Building Your Own Furniture: An Easy Step-By-Step Guide

April 6, 2023
nicole

Hi! I'm Nicole

Fearless DIY. Sharing building project tutorials and interior design tips. Let’s build something beautiful together. For more projects, design tips and behind the scenes, follow me @designtobuild.nicole

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I never imagined I would be able to build the things I’m building today. Having never in my life picked up a drill, let alone pushed a board through a table saw. I would have laughed if you would have told me, “You’ll be building your own pieces of furniture someday”.

But following my husband’s wakeboarding accident, that all changed. Building projects became my therapy.

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As I learned in the early years of trying my hand at this, building your own furniture can be a fulfilling and rewarding experience. But it can also be overwhelming for beginners just starting out.

If I had a quarter for every time I heard someone tell me, “I could never do that,” I would be on a lifelong travel adventure without a care in the world.

But I understand. It is intimidating working with power tools for the first time. Not knowing where to even begin on a project is often what stops us from moving forward.

“The best way to get something done is to begin.”  –Unknown

That fear of beginning is just one of the reasons I’ve put together this comprehensive post.

I’ll walk with you through each step of the process. From planning your project to sanding and finishing your wood furniture, we’ll cover all of it.

Whether you’re just starting out or experienced in the DIY world, this guide will give you, not only the knowledge, but also the confidence you need to build your own beautiful and functional furniture.

Building Your Own Furniture: Step-By-Step Guide

Thanks to the advent of Pinterest and Instagram, building your own furniture has become increasingly popular in recent years. Some of the benefits to building your own furniture include:

  • Cost savings
  • Customizing it how you want
  • Option to use higher quality materials
  • The reward of knowing, “I built that!”

“There is something infinitely satisfying about making something with your own two hands.” -Jennifer Farley

Check out this link for the plans for this beautiful modern table

Long dining table in dining room on top of a rug

Choosing your DIY project-Make a plan

Of course, before we begin any project, we need a direction and a plan.

What are we wanting to build, would be the first obvious question. What materials and tools do we need?

Do we have adequate work space for our project? What’s our budget? What’s our timeline? What kind of wood do we want to use?

These are all important questions and it’s a good idea to know the answer to them before we begin.

To follow a plan or draw up our own plans

In my beginning stages of furniture building, I followed a plan to the T.

I would peruse Pinterest until I found the perfect simple plan that was easy to understand and very thorough. Once I found the step by step tutorial for what I was wanting to build, oftentimes I would print them out.

This made it much easier to constantly go back and forth to the plan as I was building. Those sheets would be very tattered by the time I was done. But I relied on them heavily to follow along and complete every step.

Over time, I became more confident in my building skills. I eventually got to the point where I am today. I can now look at a furniture piece and break down the building plans in my mind. It’s like a tutorial reel in my head that goes through the process of every step.

Sometimes I blow myself away at how easy this has become for me. BUT it didn’t happen over night. It took lots of time, practice and mistakes along the way.

(Read all about how I made the leap from my husband’s accident to woodworking, on my About Me page; here’s the link)

Regardless of if you’re following a plan already completed for you or you’re planning your own furniture design, it’s still important to have it on paper. Or your laptop/tablet/phone. Whatever works best for you.

But have the plans drawn out and clear before beginning. This will save you a lot of time, frustration and money.

For me, I find it easiest to keep a notebook for all of my sketches and notes on how I’m going to build my project. I often flip back to these plans, when building that project again.

Building plans for a building your own furniture project

I’m such a visual person, so I find it easiest to draw up a sketch of the furniture piece first.

Next I’ll make notes of the dimensions for my project. Then I’ll figure up how much wood I need.

What materials will I need? For example, screws, sandpaper, paint, etc.

Now, maybe you’re thinking, “I have no clue where to even begin with drawing up my own plans.” No worries! As I said before, there are so many tutorials for every unique piece of new furniture you can imagine.

Follow the plans and watch your masterpiece take shape! To get you started with some easy projects, here are a couple of my beginner tutorials: Floor to Ceiling Bookshelves….

Home theater room DIY's: shelving unit and console table great beginner piece for building your own furniture

Modern Dining Table…

Lightly stained modern table with black metal chairs...great for a beginner building your own furniture project

Now, I know what you may be thinking. A table does not look easy to build. But while it might not look easy, it is actually a great first time build.

Really, to be quite honest, most all of my building plans are for beginners. I really break down my tutorials and make them so easy to follow.

I’m always checking out new DIY furniture ideas while perusing my favorite magazines and websites.

