Have you ever coveted furniture that you see in a Restoration Hardware catalog, but can’t afford it? Well, if you have the tinkering gene, we are going to tell you how to make furniture that’s 90% as good for 3% of the price. You’ll need a car and some tools and you’ll need to be ok going to Home Depot to get wood every evening.
While it’s possible to be a woodworker with inexpensive tools, you’ll get a better result with more expensive saws and tools. It will also save you a lot of time. I like viewing tools as capital investments that keep on paying dividends. Therefore, it makes sense to buy more tools. Furniture on the other hand is a liability which just decreases in value. That’s why it makes sense to buy expensive tools, but not expensive furniture.
Depending on your budget you may be able to get away with just a circular saw and a speed square. You’ll definitely want to get a nice finishing blade, so the cut wood has a nice finish. If you can afford it, I would also recommend a miter saw. This will make it much easier to cut pieces of wood all to the same length and also to cut miter cuts where you cut the wood at an angle.
Some woodworkers recommend skipping the miter saw and just getting a table saw. They say that it is possible to make both precise and miter cuts on a table saw. This is all true, but it’s more work and on top of that, you’ll need to remove the blade guard to make such cuts, which is quite dangerous. It’s not worth losing a finger to make furniture.
You’ll also want a bunch of clamps of various lengths. I recommend getting a lot of clamps from Harbor Freight. They are inexpensive and of sufficient quality. If you have the budget, you can also get good 90 degree clamps. These clamps will make it much easier to make boxes, which is what a lot of woodworking is.
You’ll also want to consider getting a pocket jig, which will allow you to drill secret holes in wood that no one can see. You could also consider a doweling jig and most wood joints require some kind of reinforcement and dowel reinforcement is quite strong.
You’ll need wood, stains, finishes and glue to make furniture.
Wood selection is critically important to making sure your furniture looks nice. One of the pieces of wood that looks incredibly nice, but is fairly cheap is birch plywood at Home Depot. Plywood is engineered such that layers of wood with perpendicular grain are glued together. The visible layers are selected to look really nice, which is why plywood looks much better than hardwood for the same price. You need to be careful sanding plywood though as it is easy to sand off the entire veneer and be left with ugly plywood. Make sure to buy the 4 by 8 foot plywood and have an associate at Home Depot cut it down to size. This is much cheaper than buying smaller plywood and you don’t even need tools or a car that can carry 4 by 8 foot plywood.
You can clean up the plywood edges by applying iron-on edge banding. You just heat up an iron and use it to melt glue on the edge banding and attach it to the sides. You can then cut off the excess with a utility knife.
You may also need some solid wood for legs and other things that are too difficult to make out of plywood. I recommend common boards made of pine from Home Depot. These are by far the cheapest and they look reasonably nice. You’ll need to dig through the stock at your local store and pick the nicest ones. The average piece of common board is not of the highest quality, but if you are willing to search, you can find some gems. If you really want to save time though, you can pay for select pine boards, which cost twice as much. 2x4s are also a very inexpensive option, though they are often bent and they have rounded corners, which are difficult to remove without a table saw.
Glue and Screws
You’ll need a good wood glue to glue all your wood together. I recommend Titebond III. Some people think it’s worse than Titebond II. I also recommend Kreg brand screws to join pieces of wood together.
Stains and Finishes
You can make a piece of pine look like a piece of expensive wood if you buy stains. You’ll also need to finish your wood so that it can withstand getting wet. Check our guide on wood stains to learn more.
Furniture Cutting and Assembly
The final step is to actually cut the wood and assemble it. You can make very nice wooden boxes using a miter saw and cutting a piece of straight wood at a 45 degree angle. Then, you can glue four identical such pieces together to form a box. Check out this video on stop blocks to learn more on how to cut pieces of wood to be exactly the same size.
You can then glue some of these boxes to a piece of plywood that was precut at Home Depot to make a very nice table. Happy Woodworking!