How far into the planning process do you go?

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Forum topic by Kaleb the Swede posted 01-08-2013 10:30 AM 1432 views 2 times favorited 38 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Kaleb the Swede

1876 posts in 2169 days

01-08-2013 10:30 AM

Topic tags/keywords: question

Hi I’m completely new to woodworking. I never took shop in high school but being newly wed and also a new homeowner I have had to pick up some skills. I built a bookshelf with a circular saw, hammer and nails, a couple of clamps and glue. I fell in love with woodworking. I now want to get better. I also own more tools now (nothing special). I figured I would ask the guys who have been doing this a long time. How do you go about planning projects? How detailed in planning are you or drawing it out (foot inches, or meter, centimeter)? What I mean is, is some of it in process where you have to change, or do you always walk in know exactly what to cut and measure? Or is this something where it comes with time (probably)? I realize this may seem a little vague, but I really want some help in learning how to plan so I am not doing it off the cuff so much. I hope this doesn’t seem like a dumb question

-- Just trying to build something beautiful

38 replies so far

View Ross's profile


142 posts in 2173 days

#1 posted 01-08-2013 11:51 AM

Hi Kaleb. Welcome to L/J.
I find the designing of a project as exciting as building it. I have a pad of graph paper, a 12” wooden ruler and a mechanical pencil with me at all times when I am brain storming a new piece of furniture. When an idea hits me I get it roughed out on the pad and fine tune it from there. I try to be as detailed with a project as humanly possible. Always easier to execute from a set of plans.
Remember to measure twice and cut once.
I don’t use a tape measure in the shop. They are too unpredictable. Instead I use a folding wooden rule and a micrometer. For larger projects or something that has to be built in place I will use a story board as well.
Hope this helps.

-- "Man Plans and God Laughs"

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Kaleb the Swede

1876 posts in 2169 days

#2 posted 01-08-2013 01:09 PM

Thanks Ross. I am trying to get better at the planning aspect. Many times I have a picture in my head but that’s about it. I am going to try to plan more out on paper in the future. That makes sense with the wooden rule, (my tape measure is a little unpredictable) I am going to go and get one of those today, that’s a great tip.

-- Just trying to build something beautiful

View waho6o9's profile


8516 posts in 2777 days

#3 posted 01-08-2013 01:16 PM

Plan your work and then work your plan. Excellent advice from Ross and you should
take it to heart.

The more detailed the plan, the clearer it is and you can visualize the end product as
you build it. Try planning a detailed box for sand paper on graph paper for example.

Nice work bench you built there Kaleb! Welcome to LJ’s and enjoy the journey.

View Ross's profile


142 posts in 2173 days

#4 posted 01-08-2013 01:19 PM

Also, if you don’t have access to a stationary store that sells graph paper you can make it on your computer.
Some of the craftsman use sketchup. I don’t because of the nature of my job I’m rarely near my computer during the week. (mostly for an hour or so in the AM and an hour at night) Plus I guess I’m “Old School” LOL.
My weekends are spent in the shop working. (after chores of coarse)

-- "Man Plans and God Laughs"

View waho6o9's profile


8516 posts in 2777 days

#5 posted 01-08-2013 01:24 PM

Or, you can have Walmart deliver some graph paper to your home.

Easy peasy, reasonable as well.

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Kaleb the Swede

1876 posts in 2169 days

#6 posted 01-08-2013 01:52 PM

Thanks waho. I will try that sandpaper box, that makes sense too. I have some poplar from some pallets that will work nicely for that. I will sit down and try to draw it out along with measurements.

-- Just trying to build something beautiful

View bbasiaga's profile


1240 posts in 2195 days

#7 posted 01-08-2013 02:10 PM

I find if I don’t have everything figured out up front, it takes me twice as long, if not longer, in the shop. Since ‘the shop’ for a very long time was my garage when the car isn’t in there, I try and minimize the disruption. It works best for me to have a drawing that is dimensional, scaled if possible. Then I can use that as a cut list and just start cutting. Since I’m not a good drawer, there were usually a few pieces per project that i figured out on the go, and they took forever and I often had to start over once or twice.

I recently started using sketchup, which I think is excellent. You can even take the time and draw joinery, etc. The Cutlist plugin is excellent as well. If you are a computer handy guy, check it out. There are some learning pains, but after a while its awesome.


-- Part of engineering is to know when to put your calculator down and pick up your tools.

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 3358 days

#8 posted 01-08-2013 02:10 PM

Hey, Kaleb…welcome to LJs!

Good question. What you will find is that much of your ability to plan a project depends on your knowledge and ability to construct the project…and that comes with experience. For example, it’s easy to design a box and you can draw that on paper with simple dimensions. But the ability to draw a schematic and a cut-list will depend on your knowledge of joinery techniques and how you’d like to connect all the sides of the box.

At first, people often go with plans out of the magazines or purchased plans elsewhere. The first couple of similar projects are often done exactly by the plan. The next one might vary a little because you gain confidence, ability, and knowledge and you change a thing or two. After a while, you get a picture in your head and you just build it.

This is where the magazines and books really come in handy. Seeing all the pictures, illustrations, and techniques will lead you into knowledge of dados and rabbets and mortises and tenons and lock-miters and on and on and on. Then, after a while, you start building stuff with curves and bent wood and laminations and even metallurgy.

Even the tools you have will dictate how you plan a project. From this aspect, a planer is very important because then you don’t have to make everything in uniform or standard stock sizes.

