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Forum topic by Bob Babcock posted 09-11-2007 10:47 PM 2169 views 0 times favorited 20 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Bob Babcock

1804 posts in 4082 days

09-11-2007 10:47 PM

Topic tags/keywords: design inspiration tools

Great addition Martin.

How do you design? By that I mean what drives you to build a particular piece. Reproduction, art, life, need, nature, profit? What kicks it off?

What tools do you use? Pencil and paper, CAD, Sketchup, just start cutting?

-- Bob, Carver Massachusetts, Sawdust Maker

20 replies so far

View mot's profile


4911 posts in 4032 days

#1 posted 09-11-2007 11:01 PM

What kicks it off? Generally, me and my big mouth.

I use a combination of paper and sketchup. It’s not uncommon for me to spend some time measuring where the piece is going to go, then taping the floor to get a look at the surface area that the plan I’m looking at will cover, or to decide the dimensions for an original piece. As I’m used to paper, sketchup has been a bit of a solution looking for a problem, however I’m using it more and more for mockups and to get an idea of dimensions for cutlists.

Most of my projects come out of the need to fill a space or to perform a task. The rest come out of the desire to do things for my kids, and then the occasional self indulgent piece thrown in, usually to test drive a process, or learn a skill.

As I’m a hobby woodworker, profit doesn’t really ever come into play. I’d have to say that my break-even point will come on around Christmas, 2054.


-- You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. (Plato)

View Drew1House's profile


425 posts in 4083 days

#2 posted 09-12-2007 12:32 AM

I have always used a pencil and paper (Usually grid withing a grid graph paper) but suspect that sketchup will be something I learn in the next couple pf months.


P.S. Blue tape on walls and carpet are also normal parts of the visualization process for me.

-- Drew, Pleasant Grove, Utah

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4156 days

#3 posted 09-12-2007 12:34 AM

Inspiration: an idea, a need, a picture, ... something that catches my attention. Usually the drive to move forward with the idea relies on two things: does it serve a purpose that I can use and/or does it have a new skill that I’d like to tackle or practice.

The Design: after mulling the idea around in my head, I draw a few rough sketches to put my idea into 2-d form; I then decide on dimensions; after that I try to be more technical and determine what sizes things need to be to create my idea. Then I let the image roam around in my head again because I usually think of a better design or a better way of doing things. Then I start the paper and pencil process all over again.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 3958 days

#4 posted 09-12-2007 12:38 AM

It usually starts with the idea. Sometimes??? it’s Carleen’s. Her and her ideas have kept me busy for a long, long time. First, is function; what is it supposed to do. Then basic form; what is the simpleist way to do it. Then paper and pencil sketches usually in perspective but not to scale. These are the “look at it” quickys.Then comes the refinement process. I have drawings I started a year ago. I’m still refining them and will someday build them. After the piece is refined it’s time for scale drawings. Sometimes this shows up some real problems to be solved. Once the scale drawing is done it’s time for the cutlist. I figure out a build sequence and follow it religiously. For kitchen cabinets I use a cutlist program called “CabinetCruncher”. It gives me cabinets, drawers and doors. Also bookcases and end panels. It’s not a very expensive program but it saves a lot of time.

Karson asked one time how long it takes me to do something like the carved leather clock. On the carved leather there are two ways to do it. I have a whole shop full of drawn out carving patterns. These are drawn on illustration board because that is what I use for my cut out patterns with saddles and such. It takes a lot of time to draw out a carving pattern and I mostly use this method on furniture and items I will be doing again and again. This method can give a more refined look to the finished product. The pattern is traced on to 5 mil Mylar and then traced onto the wet leather. I probably shouldn’t say wet but damp. “Cased” is the proper term.

