5 Clever Wood Turning Projects (For Lathe Beginners)

Woodturning is a skilled craft that dates back centuries. Indeed, it’s just as popular today because as more and more of what we own is mass-produced, we appreciate the craftsmanship and time that goes into producing handmade pieces.

We’re also starting to reflect more on where our products come from, what they’re made of, and if they’re eco-friendly, with more people than ever having the urge to engage in creative activities that also connect them to nature, and working with fantastic pieces of wood fits that bill perfectly!

You may only need a handful of tools for wood turning, but you do need patience and time to practice the skill. You will need a few gouges and chisels, a scraper, a parting tool and a sander.

However, the most important piece of equipment for woodturning projects is the lathe, which you use to rotate pieces of wood. As it spins, the turner uses their tools to carve, shape, chisel, cut, manipulate and sand the piece into what they want to create.

It requires a lot of focus, but if you’re after a creative outlet that is also stress relieving and also improves focus, then wood turning may be for you. 

What can you make with a wood turning lathe?

Ask anybody who is into woodturning and they’ll tell you that working on a lathe can become addictive!

However, when you begin wood turning a lathe can be quite intimidating, but it is actually a lot of fun, and gives you the ability to make a wide range of projects with the help of a turner. You’ll never have to worry about gift ideas again!

As with anything, the more you work with the lathe the better you get at it, and the more creative and ambitious you become with your creations. 

The most common items people make are bowls, cabinets, pen casings, platters, and parts for furniture. 

What you make will be dependent on the size of the lathe, and can range from small to heavy-duty, large models.

No woodworker likes to waste wood, so odd pieces or mis-cuts are often used to create clever pieces like a coaster set, a ring tree, a toothpick holder, or even a small clock. The only limit is your imagination!

What is the easiest wood to turn?

Due to the amount of time and effort spent with the wood, turners take their stock seriously. Everyone has their own opinion of what wood works best and their own preferences. It’s all subjective!

But most turners will agree that for newbies, any wood that has fallen from a local tree is a good place to start. However, if you can’t get your hands on such lumber, then opt for pine wood instead.

When you start to turn the wood clean, you’re then able to work with virtually any hardwood, even mulberry (which we’ll get into below). 

Although they are expensive, wood like cherry or maple also turn exceptionally well, and cherry has a particularly superb finish. 

Oak is sometimes considered the worst wood to work with, as it’s a very tough wood to carve into whilst turning.

The higher the standard of wood, the better quality product you’ll create - which is very rewarding!

Is mulberry wood good for carving?

Mulberry trees are probably best known for their edible berries than for their lumber, but their durable golden brown lumber is also used to make strong furniture such as tables and chairs.

Thanks to its dense, close grain mulberry wood is a good choice for carving. Its dense grain makes it great for detailed designs and wood turning.

But as there is a range of different wood carving styles out there, mulberry wood won’t be suitable for all of them.

Let’s take a closer look at what you can make (and carve) out of this domestic wood type. The timber is rot resistant, which means mulberry wood is great for outdoor structures like fence posts or garden benches.

It also means it holds up well under wind and rain. What’s more, exposure to sunlight turns the yellow heartwood of mulberry into a beautiful deep amber brown that lends a rustic charm to it. 

One common concern with mulberry is that the red berries are toxic. But unless it’s ingested, the red mulberry tree isn’t toxic to work with, but it all depends on the species of mulberry.

White mulberry trees are smaller than red mulberry trees, and the pollen from white mulberry trees is very agitating to those who suffer from allergies and hayfever. Even the leaves of this particular mulberry tree can irritate the skin.

But when it comes to red mulberry, as long as you don’t ingest the wood sap from this tree it’s not toxic, and if the sawdust is inhaled it’s no worse for your health than inhaling any other type of sawdust.

Still, you should always be careful. So if a lot of red mulberry dust is likely to be kicked up, make sure to wear a high-quality dust mask or dust respirator.

Overall, if you want a wood type that is great for wood turning, then red mulberry is one of the best woods out there. 

