Designing woodworking projects, what's your preference?

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Forum topic by a1Jim posted 10-28-2010 10:43 PM 1858 views 0 times favorited 36 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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117328 posts in 3776 days

10-28-2010 10:43 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question

Hey y’all

I was watching my favorite on line woodworker on his weekly show and he did something I haven’t seen anyone do before. He went through his thought process out loud how he came up with a design ,measurements, best use of material and adjusted of his project and or wood to accomplish building his piece of furniture. As I watched I thought a number of time I do that and yes I do that. It made me think if others design on the fly or if the stick to a very exact plan ,as an example if your making a chest and you want it to be 40” tall but the material you have only will allow 39 1/4” will you stop and buy more material of make it work with the material you have ? I know if your do work for customers they dictate what the final measurements will be and there are ways to make up or cheating to get what you want . But lets say the only way with what you have on hand is to make 3/4” short. what do you do?

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

36 replies so far

View ClayandNancy's profile


520 posts in 3214 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 3119 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 2975 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.

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117328 posts in 3776 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 4123 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


117328 posts in 3776 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 4276 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

10320 posts in 4251 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 3440 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 3282 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


1117 posts in 3624 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


8165 posts in 2997 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 ..............the early bird may get the worm but it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese!

View ND2ELK's profile


13495 posts in 3973 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


16280 posts in 4417 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 3125 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..."

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