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View a1Jim's profile

Designing woodworking projects, what's your preference?

by a1Jim
posted 10-28-2010 10:43 PM

36 replies so far

View ClayandNancy's profile


519 posts in 2979 days

#1 posted 10-28-2010 10:53 PM

Depending on what I’m building I will do both, adjust to the available wood or go out and get exactly what I need. Sometimes a project has circumstances that dictate how much you have to stick to exact measurements. Like other surrounding furniture or cabinets. There’s also times when I’ll adjust on the fly when I think a change in design would be called for. (Due to the dummy cutting something to short)

View Keith Fenton's profile

Keith Fenton

328 posts in 2883 days

#2 posted 10-28-2010 10:56 PM

I haven’t made anything for paying customers but I often adjust on the fly when making something for myself or friends. Often times after the initial planning I realize that if I change a little something then I wont have to cut into another big board or I won’t have to buy that 2nd sheet. I can be cheap like that. :)

-- Scroll saw patterns @

View JBfromMN's profile


107 posts in 2740 days

#3 posted 10-28-2010 10:56 PM

Make it short…..

I have not gotten too much involved with contract work yet. My approach would be to inform the customer about the material situation. Explain it that using what I have on hand and being just a tad short would help with lead time. Show them the difference with a mock up if needed. Just simply cut some card board to size and show the customer what the exact size difference would be.

If they still insisted on the original dimensions, I would bend to their wishes of course. I would do what I could to entice them otherwise first.

The projects I have done however were either for home or family member homes and we just went with the flow. The entertainment unit for my parents actually has one bookcase that is just a tad different than the other one. 1/16 of an inch to be exact. There was a set up issue with the shelves. Had to trim the sides of one of the units a touch to make up for the shelf being short. Looking at them you would never know it. Even if they were side by side unless you got insanely close and lined them up perfectly.

View a1Jim's profile


117061 posts in 3541 days

#4 posted 10-28-2010 11:03 PM

Ahh that board stretcher Rob LOL

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View sandhill's profile


2128 posts in 3887 days

#5 posted 10-28-2010 11:13 PM

I often adjust on the fly but not as much as 3/4”. Don’t forget a 3/4” adjustment could call for a total change of the plans depending where the adjustment is, but a 1/16” I would let it fly and compensate elsewhere if it would work out.

View a1Jim's profile


117061 posts in 3541 days

#6 posted 10-28-2010 11:25 PM

Wow sandhill
I feel honored your thousandth post congrats .
good point
That’s why I think it’s best to work out your design as you confirm what material you have so you can adjust your design, as an example you might need to make each drawer a 1/4” shorter if your reducing the height by 3/4” assuming you have three draws,

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View Dez's profile


1166 posts in 4041 days

#7 posted 10-28-2010 11:34 PM

I generally design in my head (talking to myself) first, then a simple sketch to firm up the basic design and then do a detailed drawing. A lot of the time I review joinery etc in my head before I draw.
I still haven’t gotten the hang of SketchUp, although I am working on it.
I seldom build from a purchased plan although I may use one for ideas.
I build a lot of my stuff based on the materials I have on hand unless a customer specifies wood type and size.

-- Folly ever comes cloaked in opportunity!

View Joe Lyddon's profile

Joe Lyddon

10046 posts in 4016 days

#8 posted 10-28-2010 11:53 PM

I think I’d “think about” making the legs or base taller by 3/4”...
... add some molding somewhere…

I’d give it some thought… If it was for myself, I might just leave it short…
... for customer, they’d get more molding or longer legs or something… If it had to “match” existing furniture, that would be critical & would have to get the material needed.

I like JBfromMN’s thought on it too…

-- Have Fun! Joe Lyddon - Alta Loma, CA USA - Home: ... My Small Gallery:"

View Gerry's profile


264 posts in 3204 days

#9 posted 10-28-2010 11:54 PM

Add in sawdust to make the board longer….lol! Usually I’ll modify the plan to the board size if it’s no more than 1/4” off . Otherwise, I would go buy the right sized board.

-- -Gerry, Hereford, AZ ” A really good woodworker knows how the hide his / her mistakes.”

View donaldcox's profile


18 posts in 3047 days

#10 posted 10-29-2010 01:37 AM

Modify on the fly. Following plans (cookie cutter) without modification takes the art out of woodworking.

