I Never Use Plans

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Blog entry by Rogue posted 02-25-2009 06:52 PM 1522 reads 0 times favorited 28 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I started woodworking seriously when I was in junior year of art school. I was sick of my profs telling me how to do this and that, and mostly what this and that meant conseptually. I knew to continue in my career after school I had to find something that was mine. Something that I could express myself in that they hadn’t destriod with their rule. To be able to have the level of fluidity in wood that I needed however I knew I had to build a knowladge base that transended plans. Once the inspiration of the design had been recieved I needed to just be able to visualize how it needed to be built. So I subscribed to ever wood magazine there is and poored over the plans and building articals. I bought all the woodworking plan books I could and studied the plans. I even got a cd with 400 woodworking plans and spent hours thumbing through them.

I have recieved alot of great comments on my new hope chest project on LJ and from others who saw them. Many of the comments though are “Where did you get the plans?” or some such. To their surpize I reply “there are no plans”. Infact I have never built a project from a plan. I design first, then if there is something I can’t get my mind around in the consruction I go online or dig though my wood mags to look at how someone else built something similar. Many times though my reference for a table comes from a artical on drawers or I look for chest constrution wisdom in a chair plan. If the project doesn’t require it I usually go off a very rough drawing with the basic final measurements of the piece.

Now days I don’t study plans. All my references now are the gallery pages in fine woodworking and studio furniture volumes and online gallerys. I’ve spent hour and hour recently looking at and other studio furiture sites to see what other have designed and wonder about how I would build it. Take your woodworking for knowlage to wisdom. Through out you plans and start designing.

-- Rogue

28 comments so far

View Francisco Luna's profile

Francisco Luna

936 posts in 2814 days

#1 posted 02-25-2009 07:55 PM

A Plan is graphic “representation” (2 dimensions) of an object. The only purpouse of a plan is to give fisical and technical information about that “real” object to the person who is building it. A plan is not a design tool because it belongs to a 2D world. As you note, many people design on plans…....from that point, every single project and all the good ideas SINK.
A chair is a tri-dimensional object, involves three dimensions, that is SPACE. So the chair must be designed in these paramethers. When I was at the School of Architecture (1994-1999), I had the same issue with many teachers and Instructors, many of them conceiving a building just as a summation of plans, each one for every level of the building: that is cartography or mapping but never architecture. The same thing happens with the chair, that is a tridimensional object that interact and affect the sourronding space and the sensibility of a person. The most beautufull designs in history, I dare say, are 90% visual impact and 10% utility matter.

-- Nature is my manifestation of God. I go to nature every day for inspiration in the day's work. I follow in building the principles which nature has used in its domain" Frank Lloyd Wright

View tenontim's profile


2131 posts in 3165 days

#2 posted 02-25-2009 08:33 PM

Usually when I build a prototype of a piece of furniture, I draw a sketch of what I’m after, then I build it in my head. I’ll break it down to smaller sections and go over the way I want to assemble it. When I get to the shop, sometimes things change or don’t work out quite right, and have to be modified. I always tell myself, if I would build it on paper first, I would save a lot of time, but I haven’t learned that lesson yet. I usually end up making a plan after the fact, in case I have to build another piece like it.

View PurpLev's profile


8523 posts in 3070 days

#3 posted 02-25-2009 08:38 PM

A plan is most definitely a tool, and with applications such as sketchup/CAD , these plans can be brought to life in visual 3D, so saying that a plan belongs to a 2D doesnt really have any grounds. even without computerizes software plans usually consists of views from all 3D Dimensions, so in the mind of a woodworkers they form into a 3D representation.

I start every project with Sketchup, and although I do not print “plans”, and don’t really have an exploded view of things from all angles I do use that as my reference, and my guideline for measurements. it also helps me figure out the joinery I’ll use, and I get a pre-built glance at how things will end up looking.

I see plans as a guideline, and although many times you’ll need to steer away from them, and improvise on the spot – at least they represent some soft of base line for the project which helps keep things in perspective towards a finished product.

Saying that you prefer to work without plans is fine, each has their own ways of doing things. but saying “throw out your plans, they are really useless, no good work comes from them” – thats a bit hasty and harsh, and well – incorrect.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 3521 days

#4 posted 02-25-2009 08:42 PM

I am with you. I do not use plans. I look at pictures and for inspiration and I decide how big to make something. I start with the carcass and make everything fit to that.

I design but I don’t really use plans.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 3409 days

#5 posted 02-25-2009 08:50 PM

I don’t use plans that others have made. I usually make things out of my head.

Sometimes I will use AutoCAD to help with some details, especially if they are too complex to keep in my head. Getting old doesn’t help too much keeping things in my head.

Usually though I will start with a general idea of what I want to build, then build according to what material I have and fix screwups along the way. That’s the good thing about not using plans. no one but you knows that you screwed something up. They just think that the way you planned it that way.