The other way involves “tappers” these are leather flowers and leaves which are cut out to make a template. With this method a series of circles are drawn on the cased leather with a compass. These circles are connected in a logical fashion so the pattern runs through the area to be carved. This flow determines much about the pattern. Flowers are then tapped onto the wet leather as are leaves and scrolls. The cut pattern is then connected with a pencil directly on to the leather. This then becomes a real one of a kind piece. On saddles where there are two sides one taps the first piece onto the second after the cuts are done. This gives a mirror image. I’m sure that is as clear as mud.

With the art work it usually runs from a thumbnail sketch to a compositional sketch to detail drawings and finally to the working drawing. None of this takes as long as it sounds like. It is very important to have a recipe. If you don’t know where you are going who knows where you will wind up.


-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View john's profile


2370 posts in 4377 days

#5 posted 09-12-2007 01:03 AM

I usually just get an idea in my head and then i let er fly. Luckily for me i have no shortage of ideas.
I always try to build what i don,t see
I am also inspired by the past.

-- John in Belgrave (Website) ,

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Bob #2

3809 posts in 4017 days

#6 posted 09-12-2007 02:01 AM

I’m really no good at all with plans so I usually buy them and modify them from there or steal with my eyes.

You folks here have me inspired to disicpline myself to use sketchup and try to develop a fresh idea or two.

It’s tough to do that today as we are bombarded with fresh ideas constantly.


-- A mind, like a home, is furnished by its owner

View scottb's profile


3648 posts in 4323 days

#7 posted 09-12-2007 02:22 AM

Pencil and paper – usually the nearest convenient post it note, back of an envelope…

I usually get hit by ideas for things when I’m not looking for them, and usually when I’m between things – driving, off to lunch, walking to/from the bathroom, and so on.

I also often see things I like on TV or in magazines & catalogs and have a huge collection of back issues to go through waiting for a particular need to arise. That, or an inspired twist on something, that is 1/2 or 3/4 sorted out in paper (or my mind)

Many things I make for the house are, or will be built to fit a particular need, and I tend to overthink and revise their design and function several times, or over quite a long time, before I put tool to wood. – at least with things that don’t have a pressing NEED. For example, I was going to make a built in computer desk/closet underneath the attic stairs. A slide out desk to contain the Old PC tower, monitor, printer and scanner, that would all dissapear behind a door in an unused part of the house. Upgrading to the laptop has made this totally uneccessary. I’ve also gone through several incarnations of an island for the kitchen to work out exactly what I need for work space and storage in there.

Lots of things still don’t get made, as others have noted, because we are always coming up with, or being bombarded with new ideas daily. the most pressing get made, the rest are put on hold.

I make it sound like I’m an engineer and really work things out, but that’s not always true. Very often I just sketch out vague notions and see where the process takes me, working things out as I go.

I couldn’t really say if more things get made from well worked out plans or by the seat of my pants. I’d guess that I spend more time planning things that’ll never come to pass, but creating more from the latter.

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- --

View frank's profile


1492 posts in 4202 days

#8 posted 09-12-2007 04:32 AM

Hello Bob and all;
—-well here I go….now, “how do I design?”

And that might best be answered by; ”how can I not stop designing!” My head is a constant whirlwind of ideas that knows no two of a kind….let me design one of a kind and after that is over, I’ll start where I left off and design again. I just sold a piece that sat in a gallery through the summer and now there is the need to put another piece in it’s place, so what shall I present?

You see the problem//opportunity is really that I do ‘functional furniture’ and then there’s furniture that is ‘wood art’....this gallery likes ‘functional furniture’, so I’m in the valley of decision here. Functional furniture can sell more to the many, while ‘wood art’ has yet to be discovered and then linked to a name, so is this a problem or an opportunity to create design?

