Plans or No Plans?

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Blog entry by HighRockWoodworking posted 05-11-2010 07:28 PM 1497 reads 0 times favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch

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Last month I posted an article titled Old School V. New School, I have received lots of great comments and emails from this article and really enjoyed writing it as it made me think a lot about my grandfather and father. One of the last comments mentioned the difference between computer designed furniture and cabinets as compared to woodworker designed. This is a subject that I have been interested in for some time.

As a project manager for a national multi-family builder I built on a very large scale. The current project I am building is 592 units with 2 pre-cast concrete parking decks, 2 club houses, fitness center, swimming pools, and many other amenities all on a 10 acre site in downtown Atlanta. When you build on this scale plans are very important, we spend at least a year just planning a project like this and go through many revisions of plans trying to get the details worked out before the project even breaks ground. We have consultants to ensure that we meet handicap accessibility codes, we have waterproofing consultants, sound consultants, low-voltage consultants and many more. The point is that with so many people involved most of what I do is coordinate between all of these designers and consultants and the contractors I hire to build it. I suppose that is why I love woodworking, I get an idea in my head and will often start building just off of that idea.

Plans are great for interpreting what someone else wants built and learning a new method, but when I build I want to create my ideas or my interpretation of a piece of furniture. If you want to be accurate with a particular style plans can help in ensuring this, but at least for myself that is not always important. I am more interested in improving my skills of figuring things out on my own. Try this, the next time you see an interesting piece of furniture try to figure out how it was built, even if you have no interest in building it. Just look at it and think of how the woodworker started it and how the pieces came together. For most of us I believe the curiosity of how something is made is part of why we are woodworker to begin with.

Click here to read the rest of this article:

-- Chris Adkins,

8 comments so far

View dustbunny's profile


1149 posts in 3295 days

#1 posted 05-11-2010 10:13 PM

Great article ! I enjoyed it.
I have yet to build anything to a set of plans,
it’s all off the top of my head.
That is why I have trouble duplicating anything I make.
Thanks for the post.


-- Imagination rules the world. ~ Napoleon Bonaparte ~

View HighRockWoodworking's profile


182 posts in 2979 days

#2 posted 05-11-2010 10:31 PM

Thanks for the comment Lisa. I know a lot of us build this way and I think it is important to encourage this in new woodworkers. It is ok just to try something and see if it works.

-- Chris Adkins,

View John Steffen's profile

John Steffen

218 posts in 3055 days

#3 posted 05-11-2010 10:54 PM

There is a certain low level of planning that I like to have, be it a sketch on a napkin, a simple 3D rendering, or a mental image of the components. But passed that I don’t really enjoy grabbing a set of plans and forcing something together. I want to figure it out on my own.

I also enjoy taking things apart in my head to figure out how they work.

-- Big John's Woodshed - Farmington, IL

View HighRockWoodworking's profile


182 posts in 2979 days

#4 posted 05-11-2010 11:57 PM

I always keep a note pad by the bed to write ideas in the middle of the night but I have been known to write on scraps of wood and napkins too!

-- Chris Adkins,

View 8iowa's profile


1580 posts in 3761 days

#5 posted 05-12-2010 12:18 AM

I almost always make a sketch. And then if dimensional complexities come into play, I will sit down at the drawing board and make a one or two view drawing. I now have a laptop out in the shop, but thus far I’ve managed to avoid sketchup.

There seems to be a view that one must “work out of his head” in order to be creative. I disagree.

-- "Heaven is North of the Bridge"

View HighRockWoodworking's profile


182 posts in 2979 days

#6 posted 05-12-2010 12:32 AM

I have used sketch up a few times to draw up projects but normally just draw by hand if I need to show someone my ideas before I start. I don’t believe you must always work out of your head but it is a valuable asset. I love to draw so I do constantly sketch. What I do think is important is to try your own ideas from time to time, experiment to get outside of our boxes to learn, whether we work out of our heads or sketch on a napkin or even using sketch up.

