Common Woodworking Mistakes and How to Fix Them

Workshopshed: Even the best of us make mistakes when woodworking. But rather than scrap the work, it is often possible to make good.

Today’s post is by Mark from Tools Critic where he writes about using professional tools. Mark shares his thoughts on common woodworking problems:

Mark: Either for fun or profit, woodworking is a great hobby to have, taking lots of concentration and focus. It’s also very easy to make mistakes and happens to the best of us. The trick is knowing how to fix the mistakes instead of starting a project that was almost done or took a large amount of time. Listed below are the most common mistakes in woodworking and how they can be fixed.

Fixing Joints

Uneven Mortise-and-Tenon Joints

Mortise-and-tenon joints always need to be cut exactly right, as they have to fit tightly to work properly. It is a very common mistake, especially amongst beginners to cut these slightly uneven, even when using professional tools. The usual thought is to fill the gaps in with a lot of glue. A better method would be to take a small and thin piece of wood, put it in the gap, glue it in place, and clamp it to the sides of the tenon. Make sure to arrange the grain of the wood to match the grain of the undersized tenon. Then, you can have a second chance at cutting the tenon again.

Face Frame Joints with Gaps

Face frames must be cut so they fit tightly into place, and they are easily miscut by beginners. They are on the front edges of cabinet bodies and must fit correctly with the sides beside them. If the short-cut face frame has a gap of 1/32 inches or less with its neighboring sides, all you need is a pair of pipe clamps and possibly 1/4 inch dowels and glue. Using the pipe clamps, pull in a set of stiles, causing them to stay tight and gap-free against the otherwise loose rail ends. If you’d like extra assurance that they stay together, reinforce them with the 1/4 inch dowels, drill a hole in the middle of the joint, put some glue in, and tap the dowel in place.

Removing the Unwanted

Removing Glue Smears

Glue is used quite often in woodworking. After using it to attach two pieces of wood, the unsightly excess must be wiped away, especially before finishing the wood with stain or sealer. Sometimes, a small, unseen smear of glue goes unnoticed. When this happens, the glue will prevent the wood to get finished, leaving a bright, noticeable blob. A few, simple scrapes from a cabinet scraper will remove the glue, regardless if there is wet varnish over it.

Removing Router Burns

A common issue when working with light-colored woods, mostly oak and maple, router burns are a bit of a pain. They are nearly impossible to sand off of the wood, even more so with intricate routes. The easiest fix for this is milling of the burned wood with the router, after adjusting the depth of the cut. Working quickly and carefully, take off roughly 1/64 inches to 1/32 inches of extra wood.

Fixing the Wood

Fixing Dents In the Wood

Probably one of the most upsetting of mistakes, dents in the wood can happen at any point in the project. While it may seem like a waste of wood, it is yet another easy fix. Lightly wet the dent(s) with water. This will cause the wood to swell and rise, pine, cedar, and other softwoods being affected the most. If the dents rise higher than the untreated area, simply sand it down until even again. For hardwoods, using an electric clothes iron along with a wet cloth is more effective.

Fixing Nail or Screw Split Wood

When inserting a nail, especially with a power nailer, or a screw, putting it in the wrong spot can cause a split in the wood. Regardless of the size, some glue, wax paper, a clamp and a few hours will have the wood looking like new. Remove the nail or screw and use a toothpick to put glue in the gap. Cover the wood with wax paper, clamp it nice and tight, and allow the glue to dry over the course of a few hours. Finally, slacken the clamp, remove the wax paper, and sand off the excess glue and paper residue.

Fixing Deep Hinge Pockets

While learning to install cabinet doors, it’s very easy to chisel the hinge pockets too deep. Setting one or two cardboard pieces in place and driving the screws through the cardboard and into the door frame fixes the problem and takes very little time. Using cereal boxes for the shims and cutting them in the right way will be extremely effective and less noticeable, too.

Fixing a Finish

Most water-based urethane formulations dry quickly but commonly create dried air bubbles on the surface of the wood. This gives the wood a rough texture, which is, needless to say, very unappealing. Using a 220-grit sandpaper to remove the air bubble(s), after applying three to four coats of dried urethane will make the finish feel smooth but also dull with an uneven sheen. Putting a fine or superfine 3M rubbing pad with a sander will slowly make it smoother and shine as you buff it.

Adjusting Sizes

Widening a Narrow Cabinet

One small error can cause a cabinet door to be too narrow for its opening. The best fix for this problem is to fasten a 1/4 inch-wide strip of bullnose trim to one of the adjoining stiles where the doors meet, giving you a second chance for the door-to-frame clearance to be perfect. Finally, plane the pair to fit the opening. The mistake can be hidden by the curved edge of the bullnose.

Lengthening a Short Board

It’s an annoying thing to throw out an entire plank of wood simply because it was cut too short. However, if the board is wider than desired, you can saw it diagonally from corner to corner. Then, joint the edges, glue the pieces back together. The final result substitutes the width for the length and can be nearly invisible if done properly.

About the Author

Mark is a professional woodworker, with over 20 years of experience running his own shop. He loves getting his hands dirty, trying new DIY projects, and sharing his love and expertise for this craft.

2 thoughts on “Common Woodworking Mistakes and How to Fix Them

  1. rex says:

    Very useful but the section “Face Frame Joints with Gaps” had too many technical terms in it to make any kind of sense to me.
    As this article is aimed at the bodger who makes the odd mistake, it would be great if it used less technical words and phrases.

  2. Thanks Rex, good point.

    “Frame Face” is a style more common in the USA. It’s when there is frame around the drawers and doors of a cabinet. As this section is on show it’s good to have it looking good. The “Stiles” are the side parts of that frame. Pipe clamps are again not common in the UK, they are a bit like a Sash clamp but using a tube rather than bar for the main support.


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