Woodworking: A Complete Guide to History, Tools, and Materials

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  June 12, 2022
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Woodwork is the craft of creating objects from wood and includes wood carving, joinery, and carpentry, whether it’s furniture, cabinets, or utensils. There are two main categories of woodwork: carpentry and cabinet making. Other forms include sculpture, toy making, and musical instrument making.

Throughout this article, I will provide a comprehensive overview of woodwork, covering its definition, history, and various forms.

What is woodworking

Woodworking: The Art of Creating with Wood

Woodworking is the art of building and creating with wood. It involves using a variety of tools and techniques to produce impressive and functional pieces of art. Woodworking can include a lot of different forms, from simple and basic to more complex and intricate. It can be considered a type of construction, but with a focus on the material of wood.

How Do You Start Woodworking?

Starting woodworking involves learning the proper safety techniques and acquiring the necessary tools and materials. It’s important to consider what you want to build and what skills you need to learn to produce it. Woodworking can be a physically demanding process, so it’s important to be prepared and take proper precautions.

What Are Some Cool Things You Can Build with Wood?

Woodworking can produce a wide range of impressive and functional items, including:

  • Furniture
  • Cabinets
  • Musical instruments
  • Sculptures
  • Toys
  • Decorative items

What Are Some Modern Techniques Used in Woodworking?

Woodworking has evolved over time, and modern techniques have been developed to make the process easier and more efficient. Some of these techniques include:

  • CNC routing
  • Laser cutting
  • 3D printing
  • Computer-aided design (CAD)

What Are Some Different Groups of Woodworkers?

Woodworking is a hobby enjoyed by people of all ages and backgrounds. Some groups of woodworkers include:

  • Experienced woodworkers
  • Beginners
  • Female woodworkers
  • Second-career woodworkers
  • People who love the feel of working with wood

What’s the Difference Between Woodworking and Construction?

While woodworking can be considered a type of construction, the focus is on the material of wood and the techniques used to work with it. Construction, on the other hand, involves building structures using a variety of materials and techniques.

What Do You Need to Know Before Starting Woodworking?

Before starting woodworking, it’s important to know:

  • The proper safety techniques
  • How to use different tools
  • The different types of wood and their properties
  • The basics of different woodworking techniques
  • The time and effort involved in the woodworking process

What’s the Process of Woodworking Like?

Woodworking involves a lot of detail and precision, as well as a lot of time and effort. The process usually involves:

  • Planning and designing the project
  • Choosing the right materials
  • Cutting and shaping the wood
  • Joining the pieces together
  • Sanding and finishing the piece

The Fascinating History of Woodworking

Woodworking has been around for centuries, with evidence of ancient woodwork found in various parts of the world. Here are some examples of early woodworking techniques and materials used:

  • The ancient Egyptians worked with wooden joints and produced furniture, coffins, and tombs using wooden materials. They also used varnishes to give their wooden products a shiny finish.
  • The Chinese civilization carved wooden vessels and pottery during the Neolithic period, and they also used wooden tools for hunting and spears.
  • Neanderthals in Germany’s Schöningen and Kalambo Falls in Zambia produced wooden hunting spears using flint tools during the Mousterian period.

The Development of Woodworking Tools and Techniques

As woodworking evolved, so did the tools and techniques used to create wooden products. Here are some examples of how woodworking tools and techniques have developed over time:

  • During the Bronze Age, woodworking tools were made of bronze, and during the Iron Age, they were made of iron.
  • Woodworking skills were considered a valuable trade, and local materials were used to create wooden products.
  • Woodworkers used microwear analysis to determine the type of wood used in their work.
  • Woodworkers in the early civilization used animal glue to join wooden pieces together.

Woodworking in Different Cultures

Woodworking has been an integral part of many cultures throughout history. Here are some examples of how woodworking has been used in different cultures:

  • The Egyptians used woodworking to create furniture, coffins, and tombs.
  • The Chinese used woodworking to create vessels and pottery.
  • The Germans used woodworking to create wells and furniture.