-- Chris Adkins,

View Gregn's profile


1642 posts in 2983 days

#7 posted 05-12-2010 03:08 AM

How true about woodworkers. I myself am more interested in how its made. Figuring out how it was made is the woodworker in me. I enjoy when other LJ’s post pics of a project in different phases of construction. Plans for me are just references and I may sometimes use 3-4 plans in building a project. I like to build projects that fit my tastes and uses. So a lot of I make is more of my own creation. Such as building a floss cabinet for my wife that the original plan was for a bookcase. When a woodworker produces a mass production in a piece it loses its uniqueness, at least in my opinion anyway. I do see the need for plans when doing projects such as yours, but they’re really only there to keep everyone on the same page. I’m not very good with google sketch up so I tend to sketch it out by hand quicker than I can do it on sketch up. I can see the need for sketch up in the shop and it is capable of figuring everything out that you need. Just haven’t spent the time to play with it.

-- I don't make mistakes, I have great learning lessons, Greg

View Rick's profile


9605 posts in 3033 days

#8 posted 05-12-2010 04:31 AM

Hey Chris:

I studied Architecture a LONG time ago. There were no CAD/CAM Programs that did all the FIGURING OUT for you.

You actuall had to use your own BRAINS and a Drafting Board, Velum Paper, T Square, Set Squares, 6 or more different pencils, erasing shield, hand lettering and on and on. You learned simple things like a 2×4 is not really 2”x4” ,or a 2×8, or a 2×10. There’s a reason for a 4 Foot Module System. How to use a pencil to signify different types of building materials.

Building Codes i.e. “All Footings shall be a Minimum of 4’-6” Below Grade and Shall Rest On Solid Undisturbed Soil” (Canada) That “Specification Sheet” was part of YOUR Architectural Drawings. As well as Renderings, Perspective Drawing, Birds Eye View, Worms Eye View, Vanishing points and a TON more! Using CPM (Critical Path Method) of Programming to theoretically Build YOUR project.

If a Professor gave you a Deadline for YOUR project to be completed …You Damn well better have it completed even if it meant staying at school, grabbing some sleep when you could (I Lived 3 Hours From The Universty) and getting it finished! If not, you lost 10% for every day it was late and you were marked on how well you did ALL of the above.

LEARNING Experience? TOTALLY! I stilll do my own plans (Rough as they may be) for larger projects such as a Kitchen Renos etc. Why? Because I find all kinds of Existing Problems that I DON’T want to find AFTER I’ve started the job i.e. Walls that aren’t Plumb, Floors that aren’t Level, Drywall that has more crooks in it than a Dogs Hind Leg, Floor To Ceiling Height differences of 2 to 3 inches over 8 to 12 feet. Electrical, Plumbing and HVAC Mistakes that I will have to redo or find a way around.

When I became a General Contractor. The amount of Architects drawings that I had to TRY and BUILD From that were just plain “WAY Off The Mark” was unbelievable! MOST of them done with a CAD/CAM Program and NO consideration for Existing Site Conditions and DUMB methods that just could NOT be done.

Sorry! Obviuosly you’ve hit a “Sore Spot”. I guess it gets down to using YOUR Brains or a Computers Pre Programmed Information.

As for Regular Woodworking Projects ….A Piece of paper, pencil and maybe a Ruler is fine with me. “HUMMM. How am I going to deal with that part? Oh well. I’ll figure that out when I get there.” My “Project” here on a “Drill Press Table” is one of those. One change after another as I was building it. i.e. “Why would they do that? This is better.” CREATIVE THINKING! Your BRAIN can do that IF YOU’VE Programmed it to do so.

OKay! My Brains beginning to Overheat from all this Constructive GOOD STUFF!

Thanks for the Posting Chris. Sorry I got of track, or maybe not ….LOL…


-- LIFE is what happens when you're planning on doing Other Things!

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