Beginner’s Hand Tool Projects


It’s time to consider what motivates people to get started with woodworking.

Working with hand tools may be both a good and a bad place to start, in my opinion.

To walk this tight line and come out on top, one must be VERY precise about what they are doing and have a clear strategy in mind before picking up a tool or cutting any wood. One should presumably also switch off the Internet and just plunge in.

The Drawbacks of Hand Tools


Let’s start with the negative. Hand tools are, at best, vague. They take a lot more sensory memory to utilize, and accuracy is a highly relative concept that is commonly overlooked.

Hand tools breed more hand tools. While it may appear that a smaller tool kit is required, it is quite easy to build a collection of “gotta have” items merely to finish a basic project. However, without some time spent in the trenches planing and sawing, a rookie woodworker might soon become angry when his or her tools don’t operate like the ones that person on the Internet uses.

The dissatisfaction sets off a nasty cycle that, at best, leads to buyer’s remorse and, at worst, utter abandonment of the craft. Hand tool work does not have to be difficult, and it is amazing how fast a new skill may be taught.


However, there is always a learning curve, and the nervous newcomer may forget this and get disillusioned when their first or second try fails. Power tool users, on the other hand, can and can anticipate exactly straight and square cuts from their equipment on the first and 300th attempts.

The human machine variable is frequently disregarded, and we expect our gleaming new (and costly) tools to compensate for it. This is not correct. A properly tuned back saw will help, but basic sawing abilities are still required.

To succeed, the beginning must be honest about their limits while also being fast to transition from practice to practical work. Practice cuts are too abstract, and the craftsman is less committed in the end result.

Working on a project where a poor cut equals project delays, additional timber costs, and dissatisfaction encourages us to bring our A game. Even if our finest game is more akin to a C game. Any expert carpenter will tell you that the ability to correct issues is what makes a craftsman excellent. We all have excellent days when joints fit perfectly, and those blissful times are frequently karmically punished with terrible blunders.

What the newbie truly has to learn is how to fix those while not losing stride. Making practice cuts or joints will never teach you this concept. You must remove your training wheels, fall, and then offer first assistance. COUNT on Band-Aids to protect a skinned knee.

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Recognize that these errors are a natural part of the process and that a new tool will not solve the problem. Specialty tools are fantastic, but this path leads to the aforementioned situation, in which the initial investment rises and buyers regret looms.

Resist the impulse to replace what is broken with something new. This is when picking the correct initial project comes in handy. More on it in a second.

The Advantages of Hand Tools

Here’s the other side of the coin.

Overcoming the human machine variable implies that you are no longer limited by machine capacity and function. A handsaw can cut any compound angle you can dream of, but a plane has an indefinitely changeable feed rate and an unlimited board capacity. Gaining proficiency with the fundamentals of plane, saw, and chisel use allows you to construct anything without the use of additional tools.

Don’t get me wrong: more tools will help you get things done faster, but it all comes down to these three essentials. This implies you’ll need a significantly smaller workspace to operate in, as well as a lot less start-up time and money. More will follow, and don’t believe anyone who tells you that taking the hand tool way would result in a smaller tool bag.

Eventually, you’ll accumulate additional items, and whether you buy new or old tools, you’ll wind up spending a lot of money. However, this should happen gradually as the project requires. This organic expansion of the tool set means you’ll have a better understanding of why you’d choose it over one of the essential tools. You will also avoid the aggravation that comes with buyer’s regret.

Finally, and most importantly, understanding these essential skills will undoubtedly make you a better woodworker. When another hand tool or machine fails, you can ALWAYS rely on your core talents.

Basic hand tools are endlessly adaptable and may replace the function of ANY tool.

However, using them requires skill. This talent is the result of experience, but you’d be amazed how rapidly it may be acquired within the course of a single project construction.

4 Things to Think About When Choosing Your First Project

The precise project you pick will go a long way toward assuring your success, but more importantly, you want to return to woodworking and push yourself with another project. your is especially true when it comes to employing hand tools to construct your initial project. There are several factors to consider while selecting this project.

Make it little but not too small


Building a box reduces stock costs and makes the whole process feel more attainable. However, with small scale comes more inspection, and there is much less space for error in poor craftsmanship. Because of this, I believe boxes are among the more difficult tasks.

Furthermore, there is something to be gained by fitting bigger pieces together and ensuring they remain square or match up to adjacent joints. Consider crafts that will fit on a bedside table. They reduce the investment in materials and time while also teaching you something about manufacturing furniture-sized elements and connecting them together that you would otherwise miss out on with such little tasks.

Select a single joint

It is unusual to see furniture with a variety of joints. Let’s face it, there aren’t too many different sorts of joints that you require. But just pick one. A table is nothing more than mortise and tenon construction.

Hand tools are used to make four sides of a cabinet. You might add a drawer to the table to perform dovetails or a door to the cabinet to make bridle or tenon joints, but this spreads your attention and increases the amount of variables that could cause irritation. There will always be another project to add these additional aspects and talents to.