View janice's profile


1116 posts in 3389 days

#11 posted 10-29-2010 02:06 AM

I would do what Joe said, and I have. My entertainment center, the base kept getting shorter, so I added 3/4 pine on the bottom of the base, thought it looked nicer that way anyway.

-- Janice

View shipwright's profile


7965 posts in 2761 days

#12 posted 10-29-2010 02:43 AM

Good topic Jim. My favorite projects start with a “concept drawing”, a sketch really. That goes out to the shop to see what material I have that might suit. Then I visualize pretty much how the general piece will go together and start cutting. The details evolve, sometimes a lot during the simultaneous design / build process. I’m 3/4 of the way through a project before I really know exactly how it’s going to look. This was the extent of the design work when I started Oops!

As you can see some of the ideas got used others were dropped along the way.
To answer the second half of your question, You may or may not have noticed that not much Wenge spilled down the back of the cabinet.
If you want to see LOTS of pictures,the full construction path is here: (click on slide show) It does show the “in progress” design evolution. This was a “what you can do with a ShopSmith” how to so if you look that will explain a lot.

-- Paul M ..............If God wanted us to have fiberglass boats he would have given us fibreglass trees.

View ND2ELK's profile


13495 posts in 3737 days

#13 posted 10-29-2010 02:55 AM

If I know what size a cabinet has to be, if any special sizes are required for certain drawers and compartments I can make a cutting list for all the parts needed, sizes and locations of all the routs. I cut everything and machine all the pieces before I start assembly. If you look at my crib and dresser plans in my blogs you can see what I do before I start building something. I had to do this so the inmates would know what to cut and machine. I would give them hand sketches if needed. After Cad came along, I would have inmates do shop drawings. On custom projects I would stiil do the cutting lists. After 35 years I got pretty good at doing it. I always had to follow specs.

-- Mc Bridge Cabinets, Iowa

View CharlieM1958's profile


16274 posts in 4182 days

#14 posted 10-29-2010 03:37 AM

I almost always design the project around the materials I have to work with.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View jusfine's profile


2422 posts in 2889 days

#15 posted 10-29-2010 04:02 AM

I always find places to change measurements, whether it is a material shortage item or sometimes a small error that forces change.

Like Charlie, I design around what I have in stock (but those little mistakes still creep in now and then).

-- Randy "You are judged as much by the questions you ask as the answers you give..."

View SouthpawCA's profile


270 posts in 3197 days

#16 posted 10-29-2010 04:06 AM

I’m with many others on here – I design around what I can get into my mid-life crisis car. Consequently, no large panel of plywood. Rather I design it into a craftsman style where I can use smaller panels. Additionally, I get a lot of my wood online which means I get 6 ft lengths. This hasn’t been a problem yet and if it is I’ll design around it. Or actually have to go someplace and somehow fit it into the vehicle.

-- Don

View canadianchips's profile


2600 posts in 2961 days

#17 posted 10-29-2010 05:44 AM

I am currently building cabinets from recycled materials. The size of cabinet depends on the window or door that is salvaged. Or if I find a nice solid wood top the cabinet is made to fit underneath. It is a backwards mentality then building with new materials.
When I first started kitchen cabinets 30 years ago, the drawers and doors were layed out to get the best use of sheet goods. eg. (multiples of 16” or 24”wide , Height of 32”.etc)
TODAY Kitchen designers really don’t care about the people building them or the cost of wasted materials.
Its all about style !

-- "My mission in life - make everyone smile !"

View Gregn's profile


1642 posts in 2947 days

#18 posted 10-29-2010 05:59 AM

I try to allow for extra material for a project when designing a project. Especially for those Oh Crap moments when I wasn’t paying close attention to left side, right side details during milling. I think my best design on the fly projects are my scrap wood projects. I seem to always have more than enough material laying around for them.

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

View Joe Lyddon's profile

Joe Lyddon

10046 posts in 4016 days

#19 posted 10-29-2010 06:41 AM

Hey! Talk about “I’ve been before”!

I have a grandson visiting for a few days…

We are making a good ole Footstool from what my Dad made from the plans I made from it.