The Essential Tools for Woodworking

When it comes to woodworking, having the right tools is essential. Here are some of the basic tools you’ll need to get started:

  • Saw: A saw is an essential tool for making straight cuts in wood. There are different types of saws, including circular saws (best with batteries here), which are great for cutting large pieces of wood, and jigsaws, which are handy for cutting curves and angles.
  • Drill: A drill is necessary for making holes in wood. Cordless drills are a great option for woodworking because they allow for more freedom of movement.
  • Tape measure: Accurate measurements are crucial in woodworking, so a tape measure is a must-have tool.
  • Square: A square is used to ensure that corners are at a perfect 90-degree angle.
  • Sandpaper: Sandpaper is essential for preparing wood for finishing and for removing any rough spots or imperfections.

The Power Tools

Power tools are great for making woodworking easier and more efficient. Here are some of the power tools (all types are discussed here) you might want to consider:

  • Table saw: A table saw is a powerful tool that allows you to make straight cuts with ease. It’s a great tool for cutting large pieces of wood or sheet goods.
  • Miter saw: A miter saw is designed for making angled cuts. It’s a great tool for cutting pieces to length or for making precise cuts for framing or molding.
  • Random orbit sander: A random orbit sander is a great tool for sanding large, flat surfaces. It’s easy to control and can remove material quickly.
  • Drill driver: A drill driver is a versatile tool that can be used for drilling holes and driving screws. It’s a great tool for assembling pieces of wood together.

The Special Tools

There are some special tools that are designed for specific woodworking tasks. Here are a few examples:

  • Lathe: A lathe is used for spinning wood while it’s being shaped. It’s a great tool for making bowls, vases, and other rounded items.
  • Bevel gauge: A bevel gauge is used to measure and mark angles on wood. It’s a handy tool for making angled cuts.
  • Folding rule: A folding rule is a great tool for measuring and marking wood. It’s easy to use and can be folded up for easy storage.

The Blades and Sharpening Tools

Blades are an important part of woodworking, and keeping them sharp is essential. Here are some tools you might need to keep your blades in top condition:

  • Sharpening stone: A sharpening stone is used to sharpen blades. It’s a great tool for keeping your blades sharp and in good condition.
  • Honing guide: A honing guide is used to help you maintain the correct angle when sharpening blades.
  • Steel ruler: A steel ruler is a great tool for measuring and marking wood. It’s also handy for checking the straightness of blades.

The Features to Consider

When choosing tools for woodworking, there are a few features you should consider:

  • Power: Depending on the type of work you’ll be doing, you may need higher or lower power tools.
  • Beveled edges: Beveled edges allow for angled cuts and can be a great feature to have.
  • Precision: Precise tools are essential for accurate cuts and measurements.
  • Cordless: Cordless tools allow for more freedom of movement and can be great for working in tight spaces.
  • Speed: Different tools have different speed settings, which can be important depending on the type of work you’re doing.

The Best Tools for Different Types of Work

Different types of woodworking require different tools. Here are some of the best tools for different types of work:

  • Making furniture: A table saw, miter saw, and drill driver are essential tools for making furniture.
  • Sanding: A random orbit sander is a great tool for sanding large, flat surfaces.
  • Turning: A lathe is essential for turning wood while it’s being shaped.
  • Cutting curves and angles: A jigsaw is a great tool for cutting curves and angles.

Choosing the Right Materials for Your Woodworking Project

When it comes to woodworking, the type of wood you use can greatly affect the outcome of your project. Here are some common types of wood used in woodworking:

  • Hardwoods: These woods come from broadleaf trees that shed their leaves annually. They are known for their strength, durability, and aesthetic appeal. Some common hardwoods include oak, maple, and cherry.
  • Softwoods: These woods come from coniferous trees that stay green all year round. They are generally easier to work with than hardwoods and are commonly used for outdoor projects. Some common softwoods include pine, cedar, and redwood.
  • Plywood: This is a type of engineered wood that is made by gluing together thin layers of wood veneer. It is commonly used in woodworking because it is strong, versatile, and available in a wide variety of thicknesses and grades.

