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Forum topic by KnickKnack posted 01-12-2014 12:48 PM 1446 views 3 times favorited 17 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1099 posts in 4574 days

01-12-2014 12:48 PM

As I’ve been a little bit better at this woodworking thing, I’ve found projects are taking me longer and longer to complete – possibly because I’ve got wackier, partly because I’m looking to do a better job, and partly because I’ve become a lot more critical of the final result.
And there’s nothing frustrates me as much as finishing the thing, looking at it, and then thinking ”I wish that were at a little bit more of an angle” or, ”ah, now if that had only been a little longer”.

So, these days, I do a lot of making prototypes – only about 1 in 5 of the things that I make prototypes of ever appear in “real wood” – and that’s a lot of time, money, heartache and dissapointment saved. And, often, the prototype shows me what’s not quite right so I can adjust it and improve the finished result.

My arsenal of prototyping tools these days include…
  • Paper and sellotape – easy to cut, quick, cheap – gives a vague idea.
  • Cardboard and sellotape – readily available everywhere – lots of colours, including “brown” – easy to cut, slightly “physical”.
  • Chocolate – yes, chocolate – get a slab, heat a (clean) knife and shape away – eat when finished.
  • Sheets of insulation – white or blue – very physical – easy to cut, pretty cheap.
  • MDF floor panels – one of the few things sometimes found in the “free” bin at my DIY store – fairly easy to cut, comes in faux “wood” patterns of various flavours so you can get an idea of grain interaction, even colour somtimes. Assemble with glue gun.
  • Cheap crappy pine (CCP) – sometimes in the slop bin – can get pretty close to the “real” thing – assemble with glue gun or actual glue.

In the expectation that others also make prototypes – what do you use?

(Yes, I have heard of SketchUp – I don’t like it or get on with it – I’m talking about actual physical prototypes here.)
(And also yes, I have my eye on a 3D printer – one day when they’re a price I can justify, but I’m not holding my breath.)

-- "Do not speak – unless it improves on silence." --- "Following the rules and protecting the regulations is binding oneself without rope."

17 replies so far

View danoaz's profile


223 posts in 3178 days

#1 posted 01-12-2014 01:14 PM

I don’t do it but I have seen others do a very detailed mock-up using balsa wood. Easy to cut with a matte knife and glue. I was thinking of doing that for a couple of outdoor chairs I was considering building. – right after I put the design into sketchup. ;-)

-- "Simplicity and repose are the qualities that measure the true value of any work of art." Frank LLoyd Wright

View bazz135uk's profile


795 posts in 2860 days

#2 posted 01-12-2014 01:54 PM

I understand what your saying, my approach is quite the oppersite.
I buy wood I really cannot afford top end exotics, all the prototypes then have to be in my head .
I cannot afford to screw up , it must be cut right first time you have to know its going to be right.
By cutting patterns out of rubbish you will never put your whole heart into it, where as if you have just one shot you have no option to go at it full on ! all or nothing ! rather than spend 5 hours making 5 prototypes useing crap MDF you may as well spend 5 hours making what you wont on one project.
You have to work to please yourself not to please others or you risk getting stressed out, and the reason most people do this is to releave stress not create it. Chill out relax plan your projects over time even if it takes weeks then go for the challenge with unaffordable stunning timber, take your time and enjoy it.

-- BAZZ, LIVERPOOL UK A workshop is not a luxury . We need it to preserve our sanity in this frantic world we live in. A place to be at peace.

View iminmyshop's profile


371 posts in 3002 days

#3 posted 01-12-2014 02:15 PM

There are lots of materials that are useful, all cheap and each with their own uses. While mockups are time consuming and feel like a deviation from getting down to the real work and fun of building, they are an essential part of the building process.

Depending on what I am doing and want from my mockup, I might make several different mockups. For a general sense of two dimensional proportion, cardboard works pretty well. Stores that sell large appliances are a ready supply. I’m working on a prototype of a sculptural type music stand right now and my first mockup used ship builders insulating foam which is easily cut on a band saw. Just use a good vacuum because it can also make a mess. Once I got a sense of the curves I wanted, I made a form and bent laminated some strips of poplar. That helped to better work out the curves, stance and proportion. They needed some work so I have now made a 3rd mockup, at the full width and thickness using the full number of laminations as I hope to in the final version. It is also letting me know what I need for stability (though the real version will be of a different wood which will change that to some degree). It has also helped me work out all the joining issues for the curved surfaces and the hardware which will also be of wood. The design and mockups have taken 2 weeks so far.

