How Do I Choose the Best Beginner's Woodworking Project?

Gregory Hanson

Choosing the right beginner’s woodworking project requires examining the tools needed, the types of materials used, the specific woodworking techniques involved, and the overall size and complexity of the project. A good beginner’s woodworking project should require only a small number of tools, and no exotic tools or larger power tools. Beginners should normally start by working with inexpensive soft woods or composite building materials. The cuts, joinery, and other techniques involved in a particular project should not be too complicated and should fit the skills and tools of the aspiring woodworker. Small or medium sized projects are ideal for a first foray into woodworking.

A power sander, which is used for woodworking.
A power sander, which is used for woodworking.

Any aspiring woodworker will need to own or purchase some basic tools. Projects should be selected that can be completed with the tools that are available, or with a few additional tools that are not prohibitively expensive. Drills and saws are essential basic tools, and many interesting projects ranging from birdhouses to bookshelves can be built using no power tools beyond an inexpensive saw and a drill with appropriate bits.

Beginning woodworkers must learn how to safely operate power tools, including miter saws.
Beginning woodworkers must learn how to safely operate power tools, including miter saws.

Tools that are large, expensive, or dangerous are generally best avoided by beginning woodworkers. A woodworking project that requires extensive router work or the use of a panel saw is best left for later. Personal comfort is an important guideline, as no woodworker should use a tool that feels unsafe or poorly-controlled. Some tools, such as lathes, require a great deal of skill and specialized equipment, and projects that require them should be avoided.

A basic woodworking project should use materials that are both inexpensive and easy to work with. Soft wood, such as pine, is quite cheap and can be used to make many utilitarian items from simple cabinets to workbenches. Woods such as oak or walnut are best saved for later projects, as they are both harder to work and much more expensive. A botched cut while making a shelf out of pine is an annoyance, a botched cut while working with pristine walnut is a much more expensive sort of mistake.

The techniques used in a woodworking project for beginners should be simple. Straight cuts or very simple curves are ideal. Elegant pieces of furniture that are meant for display in the home often make use of joinery techniques that require some specialized hardware and a good deal of skill and coordination to execute properly. Simple, utilitarian projects such as workbenches and garage shelving generally use simple techniques.

Overall size and complexity are also important factors to consider when selecting a basic woodworking project. Medium-sized projects without much ornamentation are ideal. Large projects require more measurements, and one or two small mistakes can ruin an entire weekend of work. Smaller projects may require more technical skill and precision and may even require specialized tools for fine work.

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