Project Design for a Newbie

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Forum topic by kmausmus posted 06-05-2012 01:34 AM 1211 views 0 times favorited 6 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1 post in 2812 days

06-05-2012 01:34 AM

Hi all,
I’ve been lurking on this site for awhile and thought I’d jump in with a question. I’m still pretty new to woodworking, and was wondering if anyone had some advice on how to design your own furniture. Could you recommend any good articles or books? Please assume that I know nothing about project design. I prefer the clean simple lines of Mission, and Arts and Crafts style furniture. If it matters, I’m looking at my next project being a baby crib. I would rather learn how to design my own projects rather than go off of plans from someone else. Thanks in advance for your advice!


6 replies so far

View bent's profile


311 posts in 3871 days

#1 posted 06-05-2012 02:09 AM

i think your best starting point would to become familiar different joinery techniques. this will give you an idea of how your project will actually go together. when it comes to designing, i’ll find something similar to what i want to build and find out it’s overall diminsions. this doesn’t have to be from a set of plans, most furniture sites or catalogs will have it listed. that will give you a sense of size for the finished piece. i’ll then sketch out what i want the piece to look like. so once you have your overall diminsions and basic project design, work backwards and start figuring out the diminsions and joinery methods for the components that will make up the piece.

for what it’s worth, when i started out, i bought a book about the actual design of furniture. it was no help whatsoever.

View MonteCristo's profile


2099 posts in 2391 days

#2 posted 06-05-2012 03:26 AM

I like Bent’s suggestions and would add that when you find a piece you like the look of, take note of the relative sizes of its components. For example, a chest of drawers typically has the biggest drawer at the bottom, smallest at the top but how the sizing changes is to some degree a matter of taste.

-- Dwight - "Free legal advice available - contact Dewey, Cheetam & Howe""

View nate22's profile


475 posts in 3078 days

#3 posted 06-05-2012 02:24 PM

Kyle, The way I design my own is I take ideas sometimes and then make my own designs. And with some things you can change the dimesion of it and make it your own design. But if I were you I would get a design that I like and make it into your own like add what you want and take away what you want. Thats my two cents.

-- Gracie's wooden signs. Middlebury, In.

View rockindavan's profile


299 posts in 2838 days

#4 posted 06-05-2012 04:07 PM

Design is the most difficult part of a project, and there is no quick and easy solution. My advice is to start building something simple. Think about every part as you build it. If it doesn’t look right, it probably needs some work. Trust your gut feeling. If you have an issue, such as thickness of a part, take the time to cut a few parts out of scraps to get a better option. Look through books and magazines for ideas to see what looks “right”. Your first couple of pieces will probably look ‘off’, so don’t get discouraged. Another thing you could check out is the golden ratio, you can look it up on wiki or just search it. Sometimes its pretty handy.

View Dan Lyke's profile

Dan Lyke

1520 posts in 4327 days

#5 posted 06-05-2012 06:55 PM

I’d start by looking closely at the type of joinery used in the styles you like. For instance, Mission style furniture uses lots of pegged through tenons. Once you have that, you have a good view of how you can connect pieces of wood together.

After that I think it’s a matter of learning what proportions you like (bla bla bla “golden mean”, but you’ll notice that Khrenov plays with things that aren’t) and what curves work for you. One of the things I’ve noticed when sketching designs is that, especially when I’m drawing at small scale, extremely small changes in curve shapes have very large impacts on how the end piece looks.

I’ve also read through a whole bunch of the Fine Woodworking online furniture design articles. I’m not sure I’m any better yet at design, but I think it’s helping.

Finally: Have enough of a feel for your joints that you know when you can go off-plan: When I’m playing with wood, sometimes I’ll have a figure or a knot that just demands to be somewhere, and knowing that my plan (and, yeah, like you I like to work off my own plans) really just says “these two pieces need to be the same length” lets me adapt in the middle of my build to a particularly pretty piece of wood.

-- Dan Lyke, Petaluma California,

View Doss's profile


779 posts in 2467 days

#6 posted 06-05-2012 11:22 PM

If we’re talking purely about design, then it could be really difficult for you or really easy. My advice is find as many designs as you can of things you like. Sketch them. Find out why they look that way. Pick up a furniture design book or search on Google.

Now, will any of this actually help you design furniture? Maybe. Maybe not. It depends on the type of person you are. Many people are more successful at modifying existing designs rather than coming up with completely new ones.

The next thing I would suggest is learning about what it takes to construct a piece of furniture. The most important thing to learn are the forces that will affect the furniture and what it takes to prevent failure. I would then learn about joinery and how this applies to preventing the aforementioned failures.

Yeah, I know I’m not being specific about anything, but there is no magic bullet that’s going to help you out entirely.

Maybe try to narrow down what type of furniture/design you like and what you plan on building (tables, chairs, cutting boards, dressers, cabinets, etc. etc.). That’ll help us help you.

-- "Well, at least we can still use it as firewood... maybe." - Doss

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