To copy...Or to make unique?

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Blog entry by miles125 posted 11-10-2007 04:01 PM 1134 reads 0 times favorited 12 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I’d have to say a lot of the joy i get out of woodworking comes before i ever pick up a tool or a piece of wood. I’m speaking about the time when a project is born in the mind. When i can ponder it, manipulate it, envision it, add to it, take away from it, and generally just get my mind buzzing with excitement about what i want to create.

To see a project you like and wish to have exact blueprints for it seems foreign to me. Sure i get ideas from what others have made. I just don’t want to make an exact copy of it. I would almost feel disrespectful toward the person that created it in the first place. Plus i don’t get the fun of adding my own unique perceptions and personality into the thing i’m making.

Maybe its that “different strokes for different folks” deal. I’ll just go out on a limb and say you don’t know half the joy of woodworking until you find a way to express YOURSELF with it!

-- "The way to make a small fortune in woodworking- start with a large one"

12 comments so far

View frank's profile


1492 posts in 4172 days

#1 posted 11-10-2007 04:57 PM

Hello Miles;
—-yes, now your talking—-writing——and woodworking as an artist!

And if I may also add, keep on going out on that limb, it won’t break! That’s the story ‘they’ told us so that we wouldn’t have as much fun, this is what I call the ‘fear factor’. Loose one’s ‘fear factor’ and then see how much fun your having creating….

Your words here are packed volumes; ”you don’t know half the joy of woodworking until you find a way to express YOURSELF with it!

Thank you for expressing yourself….

-- --frank, NH,

View Ethan Sincox's profile

Ethan Sincox

767 posts in 4140 days

#2 posted 11-10-2007 05:16 PM

I can add to that, Frank.

I’ve actually found myself standing out on the limb, cutting it off of the tree, both figuratively and in reality.

Did I survive both instances? Yes. And I’m a stronger person because of them.

Will I ever go tree trimming with my older brother again? Well, I will, but next time HE’S going to be the one up in the tree. (In my defense, I was young and impressionable, and I’ve always looked up to my big brother… Nowadays, I’m older and a little more set in my ways, and I still look up to my big brother, but I’m much wiser now, too, and I rarely fall for his tricks.)

(Funny thing – my older brother’s middle name is Miles…)

A little more on-topic, I like to look at plans when I want some good ideas on the mechanics of a project (how long should the tenons be, what’s construction method is used for the lid, etc.). But I’ll always come up with my final dimensions to suit the project and I’ll always add my own touches to it, making that one project unique from another I might have made. Sometimes the project dimensions are dictated by the purpose (the dimensions of a sgian dubh box or the wall space and depth I have available for a hall table, for example). Every time, however, I allow my artistic influence to affect the piece and while I’ll often have ideas and thoughts to paper, I’ll more often than not find myself adding to or changing the ideas in the middle of the piece because I was struck by some inspiring moment.

-- Ethan,

View Betsy's profile


3391 posts in 3862 days

#3 posted 11-10-2007 05:51 PM

Miles you bring up some good points. The one thing I can add is that as one who has pretty much learned on her own I’ve done most of my learning by trying to follow the plans of others as closely as I can. That way as the project goes togehter and I can see the whys and wherefores. For instance I can make Adirondack chairs in my sleep. But whiile I started with following WOOD’s plan exactly I’ve evolved the chair into my own. I’ve not changed the design so much as I’ve changed the how it goes to together. And I can say that my first chair – while still barely standing 11 years later in my neighbors yard – the last chair will be standing a lot longer because of where I started and what I learned along the way.

Now that said. I would not want to make a living copying other peoples work and calling it my own. However, I’ve learned to make my own projects from my own head through having done the projects of others first. I can tell you that also as a beginning woodworker (despite teaching courses from time to time – I do consider myself a beginner) I’ve learned alot from the plans that are on the market – one of the biggest lessons is that they are not always well written and that is also a learning curve in buidling anything.

And lastly (I’ve got to get to my chores!) no project really ever turns out exactly as the plans that I’ve followed calls for. The project just evolves as it goes. I’m happy when the projects looks like the picture and no one looks to very close!

Ok, one last thing, really. I am very careful when I do a project and either give it away or sell it to a friend or associate that I always tell them – that it’s either my idea or someone elses. Generally they appreicate knowing it’s my craftsmanship and I was following the path of another artist.