Tips for Working with Wood

Woodworking can be a challenging and rewarding hobby. Here are some tips for working with wood:

  • Use sharp tools: Sharp tools make it easier to cut and shape the wood without damaging it.
  • Work with the grain: Cutting against the grain can cause the wood to split or tear. Always cut with the grain for a cleaner cut.
  • Keep the wood dry: Wet wood is heavier and harder to work with. It can also be more vulnerable to damage and warping.
  • Consider the temperature: Wood can expand and contract with changes in temperature and humidity. Keep this in mind when choosing and working with your materials.
  • Rely on the experts: Woodworkers have relied on native and exotic woods for centuries. Innovations in transportation and trade have made it easier to acquire a wide variety of woods from around the world. Don’t be afraid to ask other woodworkers for advice on the best materials to use for your project.

What Can You Create with Woodworking?

Woodworking is not just about creating complex and unique designs. It can also be as simple as making basic wooden utensils and cutting boards. These items are easy to make and require only a few basic skills. They are also very functional and can be sold for a good profit.

Home Decor and Wall Art

Woodworking is an excellent way to add some natural and rustic charm to your home decor. You can create unique wall art pieces, frames, and even larger items like tables. The potential for adding stain or color to your pieces is endless, and you can create a wide variety of shapes and designs.

Garden and Outdoor Furniture

Woodworking is also a great way to create functional pieces for your garden or outdoor space. You can build tables, chairs, and benches that are solid and durable, using materials like pine or other popular choices. These items can be sold for a higher price, depending on the level of complexity and material used.

Signs and Custom Designs

For those interested in more complex woodworking projects, creating signs and custom designs is a great way to showcase your skills. These items require a lot of time and effort, but they can be sold for a higher price due to their unique and personalized nature.

Functional and Profitable Items

Woodworking offers a wide variety of potential projects, from basic cutting boards to complex custom designs. Some of the most profitable items to create include:

  • Basic wooden utensils and cutting boards
  • Home decor and wall art
  • Garden and outdoor furniture
  • Signs and custom designs

Choosing the Right Materials and Tools

When it comes to woodworking, the quality of your materials and tools can make a big difference in the final product. Some essential supplies and materials include:

  • Wood of various types and thicknesses
  • Stain and color options
  • Standard sheet materials like plywood or MDF

Some of the most popular tools for woodworking include:

Depending on the level of complexity of your project, you may need to invest in higher quality materials and tools to achieve the best results.

Moisture Matters: A Key Factor in Woodworking

As any experienced woodworker will tell you, moisture content is a crucial factor in woodworking. Wood is a natural material that is constantly changing, and its moisture content plays a significant role in how it behaves. If the moisture content is too high or too low, it can cause problems with the wood’s stability, strength, and appearance.

How Moisture Content Affects Wood Grain and Design

The moisture content of wood affects the way it behaves when cut, shaped, and finished. When wood is cut against the grain, it tends to split and splinter, making it difficult to work with. However, when wood is cut with the grain, it is much easier to work with and produces a smoother finish. Moisture content also affects the way wood takes on finishes, with drier wood absorbing more finish and wetter wood requiring more time to dry before finishing.

The Role of Moisture Content in Building Construction

Moisture content is also a crucial factor in building construction. If wood with a high moisture content is used in construction, it can lead to warping, twisting, and cracking over time. This is why it’s essential to use properly dried and seasoned wood in construction projects. Moisture content can also contribute to the growth of mold and mildew, which can be harmful to both the building and its occupants.