I’ll leave it to you to look over my projects and try to find the mistakes..

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View AaronK's profile


1436 posts in 2885 days

#6 posted 02-25-2009 09:56 PM

after writing out a comment to this somewhere along the lines of what Purplev wrote, i realized that i’m not quite sure what Rogue means by “plans” at all. I’m guessing that by plans he means a set of scale diagrams, pictures, and step by step instructions on how to build something, usually drawn up by someone else. If so, well all that IS just one point on a whole spectrum of documented idealizations/models of the subject, which ranges from like, someone verbally describing it to you, through a set of photos, all the way to detailed scale drawings and instruction. depending on how good you are, how much experience you have, how big the project is, and how much you can carry around in your head – all that determines the level of detail you require in that model. So I guess I still don’t understand just what you mean Rogue!

I’m not familiar with how they teach things in design schools… are they really dogmatic (for lack of a better term)?

that said, you probably would have been really good at scientific research!

finally, Doubthead: can you clarify what you mean by “many people design on plans…….from that point, every single project and all the good ideas SINK. “

View oldskoolmodder's profile


799 posts in 3101 days

#7 posted 02-25-2009 10:23 PM

Parts of the original post are (dare I say) as crazy as someone who a few months ago, said, you should ALWAYS make plans for everything you build. While I agree with sharing ideas, I don’t agree that just because making plans ALWAYS, or throwing out plans and start designing is the way to go. We each (thankfully) have our own ways of doing things. I use plans as a basis, but rarely when I design, do I write dimensions down. I like to think that almost everything I create is a one off. This is what works for me, NOT what I want someone else to do.

Sketchup is one of the single greatest tools available to us right now to design in. Do some go further and make actual plans form their sketchups? Yep they do. But for me, it’s something to get a visual idea in, not to get exact measurements in. I don’t understand why people have to tell other people what to do, just because it works for them. Making a suggestion is a slight difference, and that’s ok with me.

-- Respect your shop tools and they will respect you - Ric

View ND2ELK's profile


13495 posts in 3195 days

#8 posted 02-25-2009 10:33 PM

When I go to build something for a customer I make a pictorial sketch of what it is going to look like. Once I know the style, size of the units and what size the compartments or components need to be I make a cutting list. Because I have done this for so many years it does not take me very long to do this. All the parts for the cabinets and sub-assemblies are cut and machined before I even start to assemble anything. I do the sub-assemblies first (doors,drawers,face frames, shelves,etc) and then the main units. It goes a lot faster and takes up less space.

God Bless

-- Mc Bridge Cabinets, Iowa

View dougdeg's profile


107 posts in 3191 days

#9 posted 02-25-2009 10:35 PM

Great looking chest.
Same here i never real get to use plans, I start the day off planing on building a chair, I will start looking for logs to use for legs and a top, I will find a few in the sizes needed and start peeling them and getting them ready and i will lay them down to see what the top will look like with them and BAM something will not look just right and the chair will become a table or maybe a bench.
But all is good it was still a good day.
Take care and be good
check out some of my items at

-- Doug Cedar Log Furniture,

View Francisco Luna's profile

Francisco Luna

936 posts in 2814 days

#10 posted 02-25-2009 11:08 PM

A plan is the very last thing to make regarding a project. After something is materialized and placed in the “real world”, so plans can be drafted. Even in Architecture, with all the cutting edge-technology, Virtual world and tridimensional posibilities, architects still feel the need of a model, we still live in the other side of the screen!

Plans are just data. Don’t get me wrong, plans are DIFFERENT of Drawings, sketches, croquis, pictures, collages and many others design tools.

-- Nature is my manifestation of God. I go to nature every day for inspiration in the day's work. I follow in building the principles which nature has used in its domain" Frank Lloyd Wright

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 3521 days

#11 posted 02-26-2009 01:11 AM

I guess to be more specific, when I design I am essentially creating my own plans whether they are in my head or on paper. I do not work from published plans so much, they are less important to me. That is not to say that I will never use a plan, most of my situations have not required me to look at a plan. As I look back upon my growth as a woodworker I realize that I made a folding step stool from a plan.

I think that plans are more significantly important early on during an individual’s development as a woodworker. As a person grows in confidence and skill I encourage them to step out by modifying proven designs and then progressing to original design. This is a logical way to develop one’s design skill.

Models help me figure out the technical and production issues that I will run into and they are most important for conveying information to the client. As woodworkers we have to realize that our sense of 3-D visualization becomes more developed. I have had clients say that they never really could picture how it would really turn out even though I showed them sketches. They have difficulty translating the 2-D to 3-D.

I see published plans as a basic guideline, similar to a recipe for cooking. You can adhere to the recipe but ultimately it is a guideline and it is up to the individual to add seasoning and spices to make it personal. As a person becomes experienced in the kitchen they just know what works in a dish.

