Do you start with detailed plans?

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Forum topic by BB1 posted 02-27-2016 02:27 PM 1334 views 0 times favorited 33 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1688 posts in 1731 days

02-27-2016 02:27 PM

I am new to LJ and am really enjoying viewing the projects and gaining insights from the various forum topics. As someone just getting rolling with woodworking, I have worked on a few larger projects (e.g., tv stand) and then small items (e.g., boxes). Much to my husband’s dismay, I typically start with a sketch on a scrap piece of paper – or worse, a concept in my mind, and then move forward making revisions as needed along the way. I have started with plans for a few projects (wood storage unit, stand for dovetail jig, dollhouse) but find I typically end up moving away from the plans to adapt for the tools I have available or for the wood I have at hand. MY QUESTION to all the established woodworkers – how do you approach your projects? Do you have all the measures/steps established prior to starting or do you adapt along the way?

33 replies so far

View greatview's profile


135 posts in 4040 days

#1 posted 02-27-2016 02:41 PM

I rarely make detailed plans. Sometimes I will have a photo and can approximate the scale and size of the components. Frequently I will make a mock up out of scrap or even cardboard so as to get a feel for where I’m going. And, some rough sketches.

-- Tom, New London, NH

View Ger21's profile


1099 posts in 4014 days

#2 posted 02-27-2016 03:01 PM

Always make detailed CAD drawings.

-- Gerry,

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

6503 posts in 3376 days

#3 posted 02-27-2016 03:17 PM

I have to have something to work from. That is usually a plan in a magazine, but it can also be a photo or in one case, just a memory with a few notes I made about the dimensions (something we saw in a furniture store). I have zero (or less) creative genes and so can’t design anything…but I can modify existing stuff to my tastes. But to your question, even if it’s just a photo I think out the steps and try to get a sequence of events that make sense. In case that doesn’t work, I do adapt (out of necessity) along the way.

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

View abie's profile


918 posts in 4654 days

#4 posted 02-27-2016 03:40 PM

I Agree with Tom and Fred
Sometimes a drawing is all that is needed but I work best from others ideas and then make my own adjustments

-- Bruce. a mind is like a book it is only useful when open.

View MadMark's profile


979 posts in 2336 days

#5 posted 02-27-2016 04:16 PM

I do it the way you do. I hate starting a project only to stop half way because I’m short on materials. Tables and such have their planned dims drift if the materials dictate. I try to make what i can with what i got. Many dimensions are ‘to fit’


-- Madmark - [email protected]

View Lumberpunk's profile


334 posts in 3220 days

#6 posted 02-27-2016 04:39 PM

It really depends on the size and complexity of the project but I have found when doing custom work for a client that a full sketchup model is a great thing to have. I use the cutlist plugin to get my materials list and it allows me to make all my parts up in batches without needing to figure out any measurements, I can just look them up. For a small piece with only a few pieces this is not really necessary but a bookcase I recently designed and built for a client had over 110 pieces and 72 mortise and tenons and would have taken me so much longer without a solid plan.

-- If someone tells you you have enough tools and don't need any more, stop talking to them, you don't need that kind of negativity in your life.

View waho6o9's profile


8946 posts in 3460 days

#7 posted 02-27-2016 04:47 PM

Plan your work and then work your plan.

The more expensive the material, the better the planning, which in turn saves time and money.

Making a mock up like Tom does is wise and I like to use plywood.

View JAAune's profile


1887 posts in 3200 days

#8 posted 02-27-2016 05:32 PM

Detailed plans. It’s faster and cheaper to “cut” wood on the computer or paper than it is to do so for real. Correcting mistakes in a drawing is pretty easy. That’s not the case for a piece of wood that’s been through several hours of complex machining sequences.

I’m currently working the bugs out of a rotary jig for the laser while sitting in the comfort of a home office. In a couple hours I’ll drive to the workplace and have the entire assembly built in an hour and it will work perfectly on the first attempt.

-- See my work at

View BurlyBob's profile


7946 posts in 3148 days

#9 posted 02-27-2016 05:35 PM

Tom, Fred and Wahoo are right on the money. I’ve done exactly what they tell you many times. Also trying to adjust a plan when using plywood so I have little useless waste, like a 3” X 96” piece of high dollar Oak plywood.

View Planeman40's profile


1519 posts in 3644 days

#10 posted 02-27-2016 07:01 PM

Well . . . it depends on what I am building. If I were building a piece of furniture or anything precise and intricate, I would sketch out what I had in mind and draw up patterns for parts. If I were building something of lesser intricacy I would visualize in my mind what I wanted and plan it in my head. Fortunately I am good at working out and envisioning things in my head. Also, I have years of experience building things so working out construction comes easily. I think about the process and construction at odd moments during the day while doing other things, when resting, bathing, and going to bed. Much of the time it is HOW to get something accomplished. Frankly. its is rare I draw actual plans. Mostly just sketches.


