Woodworking is my favorite hobby. Nothing else comes close. On a typical week, I spend 10-15 hours in my garage workshop. Sometimes it’s more. Making something with your own hands is an amazing feeling.
Since I started nearly 20 years ago (in my mid-20s), I have completed countless traditional woodworking projects making things like poker tables, bookshelves, desks, tables, stuff for my kids, and more. About five years ago, I got into making 3D wood art with a scroll saw. It even led to a part-time business. More about that in a bit.
I didn’t grow up in my grandpa’s workshop (although he actually was a skilled woodworker but I wasn’t around him very much) and I didn’t own any tools. My uncle is a contractor and he would tell you I was pretty worthless on a job site when I was teenager. The point is that I was not handy at all and did not have any training. I just had the desire to try and that’s how I got started. Over the years I have picked up techniques by doing, watching videos, and asking questions.
One of the most common comments I get from others is “I could never do that.” implying that woodworking is something that the average person cannot do. I’m here to tell you that if I can do it, anyone can do it. All it takes is a need (“I need a bookshelf and I don’t want to buy one”), a desire (“I’m going to make that”), and the willingness to give it a try.
I’m going to share how I got started in both traditional woodworking and scroll saw art. At the end, I’ll share some ideas for how you can get started too.
Part 1 – How I Got Started With Traditional Woodworking
Back around 2005, poker was extremely popular. It was all over TV and the Internet. My wife and were playing poker with friends and family multiple times per month. I decided I wanted my own nice poker table to host poker games. I couldn’t find a table I wanted to purchase or that I could afford, so I decided to make my own.
I found some plans online where someone had taken the time to outline all of the steps with pictures of how he built his poker table and he even included a list of all the materials he used. This was before YouTube so there weren’t the how-to videos like what we have today. I also found an online poker supply company where I purchased the materials including the playing surface, vinyl for the railing, foam padding, and cup holders.
Since I didn’t own any tools, I asked my contractor uncle if he would help me. I bought two sheets of 3/4″ Baltic Birch plywood from Home Depot and took them along with the plans over to his garage where he showed me how to use a circular saw, jigsaw, and a pneumatic staple gun (a tool powered by an air compressor).
At home, I cut out the holes for the cup holders, applied polyurethane to the wooden race track, attached the playing surface using spray adhesive, and then used a staple gun to attach the final to the railing. Folding table legs were added to the bottom. The guy who posted his plans online gave really good instructions. I don’t know if I could have done it without that information. Today, you can find out how to do almost anything on YouTube and can get direct links to Amazon to buy whatever you need.
I could not have been more proud of the finished product. We used the table for several years and then sold it before we moved to a new house.
Along with the poker tables, I made a bunch of other things for myself, my family, and my friends. Almost everything I made came from a need at home like a bookshelf to display my LEGO collection or a new desk in my office. If you’re interested, you can check out the portfolio of all my traditional woodworking projects on my personal website.
When I first started with woodworking, I owned no tools but slowly over time, I built up my collection and eventually had a full workshop in my garage. There are still a lot of tools that I don’t own or don’t have space for.
Up until 2018, woodworking was always a seasonal activity for me that typically only happened in the summer months. That is until I discovered scroll saw art (aka scrolling) and now I pretty much do it year-round.
Part 2 – How I Got Started Making Scroll Saw Art
In 2018, I became aware of the huge online community of makers (creative people who make stuff) on Instagram and started following and engaging with other woodworkers. One of the makers I started following was Once Upon a Workbench and he released the video below about making scroll saw art.
I was blown away. In my 13+ years of woodworking up to that point, I had never heard of a scroll saw. I specifically remember searching Google for “scroll saw art”.
The first project I thought of was a Minnesota Vikings logo. I ended up buying the same scroll saw in the video above and I also went to Woodcraft and bought pieces of hardwood just like he did.
I completed the project and was hooked. On Instagram, I followed every scroll saw artist I could find, and started sharing my own work. The community was amazing.
In that first year, I did maybe a dozen projects for myself and my family. As I continued to engage with other makers online and find inspiration, I upgraded to a professional scroll saw in January 2019. In that second year, I completed over 300 projects and ended up starting a part-time business making 3D wood art. Since then, I’ve upgraded my scroll saw two more times and I’ve completed over 1,000 scroll saw art projects.
The whole experience of making scroll saw art for a part-time business has been one of the most positive things that has ever happened to me. It has completely changed my life. I’ve met so many awesome people and I’m extremely proud of the work.
It is important to note that this all didn’t happen at once. As I mentioned above, I was a woodworker for 13+ years before I discovered the scroll saw and I’ve been scrolling for almost six years since then. I probably have over a thousand hours on my scroll saw by now. I’ve learned by doing.
How You Can Get Started Too
Getting started with woodworking can seem overwhelming but it doesn’t have to be. You don’t need a workshop full of tools. The reality is that you only need a few things depending on the specific project. For example, if you want to try your hand at scrolling, you can buy a cheap scroll saw (the one in the video above) from Harbor Freight for less than $100 and you can go to a store like Woodcraft and buy project pieces of plywood. There are also online suppliers like Ocooch Hardwoods that sell all kinds of nice woods in all kinds of sizes and they will ship directly to you.
Here are some tips for getting started:
1) Come up with a project. This could be something that you want/need for your home or work. It could be a shelf or something you want to hang on the wall. You might want to make a gift for someone. Still not sure where to start? Go to Pinterest or watch some YouTube videos for inspiration.
2) Find communities online. A great place to start is on Facebook. There are countless groups out there. I’m in all kinds of woodworking and scroll saw groups. You’d be amazed at how much inspiration you’ll get from seeing what other people have made. These are also the perfect spot to ask questions. In the beginning, I asked a lot of questions.
3) Use hashtags to find like-minded people and content on social media. Hashtags are mainly used on Instagram or Twitter but it’s a great way to find specific content. They are both searchable and followable. So for example, if I want to find other scroll saw artists, I can search for #scrollsaw or even #woodworking. Start following people and you’ll see all of their posts in your newsfeed.
4) Join a local maker space. In your local community, you might have a maker space where you can join, take classes, and use their tools and equipment. They typically charge a monthly fee and provide you with access during specific hours. In my hometown, we have two maker spaces nearby. They offer all kinds of events and opportunities to meet and collaborate with other people.
5) Get your hands on some tools. It’s kind of hard to recommend a set of specific tools for every project but you can’t go wrong with a cordless drill, tape measure, and a circular saw. The big box tools offer sets of battery-powered tools for pretty good prices. You might also want to check out a place like Harbor Freight. They have every type of tool you can imagine and they’re usually pretty cheap. You can also rent tools from the big box stores and local hardware stores. Another option is to borrow tools from a family member or neighbor.
6) Find a mentor. Find a family member, friend, or neighbor to ask questions. You could ask your social networks for suggestions. People are typically very helpful. I started with my uncle, my father-in-law, and family friends to ask questions when I first got started. They were great resources.
7) Try something. Your first project isn’t going to be perfect but you’ll never learn if you don’t try. As you work on projects, your confidence will increase and before long, you can do anything you put your mind to.
Woodworking is fun and very rewarding so get out there and make something. I promise you won’t regret it.