assortment of clamps. More complex plans may require a circular saw, table saw or router.
Setup Your Workspace
OK, now you have your plan and your tools, where are you going to work? Don’t say “on the ground”! Building on the ground is literally back breaking work. Here are some great workshop furniture options. I’ve arranged the options from “I have no space to work” to “I have space for a small workshop.”
If you don’t have a permanent place for a workshop I recommend building a folding workbench. It’s great as a temporary workbench, as an extra assembly table for a dedicated workshop or to take on the road for a DIY project at a buddy’s house.
Fliptop Workbench Cart
A fliptop workbench cart is great space-saving option for those of us with a small workspace. Tools like a miter saw or small table saw can be mounted on one side of the fliptop workbench cart, then the top can be flipped to reveal a workbench. Plus, the cart is mounted on wheels, so it can be stored out of the way to maximize floor space.
If you have a dedicated workshop I recommend building a dedicated workbench in addition to the folding workbench and the fliptop workbench cart. You’ll use the workbench for assembly and if needed you can also place a miter saw or table saw on the workbench.
Dedicated Workshop Furniture
If you have more room in your workshop I recommend building a dedicated miter saw stand. This will free up space on your workbench, so you can use the workbench exclusively for assembly. If you have even more space in your workshop, the next piece of shop furniture I recommend building is a table saw station.
Make Your Tools Mobile
One of the reasons I named this blog “Saws on Skates” was because my saws are on skates. Well, not literally, but they are all on wheels to maximize space in my small workshop. Making your tools mobile in a small workshop is not just a good idea, it’s a necessity to maximize your workshop space. For some projects I pull out all of my tools… pull out the table saw and push it back, move the router table to the left, shift the fliptop workbench cart to the right, etc. Sometimes I feel like I’m playing a life-size game of Tetris in my shop! If space is at a premium in your workshop, check out my 7 Ideas to Make Your Tools Mobile and Maximize Workshop Space.
Many people who want to DIY don’t start a project because they’re not confident in their DIY skills. If I just described you, don’t worry, there are many ways to increase your DIY knowledge. In 6 Resources to Help You Supercharge Your DIY Skills I’ve outlined where to find classes, clubs, books and more to help you improve your DIY skills and build your DIY confidence.
Most DIY furniture requires a Kreg Jig for assembly. The jig drills an angled hole in a piece of wood. A pocket screw, specifically designed for pocket holes draws the two pieces of wood together for a tight, sturdy joint. Setting up a Kreg Jig and using it for DIY furniture building is so easy with my quick start guide.
I use my Kreg Jig for nearly every project I build. Over time the pocket hole drill bit can become dull and the pocket holes can look jagged. Here are three signs it’s time to replace your pocket hole drill bit.
Fix a Stripped Pocket Hole
One of the tips I mentioned in the Kreg Jig quick start guide is to set the clutch on your cordless drill to avoid over tightening the pocket screws. Over tightening a pocket screw can strip a pocket hole. Another way a pocket hole can become stripped is if you remove a pocket screw and then reattach it. Fixing a stripped pocket hole is as easy as heading to the kitchen for some toothpicks.
Clamp Like a Pro
There’s a science to clamping and proper clamping yields tight joints that will last, so your DIY furniture can be handed down as a family heirloom. It’s handy to have a variety of clamps like spring clamps and bar clamps. Check out my 6 Tips Every DIYer Should Know About Clamps for my recommendations on the amount of clamps you should have on hand, proper clamp positions and more clamp tips. Need a place to store your clamps? Here’s 7 Clever Clamp Storage Ideas for a Small Workshop.
Miter Cuts Made Easy
Miter cuts can be intimidating, but not if you follow this easy step-by-step guide to creating perfect miter cuts.
Adjust Miter Saw for Accurate Cuts
Another surefire way to ensure success with miter cuts or any cut is to accurately adjust your miter saw. Make sure the blade is square to the table and the fence is square to the blade – rev up your miter saw with my miter saw tune up procedure.
Choose the Best Wood Glue
All glue is not created equal and if you plan to stain your DIY furniture project you should know, not all glue accepts stain. Regular wood glues prevent stain from soaking into the wood and what you’re left with looks like a bleach spot on your project. I put Elmer’s Wood Glue Max to the test, when I made some book-matched panels. Since then Elmer’s Wood Glue Max is the only glue I use for my DIY furniture. It not only creates a strong bond, but it’s stainable.
Countersink for a Professional Look
A countersink drill bit removes some of the wood on the face of a board. Removing the wood gives the screw head a “seat” and allows it to sit below the surface of the surrounding wood. Without countersinking, the screw head crushes the wood and can even tear the wood. Using a countersink bit yields a clean, professional look.
Build a Crosscut Jig
If you’re going to be cutting plywood it’s helpful to make a crosscut jig for your circular saw. A crosscut jig will allow you to make straight cuts every time. The saw rides along the fence of the jig and keeps your cuts straight and true. You can also use the crosscut jig to cut angles.
From Ordinary to Upscale
Now you know the basics, but if you want to take your DIY furniture building from ordinary to upscale you need to add book-matched panels. Book-matched panels are a signature of quality furniture and fine furniture craftsmanship.
I always have a roll of painter’s tape in my workshop. In my 5 Unexpected Uses for Painter’s Tape I share how to use it as an extra hand, for clamping and more.
Make Pocket Holes Disappear
You drilled a bunch of pocket holes, but now how do you make your DIY furniture piece look finished and professional? For painted projects I fill the holes with several applications of Ready Patch, but for stained projects I make my own pocket hole plugs using a pocket hole plug cutter. Pocket hole plugs make pocket holes virtually disappear.
Sand for a Flawless Finish
Sanding is my least favorite part of the building process, but sanding can make or break a furniture project. If you do it improperly you could be left with finish that looks like the surface of an orange rather than a piece of glass. For instance, a palm sander leaves figure “8s” on the surface of the wood while a random orbit sander leaves the wood looking and feeling smooth. Check out my six tips that will help you sand your DIY project for a flawless finish.
Choose the Best Stain
After you sand, it’s time to stain. My go-to stain is Rust-Oleum Ultimate Wood Stain. I love the one coat coverage and the deep, rich color. My favorite colors are Kona, Dark Walnut and Early American. I used the combo of a DIY wood oxidizer and Kona for my DIY electric fireplace mantel to achieve a beautiful dark chocolate stain color.
Make a DIY Finish
After you sand and stain, you need to protect the piece and most people use polyurethane. There’s three reasons I don’t use polyurethane. For me it’s too finicky, the application is difficult and it doesn’t give the look I want for my projects. I make this DIY finish for my furniture projects instead.
How to Handle Scrap Wood
What to Keep and What to Toss
You’ve finished your DIY furniture project and it turned out great, but what do you do with all of the leftover scrap wood? It’s not easy to decide, but I’ve put together a guide of what to keep and what to toss. What can you do with the leftover wood? Make some scrap wood projects of course!
Where to Store Scrap Wood
Once you’ve decided what you’re going to keep, you’ll need a place to store it. Here’s a great resource of DIY Scrap wood storage ideas.
I hope this rookies guide will help you with your DIY furniture build. Did I leave anything out? If you still have questions, please leave me a message in the comments and I will do my best to help you. Your questions will help improve this guide!
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