I'm totally new to woodworking (cabinetry, to be specific), and need verification that I'm going about this in the correct order, from a high level.

This is what I have in mind for a general workflow. Is this what you'd recommend for a beginner?:

  1. Cut/drill/etc
  2. Dry fit
  3. Sand
  4. Glue up
  5. Finish (stain/varnish)
  • Many times there is some movement of pieces even after final assembly and glue up. For that reason, many woodworkers stain before glue up. This is especially true with doors and cabinets that have center panels. – bib Feb 16 '15 at 22:07
  • How does staining pre-glue up help in these circumstances? – rinogo Feb 16 '15 at 22:59
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    The segment of a panel that is hidden in a groove may become exposed as the piece shifts, expands and shrinks over time. If that area is not stained, it will stand out, usually as much lighter than the rest of the panel. – bib Feb 17 '15 at 1:34
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    Commit to Woodworking site if you haven't already! – user24242 Mar 9 '15 at 6:59
  • Done! :) Everyone else on this "thread" should commit, too! – rinogo Mar 9 '15 at 16:14

For a beginner...nay...even a moderately experience woodworker, I'd say the workflow is more like this:

  • plan cuts
  • buy materials
  • Cut/drill/etc
  • realized you screwed up the cuts
  • back to the lumber yard
  • Cut/drill/etc
  • realize you forgot one piece at the lumber yard
  • back to the lumber yard
  • Cut/drill/etc
  • Dry fit
  • realize you reversed one piece
  • back to the lumber yard
  • Cut/drill/etc
  • Dry fit
  • Sand
  • realize you're out of the grit of sandpaper you need
  • back to the lumber yard
  • Sand
  • Glue up
  • spill the glue
  • swear a lot
  • back to the lumber yard to get more glue
  • Finish (stain/varnish)
  • wonder if you really like the piece and consider starting over
  • Thanks, @DA01! I think you're probably spot on with what will end up happening on my project... :) Unfortunately, this doesn't really help answer my question - could you edit your answer a bit to show the simplest ideal workflow? It would be great to know what standard I should aim for! :) – rinogo Feb 16 '15 at 22:58
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    @rinogo I think your workflow is as good as any. It really does come down to the specifics of the piece you are working on. – DA01 Feb 16 '15 at 23:08

Yes. There are books that can guide you step by step on projects while you are learning.

Normally, finish is done last because otherwise you might mar the finish while doing working on the piece. Also, finish should be on the exterior surface of the work piece only, not inside the joints. The only way to ensure this is to finish the piece AFTER the joints are sealed.

  • Thanks! I have a few books, and I've read quite a bit online, but it seems that there may be some differing opinions (especially with regard to when to stain/varnish). It makes most sense to me to stain/varnish last, but I've read that some people stain/varnish before the glue up. Any advantage to that? – rinogo Feb 16 '15 at 18:46
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    That would depend on the piece. Sometimes it's easier to stain the pieces before the piece is assembled. – longneck Feb 16 '15 at 19:11
  • I agree. One of the persisting challenges of woodworking is actually figuring out the work flow. It is different for every piece, depending on both the design and scale/size of the work. – aaron Feb 21 '15 at 22:57

Your original sequence is good, except for one step you have out of place--sanding. You need to glue everything together after you dry fit everything. The glue will ooze out of the joints someplace- it happens. If you can force a joint flush on dry assembly, I will guarantee you that it will not be the case when you glue it up. Sanding after glue up will rid your project of the badly stained areas where the glue oozed and was only wiped up, preferably with a dampened cloth. Used the dampened cloth anyway during glue up, it make the finish sanding so much easier.

Sanding after glue up will give the chance to flush up slightly misaligned surfaces during the glue up. I go over all the joints carefully with a random orbit sander then hand sand it all in the direction of the grain. Most of the time the joints have such a small difference it can all be done by hand.

If you do have floating panels in you work, DO pre-stain the panels at least one coat before assembly.

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    If you have areas that you don't want glue sqeeze-out to show up, use blue painter's masking tape right next to the joint- glue ends up on the tape rather than an area that is or might be stained (which will be blotchy at best, or stain resistant at worst.) Once dry, peel the tape and squeezed out glue off as one. – TX Turner Feb 17 '15 at 21:06
  • Without sanding, you will still have line that has glue on it. yes the tape will minimize the glue line or the glue getting onto the surfaces, but glue will be there. If you are looking for a continuous surface, one with NO misalignment at all, sanding is the only way to get past it. Even a 1/64th off is noticeable when the palm of your hand goes over it, but it is real easy to sand down flush. That is why I don't bother with tape. A bucket of water and a damp cloth to wipe up the excess glue and sanding to remove the differences and the remaining glue residue. Done deal, nice surface. – Jack Mar 4 '15 at 0:50

Generally a good workflow, but a few tips- before gluing, stain (and possibly finish) inside areas that will be hard to reach once assembled. Tape off glue joint mating surfaces if you do this, so that stain / finish doesn't get in the joint.

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