How to Start Woodworking For Bushcraft [Free Woodworking Bench Plans]

| Last Updated: October 23, 2022

If you choose a life in the wilderness with bushcraft wood carving, you're giving up the option of going to the store and buying whatever is on your woodworking tools list, whether it be spoon carving tools or spoon carving knives.

You're on your own in the most basic way possible. This means no purchasing all the tools and fixtures you need, you might not even have the funds for that anyway, you're going to have to do it yourself if you want it. 

Also there is the opportunity to have the items in your house or dwelling, just the way that you want them. Which is why we're going to go over custom woodworking as a bushcraft skill to help you on your way to furnishing your living space and making utensils that would have otherwise cost a great fortune. Who knows? You might invent some woodworking projects that sell and have your own little shop.

Whether you're starting this journey to find wood projects that sell or simply to save some money and keep yourself entertained, we're going to give you our best to make sure you have the knowledge necessary to do your best!


"A nine fingered carpenter is a very careful man."

This quote couldn't be more accurate. When woodworking you'll have moments when you feel that you're so experienced that nothing could cause you to stumble, that's when you feel your grip slip and the blade glides right through your favorite thumb. 

And while wearing chain mail gloves would be a solution to the problem, it wouldn't be very practical. It would look pretty cool though!

Let's keep these simple rules in mind when working with wood, if you're working with power tools this will be a better resource for you.

Don't Wear Loose Fitting Clothing

If you've had a shop class in any country school then this is the first rule they drill into your head (pun intended). The looser your clothes are the more likely you are to hurt yourself. Whether that's getting your shirt caught in a blade, your pants hung up on the work bench causing you to stumble with sharp objects in your hand, it's all together not a good idea to wear oversized clothes when working with tools.

No Booze or Other Substances

If you're truly a beginner then you're going to need your wits about you, so no doses of liquid courage before picking up a saw or blade. That goes for the "mind opening" substances as well! No need to risk losing a few digits to have a good time while wood working.

Fold Blades When Done

When you finish with your wood working blades, if only to take a short break, make sure the blade is closed and goes in a specific place EVERY TIME. The last thing you want is to leave the blade open and in a different spot than usual, and find it in a very painful way. In this case habits create freedom, freedom from having to worry about if you could get hurt. Because if you have these habits in place, you're creating a safe space for yourself.

Sharpen Tools Before Use

You don't want to work with dull blades when woodworking. Not only will your projects come out less than perfect, but if your tools aren't as sharp as they need to be then you're putting yourself at risk of hurting yourself. It might not be sharp enough to cut a piece of balsa wood cleanly, but it will dang sure make short work of your digits if it slips off the wood. Keep your tools sharp to minimize that possibility. 

Woodworking Tools for Beginners

When starting out you'll want to keep it small, once you make a cup or your first utensil with ease then you can upgrade to a push pull saw. But for now let's keep it as basic as using some old fashioned whittling tools.

And as someone who's living in the wilderness you'll want to stick to a method of wood working known as green woodwork. Which is when you can start shaping and working the wood as soon as you take it from the tree! Otherwise you'll need to season the wood, and that's a whole different subject, so let's stick with the green woodworking tools.

Sean Hellman has a fantastic article on GB Wildlife Hatchet. His recommendations for someone who is a complete beginner is an axe that is lighter than or around 1.5lbs. like the GB Wildlife Hatchet. However, Sean does emphasize the hatchet is NOT meant for cutting down trees, just for the beginnings of the woodworking.

As for the Knife, Sean recommends that you use a Clipper Frosts knife or a Mora 106

Identifying the Wood

Learning tree identification in general can be an overwhelming task, so what we're going to do is give you the characteristics of the trees that will be most useful to you. 

If you're more interested in learning tree identification for woodworking and bushcraft purposes there are many sites that you can benefit from. Like Rocky Mountain Bushcraft and Art Of Manliness.

These are the Best Trees for Woodworking

Birch / Paper Bark Tree

The Birch or paper tree, is most readily identified by it's paper like bark that flakes off in sheets rather than fine shreds or thick chunks. This tree is mostly found in the cooler climates in North America, it will either be at the bottom of a valley or the best for making utensils like forks, knives and spoons of hills. 

