The value of plans

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Project by Ken Reed posted 11-01-2010 02:45 AM 3094 views 3 times favorited 55 comments Add to Favorites Watch

OK, so every once in a while I go out into the shop and think that I can just build something without plans…you know, just “develop” something; let the wood “speak” to me. I should know better after all these years!

Nice wood, but the design is not anything like I had originally planned. I wanted the curved front, but, other than that, I didn’t really have a clear concept of what I wanted. The first thought was no long legs and just small corner “posts”, but they looked “funny”. So then I tried long, small corner “posts”. Better, but then I thought curved legs. The first “mock up” of the box was much deeper from front to back, essentially square. I didn’t like that so I shortened the sides….too much, oh well, it’s hard to cut wood longer.

So the legs look like rotten bananas to me instead of what I had in my mind’s eye. The whole thing looks front heavy, like it’s going to tip over onto the front. The legs were supposed to project above the box a little, but I screwed that up when I cut the mortises….

Oh well, back to Sketchup! It takes just as much time and effort to build a bad design as a good one.

I have built several boxes with this kind of construction; the boards forming the sides and front and back are mortised into the legs. I know that it’s not a good practice to have the grains running in two different directions, but I have yet to see any actual problems with this construction. What do you folks think? Am I just kidding myself and these will eventually fail or at least crack? This is one of the deepest boxes yet, so it would be the most prone to show problems. The distance between the mortises is about 100mm (4”).

By the way, the box isn’t really finished; it needs to be rubbed out and finish put on the front curve of the lid, but you get the idea.

55 comments so far

View brianinpa's profile


1812 posts in 4697 days

#1 posted 11-01-2010 03:12 AM

Sometimes we are our own worst critic. Looks great and nice choice of wood.

-- Brian, Lebanon PA, If you aren’t having fun doing it, find something else to do.

View blacknail's profile


153 posts in 3778 days

#2 posted 11-01-2010 03:18 AM

Sorry…but I just can’t find anything wrong with this beautiful box. What I did find is inspiration though.

-- Darrell B.

View dq2's profile


71 posts in 3778 days

#3 posted 11-01-2010 03:35 AM

Nice looking bananas. I recognized them right away because my wife always makes homemade banana bread. Actually, I think they are cool. Not bad for no plan. You have a creative talent. Thanks for sharing.

-- - DQ in Phoenix -

View longgone's profile


5688 posts in 4282 days

#4 posted 11-01-2010 04:08 AM

Looks very nice. Who needs plans? I never use them and have been woodworking for 50 years.

View a1Jim's profile


118153 posts in 4551 days

#5 posted 11-01-2010 04:12 AM

Amazing and difficult piece great job.


View NBeener's profile


4816 posts in 4148 days

#6 posted 11-01-2010 04:25 AM

I’m with the others.

I think it’s phenomenal. That top is just captivating !!

-- -- Neil

View Roger's profile


21048 posts in 3778 days

#7 posted 11-01-2010 04:31 AM

what a beautiful bookmatch. wow! this is really awesome.

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

View lilredweldingrod's profile


2496 posts in 4080 days

#8 posted 11-01-2010 04:55 AM

Now that is a project to be proud of! The wood in the lid leaves me speechless. You have another piece of that for sale? Rand

View Skylark53's profile


2844 posts in 4034 days

#9 posted 11-01-2010 05:21 AM

Lighten up on yourself Ken-you did good work here. Unique, creative, easy on the eyes, functional. Thanks for sharing.

-- Rick, Tennessee, John 3:16

View MsDebbieP's profile


18619 posts in 5134 days

#10 posted 11-01-2010 12:00 PM

I think it is wonderful…
question: did you enjoy the problem-solving process of adapting the parts to make them work? For me, that is half the fun of creating.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

View rance's profile


4275 posts in 4134 days

#11 posted 11-01-2010 12:58 PM

I think your bananas are just too long. Otherwise, a nice looking piece. I too like SU, but I also sometimes build a mock up using ole cheap pine. Sometimes it does good just to get your hands on it in front of you before you decide on the final design.

-- Backer boards, stop blocks, build oversized, and never buy a hand plane--

View jockmike2's profile


10635 posts in 5220 days

#12 posted 11-01-2010 02:28 PM


-- (You just have to please the man in the Mirror) Mike from Michigan -

View SgtSnafu's profile


960 posts in 4245 days

#13 posted 11-01-2010 04:07 PM

I feel the box turned out very well…

Thank you for sharing

-- Scotty - aka... SgtSnafu - Randleman NC

View Ken Reed's profile

Ken Reed

158 posts in 4158 days

#14 posted 11-01-2010 05:14 PM

Thanks for all the input, folks! Yeah, the box turned out OK, but…

JockMike2, you’re right, of course, about making things without plans: it can be done, and I do, especially if it’s something pretty straightforward. I think I just did too many experiments all on the same piece. The curved front would have been OK if the rest wasn’t so “wild”. The legs, like Rance says, would have been OK, if they were either shorter or the box had longer sides, or perhaps not so big in general as they tend to overpower the rest of the piece. I do make mock ups, but usually not of the whole piece. In this case I cut a leg outta some alder I had in the scrap bin. I think I was lulled thinking that the shape would work because the alder is light colored, but when I went to the very dark walnut the visual balance changed dramatically.

Like Debbie says it’s all about the process and not necessarily the final product. I love going out to the shop and facing new challenges, but it’s also nice to end up with something that you like.

As far as being my own worst critic: I think it’s very important to be critical, especially of your own work, but of others as well. I think that’s part of why I posted this with so many “negative” comments of my own: I want to encourage the community to discuss these various projects openly. Not all designs “work” and the process that I’ve been going through over the last 40 years is to try to figure out why I like some designs, but others seem awkward. I very much appreciate the support of this community; it’s a very positive place and I certainly don’t want to change that, but I think that there’s a place for criticism as well, as long as it’s thoughtful and constructive.

Do I regret building this piece, or others that have “failed”? No, not in the least! Experience is the best teacher and experience involves making mistakes. We all pay for our education, one way or the other.

So, does anyone have an opinion about the cross grain joinery?

View MsDebbieP's profile


18619 posts in 5134 days

#15 posted 11-01-2010 05:21 PM

pulling from what you wrote above…. things to remember when “creating” are:
  • matching the lines or the feel of the pieces rather than “creating” them separately (if you can follow that)
  • keep things in proportion .. matching all the pieces to whatever it is that you are starting with
  • take time to step back to assess the above before making multiple or gluing …

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

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