15 Woodworking Myths You Need To Be Aware Of

In any hobby or industry, there are always several misconceptions and myths present. Whether it originated from clever advertising practices or old wives tales, these stories someone stand the test of time and continue to become accepts as almost common knowledge and practice. Try to dispute one of these old tales and it’s possible to unleash a debate that rivals a conversation between a Democrat and Republican. Below, I take one some of these myths and try to explain why they simply are not true or accurate.

1) Wood Pallets are Safe for the Home

Pallet wood art has exploded in popularity over the last few years. Pallets are everywhere. You can find them for little to no money at all these days. Their weathered looks make them the perfect choice for rustic signs to hang in the house. With them being so readily available, wives no longer have to sit and wait until their husbands have run out of excuses to create the next sign or furniture they found on Pinterest.

<a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:IPPC_logo_on_wood_board.jpg" rel="noopener" target="_blank">Photo By Kornowski at Polish Wikipedia</a>
Photo By Kornowski at Polish Wikipedia

Bringing up the safety of the wood used to make pallets can start a heated debate. Are wooden pallets say for your home? The answer is: They can be if you use the right ones.

The next time you are around several pallets, take time to notice if any a burned stamps on them from the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC). Pallets with their logo burned onto them indicate the pallet was used for international shipping.

<a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:IPPC_standard.png" rel="noopener" target="_blank">Photo By Penyulap from Wikimedia Commons</a>
Photo By Penyulap from Wikimedia Commons

It’s important to learn the what these markings are telling you about the wood before using it. I’ll include a decoder photo below, but the most important symbol that you want to watch for is “MB.” The “MB” symbol stands for Methyl Bromide.

This chemical is used to kill any bugs or bacteria that may be present in the wood before sending it across international waters. IT EXTREMELY IMPORTANT TO NOT USE PALLETS MARKED WITH “MB.” The cutting or burning of this wood can cause serious lung problems if inhaled.

What if you come across a pallet that has no burned stamps? This indicates that it has only traveled within your specific country. Caution should still be used as there is a possibility it was treated with dangerous chemicals. My advice would be to only use pallets with stamps on them to be absolutely certain.

2) A Large Space is needed for Woodworking

This statement and assumption is very broad and general. If you are looking at creating a large operation cabinet shop, then yes, you will need a large shop to work in. However, for the general hobbyist, a large space is not required if you try to maximize what you have. I wrote an entire article basically disputing this myth and offering other options.

There are many different options within the woodworking world. Someone could easily take up wood carving or burning while sitting at the kitchen table in an apartment. There would be minimal noise or dust to worry about with either of these activities.

If you are looking to get into bigger projects, you could do so with a small one or two car garage. There are numerous plans on Pinterest that show how to make the most of the space available to you. Woodworking can be a great stress reliever and give you something to be proud of to show off. Don’t avoid it simply because the space you have isn’t what you see in magazines.

3) Woodworking/Carpentry is Bad for the Environment

This misconception may have been true several decades ago. Fortunately, the increased research in logging practices and reforestation efforts has caused significant improves. Logging company’s spend millions of dollars working to plant new trees once an area has been cleared. It’s estimated that 1/3 of the United States is made up of trees. That’s approximately 728 million acres of trees in the United States alone.

Sawmills have developed new processes over the years to reduce the amount of wasted wood during the milling process. Nowadays, a mills sells waste from every step of their process. Wood chips get sold to farmers to use as bedding material for animals. Saw dust gets sold to companies to make fire starters.

The one negative that logging presents is that it takes 40-50 years to regrow an area that has been cleared of its logs. Harvesting an area for a second time produces a much smaller yield than the first. The trees during the first harvest may have been 100 years old or more, thus making them much larger.

4) It’s easy to make money doing woodworking

If you’ve gone to a craft show lately you’ve probably noticed an explosion in the popularity of using wood for home decor decorations. Pinterest, Etsy and DIY blogs are due much credit for this increase in popularity. While walking around these craft shows, it’s easy to get swept away thinking “I can do this! I’m going to set up a booth and make some serious cash!”