-- "Our past judges our present." JFK - 1962; American Heritage Magazine

View jpw1995's profile


376 posts in 4265 days

#4 posted 11-10-2007 05:52 PM

First of all let me say that I completely agree with everything Frank and Ethan have said. I would however like to try to change your perspective on “copying” someone elses work. As they say, “Imitation is the ultimate form of flattery”. I know that if someone wanted to copy an original piece of mine I would be completely flattered. I believe Norm Abrams has made a carreer out of doing it, and nobody is faulting him for it. I also believe that 99% of the time your going to look at someone elses work and see something you would do differently. There are a lot of projects posted here on LJ that were made from plans, but when you read the descriptions most of the time they will have put their own personal “twist” on it. I think originality is wonderful, but I don’t see anything wrong with reproduction pieces either. Just my two cents.

-- JP, Louisville, KY

View Dadoo's profile


1789 posts in 3957 days

#5 posted 11-10-2007 06:32 PM

Reproduction is for machines and non-neutered lumberjocks, but it’s that “personal twist” that makes it different. Ever go to a furniture store? There’s these $2000.00 entertainment centers that would look sooo good in your living room! But when you look closer, and you see the staples and plastic veneer and lousy joinery…and the next thing you say is “Honey, go keep the salesman busy while I get some measurements.” “We’ll build our own!”

Better even is when you go to a fine furniture store and look at some real craftmanship, and think…”Yep. I can do that!”

It’s what we’re about.

-- Bob Vila would be so proud of you!

View Blake's profile


3443 posts in 3841 days

#6 posted 11-10-2007 08:34 PM

I once had a brilliant music teacher that would always say “I never had an original idea…” every time he would do something that seemed very original. His humble point was that he was building on the great works of others. And here is another cliche for ya: We stand on the shoulders of giants. (Einstein, I think???)

-- Happy woodworking!

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 3929 days

#7 posted 11-10-2007 08:38 PM

I tend to think of myself as an “arranger’ of elements that someone else thought of. It’s like when you’ve listened to lots of music and then sit down to write an original piece. Just how original is it? I wish I could say that I’ve come up with one original idea. Well, maybe, there is one border stamping pattern that I use on saddles that I’ve never seen anywhere else. That’s not much to show for 45 years of trying to be original. However, some of my “arrangements” have been different from other folks. I’ve never built anything from plans. It’s always easier to do my own than try to follow someone else’s thinking. Maybe I’m too dumb to follow plans?? Now,if I could just get better with SketchUp.

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View Dan'um Style's profile

Dan'um Style

14171 posts in 3949 days

#8 posted 11-10-2007 09:14 PM

no one has ever had an original thought – Dan Walters

-- keeping myself entertained ... Humor and fun lubricate the brain

View Karson's profile


35111 posts in 4367 days

#9 posted 11-10-2007 10:42 PM

Done both ways. Sometimes I like the design of the project, but I might do something different. Like M&T instead of pocket screws of longer, shorter etc. But I usually make items from a picture and then make my own dimensions and make it the way that I want.

I’ve also designed from scratch. Took a course taught by Graham Blackburn on furniture design.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware soon moving to Virginia †

View Kaleo's profile


201 posts in 4106 days

#10 posted 11-10-2007 11:16 PM

Design is what makes the difference. You see alot of maloof copies out there. But when one designs and makes there own piece, it’s more fulfilling to you as the maker I think. That’s not to say that inspiration can not be had from someone else’s work. But to flat out copy someones design is wrong. With out there permission of course. If the person has given the plans out then yeah copy all you want. Most of that time when a person gives the plans out they are only for personal use. Your not suppose to use those plans to sell the piece made. But you only have to change 10% of the design in order for it to be yours.

-- Kaleo ,

View miles125's profile


2180 posts in 3972 days

#11 posted 11-11-2007 02:40 AM

I don’t have anything against those that enjoy reproducing a Maloof chair. I just hope to raise awareness to the fact that theres a whole nuther half of the woodworking world left to be explored.

Its the difference between painting by numbers, and actually painting.

-- "The way to make a small fortune in woodworking- start with a large one"

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 4066 days

#12 posted 11-11-2007 05:39 AM

I agree with Thos. Angle, I kind of think that I am an arranger of elements. It is very difficult to build a piece that someone would not be able to point to another piece and say “It looks like that.”

Styles are defined by certain combinations of elements, proportions, and lines. That means your work will inevitably look like something somewhere else.

I do try to be fairly original. I view plans as a guideline to be played with.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

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