Woodworking no longer a hobby just for middle-aged men

  • If you're new to woodworking, start on smaller projects, like a set of shelves or picture frames.

    If you're new to woodworking, start on smaller projects, like a set of shelves or picture frames. Jaime Costigilio

  • Female carpenter planing wood with a planer at work site.

    Female carpenter planing wood with a planer at work site. iStockphoto

By Christine Bockelman
CTW Features
Posted3/9/2013 5:00 AM

Knit something, grow something, pickle something -- in a world where technology means you rarely have to lift a finger, more people are looking for things to do with their hands.

Increasingly, homeowners are turning to traditional skills and hobbies like woodworking, which is not only popular, it's become downright cool.


Once associated with bearded, middle-aged men in dungarees and red flannel shirts, woodworking and furniture-making are getting the attention of some new demographics. Women and 20-somethings are powering up table saws thanks to woodworking schools across the country, including ones in hipster hubs like Brooklyn, N.Y., and Portland, Ore.

Do-it-yourself furniture-making blogs offer tips, plans and step-by-step instructions for creating everything from doll houses to day beds. Woodworking also is an important skill for those who are particular about their furniture -- especially storage pieces that are customized for their homes.

"I look around my house and think, what do I need to make the space work better? What do I need to help keep myself organized? And I build it," says Alaska mother Ana White, who started her website Ana-White.com in October 2009 and recently wrote "The Handbuilt Home: 34 Simple, Stylish and Budget-Friendly Woodworking Projects for Every Room" (Potter Craft, October 2012). "If I can do this, anyone can."

White got started in woodworking partially due to need and impatience. "I started drawing plans of furniture I wanted my husband to build, but he was busy," White says. "One day, I got tired of waiting and decided to figure it out for myself."

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Her website now has hundreds of free plans for everything from entertainment units to queen-sized bed frames.

While she admits building her own furniture was a little intimidating at first, now she says it's addictive. She recommends that newbie woodworkers start small.

"You wouldn't try to cook a five-course meal your first time in a kitchen, so don't start building furniture expecting to make something like big built-ins," she says.

Instead, find plans for basic shelving or something else straightforward, like a child's step stool, says Bruce Johnson, a refinishing expert, author and television personality.

"There's lots of time to get creative later, but in the beginning it's important to gain confidence and a respect for the tools," he says.


He suggests testing the power tools a few times on scraps before using them on projects.

"Practice using a table saw like you'd practice your golf swing," he says. "Try different cuts to get yourself comfortable, and seek out some experts to show you a few things."

He suggests joining a local woodworking club, where you'll meet others who can give you local tips on where to buy wood and help with your projects. Plus, fellow members might sell you their tools when they upgrade their own.

Luckily, most amateur woodworkers don't need that much equipment to start.

"You can get everything you need for about $100," says Christine Sharry, Home Depot's woodworking expert for the company's website. That includes everything from a circular saw and drill to clamps and measuring tape. Most important, though, is safety goggles.

"I drape a pair over every machine in my workroom," Johnson says. "That way I can't get away with saying, 'I can't find my glasses, so I'll just make this one cut without them.' That's how you get hurt."

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