Come to think of it, I don’t think I’m smart enough for this stuff!

-- jay,

View huff's profile


2828 posts in 3485 days

#9 posted 01-08-2013 02:13 PM


That’s a good question you posted. I believe how detailed a set of plans are before you start a project is really up to the individual. Some will want to work out every little detail in a set of plans before they ever cut a board and some will work out a lot of the details as they actually get into the project.

It will also have a lot to do with the project itself. Some projects you may want to work out the details in a plan instead of just “winging” it, but others, it may be more fun to just start with an idea and go from there.
As you can see in my avitar, I love to work without plans. That project was nothing more that a “wild idea” and a very rough sketch on a piece of paper; no plans whats so ever.

BTW, how detailed where your plans for your workbench? However you did it, it turned out great. Keep up the good work and enjoy.

-- John @

View EEngineer's profile


1117 posts in 3813 days

#10 posted 01-08-2013 02:15 PM

I like to plan things pretty thoroughly. I start with sketches on paper but always move them to the computer to finalize dimensions. But I have come to realize that, no matter well or thoroughly I plan, there is always something that causes changes during the course of building it. One thing that fairly detailed plans on the computer allow is easier adaptation to changes during the course of building it.

Quick example: I did very detailed plans for a deck that I built on the back of my house about 4 years ago. Whether it was my mistake in initial measurements or the fact that nothing, absolutely nothing, is square anymore in an 80 year old house, I found that my dimensions weren’t working out. I took new measurements, went back to the computer and adjusted my plan, calculated a new length, then measured and cut a new piece. It dropped right in. That simply isn’t possible sometimes without detailed plans that can be easily modified on the computer.

As for comments about tape measures and folding rules: I find that most times absolute accuracy is less important than relative accuracy. For instance, I rarely care about exactly how wide a piece of furniture ends up but it is absolutely vital that opposite sides are exactly the same width. Otherwise things are never square. With that in mind, I find that planning cuts is far more important than measuring them accurately. Once setup for a cut, I make sure that all cuts to be made that must be the same are cut without changing the setup. I use a tape measure (always the same tape measure throughout a project) and have no trouble.

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

View Kaleb the Swede's profile

Kaleb the Swede

1876 posts in 2169 days

#11 posted 01-08-2013 02:18 PM

bbasiaga-just downloaded sketchup a few days ago and am giving it a try, not too far into it yet

cosmicsniper-I have only a small supply of magazines and books, but am getting more when I can, and they do tell me quite a bit

huff-the workbench was just a very very very (add more very’s) rough sketch on paper. Just kind of an idea. I knew the area I had to work in, in the garage and the tools I had to work with. I kind of did the top (learned how to use that no. 4 handplane my brother gave me) and fit the bottom to there.

Thank you for the great comments all

-- Just trying to build something beautiful

View PurpLev's profile


8547 posts in 3848 days

#12 posted 01-08-2013 02:35 PM

Welcome to lumberjocks!

I like to have the project fully planned including joinery before I attempt to start it.

during the actual build process I may or may not follow the plan to the dot, but at least I like to have it as reference (I could enlarge/reduce parts sizes based on what material I have , or change some joinery or what not)

for me, it’s about being able to know ahead of time what to expect and if all else fails, at least have a plan to go back to and check/confirm things

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View waho6o9's profile


8516 posts in 2777 days

#13 posted 01-08-2013 02:42 PM

Anyone and everyone is invited to the next LJ swap. We’re going to do
a marking knife or awl swap.
If you have the time and inclination have at it, the last swap was a mallet swap
and it sure was fun.

View Monte Pittman's profile

Monte Pittman

30054 posts in 2538 days

#14 posted 01-08-2013 03:01 PM

Welcome to LJ’s

You will find everything from meticulous planners. Sketch up and AutoCAD programs are very handy, but i’ve seen people spend days drawing small projects. Part of it is your comfort level. As you learn, you’ll need less details in the drawing. Good luck!

-- Nature created it, I just assemble it.

View jdmaher's profile


438 posts in 2779 days

#15 posted 01-08-2013 03:20 PM

I plan in a very detailed way, and stick “pretty” close to the plan during the build.

Actually, I use Sketchup and the drawing process almost like a dry-run of the build. When I start from someone else’s plan (or when I have a very clear idea what to do), I literally sketch each piece of wood in the sequence I’m planning to build. I think about joinery cuts and edge treatments and glue-ups and finishing as I’m drawing. When I’m designing freely, I rough-sketch ‘til I like the look, then do the same thing.

Then, I consider modifications and changes. Often, size is the critical change. But joinery and edge treatments might be changed – usually to accomodate tools I have or techniques I’m comfortable with or material I want to use. And then I draw again, again as a rehearsal.

In the actual build, major components are indeed sized to the drawings – but always fitted. If the leg is supposed to be 2.25” square and 28” long, I fuss with the LEAST visible leg, and the use exactly the same setup to copy the other three. Inevitably, errors are introduced along the way, so most components are actually “fit” to whatever’s already built.

I usually build a “practice piece” – along WITH the main piece. Usually something smaller, but with comparable elements (joinery, etc.). I make sure I have more than enough material to do both, and choose the least desirable material for the practice piece, and I work the practice piece first – then the corresponding components on the major piece. When I don’t know techniques or tools, mistakes wind up on the practice piece. But the practice piece has always turned out to be usable, and often nearly as nice as the major piece.

Have fun!

-- Jim Maher, Illinois

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