5 Simple Woodworking Projects for Parents

Being a parent means more time with the kiddos and less time in the wood shop.  But it shouldn’t mean no time in the shop.  Our kids need to see us enjoying our hobbies.  We as woodworkers can teach our kids how to problem solve, how to be patient, how to be creative, and how to deal with failure – all while enjoying some much needed wood shop time.  We can also make some useful projects that will hold special meaning for our kids.

Here are 5 projects that provide a quick and easy sawdust fix.

1.  Bird houses (Owl house)

This screech owl house was made from the plans found here.  Still waiting for an owl.

2. Magnet Boards

Frame is made from leopard wood and maple. Sheet metal for the magnetic area.

Practicing hand tool skills while the kiddos are sleeping lets you get your fix without waking the baby!

3. Crayon holders

Maple and walnut combination crayon holder.

This crayon holder was an extremely quick project to build with 3 pieces of scrap wood. The trick (skill builder) is to plane all three pieces perfectly flat so there is no visible seam.

4.  Toys

Oak plywood toy barn.

Kids seem to love the simplest toys, whether it is wood blocks, a wooden car or train, or a barn.  I made this barn for my nephew a few years back.  E gets credit for the paint job!

5. Kid’s Hanging Shelf

Maple shelf for kid’s room.

Check out the step by step directions for this simple project here


Rustic Wood Knife Wall Display

This project was a way to get a quick sawdust fix while checking something off my to do list.  

This project cost about $10 to build and made use of some scrap wood to cleanup the shop in the process. 

Finished display with space for more knives to come.

I started with 5 pine fence pickets, which cost about $1.50 each from lowes (buy the natural, non-pressure treated boards).  

The rounded off ends were cut off and each board was cut to length at the radial arm saw.  

Back view of the runners. Split, but oh well.

I was able to find several pieces of scrap wood to screw into the display (from the back) to tie all of the boards together.  Two brass picture hanging brackets mounted to the back allows the display to be hung securely on the wall.   
This was a quick rustic project so I wasn’t too concerned about all of the splits in the runners on the back.  I could have pre-drilled all of the holes and avoided the splits, but honestly, they didn’t bother me enough to take the extra time.

The next challenge was to come up with a way to mount the knives to the board without using ugly zip ties.  

Use fishing line to attach the knives to the board

I decided on fishing line to attach the knives to the display.  The fishing line I used was 8lb line – should be more than enough strength to hold the knives up.  I drilled two holes vertically close together behind the knife so they wouldn’t be visible and tied the line in the back of the board.  

Swinging Shelf Project

E fell in love with a “swinging shelf” at Pottery Barn Kids for $69.00 that consisted of a piece of wood and rope.  A little overpriced in my opinion.  I later found out that they don’t make the shelf anymore anyway.  To the wood shop!

Potterybarnkids shelf

Pottery Barn’s $69.00 shelf

My version.  Less than $10.00!

My version. Less than $10.00!

I had some left over maple from building our little guy’s crib, so I found a piece about 38″ x 7″.  I jointed/planed it flat, squared it up, and drilled 4 – 1/2″ holes for the rope.

To keep the shelf from sagging in the middle over time (and to help hang the shelf) I drilled a 1/2″ hole in the back of the shelf.  I then installed an anchor in the drywall with a screw sticking out about 1.5″.  It is the same idea as the floating mantle mount that I used here.  It may not be necessary, but better safe than sorry.

Four holes for the ropes and one hole (on the back) to support the middle of the shelf.

Four holes for the ropes and one hole (on the back) to support the middle of the shelf.   Finished with 3 coats of General Finishes’ Water Based Polyacrylic semi-gloss top-coat.


Two hooks to hang the rope and one screw to support the shelf.

Polyacrylic can 250pxI used three coats of General Finishes’ Water Based Polyacrylic semi-gloss top-coat (sanded with 320 grit between each coat).  This is the same finish I used on the crib so I didn’t have to buy any for this project!  I like the water based polyacrylic for maple because it won’t yellow the wood like an oil based stain will.

And the finished product!


