20 Woodturning Projects for Beginners

Improve your skills while making masterpieces with these learning-oriented projects.

By Will Briskin | Published Sep 12, 2022 6:09 PM

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Few tools strike as much intimidation into the hearts of beginner and advanced woodworkers alike as the common lathe. However, this hesitation is mostly misplaced, as lathes are all bark and no bite. While it isn’t an easy skill to master, don’t let the large size, the abrasive sound or the sight of flying wood chips deter you. All you need to get started is a few beginner-friendly projects and the right tools; we’ve already researched and tested the best lathes for you. You can also check out our guide to woodturning for beginners to jumpstart your progress.

Like most things in woodworking, mastering the art of woodturning is about engaging in a process of consistent, productive challenges that end in a product you are proud of, so don’t be too hard on yourself the first few times! Because your imagination is the only limitation on what you can make with a lathe, we’ve narrowed down the best beginner lathe projects to help you get started.

RELATED: 17 Types of Wood All DIYers Should Know

1. Bowls

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Bowls are one of the best wood turned projects to build foundational skills with because you can make them as simple or complex as you like. Large projects on the lathe are often harder to complete, so you can start with small bowls and work your way up. Plus, there aren’t any hard and fast rules for what a bowl should look like, so you can turn your mistakes into “modern art” and find inventive uses for them. Then, after a few tries you’ll have a nice, clear timeline of your skill progression. Bowl gauges like this one available on Amazon are essential lathe tools, as they are versatile and can be used for a variety of beginner projects.

2. Wooden Bangles and Bracelets

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Wooden bracelets and bangles are among the best beginner woodturning projects because they’re fairly large and they finish nicely. Sanding is just as much a part of woodturning as it is traditional woodworking, and bangles offer a great way to practice your skills on curved wood. Also, you don’t need a large setup to make bangles or bracelets, which is why they’re a popular item for craft sellers. If you’re wondering if you can make money with woodturning, the answer is certainly yes when it comes to popular, impressive products that aren’t too demanding, such as bowls and bangles.

3. Candle Holder

Candle holders are a great project to try out once you’re ready for medium-sized projects. Although candle holders come in all shapes and sizes, you can use the lathe to create tall stems with swooping curves that make for stunning centerpieces. Although the market for candle holders may be harder to pin down than that for bowls, this is another viable product if you’re looking to make money with your lathe. If you want to take your homemade skills to the next level, you can try your hand at making your own candles with a curated candle-making kit.

4. Wooden Spoons

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Wooden spoons are a great way to show off your skills as well as the natural beauty of the wood because they offer varying perspectives on the grain given the fact that the handle is cylindrical and the ‘bowl’ part of the spoon is flattened. Another reason why spoons are good for beginners is because walnut, cherry, and maple, which are some of the best species for woodturning, are also ideal for wooden spoons that need to be sturdy enough to withstand use in the kitchen and porous enough to accept a food-safe finish.

5. Handles for Anything and Everything

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Woodturning is a complementary skill in that you can often use it to enhance existing DIY passions—or even regular activities like gift-giving by adding a personal touch with custom-made handles. Like all the projects on our list, you can approach making handles with as much simplicity or sophistication as possible, which makes them ideal for getting started and measuring your progress. Everything from kitchen knives to bottle openers and pots and pans have wooden handles, and you can easily make your own with little to no prior experience. You can add another degree of customization by making intricate engravings with a wood-burning tools.

RELATED: 21 Clever Little Things to Do with Scrap Wood

6. Rings

Rings, like bracelets and bangles, have relatively simple designs and are suitable for practicing because they don’t require a large amount of material. However, rings are a bit harder to make than bangles because they’re smaller and require more precision, making them among the small woodturning projects that are ideal for practicing control of your movements. Once you have made a few rings that you’re satisfied with using common turning wood such as maple and cherry, you can experiment with some rarer or more challenging wood species such as bubinga, which is incredibly hard and will require a high rate of speed on the lathe, or softer woods that are more likely to tear out.

7. Wooden Beads

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Like rings, wooden beads are a commendable choice for novices because small woodturning projects are easier in general. They’re also much less expensive if you make a mistake, which, after all, is what you’re supposed to do when you’re learning. Beads are an effective way to practice making various shapes symmetrical and smooth. Beads are also a fantastic way to practice hollowing out the middle of your project, which you may not be able to do with an electric drill if the bead is curved.

8. Round Boxes

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Boxes may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of wood lathe project ideas because they tend to be square, but that’s exactly what makes round-turned boxes so special. Round boxes are good projects for beginner and intermediate turners to undertake because the fact that the box and lid have to snugly fit together means making them exercises your spatial symmetry skills. Also, turned boxes are often made from a single piece of wood, which means you also have to work on turning thin, easy-to-break parts, such as the lip that holds the lid in place.