I do not think there is anything wrong with using published plans. I believe that it is simply up to the individual. It is my observation that in woodworking, design is the most difficult part of the process. Construction is the easiest and there are a great many craftsman that enjoy the construction phase but are not interested in the design aspect.

I would not want anybody following this thread to believe that using a published plan negates their skill at the saw. I do think that this is good information to understand how others deal with the topic of design and how they might progress if desired.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View brianinpa's profile


1812 posts in 3144 days

#12 posted 02-26-2009 01:28 AM

Great topic!

I rarely use a drawing or plans anymore. I will picture a project in my head and then determine dimensions. I then write these dimensions down and then build a piece to the picture I have in my head. Early on in my wood working I would make three sided drawing and show every measurement and minor detail. I still have a bunch of those plans that I no longer need that have fading pencil marks: it is nice to look back and see how my wood working has evolved over the years.

-- Brian, Lebanon PA, If you aren’t having fun doing it, find something else to do.

View Gary Fixler's profile

Gary Fixler

1000 posts in 2803 days

#13 posted 02-26-2009 01:31 AM

For me, it depends. I don’t think I’ve ever used someone else’s plans, because to me the biggest joy is in the invention. It’s less so about the actual craftsmanship, which I can see being an inspiration to those using plans, buying them, searching for them online, or in magazines and books. To me, I feel like I’m making someone else’s project if I use plans, and not bringing my own creation to life.

I’ve long been one who makes his own [ever evolving as I build] plans, usually in Maya – more an animation-based 3D editor, though I use it in ways similar to AutoCAD – but lately I’ve decided I’m kind of tired of my own plans, and just want to dodge and weave and fight designs myself. I made a somewhat involved multi-layer cabinet recently (to be added to my projects soon), and I based it on some pictures of one I liked for which the PDF plans were available. I actually did read through them a bit after starting, but not for the measurements. Instead, I picked up certain ideas, like how to support a heavy door when attaching it, and that it might be better to surface-mount adjustable shelf standards and cut dados in the shelf sides to hold them in, instead of my plan, which was to flush-mount the standards, and put some kind of edging up the fronts to retain the shelves – that kind of thing. Measurements were based more on “How much of this width plank do I have, and how many of this thing that I need can I get out of it?” than they were on set goals.

It’s been really freeing not to use plans, but to simply lock down a few elements I know I need to hit, like that the cabinet should be 33” wide. From there I could simply think “Do I want the side walls to be mounted to the sides of the back wall, or the front of it?” and correct as I went for things like that, overlaps and such. It took longer than going from plans, because it was all about pondering as I went, building in my mind, instead of simply setting the fence to marks I’d taken from a plan, and quickly ripping everything to size, but it still felt somehow far more free.

Also, when I cut everything perfectly from a plan, I still end up having to fight a lot for assembly. Maybe screws pull wood closer together than expected, slightly changing a measurement, and it adds up, and now the shelf I cut simply will not go in, because it’s harder wood, and 1/32” too long, and nothing will budge to allow it in. By measuring how things come out as I go, and cutting things to fit that way, I’m getting much better fits on everything.

I think, however, that as I’m aging, I can see the benefit in plans. If I had a birthday coming up for a friend in a week, and I had some plans, and something in the plans that I think would be a great gift, I’d just cut everything from that and glue it up, just to get done quickly. Or if I really needed something in particular – a small cabinet that I’m not considering an artistic project, but just something utilitarian that would help me greatly, I don’t think I’d mind anymore going right by some plans to get it done, so I can get back to the other stuff, wherein I’d be pondering away, wasting time doing it all the slow, mental way :)

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

View DaleM's profile


952 posts in 2805 days

#14 posted 02-26-2009 01:37 AM

I’m not really sure what you meant in the original post Rogue, but if you meant using someone else’s plans, I know of very few who do that, most preferring to come up with their own idea. As a matter of fact, I don’t really know anyone who has even looked at more than a couple of plans, much less hundreds so I believe you have relied on plans much more than the average woodworker. My scribble that I use is made from my own imagination but possibly based off other’s completed projects I have looked at, with a few measurements on it to refer to while cutting so I guess that qualifies as a plan, but it is my own. I have to do this because it may be weeks before I get to a project after I conceptualize it, and months before it is completed, and my memory is not that good.

-- Dale Manning, Carthage, NY

View kiwi1969's profile


609 posts in 2863 days

#15 posted 02-26-2009 02:32 AM

I not like you high falutin deziner people, me ain,t that smart. I use plans a lot as most of my work is an interpretation of past styles anyway. I modify dimensions and details when necesary, a writing desk to take a PC instead of cubby holes for example, but i,m quite happy to use plans simply because having the dimensions in front of me just makes the work go that much easier. I would hate to think Carlyle Lynch wasted his life.
Thanks for the very interesting post on how you guys get things done.

-- if the hand is not working it is not a pure hand

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