I wont go to the same trouble with everything I make but I will with some things where the right proportions are important. I just don’t get that from a scale drawing. In the mockup phase, I find myself fighting against the urge to just “get on with it” and start buiding. So far, for the music stand I’m really happy I’ve taken the time to do the multiple mockups.


View danoaz's profile


223 posts in 3178 days

#4 posted 01-12-2014 02:24 PM

@bazz – I absolutely understand where you are coming from and I have done that on a few occasions and ended up hating myself for it. I will have to fix my mistakes to even more frustration because it still won’t be what I like or cover them up which the casual observer may not notice but I will.

-- "Simplicity and repose are the qualities that measure the true value of any work of art." Frank LLoyd Wright

View KnotCurser's profile


2039 posts in 4076 days

#5 posted 01-12-2014 02:37 PM

Bazz, I have to disagree with you an a couple of points.

I make mock-ups (most from thicker cardboard, btw) to ensure that my designs have the proper dimensions to them BEFORE I waste a really nice/expensive piece of lumber. You state that you can’t afford to screw up, but you are giving yourself the worst possible chance by not using a simple mock-up before you cut real lumber.

I had an order for a wine bottle holder and I imagined something that would be really interesting on the eye and hold around five bottles of wine. As soon as I did a quick cardboard mock-up I realized that the dimensions were really bad and some of the parts would never be able to hold a bottle of wine. The project was scrapped before any lumber was cut and wasted.

Good forum topic!



-- Robert Rhoades WoodWorks / Email: [email protected] /

View KnickKnack's profile


1099 posts in 4574 days

#6 posted 01-12-2014 03:17 PM

danoaz said: Balsa
Now there’s a good idea – reminds me of my childhood. I’ve seen it in some craft shops, but at silly prices – cheaper to do with with real wood, but more time consuming.

Bazz said: you may as well spend 5 hours making what you want on one project
That’s an interesting perspective I’d not considered. I think I know where you’re coming from – if you spend too much time and emotional energy making prototypes then, when you come to make the “real” thing, it has, perhaps, become more of a manufacturing process, almost “simply rebuilding” what you’ve already made several times, and lack of concentration and the joy of creation could easily be the result.
I think it all depends on what it is you’re building, and how long a prototype takes to make – sometimes a few degrees wrong can ruin the look of something, or, worse, make it non-functional. My wine racklette is, I think, a good example (and, looking back, one of the first things I did seriously prototype) – the original drawing looked just fine, but without the mock-up, and then the prototype, I don’t think I could have nailed it – it’s still one of the few pieces I see where I don’t think, ”ah, ha, should have done better” (although, looking at it on the project page, that bottom leg looks a bit fat)

-- "Do not speak – unless it improves on silence." --- "Following the rules and protecting the regulations is binding oneself without rope."

View Jim Finn's profile

Jim Finn

2871 posts in 3929 days

#7 posted 01-12-2014 05:16 PM

Long ago I did some wood carving and and used modeling clay to make the item first before making it of wood. When I was learning sheet metal layout I used paper to make prototype shapes. Mostly I just make a sketch now-a-days, and make it of wood from that sketch.

-- No PHD just a DD214 Lubbock Texas

View Redoak49's profile


5091 posts in 2996 days

#8 posted 01-12-2014 05:23 PM

I use mock-ups at times when I need them. One time was when I expanded my shop and was trying to figure out where and what type of cabinets that I wanted. It was a 3D model with all my major tools as wooden blocks sized appropriately and various sizes of cabinets to see how they fit. It worked out well and I am happy (for now) with my shop and it showed me some issues that I had not recognized.

For almost everything else that I build, I actually make a drawing or sketch which helps me with making a materials list and better understanding what I am doing. I know that some people just build and do not have problems but I have made a few mistakes that were pretty silly when I did not have a sketch or plan.

I also keep a spiral notebook in my shop and sketch out things in it or ideas that I have. For me, it just helps to make a drawing to better understand any issues that I may have and to make some choices as to how I will do things.