The good thing about the vast availability of plans and designs online is that anyone can do them. The bad thing is that…anyone can do them. Just like any other business, you have to differentiate yourself from everyone else. This can be difficult and overwhelming when you are starting out.

The other negative to the everyone having access to the same information is that it drives pricing down. Take a look on Etsy. Do a search for a basic barn wood sign on the site. Chances are, you will find multiple pages of the same or very similar products. There’s only so many ways you can make your “Home is where the heart” barn wood sign stand out. Competition starts increasing, prices start dropping. Soon, you are trying to sell a sign and hope to make $10 on after the cost of material. Problem is, you’ve paid yourself less than minimum wage to make it.

Making money in woodworking is not easy, but it can be done. It will take hours of practice and experimenting. If your dream is to break free of your current “real world job”, then go for it. Just know it’s not “easy” like some make it appear.

Fortunately, given the online world we live in today, there are numerous options available to you sell your items. Just a few clicks on some sites can open up a world of millions of potential buyers for your creations. If you are interested in learning more about places to sell your woodworking creations, please take a look at the article I wrote here.

5) DIY Projects are Cheaper than Buying at the Store

I wish this was the case, but this is often a misconception. When I look around my house at the things I’ve made, I realize quickly, I could have probably saved some money (and definitely time) by just buying it new. However, in my opinion, the major difference in my piece vs the store model is – the quality.

To give you an example, I made a console for the living room that holds our cable box and xBox but also has a dog crate in the bottom. I could have had a custom order made, but due to the size, I’d estimate the cost of this piece to be around $1200. Material cost for me to do it was probably about $350 as I used thick solid barn wood oak. The even bigger expense was the hours of work I put into it across several Saturday’s.

Had I bought a console at the store, I may have gotten one for $500. Odds are, it would have been made of cheap materials. In my example, I came out more expensive than a store bought cookie cutter option, but cheaper than a custom made piece.

6) Dust is not a health concern for a general hobbyist

This is a dangerous myth. Have you ever worked in your shop on a project cutting wood, and then later in the day noticed your nose was itching or you couldn’t stop sneezing? This is a symptom of a short term affect to dust exposure.

Long term exposure to saw dusts has been show to cause many types of lung and nasal cancers. In a separate article, I went into detail on the risks associated with dust exposure and how you can protect yourself.

7) A Shop Vac is the only form of Dust Collection I need

A basic shop vacuum should not be considered apart of your dust collection if it is not being used at the time you are making cuts. Some of the newer models of power tools are built with shop vac attachments that allow you to connect them during cuts to collect dust. This is helpful, but small particles under 1 micron can still escape the vacuum and cause serious injury to your lungs.

A shop vac is a reactionary piece of equipment. In order to have true dust collection systems in place to protect your lungs, it’s important to capture the dust before it’s laying on your floor.

I actually came across an excellent air filtration system that I highly recommend. The cost of this particular brand is much cheaper than some of the other models on the market. Even though it is about half the cost, it’s performance has been top notch and I’ve seen an incredible difference in the improved air quality in my shop. Here’s a link to my full review.

8) Big Box Stores have the Best Wood for my Projects

No no no!!! Please do not buy into this myth. Big box stores are generally the most convenient places to get your wood, but they are NOT your best source. If you’ve ever gone into a store and sifted through a stack of lumber, you will quickly find this it takes quite a bit of time to find relatively straight pieces of wood for your project.

In addition, the variety of offerings in these stores is typically limited to pine, oak and poplar. It is MUCH cheaper to source your hardwoods from sawmills that the big box stores. Plus, the quality will be much better as well. Even if you have to pay a bit more to have it cut and planed, it’s still likely to be cheaper that what you will find in a store. Searching “Saw mill” or “Rough cut lumber” on Craigslist has helped me find small family owned mills in my area.