Building them and then sharing those plans with you, is one of my favorite things to do.

I also encourage you to ask questions, if you get stuck. I’m really easy to reach over on Instagram and reply almost immediately when I receive questions over there.

What type of wood should I choose?

Through the planning process, we’ve probably also nailed down our budget. How much do we want to spend on this furniture piece?

Of course, the goal is to build it for less than we can buy it in the store.

The one area you can really make an impact on keeping your costs down is choosing your wood type.

When you choose hardwood species, you’re not only going to pay more, but they’re also a different kind of wood to work with. This is important to keep in mind. Especially if this is your first build.

Many advanced woodworkers will probably balk at this but, I’m going to say it. I use pinewood for all of my furniture builds. The only exception to this is, if I’m going to stain something I’m making out of plywood, I might choose Birch wood instead.

But for the most part, pine is my wood species of choice! I’ve been building furniture for over 10 years now and have never had an issue.

Want the plans to this Mid Century Modern platform bed? Here’s the link!

A mid century modern platform bed on a vintage rug

If you choose to use pine, you will save a ton of money as opposed to the other wood species. Not to mention, it’s so much easier to work with.

All of that said, I would be remiss, if I didn’t mention, pine is in the soft woods family. Therefore, it can dent and scratch easily.

To prevent this from happening, be sure to use a good coverage of polyurethane to protect your wood. Do this and you’re good to go! We’ll talk more about this a little further down in the post.

Do I have the right tools for this DIY furniture project?

Of course, any building project will require the use of some tools.

I know this is the part where all of the self-doubt creeps in and you tell yourself, “I can’t do this.” Wrong! If I can do this, anyone can.

Once again, go back and read my story. Carpentry was the farthest thing from my mind. You’ve got this!

girl building a fireplace hearth made of lumber

My “5 Tools Every Beginner DIY’er Needs” is a great resource. If you have these 5 basic tools, you can build almost anything…

  1. Cordless Drill
  2. Orbital Sander
  3. Miter Saw (also called a chop saw)
  4. Nail Gun
  5. Kreg Pocket Hole Jig

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You may notice, “table saw” is not on this list.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my table saw and use it all the time. But for a very long time, I did without it. I opted instead to have Home Depot make my cuts for me. (Did you know they’ll do that for you?)

Or I would use my neighbor’s circular saw with a straight edge. Works just as well as a table saw. There’s a solution to everything, right? 🙂

A few of my favorite accessories are:

  • My girlie tool belt. I love that this thing holds everything I need, but it’s not so bulky.
  • My stylish eye protection. Eye protection is a must, but I like mine to be a little more stylish too. After all, I am wearing it for a good portion of the day when building a furniture piece. So, I want to look good. Haha!
  • My knee pads. These are a must too. Your knees will thank you.
  • My steel toe work boots. These things have saved me from a broken toe countless times. Wood is heavy. A steel toe is a good thing to have.

“A man who works with his hands is a laborer; a man who works with his hands and his brain is a craftsman; but a man who works with his hands and his brain and his heart is an artist.” – Louis Nizer

Where will I build my furniture project?

As much as I would love (and often dream of one day having) my own wood shop, all of my builds are designed and created in my garage.

I won’t lie, this does require many nights, for our vehicles to sit outside. I tend to take over the space.

And the last thing I want to do is put it all away, to then have to get it all out again. My husband is so understanding about this. 🙂 Thankfully.

Garage wall full of tools

But I have also seen woodworkers set up shop in an unfinished part of their basement. You will want to have a very good air filtration system and dust collector, if choosing this route.

Building your own furniture-The process

Now that we have our overall plan mapped out, we are ready to make it all happen.

There are some very important things to consider when it comes to woodworking. These tips will save you a lot of headaches and fingers too. 🙂

  • Measure twice; cut once!
  • Safety first!
  • Be precise
  • Pay attention to wood grain
  • Straight cut the edges of your boards
  • A Pocket Hole Jig is great for joining boards together
  • Make sure your builds are level and square

Know your measurements before you cut

I learned this saying very early on: “Measure twice; cut once!” It only takes a few wrong cuts to get this one engraved into your head.

You can always take more length off of a board, but you can’t add to a board you’ve cut too short. Common sense, I know. But so helpful to reiterate and keep in mind.

Measuring tape across a board with a pencil to mark. Important step when building your own furniture

One very important thing to keep in mind when making your cuts is, the saw blade is 1/8″ wide. That may not seem very significant, but in woodworking every little tick on that measuring tape matters.

