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Forum topic by fuzzface posted 11-30-2013 03:58 PM 1155 views 0 times favorited 21 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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62 posts in 1293 days

11-30-2013 03:58 PM

Topic tags/keywords: design

So here’s my situation. Been woodworking on and off for 20 years. Recently retired, built a new home, now have a basement workshop with dedicated machinery. What I’ve learned about myself over time is that I’m a decent technician, but a lousy designer. I can take somebody else’s plans and build a nice piece. But the pieces that always catch my eye are the one-of-a-kind pieces that people create. That part of my brain doesn’t work too well. So my question to the LJ community is what is the best way to learn designing? Not everyone is born with this talent, so how have others learned to do this? I greatly appreciate your insights.

-- I'm a LumberJock and I'm OK.............. I sleep all night and I work all day !!

21 replies so far

View waho6o9's profile


7123 posts in 1999 days

#1 posted 11-30-2013 04:03 PM

Pad and paper, scribble & change, tear up and start over
until you make something pleasing to the eye.

Great thread fuzzface.

View Loren's profile


8166 posts in 3070 days

#2 posted 11-30-2013 04:08 PM

For me the most important factor in designing furniture pieces
for aesthetics, comfort and usability is to look at a lot of
pictures of furniture and consider what I do and don’t like
about a particular design. Sometimes a modernish sort
of thing will be clean aesthetically but it doesn’t look that
easy to live with or it may have corners prone to chipping
or something so I think about these factors.

Krenov’s books influenced my thinking a lot. I don’t do
a lot of detailed furniture drawings but I do work things
out in my head a lot and take my time doing it. I learned
to do that because I got myself in trouble plenty of
times by not thinking something through thoroughly.

When getting into curves and seating and other higher-risk
things you can build from wood (where you can make
something that doesn’t work right if you don’t understand
the consequences of every choice), I find mockups helpful.
I hate taking the time to make them, so often I’ll
just make a crude mockup of a part of something to
get a feel for what it’s going to turn out like.

I collect junk wood and experiment on that sometimes.
Recently I’ve been steam bending but to figure out
shapes I’ve bandsawn out pieces of 2×4 so I can
clamp and screw my mockups together in order
to walk around them and see what I’m getting into.

Design in 3 dimensions is technical enough that I don’t
consider it a talent really, I’d call it a skill. Just as playing
a musical instrument well is a skill developed through
practice, design sensibilities develop over time as
one devotes more brain time to considering design.

View Mark's profile


814 posts in 1397 days

#3 posted 11-30-2013 04:16 PM

Why don’t you start with some one else drawing. Then start making changes. Add something of your own or a part of a different drawing. Just add and or subtract portions of the drawing ‘till you see something you like.

-- Mark

View jdmaher's profile


381 posts in 2002 days

#4 posted 11-30-2013 05:06 PM

+1 to what Mark suggested. Find something you like, and work to modify it.

That said, I’ve lately been trying to ‘start over’ – to retrain my sensibilities to recognize and intuitively draw shapes that I actually do find appealing. I used to do that by impromptu scribbling and doodling and trial and error. There may be a better way.

Take a look at 'By Hand & Eye' by George R. Walker & Jim Tolpin.

This is a book of insights, suggestions and exercises that is helping give a bit of structure – maybe even discipline – to my scribbling. I think I’ll need a lot more practice (years), but I’ve noticed some results in just a couple months; I’m starting to see, to know what I’m seeing, and to recognize not only what I like, but why.

-- Jim Maher, Illinois

View a1Jim's profile


115177 posts in 2999 days

#5 posted 11-30-2013 05:12 PM

I do both of what Loren said and use modified Ideas of other pieces I’ve seen that I like ,as Mark had sugested.
A mock up can be invaluable.

-- Custom furniture

View GOOD LUCK TO ALL's profile


418 posts in 1150 days

#6 posted 11-30-2013 05:47 PM

Learning to design is a widespread topic. First it depends on what type of item your trying to design.
Myself, I build a lot of custom built in entertainment units and an occasional pc of furniture here and there.
For me I had to learn to design for function and then for aesthetics.
There are so many styles, I think learning the different styles that are out there would be one of your first things to know. After picking the style for what your going to build I think you need to learn about proportion. This is very important in whatever your designing to look right. Then you should learn about details. Details such as router profiles and moldings and where and when to use them. Details are very important. Some of the smallest details could be the thing that makes your project look right.
The only other tip I could suggest would be to look at a lot of furniture and log into your brain as much as you can.
Anymore it is hard to design something of your own that hasn’t already been done. It’s a matter of finding pics of things you like and making changes to fit your style and needs.
I also learned sketchup, this has helped tremendously for seeing proportions and the overall look of things.

View jumbojack's profile


1667 posts in 2046 days

#7 posted 11-30-2013 05:59 PM

There arent many NEW designs. Just modifications of basic design. If you draw an end table, just a plain straight end table, then modify the legs to something that pleases you, the design process starts. The more you work it the more it morphs. My biggest problem is just getting started on anything. I love to work wood, so sometimes I will just start with a box and go from there.