9. Drumsticks

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Drumsticks, although simple, are a good project for those interested in improving their woodturning skills because both of the independent pieces have to be nearly identical in weight, shape, size, and feel. Furthermore, drumsticks usually have a slight taper, which gives them an approachable and enjoyable element of difficulty. In that vein, even if you don’t play the drums, making drumsticks for someone else is a thoughtful gift for a friend who does.

10. Mortar and Pestle

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Making a mortar and pestle is a good way for a beginner to step into more complex projects that allow for more design freedom. Making a mortar and pestle requires a thick, durable bowl with a sturdy base, which is the mortar, and a smooth, ergonomic crushing tool, which is the pestle; both items have to be food safe and able to withstand significant pressure, which is why they’re often made from stone. However, strict durability standards also give a novice turner an excuse to venture into the world of hardwood and try using a more advanced species, such as olive wood.

RELATED: 15 Surprisingly Simple Woodworking Projects for Beginners

11. Bottle Stopper

Bottle stoppers are perfect for beginner woodturners who want to produce lost-cost, beautiful gifts and products. Bottle stoppers are also ideal for people who are completely new to the lathe because the part that you actually put into the bottle, which does all the important work, isn’t made on the lathe and has to be purchased. This takes the pressure off the turner to have a perfect fit and gives them the space to try their hand at creating different shapes and sizes to put on top of the stopper.

12. Wooden Plate

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Another useful woodturning project for beginner and intermediate turners is making a wooden plate. The process of creating a plate is similar to that of a bowl, but requires a bit more precision in most cases, making it a logical progression from turning a bowl. Plates tend to be wider than bowls, and thinner as well. However, working with larger projects is part of progressing as a turner, and plates are a smart place to start because they’re functional and simple, as far as big projects go. Also, unlike drumsticks, a bit of variation in a set of handmade plates, whether they’re made of wood or clay, can lend them a desirable sense of character.

13. Wooden Vase

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Wooden vases are popular woodturning projects because they’re functional and beautiful. However, before you embark on a large-scale vase, try to make some smaller ones; large vases are among the more challenging woodturning projects and are time-consuming. Small wooden vases, on the other hand, are useful for practicing making different shapes and curves in the same piece.

14. Succulent Planter

Succulent planters are one of the easiest lathe projects because they are small enough that you can use a drill or drill press to hollow out the inside, where the succulent will sit. Luckily, learning how to make perfect 90 degree holes without a drill press isn’t too much trouble. Not having to deal with the inside of the lathe reduces the level of difficulty by a significant margin, which means all the turner has to focus on is making the outside smooth. Bowls and other flower planters often have a taper or a more complex design, which is another reason why succulent-specific planters are a good place to start.

15. Rolling Pins

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Rolling pins are a staple of the woodturning community, and for good reason. They are useful, relatively easy to make and excellent at displaying the natural grain flow of the wood. French rolling pins are slightly easier to make than their ball-bearing counterparts since they’re made of a single solid cylinder. Conversely, ball-bearing rolling pins are good for showing off your woodturning skills as you also have to make customized, comfortable handles.

RELATED: The 10 Best Woods for Woodworking (According to a Pro)

16. Cups

Cups are great starter projects because they have myriad uses and are relatively simple to make. Whether you want something to drink your morning coffee out of or a vessel for your pens and pencils, a wood-turned cup can get the job done while looking beautiful. Another wonderful thing about making wood-turned cups is that you can pair them with handmade coasters or you can even make a lid on the lathe and turn your cup into a travel mug.

17. Salt and Pepper Shakers or Mills

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Salt and pepper shakers are a fine project to get started with, and you can move on to making your own mills on the lathe soon after making a few shakers. If you cook frequently, you know better than anyone that there’s no such thing as too handy when it comes to salt and pepper, so making a few extra sets is a useful way to get some use out of your practice pieces.

18. Goblets

Perhaps the only thing better than drinking out of a regal goblet is drinking from one that you made yourself. Thankfully, making a goblet on the lathe isn’t too difficult and the process provides numerous opportunities for you to improve on specific skill sets. Goblets can be made in all shapes and sizes and with virtually any type of wood, as long as whatever you choose can withstand a thorough cleaning with soap and hot water.

19. Wooden Pen

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Every woodturner remembers their first pen. Making a pen is the perfect combination of precision, elegance, and skill, which is why it’s a great project for a beginner who’s ready to take on intermediate-level projects. If you want to brush up on your skills before buying a pen turning kit and trying your hand at making a pen, we’ve reviewed the best online woodworking courses so you don’t have to do the research.

20. Lamps

Lamps are among the hardest lathe projects a beginner or intermediate can try. Although lamps can be as small or large as you want, you’re likely going to want to take the opportunity to show off your skills. Stunning lathe-made lamps have unique, elegant shapes and a smooth feel. Thankfully adding the lighting is as simple as purchasing a light kit, such as this highly rated option available on Amazon, that takes care of all the pesky wiring for you.

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