When I attended the 12-week furniture intensive course at Center for Furniture Craftsmanship several years ago, our first project was a bench. It was the perfect starter project for honing skills like hand-cut dovetails and through wedged tenons. It is an easy project that takes less than a week to build.
Which is why in between bigger furniture projects I will still sometimes return to benches to keep my hand skills sharp and to play with different types of hand-cut joints.
This is a basic cherry bench that replicates my first project at Center for Furniture Craftsmanship:
This is a maple and cherry bench with ebony inlays:
This summer, I had an apprentice, and her first project was also a bench. She took a creative approach to the joints and came away with a nice first project:
In addition to benches, boxes also provide a good way to use small scraps of wood and keep those hand skills in tune. The smaller the piece, the more precise the hand cuts must be because flaws are more noticeable on a smaller piece. I enjoy the exercise of putting together boxes using different types of hand-cut joints and showcasing different types of wood.
While I prefer the more fun and complex furniture pieces, I still value the small, simple projects for practicing hand-cut joints. And they are great quick and easy starter projects. Like my apprentice with her bench, I have taught several box making courses, and people are always pleased with their take home hand-made projects.