-- Made in America, with American made tools....Shopsmith

View Lee Barker's profile

Lee Barker

2170 posts in 2273 days

#8 posted 11-30-2013 06:00 PM

Models. Cardboard (corrugated paper) can be cut (carefully, it’s dangerous) on a tablesaw, easily on a bandsaw. Hot melt glue.

Scaling will become second nature. Start small, get bigger.

Even if you don’t build it, the juice traveling between your head and your hands will create new pathways to your eyes.

Go for it.

A caution: The most common mistake I see as people begin their designing growth is utilizing inappropriate combinations of species. Stick with just one for a while and concentrate on line, form and artistic details. The art of sexifying a design with colors will come later, organically.



-- " his brain, which is as dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage, he hath strange places cramm'd with observation, the which he vents in mangled forms." --Shakespeare, "As You Like It"

View barringerfurniture's profile


223 posts in 1134 days

#9 posted 11-30-2013 08:00 PM

What a great topic!

I design all my own work. But the truth is, the style I work in (mainly Shaker or “Shaker influenced”) are long-established and can be seen everywhere. I don’t consider what I do to be original or even creative to a large extent. I’m very traditional- minded. That said, I would like to develop my style further in subtle ways to set myself apart from others.

Not to sound crass but I basically just copy other stuff, using proven construction methods, joinery, etc. The specific dimensions and wood choices are mine and maybe a few other specific construction techniques but that’s about it.

My designs usually start as a sketch that is visually pleasing to me, then go to dimensional drawing on graph paper with all the math figured out mentally and double checked. If I have to, I’ll draw out joinery and other things I’m unsure about to make sure they’re going to work. Then I make a cut list and go.

After taking note of all the mistakes I made and things I wish I had done differently, I do a concise shop drawing along with a cut list that remedies these things so that if someone ever asks for that piece, there really isn’t any thought required.

I do my shop drawings with pencils and paper on a manual drafting machine.

-- Scott Barringer, Sacramento, CA

View unbob's profile


693 posts in 1326 days

#10 posted 11-30-2013 08:22 PM

“I do my shop drawings with pencils and paper on a manual drafting machine.”

I do that also, works really well for me.
I think basic drawing and drafting skills is a good start. All the equipment for that is out there and dirt cheap, along with a book or two on the subject.

View rance's profile


4243 posts in 2583 days

#11 posted 11-30-2013 08:42 PM

Another +1 for what Mark said. Begin with someone else’s work you like. Invariably I’ll change something to suit my taste, or to make building easier for me. And also incorporate a flair from an unrelated project.

There’s nothing new under the sun. At least 99.99% of the time.

-- Backer boards, stop blocks, build oversized, and never buy a hand plane--

View nate22's profile


453 posts in 2297 days

#12 posted 11-30-2013 09:19 PM

I agree with mark. What I do is take ideas and then put those ideas together to make my own furniture. I always try to come up with something in all of my furniture to where its my own style and no one else can use it. With me I start with paper and pencil and start drawing things till I come up with what I want.

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

View Texcaster's profile


1103 posts in 1096 days

#13 posted 11-30-2013 09:36 PM

A good source for design proportions is….....IKEA. You may not like the construction or materials but the proportions are usually pleasing and they kindly give the dimensions in the catalogue. Just balance in your own
stiles, rails, leg and drawer sizes. Ex: most IKEA dining tables are 900mm x 1800mm, a double square, this suits apartment living and is a six seater. Some extend to 900mm x 2700mm, a triple square. Also the ” Golden Mean ” ( .618 to 1 ) will make a pleasing rectangle, you can go over the top and have everything relate to the over all mean. In reality it only has to be close.

-- Mama calls me Texcaster but my real name is Mr. Earl.

View mahdee's profile


3465 posts in 1190 days

#14 posted 11-30-2013 11:42 PM

I hardly ever use a design by someone else. My decision to make something, usually goes something like this: Let say a table is in mind, make the top first; use your imagination to make it as wild and crazy as you want, once it is done, take some time to see what type of leg design will complement it. Then make the aprons to complement the legs and so on. Yes, it takes time to do all that and some times you end up with fire wood instead of what you were hoping for; but in time, you will make unique designs that everyone wish they had thought of. It is all about time and patients. Good luck.


View barringerfurniture's profile


223 posts in 1134 days

#15 posted 12-01-2013 03:39 AM

I design as I go sometimes too – making decisions as I build. The trestle bench I built was like that. Then it feels more creative and free. I try to view what I do as a trade and a skill though, not an art really. So I try to establish my own conventions that I can use over and over, regardless of design, to become productive. Being a carpenter for fourteen years, I still feel like I’m on the clock. Still have that mindset. Not everybody’s cup of tea I know.

I know it’s my second reply here but I really like talking about that stuff.

-- Scott Barringer, Sacramento, CA

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