How I got started in all this

By Pinktoesandpowertools | Random Thoughts + Ramblings

Sorry about the dry spell on the blog as of late. A good portion of the last week was visiting with out of town relatives on their way up to my grandpa’s funeral, then packing up and getting ourselves there and back. It was great to see a lot of loved ones who live too far away to see regularly (there are 13 aunts & uncles and 16 of us cousins in 7 states, so it doesn’t happen often!) but obviously the reason was a very sad one. But right before all of this hit, I had someone contact me and ask how I got started in all of this DIY business (that would be “busy-ness not business because the last I checked, I don’t make any moola out of this!). I told her that I would write up a post on that–and this is that post. Not that I think there is a large amount of people out there curious about this subject, but hopefully to inspire someone who thinks they can’t, into someone who thinks they can…

I’ve always done-it-myself for the most part. I’ve sewn all the roman blinds in our home and painted every wall. I sewed the cloth diapers my daughter wore, and for seven years I made all the bread my family ate. I cut everyone’s hair in our family (even my own, in a pinch–there are funny stories about that fact!). I have conquered quilting, knitting, and cake decorating. I’ve never been afraid of a little work or a challenge, and I’ve always wished I had taken shop in high school instead of home ec. I already knew how to sew and cook! And I always wanted to know how to build.

Roman shades I made in the kitchen. The table isn’t painted yet!!

I would check out beginner woodworking books from the library over the years. They used words like dado, and rabbet, and dove-tail (what??!) and required a table saw which we didn’t have (and still don’t). And the projects looked like they were homemade. More experienced books had better-looking results, but the beginner books were already over my head! Then I did a google search on woodworking in the fall of 2010, and I found Ana.

Ana White is phenomenal. Certainly, you have heard of her and if you have not, you must go there now. She made it look easy! Her plans were free and were knock offs of popular brands–mostly Pottery Barn, and they actually looked like Pottery Barn pieces when other beginners finished (you can post pictures of your projects when you finish so others can see them). Some plans only had a handful of steps and I remember thinking that I could handle anything I could print off on one page! Now that was slightly unrealistic–one step can take a big chunk of the day I have found out ;)–but once I tried my first project, I was hooked.

Storage closet door

I chose Ana’s closet door storage for my first project, mainly because it went inside of the closet and I was afraid of how it would turn out. That was probably a good idea, but luckily the problems I encountered for this project were short-lived. I invested in some Irwin quick grip clamps and a Kreg jig for this, and learned how to use my husbands compound miter saw.

At this point I also found Sandra over at Sawdust and Paperscraps. She didn’t have plans on her site, but she was building some pretty amazing things. She was more dado and rabbet-ish, but she also did a lot of step-by-step tutorials that made me think that perhaps, one day, I might make that leap. (At this point in time I have in fact, rabbeted. I have yet to dado). Sandra also took the time to hold my hand through some traumatic drawer glide problems on the laundry room built-in and advise me on attaching the batten without construction adhesive for the board and batten as well. It takes a village to raise a woodworker, I tell ya (and I believe it too). Obviously, the job would’ve been easier with the proper equipment, so that’s why it was a little more difficult. If we’d have had some construction adhesive, it would’ve been much more straightforward. That sort of adhesive is so practical, and it would’ve made it much easier to attach the batten to the board. However, I know how to do that without the adhesive now.

Now one of the advantages of doing-it-yourself is being able to customize all things to fit what you need the best. I needed some leaning wall shelves, but smaller versions than you can buy, or that Ana had plans for. I modified her plan to build the leaning wall shelves. At this point I was trying to make all the plans I built out of pine boards I would buy off the shelf. I didn’t know how to use the circular saw and had no plans to learn.

Leaning Wall Shelves

Then I ran into a glitch. My next project required plywood and my experience having it cut at the big box store did not go well. I was pretty bummed because I had been really counting on having that part done for me because I was VERY afraid of the circular saw. It took me 2.5 weeks to get up the nerve to plug the thing in and make a cut (but now I’ve written, produced, and starred in a video, ha ha, showing how I go about cutting a sheet of plywood with a circular saw). That third project was a built-in cabinet for our laundry room that hid our line-drying laundry behind it, as well as the cat litter box (bet Pottery Barn doesn’t sell something like that!). Board and batten soon followed as well as an entryway bench.

Laundry room before and after. At this point I still felt very much like a beginner. I ran into a lot of problems–so much so that at one point I commented that I was looking forward to cleaning our bathroom because I knew that would get done without a hitch! But I had purchased a pancake compressor and nail gun set before I did the laundry room because I knew by now that this wasn’t going to be a passing fad for me.

From here I began working on my daughter’s room. I did built-ins on either side of her picture window and then I made a storage bed for her. The storage bed was really a turning point for me–I got a lot more confident after that project. I learned how to use a hand-me-down router for her bed, but when I built the second storage bed, I left the router detail off (and you really can’t tell).

And there you have it! I’ve done more projects than what I’ve included in here, but this is how I started out and where I felt like I turned a corner in the process. I’m working on a project page that will navigate to all the projects on the blog, but I’m having to learn HTML to do it, so it may be awhile (I think I might download atom text editor as there seem to be lots of tutorials online to help use it – watch this space!) 🙂

So the moral of the story is this: woodworking can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be hard. Visit Ana and read the forums on her site. ASK QUESTIONS. You will see all kinds of questions I asked on there if you spend enough time browsing around (my username is Kristen). Ask other building bloggers questions. I’m a teacher and I can tell you with great certainty that if you are learning something new, there are NO STUPID QUESTIONS, even if you feel stupid asking them.


  • Start with straight boards (makes your project go sooo much smoother).
  • Be as precise as you can with your cuts.
  • Buy new saw blades–the ones that came with the saws are for rough cuts. The more teeth they have the finer the cut. I am currently using (and happy with) 40T on the circular saw and 80T on the miter saw.
  • Don’t expect perfection (my projects are.not.perfect.).
  • START. Jump in! Begin! There’s no better way to learn.

Ana has a section on her blog about getting started, which is what I used to decide what tools to invest in at first. The Family Handyman website is a wealth of information on all things DIY, including using tools and woodworking and I have spent significant time on there learning. And nothing can compete with actually seeing something in action–I used YouTube as a learning agent as well.

Thanks to Kadijah for asking me how I got started in an email! I had another request for how to get accurate cuts with a saw that I promise will be coming in the near future (sorry for the wait Deborah).

And if you can spare a moment, send some inspiration vibes my way. I need to do some work on the kids’ bathroom and I just can’t get excited about it, since I haven’t hit on anything I really want to do in there…I’m stuck!

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