If you’re reading this, you have either decided to try your hand at woodworking or are seriously entertaining the idea. Perhaps a lifelong love of beautiful wood and craftsmanship sparked your interest in woodworking, or perhaps it was exorbitant furniture prices.
Whatever the reason, you are probably feeling a bit overwhelmed. There are as many woodworking projects and pieces of equipment on the market as there are shelves in a hardware store. What does a person really need to begin? What types of projects should a beginner attempt?
This list is intended to be an introduction to woodworking’s fundamental tools, equipment, and techniques, for the beginner who has little to no familiarity with the subject. It should not be treated as exhaustive or all-encompassing. Working with wood involves a number of often-difficult skills that take years to master, and even specific subjects such as routing or painting can hardly be summed up in a single volume. It’s best to think of this list as your first step into a much larger world. So here is the list of best beginner woodworking projects that you might be interested in.
1. Small Gift Box
This probably the faster and simplest project in this list, but it’s far from simple looking. I’ve made quite a few of these little beauties over the years, because I’m one of those guys who doesn’t like store packaging. Frequently, when buying a gift of jewelry for my wife, I’ve just tossed out the original packaging and created a small box I liked better. In fact, I think this particular little box is the first I’ve ever made that wasn’t associated with a specific gift. (Which means, of course, that I’ll have to stash this away until the appropriate gift comes along.)
2. Planter Box
It’s always such a pleasure to be able to pick homegrown vegetables and herbs for cooking. So, we decided to build a raised planter box; that way it can be easily moved around in the garden depending on where the sun is or where you’re cooking. This box works well on a balcony, too.
3. Kitchen Spice Rack
When it comes to kitchen accessories, probably the first thing that comes to mind is a spice rack. Almost every kitchen has one, if for no other reason than it’s the quintessential wedding or
housewarming gift. But what if you want a spice rack but you’ve neither gotten married nor moved into a new home lately? You go out and buy one.
No, wait – this list is all about making your own items, so of course that’s exactly what we’ll do. (I was joking about the “go out and buy one” thing.)
I chose to include a spice rack in this list not only because of its timeless nature as a classic kitchen storage accessory, but also because the process of making one uses several techniques you’ll want to learn.
4. Pencil Box
FOR THE LAST COUPLE OF CENTURIES, WHENever a carpenter needed a rock-solid joint for a box, one that not only was among the sturdiest of joints but also one that helped to form square corners, more often than not the joint of choice was the box joint.
The box joint shares the attributes of a few other joints known for their high strength, most notably the dovetail joint. With its interlacing edge cuts, in fact, the box joint is really a simpler variation on dovetails. Historically, the term “dovetail” was often used interchangeably to describe true angle-cut, pin-and-tail dovetail joints as well as square-cut box joints. During the Civil War, the ordnance manuals for both the Union and Confederacy mandated that ammo boxes were to be, quoting here, “… made of white pine boards, dovetailed and nailed together.” And while the arsenals did turn out ammo crates with pin-and-tail dovetails, box joints were far more common as surviving samples show.
The reason for this is simple. While both joints are very strong, each type has a particular strength. The angled surfaces of pin-and-tail dovetails meant they could be assembled in one direction only, creating a locking action that restricts movement of the joint. Items with these dovetails sometimes required little else to hold them together but the locking action, and as such these were strong, long-lasting joints. On the downside, the angled surfaces of true dovetail joints often made for very thin portions of pins and tails, affecting their strength. Also, these joints required skill and practice to cut correctly, and could often be very time-consuming.
5. Half-lap Planting Bed
The half-lap is a traditional woodworking joint used to build everything from fine furniture to timber-frame barns. It creates a very strong connection and is more visually appealing than a standard butt joint or a simple overlap of the mating pieces. In this application, a raised bed benefits from the half-lap’s strength, but it’s the handcrafted look that makes this joint worth the extra trouble.
6. Napkin Rings
I LOVE WOODEN BOXES, AND one of my favorite types to make is constructed from a single block of wood. These are often called band saw boxes because that’s the most common way they’re made. It’s the band saw’s extremely thin blade, in fact, that makes them possible – a table saw’s wide kerf creates such a gap that rejoining the grain afterward is often quite visible.
The hallmark of these boxes is that the grain is continuous throughout the finished project. You can see a perfect example at right.
These are constructed by cutting apart a solid block of wood in a specific order while carefully tracking each part (marking them is a must), then removing whatever inner waste you want rid of followed by reassembling and gluing the block back as it was.
Those thin band saw cuts disappear, and once sanded smooth and finished, the block almost looks like it was never cut apart. It occurred to me that the same process could be applied to this attractive and practical napkin ring set and matching holder.
7. Tote Box
THESE TOTE BOXES OR CARRYALLS HAVE BEEN around for hundreds of years, with almost as many variations. Carpenters of old made sturdy examples out of local hardwoods designed to take a beating — they were rarely careful when tossing their tools in or dropping the box down before getting to work. In more modern times the basic design has become a staple of country-style decorating with lighter and softer wood species taking the place of bulletproof hardwoods, and the wood adorned with paint, stenciling and decoupage.
8. Lazy Susan
I suppose you could make an argument that the circular table accessory that today bears some unlucky lady’s name (who was this Susan person, anyway?) is a laborsaving device, but it’s much more. You can use it as a tray to carry condiments and other items, or even a whole meal, from kitchen to table. By keeping everything accessible to everyone at the table with a light spin, it eliminates needless getting up and down as well as excessive reaching across the table – a real plus with spill-prone youngsters at the table. For items like a turkey or large roast, it facilitates knife use for effective carving. There’s nothing lazy about them.
9. Upright Pallet Planter
Pallets are so abundant in this country that they’re often just left by the curb for people to take as firewood. Despite this lack of value, they can actually be quite useful—perfect for a wide variety of recycled wood projects like furniture, tables, wall coverings, flooring, chairs, artwork, and, yes, planters, and raised beds.
Pallets have come to be viewed as a legitimate resource for making items for the home and yard in recent years. In many cases, the pallet is broken up into individual boards and then reassembled. For this vertical planter project, the pallet is left intact and converted for use on a patio, deck, or balcony.
10. Potting Bench
If you’ve ever built a greenhouse, you need somewhere to grow things. You can do that either in pots or directly in the soil. However, I really wanted a potting bench that could also be used as seating. After all, you need to sit somewhere, too!