If I’m working on ‘functional furniture’ I will often gather some wood from within my barn or out in one of my wood lots….sit and think…..and sit and think some more, while at the same time I will also start sketching out some designs and re-sketching some more….and then pages more. Like the other day I’m sitting in my local Ford dealership getting my truck worked on, so out comes my pencils, inks and sketch book and I start drawing with no particular shape in mind for a bench. As time and pages fly by, the bench starts to take on more of a desgn flow, where the whiteness of a blank page is taken away and out of that blank page their is found within the image of a bench. After all is not that page I’m drawing on, just an-other piece of re-cycled wood and so in sense, by being true to my character, I am carving away the wood chips within that page with pencil and ink….what think ye? This type of designing is what I call on spot design and also makes for good advertising. While I’m drawing, folks will walk over and stretch their necks to see what is going on, so I’m also busy communicating and selling my-self in the image of the art I create. After this I will forget about the image on paper and if I cannot forget the image that is now within my head….I will in time start working that image out of my head onto an object of wood.

Once the image is in my head, their is no need to refer back to the image on the paper as that was only the embryo and after the baby has been birthed, my hands will bring the child into the image of an adult piece of functional furniture. That is, or may I say….that is how I design functional furniture and I might also add that this type of designing is a bore to me, and has no life! And so this is the opportunity that I am faced with right now as to what will I present for showing and selling….I mean as workers of wood we are all still playing ‘show and tell’ right? The only thing different about this ‘show and tell’ that we play is our ego’s are bigger now then when we were kids.

That is one way I design for functional furniture….yes there are other’s but only one way today. I might add that I do not use computer software programs for designing any of my projects, be they ‘functional furniture’ or ‘wood art’. Once the image is in my head, the trigs and geometry’s of math and all else is also in place and I be-come the piece of art I am working out into the wood.

Now I cannot stop here since I must also explain designing ‘wood art’, which is lfe….has life….and generates life! I remember when I first came to this site last year and the warm welcome I received here….and then I started blogging and blogging and blogging. Well one of the first things I started talking about was how that wood lives and wood talks….yes you heard me right and I make no apology for stating this and if any want to label me as mad, well so be it. You see I can live with whatever you want to call me, for I am secure in who I am and what I do, for I have heard the words that come from the spirit within the wood.

So to get on with designing this way, I will say that the wood talks to me and tells me what I am doing as I follow in the steps of wood design. If you were to come with me as I walk in the forest that surrounds me here, and if I could plug you into my audio sound system, what you would hear is conversations going on between the trees and myself. Would it shock you if I was to tell you that trees know their purpose and many are these purposes, while trees also live and die just as we do. Life and death is a fine line, till one understands that the line is really only in your own head and when you remove the line….what have you? So it is with trees and these also know when it is their time to pass-over and then there is the understanding of what it means when a tree decides to offer it’s self up to you for an object of ‘wood art’. Remember now, I asked you if you would be shocked….and also remember that you have perfect freedom to un-plug from my sound system at any time.

These ‘ancients of old’ teach in the woods that there is no-separation in life or death and that as the trees offer what cannot in essence be taken away, they are now continuing on to ‘produce their purpose’ in the wood of their art. No man takes this way from them, as they offer what is theirs to give. And so I walk….and so I waunder….knowing no-time out here in the woods, communing with the spirits that are trees as these also commune with the spirit that I am. It is in this communing that designing is now taking place as we talk of what shall yet be.

Do I have this designing process all down yet….well let me answer that question this way, I am in the place of where I am at this moment as ‘just is’ and therefore I don’t concern myself with having to learn more as I know the wood will take care of all that in my daily moments.

When I am designing for ‘wood art’, I need use no pencil or paper as to what is going on within me. I also keep the work hidden from the prying eyes of all men, till the work is done and sometimes the piece is not done for years and so I will keep secret as to what is going on and this includes my wife also. Functional furniture can be done in weeks and months, while ‘wood art’ can take years to birth as complete. Wood art can also change at a moments time, overnight and after sitting in suspended time for months the whole piece can suddenly ‘wake up’ and scream at me that it’s time to get the process going again. When I’m in the heat of the fury at creating, I will shut my barn door and even lock it from the inside so as to not be disturbed and days can become nights and weeks can become months as I work that image out of my head into the piece of wood. Understand that the wood has all-ways been what I am working out, as I remove what surrounds the image and in a way just as the wood needs me, I also need the wood. What I am designing//creating in the wood is also after the spirit of what the wood is designing//creating of me.

