Reply by jdmaher

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Posted on Envisioning every step of a project before beginning

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471 posts in 3555 days

#1 posted 03-08-2019 06:43 PM

I’m a very part-time hobbyist, but over the years I’ve tried two basic approaches –
1. Think it thru VERY carefully.
2. Make it up as I go.

I do not recommend the latter. It took 5 years to finish that project. However, the result is my absolute favorite piece – by far.

Usually, I build a piece of casework, almost always inspired by someone else’s build. So, I know at least a general approach to what I’m going to make. But I always want to do something at least a bit different than my inspiration piece. So I proceed like this.

I do a rough sketch of the inspiration piece, using Sketchup. Then I sketch out my modifications, trial and error, on a copy of the inspiration drawing. That always seems to generate several different versions, but I keep all of these “rough”. Until I get something I like.

Then I re-draw the final concept. This time, I use fairly precise measurements and include all the details (e.g., joints, hardware, etc.). Importantly, I re-draw the finished components in the build sequence. If I intend to build the top first, I draw the top first. If the legs will be tapered and have apron mortises, I draw the mortises BEFORE I “trim away” the tapers. As I do this re-draw, I actually think through exactly how I’m going to perform each operation in the real world – and make a note of it (usually on a text file of “steps”).

I even think through milling steps. If I’m trying to build a 1” thick top and I know I have two pieces of 6/4 material I’m gonna use, I draw the rough boards, place a copy of the drawing of the finished top in front of the drawing of the rough boards, and “place” the finished top approximately where I’m gonna cut it out of the rough boards, and draw some lines on the rough boards drawing to show the rough cut size. This way, I know exactly how much of the rough boards I have left for other components. And, of course, I take notes (e.g., plane to 1”, and rough cut dimensions).

This process also helps me minimize operations, since diligent placement of components on the rough board drawing means I can often use a long rip down one side for Part A to serve as the side cuts for Parts B & C. Just as you’d do if you were laying out components on a sheet of plywood for maximal yield.

The point is that the final drawing exercise is used as a framework within which to plan each of the build operations. It also serves as a final check for “forgotten” component and operation requirements (e.g., table top button fasteners and the slots to seat them in).

And, for me, the drawing steps are almost as much fun as the real world build.

-- Jim Maher, Illinois

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