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4 Fool-Proof Tips to Help You Stop Putting Off That DIY Project

Person staining a table
Getty Images

Sometimes the most challenging part of starting a DIY project is getting started. Maybe you’re unsure what material to choose and keep pushing the project to the back burner. Or perhaps you’ve got a vision in mind for a dated piece of furniture but are unsure how to turn it into a blank canvas first. Whatever has been holding you back, these four simple pointers can help get you back on track.


Related: 5 Must-Have Power Tools Every DIY Beginner Needs to Create Their Best Work 

Person measuring table

Choose Your Wood Carefully

I will show you how to choose the perfect wood for your DIY projects. If you’re starting from scratch, the material you start with will dictate the entirety of your project. Here are some of the three most common wood types:

Dimensional Lumber

Dimensional lumber is the most common wood at the hardware store and is often made from soft wood like pine, spruce or fir. These solid wood boards are durable, versatile, and easy to work with. They come in different grades and countless dimensions and are great for building almost anything from things like trays, lanterns, or even furniture — the endless possibilities!

Four pieces wood against a garage


Plywood is a type of building material that uses thin sheets of wood glued one on top of the other in alternating directions. This process forms a robust and affordable building material. Plywood is commonly used in cabinetry and flooring but can be used in almost all of the same applications as solid wood without the higher price tag. The obvious downside is the exposed edges, which can be concealed with an iron-on edge banding (or you can work them into your design!).

MDF (Medium-Density Fibreboard)

MDF is a building material made of wood particles, resin, and waxes. Although it’s not as strong or resistant to water as solid wood or plywood, it’s cheaper, and there are many benefits to using it in the right places. MDF is super flat and smooth and has virtually no imperfections. It’s perfect for interior DIY projects like decorative wall trim and panelling. You may notice that some cheaper furniture items use MDF with a veneered or laminated finish.


Read More: How to Make Your Own Live Edge Shelves 

A person using a measuring tape against a piece of wood.

Mind Your Kerf 

Take your DIY projects up by getting familiar with the definition and concept behind the word “kerf”. When cutting material for a project, you must account for the width of fabric removed by the saw blade (in other words, sawdust). In woodworking circles, the width of this cut is referred to as kerf. So, if you have a ⅛-inch wide saw blade, you’ll have ⅛ of an inch worth of kerf.

When measuring a cut line in a piece of material, be aware of which side is your “scrap side.” I like putting an X on my scrap side to avoid confusion. If you cut the wrong side of the line or inside of your “keep” material, the board’s length will come up short. Put simply, the width of the teeth on your saw blade permanently removes the section of wood you are cutting into, and it can make a huge difference in your final product.

Related: 10 Ways to Use Reclaimed Wood in Your Kitchen Design

Wearing blue glove and staining a wooden table


Don’t Be Afraid to Strip…Your Furniture 

Decades-old varnish is often incredibly thick and discoloured…hiding beautiful wood grain and making gorgeous pieces of furniture look dated and tired. If you are refurbishing an old piece of furniture and want to keep that wood appearance and texture, you’ll want to remove all of the old varnishes or finish before restaining.  When used properly, a paint stripper can save you time (especially if you’re trying to remove layers of paint, too!).

Applying the stripper to this coffee table only takes a few minutes, and then cover the surface with plastic wrap to keep the stripper from drying out. Wait 30 minutes for the paint stripper to do its thing, remove the plastic wrap and then scrape away at the surface with a paint scraper to remove as much of the varnish as possible. Then, clean the whole thing up with mineral spirits (wash, rinse, repeat as needed).


Paint stripper combined with some steel wool and mineral spirits is the perfect combination for tackling tight grooves and crevices — they’ll go no place any sander has gone before!

Is stripping furniture messy? Of course, it is. But so is sanding. That sanding dust gets everywhere! But, if you use a disposable drop sheet, keep your work outside, and clean up after furniture stripping is a breeze.

Related: This DIY IKEA Hack is the Perfect Way to Upcycle Your Old TV Stand 


Rethink the Paint and Go for Stain 

When I can, I always opt for a stain. Paint is fantastic, but I think staining gives vintage furniture a timeless look. If you want to update a piece of wood furniture,  follow these steps before restaining:

    • Ensure your furniture is free of any sealants, varnish, or paint.
    • Give your piece of furniture a good sanding with 120 grit sandpaper.
    • Wipe away any dust.
    • Apply a wood conditioner.

Why is Wood Conditioner So Important? 

The wood conditioner will help the stain soak in evenly and avoid blotchiness. Firstly, let it dry and give the entire piece another light sanding and wipe it down before you start to stain it. Grab your stain of choice and stir to mix. Using a lint-free cloth, apply a generous coat of stain and let it soak in for about 10 minutes. Wipe away any excess, and build up your stain in layers if you want to. Let the stain dry overnight and add two coats of a water-based Satin finish. I like water-based finishes for fewer fumes and easy soap and water cleanup.

Need some project inspiration? Try making your own wood palette herb garden.


Images courtesy of Courtney Ryall and Getty Images. 

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