Top 10 Basic Carpentry Skills Every Newbie Should Master

Every man (and woman) should know some very basic carpentry skills you can use around the home like how to put up a shelf & hang a picture.

Below is my list of the 10 carpentry basics that once mastered will help you confidently move on to more difficult carpentry tasks as you progress on your woodworking journey. 

1. Health & Safety - or First Aid!

I class avoiding splinters, accidents and cutting the wood instead of yourself as a skill.

It's not boring, I have seen (and inflicted on myself!) some pretty horrific injuries caused on building sites. You never forget the first time you shoot yourself with a nail-gun, it's a special moment. Or the second time! And it's one that hospital staff will enjoy laughing at too (trust me.. I know).

Or the amount of blood everywhere when someone loses fingers..! (if you are not queezy, see our Facebook page for graphic pictures..).

So stop lying to yourself, it is simply not enough to do the 'safety squint' in order to protect your eye/s from splinters, sparks or anything else that's flying around on site or in the workshop. You've only got ten fingers (or eight and two thumbs) and they won't grow back if you lose them.

Depending on what type of carpentry work you are doing get yourself some decent gloves, dust masks, goggles, ear plugs, steel toe-cap safety boots and a hard hat if working on a building site. 

basic carpentry skill 101 - don't shoot yourself with the nailgun..Oops..

The last thing you want to do is spill blood on any of your nice new carpentry tools! 

Set the work area up, keep it tidy, make sure there are no trip hazards with extension leads and the timber you are going to use and keep things tidy as you go too.

Failing that, learn some decent first aid skills like how to stem the blood-flow from an artery - you'll need to.

2. Measuring up accurately

'Measure twice, cut once' is a term you will hear any time you stuff up and cut something short. Learning how to read a tape measure with great accuracy will mean the difference between a great job or a lousy DIY attempt. Always double check your measurements and don't cut any expensive timber short..  There's a whole page dedicated to reading a tape measure here with helpful things you probably didn't know.

3. Setting Out 

It's all well and good getting a perfect measurement but if you can't transfer that accurately onto the work-piece when setting out then you'll still have the same problem. Get both wrong and it will be a complete mess!

You'll be using the best carpentry pencil for the job. And because you'll Know some simple carpentry formulas like how to square, coupled with using the right setting out tools you'll nail it every time.

Every page I have here with instructions will help you accurately measure out so you have the best chance of a perfect, accurate finish.

4. How to Cut Straight. Or curved. Or the mustard?

You've measured perfectly, you've transferred that straight onto the timber with even greater accuracy, now you just need to be handy with whichever saw you are using and get a perfect cut to finish the job off nicely.

The handsaw is used less these days than before power tools but still a lot. 'Let the saw do the cutting' means exactly that. If you are getting tired wrists or sore hands when using a hand saw you are pushing/trying too hard and more likely to wander off course. Keep your index finger pointed down the length of the blade to help keep it stable and apply the minimum amount of pressure.

If you need a power tool, use the tips on this site to pick the right one and the best cutting blade to go with the material you are cutting to give yourself the best chance of a perfect finish.

5. How to scribe

Half way through the list of basic carpentry skills, scribing. Mastering the above still doesn't guarantee a perfect fit every time. Even the best cut timbers may need to be scribed in for a neater finish before you nail them in place forever. Whether you are working on rough framing carpentry or fine finish carpentry, the technique of scribing timber in for a tight join is essential basic carpentry skill no.5.

6. Familiarise yourself with the basic carpentry tools available 

Starting with a carpenters pencil, most tools have more than their most obvious use and can double up for several time saving tasks. Learn the basic tools available, how to use them, when to call on each one depending on the task at hand and you'll always figure out a way to conquer a job.

7. How to hammer a nail in, and remove them too

The hammer is along with the hand saw probably the most recognisable basic carpentry tool you'll master. Just like a golf club and the hand saw, don't go hell for leather swinging as hard as you possibly can. 'Less is more' - take your time and aim for accuracy over power at first until you 'get the swing of it'. The hammer isn't just for hitting home nails, you'll learn to remove nails, lever timber into position, blunt the end of nails so they don't split the timber and more uses too.  

I have two different hammers, one for 2nd fixing work which is a bit smaller and lighter (still manly mind you..) and the second is a much larger framing hammer. It has a longer handle and heavier head to hit home larger nails.

8. Power Tool Knowledge!

Perhaps one of the more enjoyable parts of carpentry work when I first started was getting to know what each of the power tools can do, how to use them and how to look after them. Dangerous in the wrong hands but when used correctly just the most useful, time saving and amazingly useful tools that will help you build an endless amount of amazing things out of wood!

9. Carpentry Fixings

Nails from pins to wires, screws & bolts, plugs, pellets, adhesives/glues and more. Knowing all of the different ways to connect wood to other materials and each other will mean you'll quickly be able to decide the best options and methods to get strong secure fixings that will stand the test of time.  

Final basic carpentry skill: learn some of the lingo!

Walking the walk but not talking the talk? Fake it till you make it. On top of knowing all of the terms and tools to use, the final basic carpentry skill on my list is to learn some building site banter:

  1. 'Pat Butcher' - workmate who's work is a bit DIY/Rough (shit)
  2. 'Chippie's eye' - the keen eye you develop over time that can spot an out of level stud/spindle or anything else that doesn't line up/sit as it should (can spot a Pat Butcher a mile off with it)
  3. 'Pissed' - something that is out of level (installed by Pat Butcher)
  4. 'It looks like it grew there' - The boast you make when you build something particularly spectacular
  5. '4x2' - Tiiiiimmmmbbbeeeerrrr
  6. 'Sky Hooks' - impossible device you send the apprentice looking for on his first day