Skill Building Projects


adkinsjd
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I'm fairly new to wood working, and I have built a couple of minor projects so far (wall shelf, Adirondack chair, outdoor planter container). Those projects have been pretty forgiving to my cut accuracy, squareness, etc. Ultimately I want to make larger pieces of furniture (dining room, bed room) and cabinetry for the kitchen without it looking like something I made myself.

I'm thinking about making "nesting" boxes with mitered corners. I figure that would give me a lot of practice cuts without going through too much wood / expense. I would get practice with relative dimensioning, measuring, angles, etc.

So what are some smaller skill building projects that the community would recommend?

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I think the boxes would be nice.

How about...

- lap desk with a dovetailed drawer?

- dovetailed step stool (Tommy MacDonald style)

- tool tote, with fancy corner joinery

- Have an iPad or tablet? A "book" stand for it.

- Tile trivet

I'd also check The Woodwhisperer and Popular Woodworking's "I can do that" series for skill builders.

Enjoy!

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Are you all hand tools? If so, there was an episode of WTO where Shannon talked about his trip to the Acanthus workshop. Shannon said that chuck Bender came them all little blocks that were all sorts of banged up and told them to flatten all 6 sides and make sure everything is square and parallel. (I think its episode 73). That would be great handplane practice. If your looking to practice your dovetail skills, Matt V talkes about how he would cut 1 set of dovetails everynight. Doing this means your practicing marking/measuring, realative dimension, your saw skills and your chisel skills.

Hope this helps!

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If your looking to practice your dovetail skills, Matt V talkes about how he would cut 1 set of dovetails everynight. Doing this means your practicing marking/measuring, realative dimension, your saw skills and your chisel skills.

Hope this helps!

This is excellent advice. After spending 20 years as a self taught hobbyist I finally took an Intro to Fine Woodworking class at a local Community College where one of the requirements was to do 20 hand cut dovetails plus a small stool with hand cut dovetails. I never had the confidence to include dovetails in my work because my skills weren't up to it. After taking the class and cutting those dovetails I finally have some hand cut dovetailed drawers in a display case, and they came out pretty damn well! We're moving this week but once my shop is back up I intend to spend a few minutes a day practicing dovetails and other hand skills.

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@Barry: I don't know how I missed the "I can do that" series in Popular Woodworking. I'm reading through all of that now. Quite frankly, I almost exclusively rely on Marc and this site for my woodworking content. I like the idea of the step stool. That would help the kids wash their hands a little easier, and it would still be usable even if it isn't perfect. :)

@Brian: I'm almost exclusively power tools at this point, but I like the idea of cutting a set of dovetails each night. I'll have to add a dovetail saw to my craigslist searching. I have a salvaged swingset that I am using mostly to practice my milling, but it is giving me a lot of scrap pieces I could use for this.

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Tables are great beginner projects. You have edge joining, leg tapering, and mortise and tenons. All great skills. What you tackle depends on what tools you have. I also would start out with a good set of plans for most projects before you try to design your own.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Building birdhouses. This project is good because a lot of variety plans available over the internet but many of them need you to pay for it. Try as many plans as you can and once you have mastered building birdhouses, you can something else like chicken coops for example.

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As someone who has been following a somewhat similar path, let me suggest that you do as much as possible within budget to switch to some handtools right away. I spent a lot of money on increasing specialized powertools, jigs and such before I figured out that the difference between my "pretty close" efforts and what I aspired too had more to do with handtools and handtool skills than it did with the pricey power tools and accessories.

I absolutely wish that the last $500 to $1000 I spent on power tool woodworking had been spent on hand tools instead.

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One thing that I did for quite a while which tests accuracy and angles (as well as patience) is making picture frames to fit a specific picture. It's inexpensive for making mistakes, and although it sounds mundane, getting a tight, square seamless frame that properly fits the picture and glass takes practice and very consistent cutting. Ive often thought of using this as part of a 'job interview' if I ever decide to have employees again...

Play around with it and try different shapes and styles of frames (lap joints, miters, M&T, etc...) Good skill builder IMO...

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It is definitely on the list to hit up some auctions and such this summer for some hand tools. I find the hand tools subject to be a bit daunting though. I can clearly see what type of projects would be better with a lathe, but I haven't spent enough time yet to learn when a particular operation would be better with a certain type of plane, etc.

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