The species has a few different leaf shapes, which makes it hard to identify based on the leaves alone. So it's best to stick with looking at the bark and where the tree is located.

This tree is best for making utensils like forks, knives and spoons due to it's ability to be carved easily and smooth. Also it makes the best fire starter nature has to offer.

Hazel Trees

The Hazel tree has it's reputation mostly from it's nuts, the hazelnuts, that most people drink with their coffee or with food. But if you need to make a handle, pole, peg or just need a sturdy branch then this is your tree. 

Hazel trees grow in clusters similar to bushes´╗┐. This is a tree that won't be found in the open like the birch tree, also it favors cooler climates. You can recognize this tree from it's growth structure, it looks like many small trees growing from the same spot. If you can catch it during the spring it will have rounded heart shaped leaves.

Again if you can find one during the spring you will notice that there are differences between the male and female. The male hazel tree produces drooping pods with seeds, where as the female tree will have stringy red buds.

Sycamore Tree

Sycamore wood is a dense and sturdy wood that's light weight and easily worked. The wood of a sycamore is best suited for bigger projects like cabinets, boxes or weapons. The sturdiness and durability make it an exceptional piece to work with.

You can recognize this tree fairly easily as well, probably because it's one of the most common in the US. It's leaves are 4-6 inches and have 3-5 lobs, they're light green and have white fuzzy stuff on the underside. The bark is white and patchy, the new chutes that grow are a yellow, bronze and brown color that grow in a zig zag pattern.

It's mostly recognized for the sycamore gum balls that grow in the center of the tree. If you find one with these little one inch balls around the base of the tree, or see them hanging, then you've certainly found yourself a sycamore!

Ash Tree

Ash tree wood is ideal for making bows and sturdy handles. Which is fairly obvious if you've seen one of these before. When you see an ash tree your first thought is that it has a fairly narrow trunk for such a tall and broad canopy. This is why it's best for making tools which require high tensile strength, like bows and poles.

Luckily this tree is pretty easy to recognize as most trees don't have opposite branching and leaves. And if you're looking at the leaves, there is generally one terminal leaf that buds off the opposing leaves.

Rowan Ash Tree

The rowan ash is a more durable and harder to work piece of wood compared to the regular ash tree, but the wood is much more durable and sturdy than most other trees.

Similar to the regular ash tree, the rowan has opposing branches and leaves as well. However, the bark of this tree has a sheen to it and a smoothness that differentiate it from the other tree. And it should be known that this tree is the last one that you want to make a fire with. The wood is hard and durable for woodworking but the denseness of it makes it almost impossible to light.

Basic Projects

The project you choose to start with needs to be simple and something you know you can do without any problems. If you choose to make something complicated then you'll likely fail and not feel like trying again, but if you make a somewhat recognizable spoon in your first attempt then you'll have the confidence to improve and branch out (that was a pun too).

Carving Wooden Spoons

If you're looking for woodworking projects that sell, our buddies over at Instructables have a fantastic walk through on how to carve wooden spoons. Their method does require a spoon gouger to get the correct shape and smoothness for the dip in your spoon, but you could manage with just your three tools you have.

Viking Beer Mug

Nothing says "man" like a rustic mug that's held together by the force of nature and your determination to succeed! Which is why Instructables has another great write up on how to craft your very own mug like this.

All you'll need is your hatchet and your knife to make this dream come true!


This could be the most useful item you'll ever make in your bushcraft career. The kuksa is a Northern Scandanavian cup that's generally carved from birch wood, and is the bushcraft poster cup. And Jon from Jonsbushcraft has an amazing tutorial of how he crafts these kuksas with  ease and preserves them to last.

Bowl / Dish

Finally we have the one item you'll want to keep around if you wan to maintain your table manners, which is the bowl or dish. You can eat off of a rock if that's your thing, but it might be a little helpful to keep your humanity by eating from something like this. This is also one of those great wood projects that sell in case you're looking to make a little extra money.

And Jonsbushcraft has another great write up on how to make this in no time at all. His walk throughs on these basic projects are incredible and worth the read many times over!

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