Well enough said for tonight, although I will add one last piece of information. As I have already stated that I do not use computer generated software programs for designing ‘functional furniture’ or ‘wood art’, however I do use software programs for designing home, barn and room renovations. I also use computer software programs for designing graphic arts and for playing around and stretching my imagination. You may also wonder now what part does imagination play in all this design process and why have I not used or spoken of imagination before now in this writing? And yes, on that point I will leave you hanging for a time being, since that one on imagination sounds like a blog story within it’s own self.

Let me add here, so that no-one gets the the wrong impression on my stand for or lack of, use of software programs for design, as I also have nothing against any who do use these as there is no-one way here. This is how I design….and how an-other designs is also up to the individual as to what means they will use. I am also not dodging or riding a fence here, as I will say what i will say, but to each it is given to find their own way and use the talents that they have been given….so go and start knocking on doors, till you find one that has a lock that fits your key….and again I say unto you, that to him who knocks, the door shall be opened.

Thank you.

-- --frank, NH,

View frank's profile


1492 posts in 4202 days

#9 posted 09-12-2007 05:55 AM

Hi Bob;
—-well I just couldn’t stop without throwing one in for ‘livid imagination’, so here I go….

....imagination is more then meets the eye,
for when the eye of man connects with imagination,
there is in the twinkling of an eye blink a gathering of thoughts,
that spells out the relief of all is very good….

—-so gather your knowledge and place it on the ground,
kick off your shoe leather that binds you to what other’s have to say,
spread your arms and find that you have wings of golden inspiration,
where in the mind of all you are there is bount-i-full grace….

....this is the soundings of a piece of music i call imagination,
where out of my soul comes the art-full giving of thanks,
that by my hands is creation going on as designer’s evolution,
and in the spirit of all i am there is much ‘wood art’ yet to be-hold

And so it is written, that one picture brings forth the sound of many words and the sum total of all those words is only worth what you can see that remains within…..

Thank you.

-- --frank, NH,

View RobS's profile


1334 posts in 4302 days

#10 posted 09-12-2007 06:48 AM

Wow, imagine that..... Well put Frank.

I too often have sightings of projects before they are born, can find works in the rough and often times design on the fly. Of course I may not have the finest of results, but tend to be more mindful of the uniqueness of a piece and developing the potential of the find. Larger or more visible projects will get the pencil, scale, and graph paper and I have not ventured into the computer aided planning. I work on the computer all day, so the mechanical/mental method provides a much needed break from the technical tendencies. Of course, I’m certainly not a fulltimer in this realm and understand that perfection demands design, its just sometimes for me the fun is in the unformatted flow of the project.

-- Rob (A) Waxahachie,TX

View shapeshifter's profile


25 posts in 3917 days

#11 posted 09-12-2007 06:54 AM

at first…
it’s all in your head.
growing forth as a line in the sand (or sawdust),
more often just an imaginary hand drawn figure in the air.
then pencil and paper (lots of paper and even a few pencils too).
only later it might be modeled, sometimes in clay, plastics, metal or even wood.
maybe, if it is patentable, does it finally get rendered in digital form on the computer.

at least that’s how it’s worked for me so far. i’m just a shapeshifter… someday i’ll change.

-- whoever invented the hole... knew nothing.

View Bob Babcock's profile

Bob Babcock

1804 posts in 4082 days

#12 posted 09-12-2007 07:37 AM

Interesting comments all. I was browsing your posted projects and it’s interesting to note that the projects somewhat reflect the design inspiration, process, and tools used. I guess that makes sense. I commonly get my ideas from nature but my training as a design engineer has me usually designing in detail in 3D. I also actually enjoy using the computer for design.

I typically start with a pencil sketch and then once the artistic side is developed I move to the computer to figure it out in detail. Like Frank though when the piece is something that has its own life I may just start cutting with a rough idea in my head. It’s often these pieces that I enjoy the most. I often feel less like I created them than like I discovered them.