Supply List:

  1. Wood (I used leftover Maple) – 38″x7″ – or whatever dimensions you want
  2. Rope – This rope from Home Depot was $8.81 (for 50 ft.) – (Actual amount used $.70)
  3. (2) Hooks – These hooks from Home Depot were $3.92/pair
  4. General Finishes Water Based Polyacrylic Top-coat (semi-gloss) – $14.49/pint at Woodcraft (used less than half) 
  5. 2″ to 2 1/2″ screw/anchor for the middle support (if desired)

A quick weekend project!

Handmade vs Ikea (Spoiler: “Handmade” wins)

Ikea has massive warehouses full of identical pieces of furniture, some are even made of that hard to find material in big stores called “wood.”  But, I despise Ikea.  It actually annoys me.  It’s too EASY to furnish your living space (including bedroom, kitchen, garage, basement, yard, porch, pool, dorm, summer house, winter house, pool house, etc.).   It’s getting something for “free” without putting any effort into it, which makes it hard to truly appreciate.  Thomas Moser explained this feeling better than I ever could, so I’ll let him explain further.

The following is an excerpt from Thomas Moser’s book “How To Build Shaker Furniture.”

Strictly speaking, the only handmade object, so far as I know, is free-formed clay pottery which is sun dried.  No tools are used, just the fingers and nature’s processes.  However, we use the term “handmade” more loosely and apply it to processes that include the use of tools of every sort.  And this, of course, is why the term really isn’t serviceable.  A better distinction, certainly a more interesting one, was advanced some years ago by a British philosopher who, when discussing the nature of workmanship, used the terms “manufacture of risk” and “manufacture of non-risk.”  According to this dichotomy, what separates one class of goods from another isn’t the use of hands but rather the risk that was present during the manufacturing process.  In other words, a man working slowly in a shop utilizing both powered and nonpowered tools, but without elaborate jigs, templates, and automatic clamping devices, runs the risk of making a mistake at almost every turn.  As he proceeds, step by step, a multitude of variables affect the outcome of his efforts.  He never really knows how it will look when he finishes.  And if he makes more than one, the parts will probably not be interchangeable, and certainly the finished objects will all be different.

The manufacture of non-risk, too, may or may not use power-driven tools and human hands, but because elaborate steps are taken at replicating parts with extremely close tolerances, the outcome of the manufacturing process is guaranteed at the very beginning.   There is no risk: the outcome is predetermined and has been programmed into the manufacturing process.

Hence, as our philosopher advises, man soon becomes bored looking at a parking lot full of shiny new cars, manufactured with no risk as to outcome, one indistinguishable from another.  Yet take the same man to a fishing harbor crowded with small boats of every description and he will spend hours delighting at the differences before him.  Is it fair to say the boats, because each one is designed and crafted one at a time, are better built than cars?  I think not.  Rather, the manufacture of risk is a far more humane enterprise for both the builder and the perceiver.  The human eye thrives on differences, the mind on the unexpected  and the soul on the individuality of human production.

Therefore, in discussing tools let us see the tool not only as the extension of the human hand but as the extension of the spirit as well.  In our shop we use power tools, jigs, templates of various sorts, and so on, but we control them, they do not control us.



Wood Tree Slab Wedding Centerpieces

This weekend, a great, down-to-earth couple, Jessica and David, were married.  As part of their rustic wedding, Jessica asked me to make 30 wood “tree slab” centerpiece stands and one “tree slab” cake stand.  It sounded like a fun challenge, so I said yes.

The project started with a trip to a local park where (with permission of course) I loaded up a truck full of wood.

Next, using a chainsaw, I cut the tops (out of the larger diameter logs) and the bases (out of the smaller diameter logs).  Initially, I stacked the slabs one on top of the other with very little room for air circulation while I continued to work on the bases.  However, after two days, I found that green wood + poor air circulation = mold.  Back to the drawing board.  A solution of one cup Borax to one gallon of water in a spray bottle and a scrub brush cleaned up/killed the mold nicely.  I then spread the slabs out on the floor with plenty of room on either side, and a fan at one end to keep the air circulating.  No mold!  I still had to seal the slabs quickly to prevent checking.  Speaking of checking (cracking):  If wood dries too quickly, it tends to crack.  The best prevention I found was to drill out the center of the wood slice, known as the pith.  There’s a reason why this prevents checking, but I’m not an expert in this so Google it!

Next, I made a simple jig to drill the holes for the dowels that would attach the tops to the bases.  I also painted the bases to slow down the drying rate so they would not crack (because I did not remove the pith on the thick bases).