Plus, the intensity of lathe work won’t cause this durable timber to crack or split even after it’s been seasoned and dried, which makes it a really fun type of wood to work with. 

Is it difficult to turn wood?

Thanks to modern technology there have been vast improvements to the lathe over the years, and anyone has the capacity to give woodturning a try. The level of difficulty when it comes to learning the skills will depend on the person.

But as a process the basics are easy to pick up, and there are plenty of tutorials out there to guide you through simple projects like making a bat. The internet is full of simple step-by-step instructions for wood turning and plenty of self-education resources.

However, if you think you’d benefit from a more hands-on approach to learning, you can also find classes available with registrations online.

Most hardware stores also have a variety of wood lathes and the various tools for practicing at home, so you can soon get into more intricate projects after you’ve mastered the basics.

As for becoming an expert, no one ever learns a skill to the point where they have nothing left to learn. That would turn the hobby from fun to boring real quick. 

Even the most seasoned wood turners will tell you that they’re constantly learning, and that’s what keeps the hobby exciting and fresh. 

Can you turn wood without a lathe?

While there are ways to manufacture a set up capable of creating round things like a lathe, this would be more time-consuming, very difficult, and require more steps.

When you forgo a lathe to turn the wood and instead rely on the tools you would use while the lathe is turning, it means creating what you want by hand through chiseling, gouging, shaping and sanding with abrasive paper. It takes a lot of work, and is a much longer process.

Some recommend just using a router. A table saw using a jig in construction with the saw tapers the wood while the router with a ½” ‘roundover’ bit works the four corners of the leg. It then is tidied up with sanding and the bottom is shaped.

The router seems to be becoming ever more popular, but there are various different takes on the method. When faced with limitations people tend to become more creative and make their set-up work even if they don’t have access to all the tools. It’s all about improvisation.

5 wood turning project ideas for beginners

As we’ve mentioned, many believe that the best place to start for beginners is to use wood that you may find on your property from fallen trees. Or if that’s not possible to practice with pine until you’ve got the basics down and can work on simple projects.

But what are simple wood turning projects?

Below you’ll find a few super easy lathe projects for beginners to get you started.

Easy beginner’s bowl: There’s no intricate components needed for this piece. It’s fundamental and straightforward and gives you an idea of how the lathe works and how to maneuver the tools in order to get the right definition and shape.

Quality of wood shouldn’t be your chief concern as a beginner. You can worry about that once you have a better understanding of the basics and you’re ready to move onto more refined pieces.

Simple tree craft: With a tree, a more ornate appearance means more work for the turner. There are layers in the concept that create the flow of the tree’s shape. 

It requires a bit more control over the hand tools and more focus on tapering in just the right way. Maybe after a couple of attempts at a tree, these objects will make great gifts after they’ve gone through their finishing stages.

Pretty tea lights: These require a simple base with a stem cut for the candle to sit on. While it is a good beginner’s piece, the turning is a bit more advanced. You’ll need a better variety of wood too, like hickory or honey locust, so these tea lights can be used in your home.

Something to keep in mind when you have such a pretty piece of wood as the inlay where the candle sits is to line that with foil, so the candle wax doesn’t damage the wood.

Useful bottle stopper; A bottle stopper could make a really handsome piece, especially as a gift for Father’s Day. Again, while it is a beginner’s piece, it’s also intricate and will take a lot of focus as well as time to complete. But that’s the whole point of wood turning, right? It’s a labor of love.

Small cherry bowl: Absolutely gorgeous pieces, a small cherry bowl is one of the most popular pieces in the turning community, and a staple for the projects that most create.

Conclusion

The art of woodturning is a process that takes a lot of skill, focus, and - most importantly - patience.

Your project may take more than one sitting to complete, but you may want it that way. It may be something you want to take your time with, and practice with as you go. It can be frustrating in the beginning, so it’s best sometimes to take some time out and return to it. 

After all, the idea is to enjoy this new hobby, and when modern life is already so stressful, it’s important to reap the therapeutic benefits of wood turning. Yes, it can be frustrating at first but you’ll be surprised at how quickly you’ll pick it up!