A Strategy for Woodworking #33: Simple is Complex

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Blog entry by Gary Rogowski posted 10-27-2014 02:25 PM 1688 reads 0 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 32: Finishing up Part 33 of A Strategy for Woodworking series Part 34: Benched »

All projects need refinement, lightness, simplicity.

I tell my Mastery students often in a critique to lose 10% of their design. Sometimes 20%. Mass is not always required for strength. Careful engineering is required. Where can you remove material?

Adding lightness and simplicity is a difficult chore. How much work do you need to do to make something simple? How do you know what is unessential in a piece? Where do you stop?

Make copies. Make models, drawings. Try one thing and then another. Keep checking in with your gut to see how it feels. Keep practicing your paring skills. You will make mistakes. Try again.

The Northwest Woodworking Studio

-- Gary Rogowski...follow my podcast at and twitter @garyrogowski

7 comments so far

View DocSavage45's profile


8872 posts in 3378 days

#1 posted 10-27-2014 04:58 PM

For me, It’s simple to think about, but often hard to do? But first steps open my eyes to the second step. If I take them. Sometimes I am too impatient to make a model or I have not allowed enough time?

Good advice!

-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

View Roger's profile


21013 posts in 3339 days

#2 posted 10-27-2014 07:25 PM

Everything you say makes sense. Thnx for sharing your advice and knowledge.

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed. [email protected]

View LJackson's profile


295 posts in 2129 days

#3 posted 10-27-2014 08:18 PM

This certainly isn’t the engineering way of doing things. First calculate required materials for load bearing, then double it for tolerances.

Personally, I like Victorian, Baroque, fanciful, intricate, flourshed designs. Not simple.

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18703 posts in 4211 days

#4 posted 10-28-2014 04:39 AM

Here is some inspiration for paring away all but the bare essentials.

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View stefang's profile


16803 posts in 3869 days

#5 posted 10-28-2014 10:07 AM

A great discussion topic Gary. I find it hard to generalize about design. I think it is more based on what you want to achieve. If you want a traditional setting you will have heavy, more ornamental designs, if functional, then light as you say. Then you have some styles like Green & Green which incorporate both modern and functional elements. In general I like all the different styles when they are well done and used in the right setting, but I have the greatest appreciation of any given style where the component parts whether traditional or modern contribute not only to the look of the piece, but also to it’s strength and functionality. For example, fancy fretwork can be very traditional and over the top decorative, but it can also contribute a great deal to keeping a piece very lightweight without sacrificing strength, and a house with modern lightweight furniture design might be best suited to a place with lots of window area to showcase the outdoor nature and provide contrast to the functional interior furnishings. Just my own take on this subject. There really is no right or wrong Gary, but I do appreciate and agree with your philosophy when it comes to the type of furniture you are known for.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View SteveGaskins's profile


760 posts in 3122 days

#6 posted 10-29-2014 12:42 AM

As always, great advice, Gary. Thanks for you dedicated lifelong journey of teaching others the skills of fine woodworking.

-- Steve, South Carolina,

View philba's profile


96 posts in 1907 days

#7 posted 10-29-2014 02:38 PM

You hit a chord with me on this one. I think there is a natural inclination among designers to overbuild. I personally strive for a light look in my pieces but am often confounded on how to analyze a particular situation. Things like how big of a joint do I need to prevent racking. I use the sagulator a lot to figure out span strengths and do simple lever analysis where it makes sense. I also look at what others have done and emulate their minimalism. However, I feel like I’m just guessing most of the time. I wish there was a course titled “mechanical engineering for woodworkers”.

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