Tips & Tricks: Proportions

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Forum topic by MsDebbieP posted 09-24-2011 12:37 PM 3297 views 0 times favorited 15 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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18618 posts in 4399 days

09-24-2011 12:37 PM

Topic tags/keywords: tips tricks proportions ratios

what are your tips re: “best” proportions for projects, ex: chairs, tables, boxes…?

(also add links to helpful blogs etc that are related to the topic)

Gateway to all Tips & Tricks Topics

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

15 replies so far

View Don Butler's profile

Don Butler

1092 posts in 3634 days

#1 posted 09-24-2011 02:11 PM

I’ve been studying art all my long (so far) life and I conclude this:
Designing a piece of furniture should have these criteria,
first and foremost it must fit where it will go (unless it will be free standing),
It must be pleasing to the eye,
and the design should harmonize with its intended use.

Because of these feelings, I have little use for the “classsical” rules of proportion. Not (as Seinfeld says) that there’s anything wrong with that, but it doesn’t impact my personal feelings about design.

For example, I built a set of library units for a room in which they cover one wall, transition around the corner and end with another set on that adjacent wall. They fit floor to ceiling and begin and end at doorways.
Obviously, the Golden Ratio wouldn’t be relevant because the building’s proportions would rule. Moreover, the shelving and doors had to work well with the particular books to be displayed.

And, then there is the requirements of the client. Since this set of units will be a permanent part of the house it would have to be something the owners could live with.

Other furniture, like tables and chairs, have to be ergonomic and a technical approach to proportions could be, but not necessarily, a disturbance to that requirement. But certainly the overriding feature would be that it actually fits people and doesn’t make them uncomfortable.

In cases like a free standing desk or sideboard, the golden ratio could be considered, but I, personally, don’t feel it should be in control of my design.


-- No trees were damaged in posting this message, but thousands of electrons were seriously inconvenienced.

View MsDebbieP's profile


18618 posts in 4399 days

#2 posted 09-24-2011 02:28 PM

it sounds like it is one of those “know the rules so you can break the rules”

So true re: comfort. Oh how I’d love a chair that fit my dimensions. I hate sitting on a chair that “makes” me slouch/slip to the floor because it doesn’t fit.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

View StumpyNubs's profile


7690 posts in 3039 days

#3 posted 09-24-2011 02:34 PM

Two parts whiskey, one part glass… I finished that “project” last night and the proportions were perfect.

-- Subscribe to "Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal"- One of the crafts' most unique publications:

View CharlieM1958's profile


16281 posts in 4457 days

#4 posted 09-24-2011 04:31 PM

I agree with Don on not worrying too much about the rules.

Build what is pleasing to the eye. If you are happy with the result, then you have succeeded. If you build something (let’s just say a box) and you don’t think it looks quite right, then you need only compare it a box that you like and see what is different about the proportions. Try again. Lather, rinse, repeat. :-)

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

View sras's profile


4969 posts in 3368 days

#5 posted 09-24-2011 05:30 PM

When I am concerned about proportion, I will draw up a series of sketches, slowly shifting the shape and then pick what looks best.

As a simple example, say a want a nice looking rectangle. Maybe for a mirror to hang on a wall.

I would first draw the rectangle as I think it should look. Maybe include the wall to get a feeling for how it will fit in.

Then, just to make sure, I draw a couple that are progressively taller and some that are shorter. Usually vary the ratio slightly.

Then pick the best one out of that lineup. Often it is the initial drawing, but sometimes not. Either way, I have more confidence about my choice.

I usually don’t do this for a simple rectangle, but when shapes are more complicated – like curves for a turning or the relative size of a series of panels.

-- Steve - Impatience is Expensive

View Grumpy's profile


24823 posts in 4090 days

#6 posted 09-25-2011 12:06 AM

I’m a Fibonacci fan for lots of things

-- Grumpy - "Always look on the bright side of life"- Monty Python

View Dark_Lightning's profile


3367 posts in 3347 days

#7 posted 09-25-2011 02:17 AM

I generally make small articles to fit the object I’m going to put in it. I’ve made shadow boxes that had a niche for each object. Tedious, but that’s the art of it. The shadow box itself would end up taller than shorter, often as not, and close the Golden Ratio, but I’m not married to it.

In the case of a one-off like a spectacles case, it’s the size that will enclose the specs, with little room to spare. Imagine making them in production, what with all the different size specs on the market.

-- Random Orbital Nailer

View MsDebbieP's profile


18618 posts in 4399 days

#8 posted 09-25-2011 03:30 PM

there are some great blogs here at LJ re: golden rule and Fibonacci (or Faberge Egg thingy, as I call it)...

which are your favourite blogs?

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

View tyskkvinna's profile


1310 posts in 3224 days

#9 posted 09-25-2011 04:06 PM

I am personally a fan of learning the classic rules for proportion, design and ratios and then breaking the rules on a regular basis.

-- Lis - Michigan - -

View CampD's profile


1742 posts in 3725 days

#10 posted 09-25-2011 04:21 PM

I agree, if we didnt break the rules,... then everything would,... well look the same

-- Doug...

View tom427cid's profile


294 posts in 2709 days

#11 posted 09-25-2011 08:07 PM

On of the hardest things to do(that I have encountered) is the placement of hardware on a piece that has multiples. Chest of drawers is a good example. Years ago when faced with this problem I hit upon an idea that has held me in pretty good stead. When I begin to work on the placement (particularly a chest with graduated drawers)I place the hardware on the centerline of a drawer at an arbitrary distance in from the edge. Then I begin to establish straight lines between at least pieces of hardware. Sometimes this necessitates raising the position of the hardware above the centerline of the drawer(never lower) and sometimes it requires moving in or out out from the edge. When I am satisfied that I have as many straight lines as possible that is where I will mount the hardware.I do not consider the angles of the lines.For an example check out the Queen Anne chest on frame in my projects.
The only explanation that I can give is that the eye”sees” straight lines. Or maybe it’s just the way that I see things.
Hope this might help.

-- "certified sawdust maker"

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18423 posts in 3914 days

#12 posted 09-25-2011 09:06 PM

Just do it by eye. When I was in high school shop was everything one might need on a farm; ie, very little woodworking. We had to have a project for the last 1/2 of senior year. I decided to make a gun cabinet. I knew nothing about design or cabinet or furniture making. I had never heard of Fibonacci. When I did learn of Golden Ratio, ect, I measured the proportions of the gun cabinet and the trim I had designed. I was surprised to see how close to exactly on it is. If in doubt, I now just use Fibonacci ;-))

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View Roger's profile


20965 posts in 3042 days

#13 posted 09-26-2011 03:29 PM

I agree with everyone, and especially Lis

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed.

View MsDebbieP's profile


18618 posts in 4399 days

#14 posted 10-01-2011 04:37 PM

David posted an informative blog on the FIBONACCI SCALE and the GOLDEN RULE: his blog

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

View jeth's profile


262 posts in 3076 days

#15 posted 10-01-2011 05:54 PM

I think that this is a tricky area, which doesn’t strictly come down to technique.
You can follow established “rules” , fibonnaci, golden ratio etc but outside of that it comes down to the individual and their sense of proportion/balance/composition, something I think some have more than others. Like painters or photographers some seem to have an eye for proportion, though i think this sense can be trained by exposing yourself to as many different designs as possible.

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