Design by Design #1: Design Is Exciting!

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Blog entry by Jacquelyn Smith posted 05-29-2011 10:22 PM 2459 reads 1 time favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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What is successful Design in furniture?
Successful design is functional and visually pleasing. The challenge is to arrive at a design that meets both of these qualities with equal vivaciousness. When we begin to learn woodworking we find that there are many, many rules and no experience to know when to use a rule and when to let go of it. I believe woodworking is very much like the martial arts. It is discipline and focus and being in tune with your senses, your feelings and the material that you are working with. Sometimes we just know we should wait to make that cut or start that glue-up and other times we know that everything is in alignment and there is no time to waste. It is a very personal process. Design is much the same. We struggle with the radius of an arc, the heaviness of a line, the proportions of a cabinet all related to the wood we are using and perhaps the final placement of the piece. We can learn the rules but then the rules need to be filtered through each unique maker to apply and test our attempts at successful design.

Design is exciting!
It can be a lot of fun to design your next desk or chair or armoire. Even more exciting to choose the wood. What woodworker doesn’t like to go look at your local hardwood supplier and see what they might have today? It’s like treasure hunting. And, if you happen to know when they get shipments and when those shipments will hit the showroom floor you just may find some very special pieces. That’s one of the troubles that I run into . . . I may find another piece of furniture in the wood as well as the wood for my current project! I am always having to translate as I look through the stacks of lumber, what will it look like smooth and shaped and how will the finish effect the color and the grain? How will these details effect the weight of the lines? I am constantly asking these questions as I am building and moving from step to step.
Speaking of moving from step to step . . .
At some point we end up in the shop, with our wood prepared and ready to make our first cuts. Yikes! Wherever the point along the way is for you, there is often a place where we get stuck. We are afraid we won’t find the right angle, or make the hole in just the right place. We don’t have any more veneer that matches so the glue-up has to succeed. It can be quite terrifying. I once worked with an excellent woodworker who said he never does anything too complex first thing in the morning or at the end of the day. Often I find myself remembering his words when I am questioning what I am about to do. One time in particular, I decided I should wait. I am so glad I did because as I set up for the next day another idea came to me, I immediately implemented it and the results were absolutely perfect! Whew! But it’s important to know the difference between the fear of proceeding and taking risks and when to wait because you still need information. One absolute in this work is that we all make mistakes no matter how thoughtful we are. How we resolve those mistakes will show our creativity, ingenuity, and willingness to accept responsibility for our work. After you’ve thrown your fit, you just may make a piece that is better than what you originally thought of.


5 comments so far

View whitedog's profile


652 posts in 3966 days

#1 posted 05-29-2011 10:37 PM

Well said. I like your thinking as I do your work.

-- Paul , Calfornia

View tinnman65's profile


1391 posts in 3923 days

#2 posted 05-30-2011 04:19 PM

Very insightful blog Jacquelyn, I think that is the hardest step for any woodworker to take, going from making something from a plan you found or bought to taking the leap to designing something on your own. I am honestly in the early stages of taking that leap into the unknown world of design. I have made a few pieces that I have designed myself and I can say it was much more gratifying when I was finished, also much more terrifying along the way LOL! I don’t do this for a living so I don’t feel bad if I see a plan for something I like and make it from that plan, if for no other reason than saving time. I just don’t want to end up being the guy who could play a Mozart Symphony but could never even write a children’s song for lack of trying. I always try to stretch myself in my work trying new things and continually learning hoping this will help me when I do design my own work. I love to look at different artist work for inspiration but I have to be careful I’m not just copying or stealing what they’ve done.

-- Paul--- Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. — Scott Adams

View DLCW's profile


530 posts in 3163 days

#3 posted 05-30-2011 07:17 PM

Jacquelyn – I love your writing and thinking style. I’ve been woodworking for over 40 years and I find that design is probably the most challenging part of a project. The next big challenge is having the wood “speak” to you as to where it should go, if at all, in to the project. Then there is the engineering aspect of design. I’ve designed some pretty incredible things that would be an absolute nightmare to try and actually build. They look beautiful on paper but just not practical to actually build.

Wood is one of mother natures most incredible pieces of art. Taking those pieces of art and matching them with other pieces of art is a challenge and soothing at the same time. But I love it so.

Thank you for a wonderful writeup.

-- Don, Diamond Lake Custom Woodworks - - "If you make something idiot proof, all they do is make a better idiot"

View Div's profile


1653 posts in 3449 days

#4 posted 05-30-2011 09:07 PM

Great blog! I second Don above: design is indeed the most challenging part.

-- Div @ the bottom end of Africa. "A woodworker's sharpest tool should be his mind."

View DonnyBahama's profile


215 posts in 3040 days

#5 posted 07-03-2011 03:18 AM

Beautifully said, Jacqueline. You are a gifted wordsmith as well as an artist and woodsmith. I look forward to reading more of your blog posts and seeing more of your work.

-- Founding member of the (un)Official LumberJock's Frugal Woodworking Society -

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