So, you’ll want to account for that saw blade when cutting.

This is very simple to do: When cutting your board with a miter saw, ensure that the blade is cutting down on the right side of the line you have marked.

For example, if you’re cutting a 2×4 to be 13 inches long, this is the process:

  • Measure across from the end of your board to 13 inches and mark with a pencil
  • Use a speed square to draw a straight line as to where you’ll make your cut
  • Place your board on your miter saw, making sure it is firmly pushed against the fence
  • The part of the board you are wanting to keep/use should be to the left of the blade
  • Pull the blade down (without cutting) to see where the cut will be. Make sure it’s immediately to the right of the line you have drawn.
  • Once the wood and your blade are in the right place, you are ready to make your cut

Miter saw ready to cut a board

Pay attention to safety first when building your own furniture

But first! Before you make that cut, make sure you’re wearing the right safety gear. Here are a few of my favorites:

Power tools don’t have to be scary. But they do need to be taken serious.

It’s important to ensure your tools and equipment are working correctly.

Keeping your work area well-lit and free of clutter will prevent tripping hazards.

It’s important to always wear appropriate personal protective equipment.

Safety glasses, a dust mask and ear protection are a must when working with these loud power tools. Your ears will thank you later in life. And your eyes and lungs are kind of important, so be sure to take the small amount of extra time necessary to put this gear on.

Gloves are great for carrying these heavy boards. You will save yourself from those pesky splinters.

Want to make these planters? Here’s the link!  

Slatted diy planter box with an assortment of plants in it-great for a beginner building your own furniture project

Pay attention to wood grain

Paying attention to the direction the wood grain is going is especially important when sanding. We’ll talk more about sanding a little further down in this post. But it is an important part of the woodworking process.

Making the edges of your boards nice and straight

When building furniture, I like to get rid of the manufactured edge on all of my 2x’s. 2×4’s, 2×6’s, 2×8’s and so on, all have a curved edge.

I have a method of getting rid of that curved edge and giving them straight lines. Rip cuts. I do this to every 2x board I am using in my furniture building project.

You can check out exactly how I do this, in this post. It’s really quite simple and will give your furniture a more professional look.

Joining your boards together when building your own furniture

While there are several ways to do this, my favorite way to join my pieces of wood together is with my Kreg Jig tool.

Although it’s not a power tool, it’s a very powerful tool. Of all my tools in my woodworking collection, this one is the one I use the most.

I love my Kreg Jig for making pocket holes. While the design of it may look intimidating and confusing, it is actually SO EASY to use.

I have a full tutorial (along with a video) on how to use it, in this post.

A kreg jig to demonstrate how easy building your own furniture is

When building your own furniture, a Pocket Hole Jig is a must-have tool! It’s definitely the easiest way to join two boards together.

Making sure your furniture build is level and square

It’s important to make sure your furniture build is level and square as you go. There’s nothing more frustrating than working on a build and realizing it’s not square.

This happened to me recently. Trying to save time, I decided to skip the step of ensuring my boards were square when building the frame for a coffee table top.

Low and behold, when I added the legs and turned the table upright, two legs were on the floor; the other two? In mid-air! Not good.

I ended up taking the whole thing apart and starting over. So much for saving time.  🙁

To make sure an angle is square, I like to use these nifty little things. Or a speed square works great too.

Simply butt the square up to the two adjoining wood pieces. If there’s any gap between the wood and the speed square, then these two pieces joined together are not square.

Note: Picture below is one of the legs to my outdoor sofa. This represents what it means for the adjoining wood pieces to be square. They line up to a perfect 90 degree angle…

A perfect square made of 2x4's

Checking to make sure your table or any furniture piece is level, is as easy as placing a level on top of it, and making sure the bubble is in the middle of the level.

Finishing touches and staining your furniture building project

Ahhh! The best part of any furniture build. Stepping back and seeing what you just created with your own hands. SO GOOD!! And now we get to do all the pretty stuff to it….

  • Filling in nail holes
  • Sanding
  • Adding edge-banding (when needed)
  • Painting or staining
  • Applying the poly

Filling in nail holes

Step one in finish work is filling in all of those unsightly holes from screws, nails, imperfections in the wood, etc.

Cover them all up with wood filler.

I always say, wood filler is my best friend in furniture projects. Caulk is my best friend in renovation projects. They cover up all of my imperfections. 🙂

Want to check out the building plans for this modern outdoor patio furniture? Here’s the link.