-- Always remember: It is a mathematical certainty that half the people in this country are below average in intelligence!

View Bruce1963's profile


13 posts in 1702 days

#11 posted 02-27-2016 07:22 PM

Most of what I’ve been doing is cabinetry. (Basic stuff-not furniture grade) So I begin with the space the project needs to fit into, maybe make a rudimentary sketch and simply verify my numbers. It would probably be easier to do the CAD thing, but,,,well you know what they say about an old dog and new tricks.

View Greg the Cajun Wood Artist's profile

Greg the Cajun Wood Artist

523 posts in 1825 days

#12 posted 02-27-2016 07:24 PM

I NEVER ever work with plans other than a rough sketch on paper. Following detailed plans does not let a person think or figure out processes that help a person develop their creative thoughts and ideas…

-- Wood for projects is like a good Fart..."better when you cut it yourself" Don't take yourself so seriously. No one else does

View JackDuren's profile


1339 posts in 1842 days

#13 posted 02-27-2016 07:45 PM

Somethings require drawings on paper or full size.Some cut lists, others an imagination and an understanding of how it will go together.

View Dark_Lightning's profile


4209 posts in 3992 days

#14 posted 02-27-2016 08:02 PM

Detailed plans. It s faster and cheaper to “cut” wood on the computer or paper than it is to do so for real. Correcting mistakes in a drawing is pretty easy. That s not the case for a piece of wood that s been through several hours of complex machining sequences.

I m currently working the bugs out of a rotary jig for the laser while sitting in the comfort of a home office. In a couple hours I ll drive to the workplace and have the entire assembly built in an hour and it will work perfectly on the first attempt.

- JAAune

I’m with you on this. When I designed a tool, the design got electronically delivered to the machine shop, along with a detailed paper drawing. Nothing like CNC to make stuff. I have even had tools made with the stereo-lithographic machine before committing to metal. Nothing like having a bunch of piece parts assemble into a working tool. I’m so used to doing it this way that I make detailed drawings for a lot of my projects. OTOH, if I build a book case, I just measure the opening it should fit in and go at it.

-- Steven.......Random Orbital Nailer

View runswithscissors's profile


3118 posts in 2908 days

#15 posted 02-27-2016 09:13 PM

As you can see, there is a wide spectrum of designing and building styles. All work, and each person will find what is comfortable for him or her. I come at projects from both extremes. For example:

I decided, on Monday, to build a toy chest for my grandson for Christmas on Thursday. The night before, I did (almost) the whole plan in my head. I also did something I think is very important—I mentally “rehearsed” each of the steps for the project—how to cut the plywood, how and when to set up the dado stack, how to measure and cut the miters, etc. (this is a highly recommended way to lose sleep). The next day (Tuesday) I bought a sheet of oak faced plywood, set it on sawhorses in my carport, and started sawing. I also cut the needed hardwood (beech from a tree in our yard, left over from other projects). By Tuesday afternoon I had a basic box glued up with solid corner posts rabbeted for the plywood (as it turned out, there were no fastenings in this project except for hinge screws). By wednesday I had top and bottom rim pieces mitered and rabbeted, and glued in place. Also the bottom in place, resting inside on the lower rim pieces.. Wednesday night I scroll sawed “Spencer’s Toys” out of some teak I had on hand, and pin-nailed them temporarily to the lid. Thursday morning I attached the lid with hinges, attached casters, and presented the toy box. Finishing had to wait til after the holiday.

Though almost nothing was drawn for this project, I had rehearsed the overall sequence of steps, and also the steps within each phase. This enabled the procedure go pretty smoothly, aside from some of the usual blunders.

In contrast, years ago, I decided to make my own roll top desk for my computer, a “C” top, as that would work best when I wanted to close the computer up. As I wanted rail and stile construction with raised panels for the ends of the C top, I realized I could not merely calculate the dimensions, with extra length and width for the panel tongue to go into the grooves, and extra width to rails and stiles to contain the grooves, so I ended up not just sketching, but actually drawing full size each of the components I would need.

Most of the time I work somewhere between these extremes, doing some sketching, and making a lot of it up as I go. Often that’s because I can’t be sure how something should be until I actually get there, and then that may require backtracking before moving on to the next step. I don’t claim this is the most efficient way to work, but it is always interesting, and sometimes serendipitous.

-- I admit to being an adrenaline junky; fortunately, I'm very easily frightened

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