To put it another way, if you create a piece of furniture using a single joinery type, you will almost certainly need to make a lot of that joint. A bedside table, for example, will have eight mortise and tenon joints.

If you add a lower shelf, you may potentially have 16 mortise and tenons to cut. I promise your last eight tenons will be identical to your first eight. This context-based repetition will develop your abilities faster than any other type of exercise.

Make use of “Real” Wood

Pine is as appealing to me as anyone else. It’s honest and unpretentious, yet it makes a statement when used to construct furniture.

However, pine does not really depict what it is like to deal with hardwoods, which is what most woodworkers will finally end up with. Second, unless you buy Pine from a specialized dealer (which are few and far between these days owing to the razor thin and modest profits on Pine), you won’t find very excellent material when compared to what is available in hardwoods.

Pine is typically cut for building lumber, therefore grade isn’t a major concern. As a result, pine woods are managed for this purpose. The material is frequently pushed through seasoning, which adds a slew of complications to the milling process.

You’d be better off spending a bit extra and getting a hardwood. Choose a wood such as cherry, soft maple (not hard maple, you’ll thank me later), walnut, or even oak. These woods will clearly be tougher, and they will provide you with a much greater understanding of how hand tools perform with harder woods.

Because soft woods demand an even sharper edge, pine and other softer woods might actually pose greater difficulty for someone who is just starting to sharpen their instruments. Although reclaimed and pallet wood are fashionable nowadays, I strongly advise you to avoid it for this first project. You’re adding a variable that might be avoided and will just add to your frustration.

The assignment is good and will improve your skills, but stock quality is not something I feel a beginner should have to deal with since the cost of each board is not that much difference from Pine to Cherry or Walnut. I’m not talking about the board-shaped items offered at big-box stores. That material is dirt inexpensive for a reason. I’m referring to timber purchased from a legitimate lumber trader. I’m serious; go price one or four boards and calculate your savings. If you omitted a couple Starbucks trips, I’m sure you could easily make up the difference.

Stay away from stains and dyes

When selecting wood for your project, consider the hue you want to achieve. Make your life easy by using a clear coat finish. Many a woodworker’s hard-won final piece has been spoiled by attempting to be too fancy at the end.

Finishing is a talent in and of itself, and it is yet another aspect that might derail your experience. A basic wipe-on Oil/Varnish blend or wipe-on Polyurethane is simple to apply and, while it will teach you an important lesson to add to your armory, it will not put your patience to the test.

First Projects Suggestions

The concessions listed above will drastically restrict what you can create on your first trip out, but that is the objective. At the same time, there are an unlimited number of permutations that may result from a blank slate project that allows for creative liberty.

If not during this initial build, perhaps during a second or third build when you want to add additional complexity. With this in mind, I recommend the following projects.

Aft Table

Call it a plant stand or a side table, but image a cube around 24′′ high and 1620 to 2020 in width and length. There are four legs, four apron pieces, and a 2-3 board top.

You may taper the legs for a more delicate look, or you can add a bevel on the top edge for the same effect; these components are entirely up to you and will take nothing more than a hand plane to achieve. All you’ll need is 8 mortise and tenons, which should be more than enough to get you cutting this joint pretty nicely. The top will show you how to plane and combine boards into a larger panel, which is one of the most basic operations in furniture construction.


Everyone could benefit from a bookshelf. Concentrate on one with 2-3 but no more than 4 shelves. Working with longer stock becomes more difficult as the height increases.

You will gain a lot of practice gluing up panels, and I would recommend purchasing material that is especially thinner than your shelves in order to gain this expertise. You have the option of building the entire thing with dados or mortise and tenon construction.

Fix at least one shelf in the center and make the rest flexible, or fix them all and increase the amount of joints you have to cut, boosting the learning experience. As a foundation, you may wrap it in a base moulding (which does not have to be curving) or lay it on top of a plinth, which is essentially the same table leg and apron outlined in the last project but with extremely short legs.

A bookcase is the ideal blank slate project since there are hundreds of ways to adorn it from the basic carcass.

Shelf for the Wall

This might be as basic as a dovetailed box that hangs on the wall or as complex as anything that employs through tenons, miters, or even simply dados and rabbets.

It will show you how to plane stock flat and square, as well as how to possible glue up panels. It will show you how to create a square box and will allow you to focus on a single joint at least four times.

A Seat

Many woodworkers are intimidated by chairs, but they don’t have to be complicated. A stool, like a box, can be built using square joinery, however both designs frequently need angles that are not square and are commonly compound angles.

Hand tool work reveals that compound angle cuts are accomplished in the same way as square cuts are. Lay down the line and then saw or plane it. You may build a stool using only mortise and tenons, or you can manufacture round tenons with wedges. You will very certainly need to glue together a panel for the seat, so you will gain expertise with another important skill. Consider the renowned Shaker step stool, which is all about dovetail work and panel construction.

You could definitely come up with another idea to try if you think hard enough about the “required elements” I listed above. This is the beauty of woodworking: we can make whatever we want and modify it in any way we desire. our independence is what draws so many of us to our profession and will keep you coming back for more.

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Happy woodworking!

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