Styles & Designs in Woodworking

Woodworking has a long history, and over time, different styles and designs have emerged. Some of the traditional styles include:

  • Jacobean: This style originated in the early 1600s and is characterized by intricate carvings and dark finishes.
  • Antique: This style refers to pieces that are at least 100 years old and are often ornate and intricately detailed.
  • American Colonial: This style emerged in the 17th century and is known for its simple, functional designs.
  • Victorian: This style emerged in the mid-19th century and is characterized by ornate carvings, curves, and floral motifs.

Modern Designs

In addition to traditional styles, modern designs have also become common in woodworking. Some of the most popular modern styles include:

  • Art Deco: This style emerged in the 1920s and is characterized by geometric shapes, bold colors, and streamlined designs.
  • Sheraton: This style emerged in the late 18th century and is known for its elegant, refined designs.
  • Rustic: This style is characterized by its use of natural materials and rough finishes.
  • Minimalism: This style emerged in the mid-20th century and is characterized by simple, clean lines and a focus on function over form.
  • Contemporary: This style is characterized by its use of new materials and technologies, as well as its focus on innovation and experimentation.

Timeless Designs

Some woodworking designs have stood the test of time and remain popular today. These include:

  • Vintage: This style refers to pieces that are at least 20 years old and are often sought after for their unique character and history.
  • Common Designs: These designs are often seen in furniture and include pieces like chairs, tables, and cabinets.
  • Luxury Designs: These designs are often marked by their use of high-quality materials and intricate detailing, and are often associated with wealth and luxury.

Overall, woodworking offers a wide range of styles and designs to choose from, each with its own unique history and character. Whether you prefer traditional or modern designs, there is sure to be a style that suits your taste and needs.

Notable Woodworkers: The Greats Who Have Carved Their Names in Woodworking History

  • Norm Abram: Known for his work on the PBS show “This Old House,” Abram is a master carpenter who has been in the industry for over 30 years. He is known for his precise and efficient work, and his ability to teach woodworking to beginners.
  • Alvar Aalto: A Finnish architect and designer, Aalto was known for his use of natural materials, including wood, in his furniture designs. He believed that the natural grain and texture of wood should be celebrated in his designs.
  • Frank Cummings: A woodcarver from the Southern United States, Cummings is known for his intricate carvings of animals and people. He has won multiple awards for his work and is considered one of the best woodcarvers in the country.

Female Woodworkers Who Are Worth Following

  • Henning: A German woodworker, Henning is known for her furniture designs that incorporate both wood and metal. She creates pieces that are both functional and beautiful, and her work has been featured in galleries across Europe.
  • Cedar: A woodworker from Japan, Cedar is known for her use of traditional Japanese woodworking techniques. She creates pieces that are both simple and elegant, and her work has been featured in galleries and museums across Japan.
  • Girls Who Build: A group of women from the United States who are passionate about woodworking, Girls Who Build is a community of female woodworkers who share their projects and skills with each other. They are dedicated to helping women get started in woodworking and continue to grow their skills.

Woodworkers Who Have Made a Name for Themselves in Furniture Construction

  • The Power of Wood: A group of woodworkers from the Southern United States, The Power of Wood is known for their heavy and solid furniture designs. They use multiple types of woods in their construction, and their pieces are built to last for centuries.
  • Japanese Woodworkers: Known for their precise and intricate woodworking skills, Japanese woodworkers are some of the best in the world. They use natural woods and traditional techniques to create furniture that is both beautiful and functional.
  • The Best in the Business: Whether you’re looking for a simple table or a complex piece of furniture, the best woodworkers in the business can help you find what you need. Their prices may be higher, but the quality of their work is worth it.


So, woodwork is the craft of making things out of wood. It’s been around for centuries and has evolved with the times. It can be as simple as a wooden toy or as complicated as a wooden chair. It’s a great way to express your creativity and you don’t need to be a master craftsman to get started. Just grab some wood and get sawing!

I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Tools Doctor, content marketer, and dad. I love trying out new equipment, and together with my team I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with tools & crafting tips.