View DocSavage45's profile


9043 posts in 3850 days

#9 posted 01-12-2014 05:33 PM

I like this topic! You are all speaking from personal experience and what works for you. Seth Stem is a teacher and wrote a book ( now out of print). It is on furniture design. I have gone to a few work Shops presented by some master furniture builders.

These are mock ups? And even if you are building from plans by others a tactile 3D model can determine, weakness in proportion, line, and how the piece might fit the room.

One of the workshop participants built a 1/3rd proportional model. That was a new concept! Creating is playing? LOL! I probably would not promise something to a client from the drawing board. Or Sketch Up.

Cardboard, paint, magic markers, are much less expensive, and help us look at real world models?

I’m guessing John Makpiece (sp) has done so many pieces of furniture he is able to see it in the real world? and Krenov just loved the process of interacting.

Thanks for your thoughts in this thread!

-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

View a1Jim's profile


118161 posts in 4585 days

#10 posted 01-12-2014 06:13 PM

I agree this is a most informative thread, thanks for sharing ideas


View TravisH's profile


757 posts in 2943 days

#11 posted 01-12-2014 06:41 PM

Something I have done very limited and typically smaller pieces. I would greatly benefit from making a mock up with cardboard or a cheap wood on many occasions but end up not doing it to save money and time but would be much happier with the final piece if I did.

View wseand's profile


2796 posts in 4049 days

#12 posted 01-12-2014 07:24 PM

Almost all the things I make are custom and will never make one that looks like it again.
Most of the time I do as detailed drawings as I can and go from there.
If I run into a task I am not familiar with or have never done i will try it out on a scrap piece or cheep wood.

Never really thought about cardboard or other media for mock up. Great thread.

View BArnold's profile


175 posts in 2840 days

#13 posted 01-12-2014 07:35 PM

I’ve never done a mockup of a complete project of any size. However, I occasionally test particular components to be sure of my logic by using scraps of cheap material like MDF.

For many years, I used a 2D drawing program and found I had a good eye for what would or would not work. I tried SketchUp and really had a brain freeze for some reason. After some tutoring, it finally clicked and now I can easily test the fit of parts in 3D, so I have even more confidence in what I’m doing.

One thing I do on any project is keep components oversize until the last possible step. That does two things for me: 1)allows for adjustments in dimensions if the wood moves due to stresses being relieved; 2)allows for tweaks to the final dimensions.

-- Bill, Thomasville, GA

View bazz135uk's profile


795 posts in 2860 days

#14 posted 01-13-2014 02:22 PM

”What ever floats ya boat” Do what you feels best ! If it works for you do it.
I understand some sort of mock up for a new design if the measurements are criticle for production of muliple orders , but if its a unique one off commisioned piece of art let the wood do the talking.
The reasons I over stated useing unaffordable wood is unlike the USA our small Island imports just about everythink, and hardwood timber is difficult to obtain and is around 5 times more expencive than the States.
As we use very little timber in construction in comparison to the US, common stores only stock garbage scandinavian pine. Quite often people who stock hardwood timber only sell to trade not hobbiest.
US Lumberjocks are making and selling great quality finnished projects much cheaper than we can buy the raw material. All said and done I love my limited time in the workshop and have been quite interested to read outher views. Knicknack is one of my Buddies because I Love his work, think he has great artistic talent, and is able to create stunning unique projects with out down loading someone elses patterns or useing a CNC. Thanks everyone for your input :: Good Luck BazzA.

-- BAZZ, LIVERPOOL UK A workshop is not a luxury . We need it to preserve our sanity in this frantic world we live in. A place to be at peace.

View Lee Barker's profile

Lee Barker

2172 posts in 3858 days

#15 posted 01-13-2014 03:57 PM

I buy hot melt glue sticks by the big box. I save corrugated paper, lots of it, various thicknesses.

My best story of mocking up: I was commissioned to build a pulpit for a church—well, my church—many years ago. I created a design and presented it and, even then in my rookieness—I sensed that some people couldn’t imagine in 3D from the prints.

So back to the shop. I built a full size mockup in corrugated paper, using packaging tape. I took it to the then-unfinished sanctuary and gave the committee members paring knives and tape. When we were done, everyone had “invested” in the design in some way. It was a successful process largely due to the model and the kinesthetic involvement that it fostered.



-- " his brain, which is as dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage, he hath strange places cramm'd with observation, the which he vents in mangled forms." --Shakespeare, "As You Like It"

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