Using a simple jig to line up the dowel holes

Glue up was pretty simple.  A little glue on the dowels and in the holes and pop them into place.

Lined up, ready for a little wood filler (to fill the hole where the pith was removed) and 3 coats of amber shellac!

And the final product the day of the wedding….


SUPPLEMENT: PREVENTING CRACKING:  I have had a lot of questions about sealing the wood and preventing cracking.  This process worked for me, but there are about 1000 theories (exaggerated) on what works best.  Here is the process in the order I did it that seems to have prevented cracking almost 1 year later.  I combined a few different theories to come up with my method.

1.  Cut the wood at a slight angle (notice especially on the large cake stand)

2.  Drill the pith (center) out of the slabs

3.  Fill the pith hole with wood filler (For looks only…This shouldn’t make a difference with cracking)

4.  Let the wood air dry with plenty of circulation for a day or two

5.  Coat all sides of the wood with 2 or 3 coats of shellac (I used amber shellac)

This worked for me.  I have HEARD of mold developing UNDER the finish, but I made 30 with no mold.  Was I just lucky?  Or, did air drying them for a day or two eliminate enough of the moisture?  Or, did the borax solution kill any chance of mold coming back?  I’m not sure what the answer is.  But, it worked.  I’d be interested to see how everyone else’s slabs have turned out and any methods you used, so feel free to share on this site!  Thanks!

The 67¢ End-Grain Cutting Board

While wandering around one of my favorite green building stores (Building Value Cincinnati on Spring Grove Ave.) I stumbled across a deal that was hard to pass up.  Twelve reclaimed 2″ x 2″x 36″ pieces of wood for $1.00.  I can’t say exactly what kind of wood it is, but I’m leaning toward some type of cedar.  I could be wrong.  It has a unique smell and funky grain pattern, so I couldn’t pass up the deal.  I have been wanting to try my hand at making a cutting board since I haven’t made one since my high school shop class (which was obviously my favorite class).  So, I bit the bullet and plopped down a whopping $1.00 for the materials for the cutting board.

There are several types of cutting boards that you can buy/make.

1.  Plastic cutting boards – No thanks.


Long grain cutting board from thewoodwhisperer.com

2.  Flat, edge, or long grain cutting boards – Cheap, easy to make, look nice, but not as durable.






End grain cutting board from sunnycuttingboards.co

3.  End grain cutting boards– The ultimate!  End grain cutting boards are easier on knives (knife sinks in between the wood fibers instead of cutting across the fibers on a long grain board), tend to last longer, and just look cooler!  Also, more challenging to build because of the extra steps.




An easy way to visualize the different types of cutting boards is to look at a log like this.

End grain vs. edge grain
From designerwoodcuttingboards.com

So, my end grain cutting board project began with 8 pieces of wood – for a total of 67¢.

Rough cut recycled wood for 67¢

I first used a jointer to square up two sides of each board, then a table saw to square up the rest of the sides of the wood.  Once the wood was square, I cross cut the 8 pieces in half to make 16 pieces of wood to choose from.  I chose the best and funkiest looking (for a total of 13) and glued them up.  You can stop at this stage, flatten the cutting board out, square up the ends, oil it, and have a beautiful long grain cutting board, but I wanted to take this board to the next level.

Cutting board glued up as a “long grain” board

On a side note, I used Titebond II glue.  Titebond II is water resistant and cures food safe.  After the glue dried over night, I planed (hand planed, still don’t have a power planer) the board perfectly flat.  Very important step.  An uneven cutting board at this stage will leave nasty gaps when you expose the end grain.

Planed perfectly flat and ready to expose the end grain!

The next step is to cross cut 13 strips from the glued up board.  After cutting the strips, I laid them out in their original order and began to mix up the puzzle.  For the design I flipped every other strip 180 degrees to create a checkerboard pattern.

The final glue up goes exactly the same as the first glue up.  I sanded down the top and bottom, and then rounded over the edges.    A couple coats of cutting board oil and it’s ready to go!  A pretty fun 67¢ project!  Total time:  2 days

The final product! Oiled and ready to go!

For an excellent video on creating end-grain cutting boards, check out (you guessed it) the Wood Whisperer’s video here.