Outdoor patio area with wooden furniture. Great for a beginner building your own furniture project

My go-to wood filler is this one. I like that it’s paintable and stainable. However, I will say, unless you get it sanded down really well, it’s not completely flawless when adding stain.

Sometimes you can still see where I added the wood filler. So, I found a solution to this.

To make your wood even more flawless and make those unsightly wood filler marks go away, I use this method…

 

  • I save a big portion of my sawdust from my current build. I just gather it up at the end of my build for the day, put it in a container and save it for later.
  • Then when I’m ready to use it, I first add a little dot of wood glue where I want to fill in.
  • Then I sprinkle some of my sawdust over the wood glue. The sawdust will mix with the wood glue, making it more of a thicker consistency.
  • Now I can work with that and work that into my nail hole, or wood imperfection. The bigger the imperfection, the more wood glue I’ll use. It’s really a trial and error. Just use a little to begin with and add as needed.
  • Smooth this concoction out until its even with the rest of the wood. Just like you would with wood filler.

I find this sawdust/wood glue mixture takes stain much better. I rarely can see the spots I filled in after staining when using this technique. Give it a try! It’s a good one!

Sanding when building your own furniture

Sanding is not a one and done process. There’s actually a science, or you might say, an art to it.

To get that smooth, store-bought furniture feel, start with a 60 grit sandpaper and work your way up to a 220 grit.

I like to work in this order when sanding: 60, 80, 120, 220. It’s amazing how smooth your wood can be when taking the time to do all of these steps.

I know, sanding is a pain in the bootie! But you worked too hard on building your own piece of furniture to not make it amazing in the end.

An orbital sander on top of a cabinet door

Even more than the feel of the wood when you’re finished sanding it with this process, is the look of it.

If you jump from 60 grit to 220, you will have a mess of swirly lines.

These swirls that form in your wood, from not going through all of the sand grits, are next to impossible to get rid of once they’re formed.

Trust me, I’ve done it. And it took SO MUCH work to get them out. I added my stain and although the dining table was gorgeous, all the eye could focus on was that mess of swirly lines.

I was devastated and worked a few hours to get them all out. Doing it right, from the beginning, would have saved me so much stress and time.

What is edge banding?

If you’ve ever built anything out of plywood, you know the edges are super rough and ugly. That’s where edge banding comes in. And the process to attach it, is super easy…

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It’s really that easy. Now you’re ready to stain it or paint it. Whichever you choose. But wow, does it look so much better than those rough edges!

Girl applying edge banding to bookshelves

Painting or staining your furniture

And this is the best part of all. Where the magic comes to life.

With so many choices to choose from in the stain (and paint) department, this part of the process can be overwhelming.

I have two favorite stain concoctions I like to use. I’ll link one of them below and will write up a blog post for the other one soon.

For now, here’s one of my favorite go-to stain combinations…

Girl staining a board for a building your own furniture project

Don’t forget to add the poly when building your own furniture

Applying polyurethane to your finished product is not something you’ll want to forget. Once again, you worked too hard on this build to not protect it from scratches and scuffs.

I like to give my table tops 3-4 coats of poly. And the remainder of the furniture (ie: legs, etc), 1-2 coats.

My favorite go to poly is this one by General Finishes. I try to use it for all of my table builds. It provides such a protective shield for the surface of the furniture.

When using this product, I only need to put 3 coats on the table top and 1 coat for the remainder of the piece.

Be sure to pay attention to the sheen when picking out your poly. I like to go with a satin sheen.

But sometimes, if I want no shine at all, I’ll go with a matte finish. It’s really personal preference, but something to keep in mind, for sure.

Wrap-up and final thoughts

Ahhhh! After writing this post, I am itching to go build something. It truly is so much fun and so rewarding.

Honestly, give me a custom furniture build over an Ikea furniture build any day!

Here’s the link for these gorgeous floating shelves…

Neutral color chair next to floating shelves

I hope you’ll take these tips and build your own furniture piece. It’s ok to start with something easy for your first project.

Bookshelves are at the top of simple projects. But tables are pretty darn easy too.

I have so many furniture plans here on the blog. My goal is always to make them as easy to follow and understand as possible.

Through lots of pictures, SketchUp drawings, and sometimes video, my plans for all of my custom pieces are really good.

Not to pat myself on the back, but I hear feedback from you guys and they truly are.

I love when my readers share their creations with me! It brings me so much joy! So, please share your build with me! I would love to see it!

And as always, if you have any questions, please comment below or reach out to me on Instagram. I do return all of my comments/questions and love to hear from you!

Let’s go beyond the design to build something beautiful together!

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