"DJ's Woodworks"
Skip Navigation Links

Woodworking 101 or what you should know about wood
(before you commission a custom piece.)

If you are reading this you are probably wondering what a basic tutorial on woodworking has to do with commissioning a custom piece of furniture or buying a handcrafted item? Good question! Hang with me a moment and I will explain.


The furniture and other items we produce are made from wood. Wood is durable, beautiful and enhances the beauty of one's home. Wood also creates very useful tools for use around the house. DJ's Woodworks prefers to use solid wood whenever practical because of wood's natural beauty. Sheet goods can be incorporated upon a customer's request where cost may be an issue. In some cases using plywood, for example, cabinetry, bookcases, panels makes sense. Plywood comes with a variety of veneers on a substrate or core and can be difficult to distinguish from solid wood. It moves less with the changing seasons and is generally flat and straight without additional milling.

I would like to take a moment here to discuss solid vs sheet vs veneers and what wood movement really means and especially what it means to you, the customer. I believe that using solid wood for most furniture pieces can be superior to using sheet goods. I believe that it will age better and will develop a nicer patina (the color that develops naturally with time). Solid wood is easier to repair than sheet goods and this is especially so if the finish is damaged. Many will tout the superiority of sheet goods (plywood, MDF, particle board etc) as being more "green" and less costly than items made from solid wood. In some cases this is true. Many will also tout how manmade or sheet goods are less likely to move. Move? What move? Furniture certainly doesn't get up and walk around! No, that is true, however what is being referred to when discussing wood movement is how much dimensional change there will be as the relative humidity changes. Wood swells and contract constantly across the grain. Many woodworkers do not account for this movement when creating furniture and some day the piece will crack, warp or blow itself apart. This is easily dealt with and a good craftsmen will allow for this movement in the construction of the piece and in the joinery used.

Veneers is another method by which the craftsman can create an extraordinary piece using special grain patterns and colors. Veneers, typically about 1/24th of an inch thick (though some can be as much as 1/8th on an inch thick), come in a wide variety of colors and grain patterns. Some of the most spectacular  furniture made through the ages has been veneered. The use of veneers should be considered when planning out your custom piece.


There are many, many different kinds of joints (collectively known as joinery) that are available to the craftsman. Many of these joints have been used for hundreds if not thousands of years (dovetails for example have been found in the tombs of the ancient Pharaohs of Egypt). Joinery is one of the aspects that separates custom furniture from factory produced. The correct use of joinery allows the craftsman to account for wood movement during construction. Using the correct form of joinery allows strength to be built in without the need for an excessive number of mechanical fasteners to provide the needed strength. While mechanical fasteners are certainly common today, they can work loose or strip out over time. Time tested joinery is a better way to go. This is not to say however, that there will be no mechanical fasteners used as they certainly do have their place.

Milling and Assembly

This is the process by which materials are brought to their proper width, thickness and length. A variety of power and/or hand tools will be used in this process. It is at this point that a "kit" is usually created of the necessary parts to create the piece. For example tops or panels are glued up. In our shop we, generally, will not use a board over 4" in width. The reason is simple. A panel made from glued up boards will have less movement than a solid piece of the same width. Wide boards will be ripped into narrow boards and glued back together matching the original grain pattern. Once the major parts are milled the process of assembly begins. Each piece is carefully matched and any minor adjustments are made to ensure a proper fit.


At this point in the creation of a piece of furniture assembly has been completed and preliminary sanding has taken place. An inspection of the piece is made and once satisfied we will final sand the piece. Here a decision must be made. Do you want your piece stained, dyed or left natural in color? The number of possibilities here are beyond what can be written here. We prefer to leave the piece in its natural color or only making small color changes to help bring out the grains and beauty.


There are numerous finishing materials available to the craftsman today. We, as a rule, do not use water based products in our shop. Depending on the piece and the intended use we will use shellac, penetrating oil or a varnish finish. Lacquer can be used upon special request. You may be wondering why we prefer these three finish types? The answer is each of the types of finishes are time tested and proven to provide beautiful finishes every time while providing durability with easy maintenance and repair. All of our finishes are applied by hand to ensure even coats and proper coverage. We do not use polyurethane on furniture as a general rule. To us, it just seems wrong to encase a beautiful piece of furniture in plastic.

Finishing the Finish

This may be the single most important step in the whole process of creating fine furniture. While the name may seem strange it truly describes what is being done. Each of our pieces are hand rubbed out using steel wool and a high quality paste wax. This ensures an absolutely smooth finish with depth and richness.

Skip Navigation LinksDJ's Woodworks > Woodworking 101 Copyright  2010 by DJ's Woodworks