How do you decide if it's a good plan?

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Forum topic by trainwreck posted 03-17-2011 04:32 AM 953 views 0 times favorited 7 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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43 posts in 2111 days

03-17-2011 04:32 AM

I found a book at my library’s bookstore with 2×4 outdoor furniture plans in it, and I bought it because it had some neat plans in it. I’m currently building the “lawn chairs,” and I’ve found several mistakes in the plans. On the backs, the supports were too short—they should have been 2 1/2” longer, it told me to use 2 1/2” screws to screw a 1×4 to a 2×4 with both of them flat (would leave screws poking out the back), and the instructions for attaching the back to the seat told me to screw into a piece that wasn’t even in the plans. I even had someone else look at it to be sure I wasn’t seeing things. Extremely annoying, especially considering they obviously built these chairs since there are photographs of them! I guess they didn’t follow their own plans!

I also have a TON of scrap left over. Also annoying, though I know I’ll use the scrap to make a couple of small tables to go with the chairs, so that’s not as big a deal to me. I know part of it is when it said 17 linear feet of 2×4, I bough 8 foot boards so they would fit in my car when I could have bought one 8 footer and one 10 footer and been good, but they also said each chair needed 30 linear feet of 1×4 when you really only needed 21.

The chairs are now ready to sand, paint, and assemble, but as I sat on them, I thought the arm rests should have been about 2 inches higher, but that’s a personal preference, I think. These chairs will serve their purpose well, and I managed to catch all the mistakes before the chairs were firewood, but man! Talk about frustrating!

So what makes a good plan to you? To me, it’s one with clear instructions and drawings of each step and minimal scrap.

7 replies so far

View Gofor's profile


470 posts in 3206 days

#1 posted 03-17-2011 05:02 AM

I draw out my own. However, in defense of what you got, the normal scrap rate for #2 lumber (i.e construction grade 2×4s etc) is 30+% when figuring cracks, warp, knots, etc. If your lumber prices are there as they are here, I can buy two 8’ 2×4’s for the price of one 10’ 2×4.

Off-the-shelf plans seem to never fit my needs. Either wrong dimensions, cutting diagram unrealistic, Impractical joinery that doesn’t allow for wood movement, or they expect you to spend way too much for materials. Just view them as my wife views a food recipe: “Just a general guide line”



-- Go

View trainwreck's profile


43 posts in 2111 days

#2 posted 03-17-2011 03:22 PM

Good to know. After I built the first chair, (I’m building 4 of them), I figured out they could tweak the measurements a little bit to have almost no scrap, and the chair would have been better for it. I’m still not to the level that I can draw up plans for everything, but I’ve done a few. And the scrap from this project will be perfect for two little tables to go with these chairs, and I’ll only have to cut the legs and apron for the table. The top will be all scrap, already perfectly cut.

Maybe I’m worrying too much about the scrap? I mean…..I should consider it a “stash” instead then, huh?

Here, the 10 footers were only a bit more than the 8s.

View BarbS's profile


2434 posts in 3505 days

#3 posted 03-17-2011 04:24 PM

This is a ‘sticky’ point! I’ve reviewed hundreds of books, and have seen some really disappointing collections of plans, put together hastily. Sometimes I’ve wondered if the author even built the project. Without experience, there is really no way to tell how good a plan is without just building the project, which is no help, is it? If you like, write the publisher and tell them how unhappy you are with the book. It may prevent them from using that author again and flooding the market with junk plans.
On the other hand, humans make mistakes. I’ve built several from magazine plans and been frustrated with errors there. The really good magazines pre-build anything they publish. But you can find in many issues, corrections to previous articles, when irate readers have alerted them to a flaw.
It could be, too, that your author wrote his dimensions allowing for more waste in case of errors, but that is false security, and shortening a board in numerical dimension is inexcusable, leaving the builder with more wasted wood.
Sorry for your bad experience. As you do more projects, you may be able to preview a book in hand, and look for errors you’d experienced earlier. The real answer is, there’s just no way to tell without building something, and double checking dimensions before cutting is the only precaution you have.


View trainwreck's profile


43 posts in 2111 days

#4 posted 03-17-2011 04:40 PM

I also knit and crochet, so because of that, I looked for an “errata” on the publisher’s site, but couldn’t find one. I totally understand people make mistakes. And I’m thankful I know enough to spot the mistakes I did and could fix them or make adjustments. To me, though, if you’re in the business of putting out plans, your reputation is on the line if they’re filled with mistakes. As are your sales. My guess is the person who wrote the plans tested them, but since the plans were his or hers to begin with, mistakes aren’t likely to be found. When I write technical documentation for computers, I ALWAYS have the least technically savvy person I can find try to follow my instructions to see if they are good. The way I figure it, I already know how to do it, so me testing them isn’t good enough. I want to put out quality work. My reputation is on the line.

I’m not likely to bother letting the publisher know, but I did make notes in the plans with the changes I would make and corrected the mistakes because I’m likely to donate this book back to the library book store. At least the next person who buys this book won’t have the same frustration if they build these chairs.

It’s interesting…..I first got into this because of Ana White’s website. She puts out plans for knock offs of Pottery Barn and West Elm-type furniture. At first, I thought she was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Then I learned a little more about joinery and furniture construction, and I thought her plans were lacking. They certainly aren’t heirloom quality pieces. Now I’m back to thinking her plans are good. I still think they aren’t heirloom quality pieces, but they are functional, they look decent, and she won’t put out a plan unless she has built it.

View DLCW's profile


530 posts in 2074 days

#5 posted 03-17-2011 09:28 PM

I’m with Gofor on this one. Take plans you purchase and make your own with the modifications you want in the finished project. I’ve never used plans that I didn’t modify dimensions, joinery, wood types, grain direction, etc. This is where you transition from building projects that have the potential of falling apart or tearing them selves apart, to projects that you can pass on to your children (heirlooms). Most plans I’ve seen just don’t approach the process from a project longevity angle. They focus on quick and cheap (which I understand is where many people want to be). But, there are a lot of corners cut and compromises made in the joinery to achieve this. It’s kind of like the ready to assemble (RTA) furniture you buy at stores and assemble in your living room. The first time you move it all the screws pop out the joints break apart. I call this a “repeat business” approach by the manufacturers (gotta buy a new one to replace the one that broke the first time we moved it).

I would suggest getting a couple of books (from your local library) on understanding wood makeup and wood joinery. Learning and understand wood movement is absolutely critical in building long lasting projects. Learning and understand wood joinery will enable you to look at purchased plans and figure out better ways to build something so it will last. Even if you use dimensional lumber (2×4) from the local big box store for your projects, understanding how that wood is going to move over time and how joinery effects sturdiness, you can still build projects that will last a very long time and be inexpensive.

Don’t get in the habit of “trusting” that everything in the plans is correct. Take some time to learn about reading, understanding and auditing plans. This will take a little time in the short term but will really help you in the long run to build beautiful projects that will be in your family for a long time.

-- Don, Diamond Lake Custom Woodworks - - "If you make something idiot proof, all they do is make a better idiot"

View DLCW's profile


530 posts in 2074 days

#6 posted 03-17-2011 09:37 PM

You also might want to check out this blog that is getting started:

-- Don, Diamond Lake Custom Woodworks - - "If you make something idiot proof, all they do is make a better idiot"

View Gregn's profile


1642 posts in 2403 days

#7 posted 03-18-2011 03:49 AM

I only use plans as references to what a want to make.

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

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