9) Big Box Stores have the Best Tool Selection

Big box stores do not offer a wide variety of major tool options to their customers. They each have contracts with certain brands and push products from those brands to their customers. This does not leave you, the consumer, with the best possible options.

For example, if you go to a big box store, you are likely to find the popular Kreg K4 pocket hole drill kit. (seen here on Amazon). However, I purchased a pocket hole drill kit that has worked flawlessly for much less at Harbor Freight (or here at Amazon). Almost identical and $40 saved! Do your research! Look around. Quality alternatives are available.

10) Don’t shake a can of polyurethane because of bubbles

This myth makes no sense to me. According to this myth, shaking a can of polyurethane will create bubbles in the can thus messing up the finish on your wood once you apply it. Every other can of paint and stain I’ve ever used has stated to “Shake Well” to ensure the chemicals inside are dispersed evenly before application. However, this misconception delivers the opposite message when applying polyurethane. This is simply not true. Shaking may cause bubbles in the can, but it will not impact how it looks on your wood. Try it on a piece of scrap wood as a quick and easy experiment.

11) Cedar Wood is Rot Resistant

<a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Taxus_wood.jpg" rel="noopener" target="_blank">Photo By MPF, via Wikimedia Commons</a>
Photo By MPF, via Wikimedia Commons

Unfortunately, this is not true. To understand this, you must understand the difference between the heartwood and sapwood of a tree. In the photo below, the center area that is darker is referred to as the heartwood. This section of the log is the oldest and has died. The sapwood is the outer ring that is lighter in color. This section of the log is still living.


The rot resistant part of cedar only applies to the heartwood. The sapwood of cedar is not rot resistant. As more and more of the older cedar trees are harvested, there is less heartwood available from the younger ones. This in turn causes the price of heartwood cedar to increase significantly.

12) The size you Buy is the Size you Get

If you are new to woodworking or at least buying lumber, you may be surprised by this one. If you set out to go purchase a 2×4 at a store, you may be surprised to find out that piece of lumber isn’t actually 2 inches by 4 inches in size. The true size of this board will be 1.5″ by 3.5″.

The difference is due to the drying process of the wood. When a log is first cut, it’s cut and shaped so that it measures the advertised size, a 2×4 in our example. However, after it’s been cut it’s run thru a kiln in order to remove the moisture that is contained within it. During this process, the wood shrinks to it’s final size. The table below summarizes the difference in size for some common sizes.

1 x 4.75 x 3.5
2 x 41.5 x 3.5
4 x 43.5 x 3.5
8 x 87.25 x 7.25

13) Extra coats of stain provide extra Protection

This myth is probably more related to human nature rather than an advertising gimmick. Whether it’s adding more dish detergent in the sink or a bald guy using a handful of shampoo, humans tend to always think “more is better.”

As you are finishing a project up that you’ve been working on, you may come to the conclusion to add an extra coat or two of stain to the wood so that it is better protected. This rationale is not true. When you apply stain it gets soaked into the wood. There’s only so much stain a piece of wood can soak in. Continuing to apply more and more stain will just result in more stain being on your rag when you wipe the excess from your project.

14) Don’t Wipe Wet Glue! Let it Dry first!

Having glue squeeze out of a seam or joint on your project can cause some anxiety. Do you wipe it now or after it has dried? The correct answer, is that you should wipe it away when you spot it. There is no advantage to wait until after it has dried. In fact, it could cause more problems to unfold. Once glue has dried, there is a higher liklihood of you tearing away chunk of wood or causing gouges. Wiping away the glue will be much easier while it’s still wet.

15) Oil Stains are better than Water Based Stains

This may fall more into the category of personal opinions rather than myths. Each of these stains will work fine and like anything else, both have their own advantages which I’ll list below. However, using a blanket statement that assumes oil stains are always better than water is not an accurate statement.

Rebels elements betterWood remains breathable
More durablePenetrates deeper
Dries Slower, more even applicationColor lasts longer