Should I follow a set of Plans to the letter?

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Forum topic by Oakfan posted 02-22-2010 02:06 AM 1162 views 0 times favorited 8 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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39 posts in 3276 days

02-22-2010 02:06 AM

Topic tags/keywords: plans

In all my years of woodworking I have never used a set of plans. I have always created my own from ideas taken off of other projects I’ve seen. I really like a Project from The Woodworkers Journal magazine and I want to build it but I am not sure how to proceed. Should I follow the cut list and all the drawings to the letter or ??? Your suggestions will be greatly appreciated and are very welcome indeed. Just wanted to say thanks to all who offer their help.

-- It's not the breaths U take but the moments that take your breath away !!

8 replies so far

View EEngineer's profile


1119 posts in 3853 days

#1 posted 02-22-2010 02:15 AM

Given the accuracy of most plans I have worked with, absolutely not! I always find at least 1 dimensional mistake in any plan. Check everything!

I almost always end up substituting some wood, also. The last time involved making drawers that called for 1/2” in the plans. I used some reclaimed plywood that started life as shelves in kitchen cabinets. It was nice 7 ply furniture plywood but only 7/16” thick. A little math to change some dims and they fit just like they should.

If you haven’t worked from plans much, such changes should be easy for you.

-- "Find out what you cannot do and then go do it!"

View PineInTheAsh's profile


404 posts in 3507 days

#2 posted 02-22-2010 02:23 AM

As to your ??
In short, No!

Not sure how this will sound, but… between my son and I we’ve never put pencil to paper on any project.


View Sawdust4Blood's profile


408 posts in 3261 days

#3 posted 02-22-2010 02:26 AM

I can’t say that I’ve ever followed a set of plans “to the letter”. Sometimes it is re-scaling a piece to proportions that work better for my end use or modifying it for a specific use other than their original intention. Other times it is about preferred mechanics. I recently did a project based on a set of plans that called for loose tenons. The project was a Wood magazine basic build plan and they were trying to keep things simple for people that might not have a complete shop. However, with my shop set up, it was actually easier for me to use true mortise and tenon joinery so I went that route instead. I also doweled and glued some pieces that they had simply glued because it was an easy adjustment for me and I felt better about the strength after adding a structural element to the glue bond. Subsequently, I would say that you shouldn’t be afraid to wander a bit from the original plans. I’ve also found cut lists in most plans to be based on “best case” situations that leave little room for grain selection which can be an important element in the final appearance.

-- Greg, Severn MD

View a1Jim's profile


117417 posts in 3816 days

#4 posted 02-22-2010 02:34 AM

Most plans are not dead on. If you want to check everything out making a full size drawing is the best way if possible.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View JasonWagner's profile


527 posts in 3419 days

#5 posted 02-22-2010 02:48 AM

I’ve followed quite a few plans without changing much. This may sound obvious, but the one thing you don’t want to do is to cut every piece first…Follow the plan an cut each piece as needed and check the measurements to make sure. Just like no plans, dry-fitting everything is still the way to go. You can’t space-out using plans because something will either be incorrect, confusing or just won’t match up with what you have.

-- some day I hope to have enough clamps to need a clamp cart!

View Dennis Fletcher's profile

Dennis Fletcher

467 posts in 3294 days

#6 posted 02-22-2010 03:01 AM

I draw plans for houses and additions, but I have never followed a set of plans for a small project to the T, I’ve always changed things.

--, Making design and application one. †

View Oakfan's profile


39 posts in 3276 days

#7 posted 02-22-2010 03:03 AM

Thanks so much for all of your input. I will follow all of your advice and I do appreciate you taking the time to reply. I love this website…..............

-- It's not the breaths U take but the moments that take your breath away !!

View Gofor's profile


470 posts in 4026 days

#8 posted 02-23-2010 05:30 AM

I have the same philosophy of “plans” as my wife does about “recipes”: Just a general guideline to be altered by materials available, personal preference, and time to get it done.

Sometimes I draw out things to make sure the joinery and construction method are feasible; to economize on waste due to stock material available, to get an idea of material costs. Invariably, dimensions are changed, “Eureka” moments occur, or there is a change in material availability. Lets face it, if the matching boards clean up at 15/16 instead of 3/4, why should I turn it into sawdust? (same goes if it cleans up at 11/16ths instead of 3/4ths!).

Working a lot with hand tools, the “show” surface counts. The back side only needs to be dimensioned where it joins with another. Having worked before as a machinist working to 0.0001” tolerances, and then proceeding on to aircraft structural maintenance, where not only the tolerances, but the very process of completing the work is detailed and with little tolerance on any variation, I love the freedom of being able to vary the destiny of my efforts.


-- Go

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