Anyway… we got down to making the Sides, which determine the length of the stool.
... I had a piece about 12×24+” set aside for making the Sides for His stool, My stool, and his brother’s stool (not here right now)... thinking it would handle the sides from One strip @ 3-5/16”...
I cut 2 strips… then cut those in half to get the hopeful sides for one stool… for 2 stools…

When the rubber hit the road, Only one piece met the plans length requirement… and the second was 1/4” short of making it.

What to do…?!!
Go find another piece, thickness plane, etc. for the pieces required…
... or…
... Knock the length down by 1/4” to make Do with what we had…

Talk about the existance of this thread at this time! :) :)

This is what we decided to do…

We had 4 Sides for 2 stools… We took the shortest of them and decided to GO with That length…
.. not following the Plans!

We reduced the length by 1/4” from the Plans!

It was only for US… No serious money involved… :)

So, hopefully, we will finish the projects tomorrow… instead of delaying it for days or weeks…

This is what we decided to do… and “You Were There”! :) :)

In this case, the plans were just a Guide… subject to change as desired… :) :)

-- Have Fun! Joe Lyddon - Alta Loma, CA USA - Home: ... My Small Gallery:"

View stefang's profile


15881 posts in 3298 days

#20 posted 10-29-2010 11:58 AM

My small projects lend themselves well to changing things underway. I do start out with a rough plan though, and I make changes that will enhance rather than radically change my design. I think my best work has been done while working like this. My Larger more complex projects usually pretty much follow my original plans with only small cosmetic changes and only occasionally bigger changes.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View markplusone's profile


81 posts in 2919 days

#21 posted 10-29-2010 01:57 PM

I usually go through the process of designing something and then, once everything is just perfect, I start getting rid of stuff. I use the “shoot your babys first” approach. You know that corner or detail you spent hours figuring out or getting just right? Well is it neccessary? Then I start whittling down dimensions, Re-evaluating joints, and trimming down wood use. Way back in HS, my woods teacher taught us; “Any idiot can build something that holds a load or does a job. It takes a craftsman to barely build it.” Thats one of my defining principles in my wood working. Always allow for the unknown in your projects. I would just let it be 3/4” short unless I was building for a customer where it had to absolutely be that dim. Thats why none of my plan drawings I make have measurements on them. It will be what it needs to be.

-- Dont carry that which you dont hold with.

View rivergirl's profile


3201 posts in 2802 days

#22 posted 10-29-2010 02:37 PM

The only materials I ever buy are: sandpaper, finishes and an occasional drill bit. Because I build only rustic furniture I never use plans and I begin by looking at the slab wood pile and the wood dictates what I will build. If I find I need another log for legs or siderails or whatever- I just go cut one, debark it and dry it out by the fireplace. I keep buckets/piles of logs/branches and I can just dig through those to find what I need. It helps that I don’t like a bunch of overkill gingerbread on my projects. I prefer the clean simple look- with the focus on the slab rather than a bunch of twiggy bric-a- brac. It is a bit distressing though when my pile of free slabs dwindles…. I need a saw mill…. LOL

-- Homer : "Oh, and how is education supposed to make me feel smarter? Besides, every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain."

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3038 days

#23 posted 10-29-2010 03:42 PM

I really don’t like following plans and I almost always “design on the fly”. I don’t mean to brag but I think I am pretty good at thinking through the details in my head. When it comes to size and dimensions, I often make those decisions based just on “what looks right”. However, if I were to measure, I find that my rectangles are often close to the dimensions of the “golden rectangle”.

There is something about the dimensions of the golden rectangle that just looks right.

If not familiar with the golden rectangle, just google it.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6851 posts in 3943 days

#24 posted 10-29-2010 03:56 PM

Good topic, Jim.

I’ll make adjustents if the design won’t be affected. As already pointed out by others, the look of the final project is more important than saving a few bucks, at least to me.


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View GaryL's profile


1099 posts in 2794 days

#25 posted 10-29-2010 04:20 PM

Jim…I’m sure as a contractor that you realize the value of A good plan is a flexible plan, especially in remodeling/renovating (even more true depending on the offense Mads). Surprises always arise, but as said, if dimensions are critical, off to the lumberyard we go.

-- Gary; Marysville, MI...Involve your children in your projects as much as possible, the return is priceless.

