3 Simple woodworking projects for beginners

Published Thursday 26th February 2015

While you're probably already working with wood on as part of your day job, have you ever wanted to turn your hand to lifestyle woodworking?

If so, this is the guide for you. We've pooled our expertise and come up with three of the easiest projects for woodworking newcomers. But fair warning – this hobby is addictive. So don't come blaming us when your spouse has to pry you out of your makeshift garage woodshop of a weekend!

Got wood?

Before you get started, you'll need to go fetch some timber. You probably won't need a wholesaler like us, but ensure you've got the entire project planned out before you make a trip to the likes of Jewson – after all, you don't want to have to make several trips.

Doing your prior preparation will help you determine what wood to get, what glue to use and whether or not you'll need any specialised tools for the job. You might also need some odds and ends, such as a set of carpentry pencils, an extra-long tape measure and some kind of hat (it can get awfully cold in a drafty workshop).

Wooden cutting boardsProject 1: The Cutting Board

Where better to start for beginner woodworkers than what is essentially just a square? Tackling a cutting board is a great choice for those looking to get to grips with the practicalities of woodworking, as well as giving newcomers something to quickly show for their efforts.

Design: While you might want to opt for the traditional square, if you fancy spicing things up a bit – feel free to add on a point, or an indentation or two.  Simply draw your final design on to the raw wood with your carpentry pencil – but be sure to use a ruler.

While it might be tempting to go wild, the typical beginner's tool set probably won't be able to cope with curves, so stick to straight lines for now.

The first cut is the deepest: Before making your first incision, be sure to scan your saw's manual and pay careful attention to the safety information within. Woodworking's a lot of fun, but there's a lot of potential for things to go wrong.

Cutting: Once you're happy with the guide lines you've sketched in pencil, get cutting out your chosen shape. Then smooth the rough edges with some medium-grit sandpaper.

Finisher: Now that you've sanded everything down, it's time to prepare your project for its day job. First of all, wipe off any excess wood dust, grease or dirt. Be sure to do this in the direction of the grain to save yourself some work. You should be good to go once you've put around three or four coats on.

Maintenance: To get the most from your board, don't put it in the dishwasher. Instead, wash by hand and give it a fresh coat of finish every three to six months to keep it in tip top shape.

Wooden picture frameProject 2: A Picture (Frame) Paints a thousand words

Congratulations, you've now graduated from a single square to several! A picture frame is the natural next step for a beginner woodworker and you'll put the techniques you learnt with your cutting board to good use.

Preparation: Have a think about where you might put the finished product in your home before you get started. This will determine what size it needs to be and whether or not you need to use a certain type of material so that it blends in with the existing décor.

Design: As before, we'll sketch our dimensions directly on to the timber with a carpentry pencil. However long you want it to be – bear in mind that the inside (or short side) of each board should be around an inch smaller than the width or height of the print that'll sit in it.

Cutting: If you want to be extra fancy, at this stage you can 'miter' the corners by setting your (specialised) saw at around 45 degrees relative to the corners. You can afford to be a little lax with the dimensions – as long as you ensure that both the longest and shortest pieces line up with each other.

Glue or screw? When it comes to putting the frame together, you've got two options. Either use a wood glue with an appropriate joiner or use a metal brace and screw in the pieces you want to attach.

If you've gone down the screw route, things should be pretty self-explanatory. If you've opted to glue, however, don't be stingy. Use plenty of it and ram the pieces you want to join as close as possible. You might need some clamps, or a friend, to hold them in place while you hammer in your joiners. 

Weigh the frame down on a flat floor to make sure it sets correctly and let it dry for a few hours.

Finishing touches: At this stage, you might want to try your hand at staining. Before you stain, you'll need to make sure it's nice and clean, and well-sanded. What look you're going for will determine what level of grit you should use, with rougher wood absorbing more stain. If you've got any leftover pieces from the cutting stage – use these to test stains out.

If you've used a softwood, you might want to invest in some wood conditioner to ensure an even spread. If you're using hardwood – just go for it, although you might need a few coats.

Wooden flower boxProject 3: The Window Box

Now you've got the basics down, it's time to take things 3D. Window boxes are a great project for beginners, as well as being a brilliant place to keep plants for those without much room to spare.

What you'll need:

  • Timber boards around a quarter of an inch thick
  • Tape Measure
  • Paint Primer
  • An electric drill
  • Wood screws and a screwdriver
  • Nails
  • Hammer
  • Wood paint (which will differ depending if you plan to put the box outside or in)

Preparation: First and foremost – work out how big your box will be. Measure your window (or whatever space you plan to install it in) and consider how deep you'll need it to be.

Materials: If you're installing the box outside, you'll want timber that's suited to withstand the elements, but since you'll be priming it and painting it – you'll have a lot of leeway in your selection. If you're putting it inside, what you choose is pretty much down to personal preference.

Supports: If you're putting your box outside and are dubious about the strength of your windowsill – it's a good idea to put in some supports. If you're feeling adventurous you can knock these up yourself (we'd recommend pressure-treated wood), or simply buy a set. These are drilled into your exterior wall and affixed with either concrete or wood screws, but be sure to use a spirit level to avoid a lop-sided fitting.

The build: First off, cut the boards that'll make up the front and rear of your box. Once you've got these, cut out the base plank and line up the front panel. Mark out and drill your pilot holes then use wood screws to secure the two pieces, before repeating the process for the rear piece.

Now we can move on to the side panels. Measure these out, but leave a little overhang on the back if you're using supports. Then, simply screw them in using the method you used for the front and back panels.

The finish: Now you've got the basic box ready, fill in the screw holes with wood filler and once dried, smooth down all your surfaces using sandpaper. If the box is going outside, you'll want to prime the wood (which primer you'll use depends on your colour scheme) and leave to dry before painting the box. Again – if you're installing it outside, we'd recommend using exterior paint to ensure the box can stand up to the British climate.

Once you're happy with the box, you can drill it on to your supports, or simply place it wherever you see fit. The pros recommend drilling a couple of drainage holes and putting a layer of gravel at the bottom. Then you simply add your compost, stick in some plants and you're good to go!

And You?

If you've got any recommendations for beginner-friendly woodworking projects, or have any questions about the one's we've gone through – be sure to get in touch via Twitter.

And if you're tackling a more ambitious project and are looking for the right wood for the job – why not order our free product guide today?