Ok, you’ve decided it’s high time to build that entertainment center to house your burgeoning collection of books, CD’s and electronic equipment (not to mention that 60″ TV you’ve been eyeing for the last few months). However, before you start construction, a number of questions need to be answered: What will the beast look like? What are the dimensions? What style? What type of woods to use? How much much wood is required? What type of joinery? What is the cutting and construction sequence? How much will the whole shebang cost? What would Norm do? Ahh!!…
Suffice it to say you need to come up with a design and a plan of attack for building that design. Most people are anxious to get the wood chips flying when they start a project but you can really save yourself lots of time and frustration by spending the effort up front in the design and planning phase. If you’re one of those talented individuals that can knock out award winning furniture straight from an idea in your head, well, congrats, we’re all proud of you. Now take a hike. The rest of you mere mortals feel free to read on.
Here is a suggested approach to design and planning that is followed by many experienced woodworkers:
Step 1: Develop the idea. This is where you get your creative juices flowing as you determine what will be built. You begin with a “need” statement and take it from there. Tasks include: checking out other pieces for inspiration, conducting background research and thinking about what types of wood to use.
Step 2: Create concept sketches. Sketching is an integral part of the whole idea development process but it warrants highlighting as a distinct step where the goal is to create “final” sketches that can be directly converted into dimensioned drawings. As you sketch, try to define a style and evaluate the sketch against human factors, aesthetics, and other design considerations.
Step 3: Create working drawings. These are like the drawings you see in the woodworking magazines. They depict all the components, their dimensions, and construction details. At a minimum, create an orthographic drawing with views of the front, top, and right side of the piece. You may also want to add blow-ups of joints and important details.
Step 4. [optional] Create a mock-up. Some woodworkers like to create a simple mock-up or model using scrap wood, Styrofoam, or cardboard. The objective here is to assess the overall proportions, the 3-D aspects, and to see if the basic design is feasible, not to knock yourself out trying to refine the details.
Step 5: Create a bill of materials and a cut list. The bill of materials is an itemized list of each piece in your project – name, quantity, dimensions, type of material. It is created directly from the working drawings. A cut list is a refined bill of materials with the components organized by function and dimension. Its purpose is to help you figure out how and where to cut each piece of wood.
Step 6: Create a plan of procedure. This is a list of the steps involved in the building process. It helps to organize the work flow and make for a more productive woodworking experience.
Obviously, the complexity of the project and your woodworking experience should dictate how formal the design process needs to be but the basic steps shown here can at least help to channel your efforts. Each of these steps will be addressed in detail on the following pages.
Design it yourself or use someone else’s plan?
If you don’t want to spend your precious time designing a furniture piece (you just want to build the stinkin thing), then a pre-made plan may be the way to go. In all likelihood, a plan exists out there somewhere that will suit your needs. But, how to find it? For starters, it’s always worth checking for a free plan at sites such as the Woodworking Plan Finder. If you have no luck there, you can search for commercial plans using various woodworking magazine search tools. Most of the big name plan sites such as WOOD and Shopsmith provide search tools to help you find plans that they publish.
If you think you’d rather go with an existing plan, stop here. Otherwise, read on …