View dakotawood's profile


211 posts in 2747 days

#26 posted 10-29-2010 04:26 PM

Say Jim, you mind sharing who your favorite online woodworker is? Thanks.

-- Travis, South Dakota

View a1Jim's profile


117061 posts in 3541 days

#27 posted 10-29-2010 05:14 PM

Hey Travis It’s Charles Neil I consider Charles my mentor, It only took 19+ years to find a mentor.

If your interested in checking him out here’s his web site and he has tons of stuff on youtube too.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View GaryL's profile


1099 posts in 2794 days

#28 posted 10-29-2010 05:18 PM

I enjoy Charles Neil’s videos too. He just a matter of fact type of guy with no sugar coating. Gives you the facts and unbiased opinions. His methods are pretty straight forward and well explained.

-- Gary; Marysville, MI...Involve your children in your projects as much as possible, the return is priceless.

View Russ's profile


142 posts in 3162 days

#29 posted 10-29-2010 05:29 PM

I always consider my plans to be fluid, many times i see improvements or mistakes when I am building and I follow the path of most sense.

-- Happiness is being covered in sawdust

View Don's profile


517 posts in 3036 days

#30 posted 10-29-2010 05:53 PM

I never follow plans to the letter and I don’t think I’ve ever made it through a project without cutting something too short. I’m also too lazy to make runs to the store to get one more piece of something. It’s a good thing customers don’t generally use tape measures to check work or I’d be in trouble. About the only places where I won’t be willing to make small adjustments on size is for things that are built in and have to fit between 2 walls or have to hold something of a specific size, or where you won’t need a tape measure to notice.

-- Don - I wood work if I could. Redmond WA.

View stefang's profile


15881 posts in 3298 days

#31 posted 10-29-2010 06:59 PM

You couldn’t have picked a better mentor Jim. Very few people can stand in front of a camera and be themselves. Charles Neil manages to do this, and a very likable, knowledgeable and believable fellow he his. Someone who is easy to trust and who gives his honest opinions. A great woodworker who is sharing his skills with other woodworkers. What could be better than that?

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 4263 days

#32 posted 10-29-2010 07:24 PM

Almost everything I make is from material that I’ve accumulated over the years. I can’t figure it out,

my material pile never seems to go away. It seems to get bigger.

Whenever I build something, I look at other things similar to what I want to make, & then design it to my taste.

If I do have a plan, I hardly ever build it the same as the plan shows.

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN.

View a1Jim's profile


117061 posts in 3541 days

#33 posted 10-29-2010 07:26 PM

Hey Mike
I guess the truth of the matter is I have more than one mentor, Charles and a good number of folks on Ljs and your high on that list.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View stefang's profile


15881 posts in 3298 days

#34 posted 10-29-2010 08:22 PM

Thank you very much for that sentiment Jim, but I’m quite sure you have forgotten more about woodworking than I will ever know. My reason for running my skill blogs is because I realize how long it has taken me to learn just a few fundamental skills that have served me well. I am pretty awed by the craftsmanship I see here on LJ, but even folks with modest skills like myself can help out other woodworkers who are new or just haven’t learned a particular thing.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View dannymac's profile


144 posts in 2979 days

#35 posted 10-30-2010 05:39 AM

I don’t like the idea of selling my work or building thing for paying clients. when you do that they get to dictate what i build and how it’s done. Normally before i build anything i gather all my availlable wood and stare at it for a few days till an idea comes to mind .then i start making sawdust. there’s alway people stoipping by the shop to see what i’ve made cause they know i just give it away. sometimes if i’m lucky they stop back a few days later with a gift certificate to homedepot or rockler.

-- dannymac

View Mark Shymanski's profile

Mark Shymanski

5621 posts in 3676 days

#36 posted 10-30-2010 06:02 AM

I just made a display table for a conference we had to attend for work. The only measurements I took were the finished height of the main table and the finished height of the secondary smaller table on top of the main table…everything else was fit to look good and be stable. It was a great way to build a project and very different from how I normally work.

Now if I can just get the pictures out of my daughter’s camera so I can post this table as a finished project! :-)

-- "Checking for square? What madness is this! The cabinet is square because I will it to be so!" Jeremy Greiner LJ Topic#20953 2011 Feb 2

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