LOL…I wouldn’t call you mad Frank. More like inspired beyond the norm. I’ve always loved to dream. I think imagination is one of the most precious gifts we can have.

-- Bob, Carver Massachusetts, Sawdust Maker

View Kaleo's profile


201 posts in 4135 days

#13 posted 09-12-2007 09:35 AM

Designing is a good thing. We all have our ways. I tend to do alot of research looking at others designs, I look at forms and shapes. I love to look at other mediums, like glass and ceramics and metal work. Those things always give me ideas. Right now in my life I get an assignment to make a specfic piece, then I get to do as I see fit with it. This is nice because I get to explore and have fun. But in the real world when trying to do this for a living, the client has alot to say with where the design goes.

I use good old paper and pencil to start. I have a skecth book always in reach to draw ideas quick. I’m starting to use some CAD for tech drawings, but I really love just doing those in a little book by hand. Taking notes as I make so if I need to make it again I have everything documented. But the computer is a great starting point for those tech drawings. I prefer auto cad and vectorworks over skecthup. THen I love to render in something like cinema 4d or 3d studiomax. Those programs can give you such a realistic render that you can see what it is going to look like.

I love to let my imagination run when trying to think of a new piece. I hope that in the future clients will let me do this.

-- Kaleo ,

View Damian Penney's profile

Damian Penney

1141 posts in 3987 days

#14 posted 09-12-2007 03:28 PM

I love designing things, with two young kids, four and eighteen months, I don’t get much time in the shop but I can always sneak a little time here and there on the PC to twiddle around with sketchup or just poke around.

My process starts with the class of object, desk, table, bed etc I’ll usually plug that into Google images and see what pops up. Cherry picking design elements/styles/techniques from the various pieces I come across and plugging those things, along with their designers back in to see where it leads me.

After some mulling, some sleeping, some pondering it all ends up distilled in my head where I’ll start to see whatever it is I intend to build. From there I’ll do some back of the envelope sketches (more like scribbles) and then it’s sketchup time where the design gets flushed out. Once I’m happy with it in sketchup I’m good to go.

-- I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it. - Pablo Picasso

View Dadoo's profile


1789 posts in 3986 days

#15 posted 09-12-2007 03:59 PM

I design mostly due to the want/need of the item vs. the outlandish prices and cheap construction of the storebought pieces. I like seeing custom built furniture that “fits” the room. I like seeing the “wood spirit” in the grain and how that spirit pattern was used to accentuate the piece. I really enjoy better the fact that “you” created that piece in your house, or that “you” designed and refurbished a piece to make it fit. Where do I get my ideas? Mostly, right here. Others from magazines or perusing the internet. I see magazine and TV adds…but what I notice is not the item being sold…What I notice is the background. I don’t want your sweater…but I really like that table behind you!

I design “from the hip”. First there’s the nessessity of the piece. Second is Googling the piece for photos and different options. (I think that’s how I found LumberJocks!). Third is taking measurements to see if I can make it fit the space. The rest is in my mind. I currently have 6 projects designed in mind and only one of those is on paper. I build as I go. I buy cheaper grade lumber because 6’ of it is the clear, prime board that I require for my project. I like the Shaker style. I love the Rustic style. I really like wrought iron and hand designed metalwork. Then I make my own cabinet pulls rather than spending $12.00 each on the iron ones. Call me frugal if you must but if I’m buying, I’d rather buy from the craftsman than the company.

Sometimes I need to draw a piece to “figger it out” or write down specific measurements for future reference. I have a dry erase board glued to the back of my garage door for this, and sometimes I use paper. The dry erase board is also metal and holds magnets well. I have downloaded the “Google SketckUp” program but have not used it much to “figger it out”. Winter is coming, there will be more time then for indoor playing.

20 years ago I was installing a telephone system in a pro-woodshop and on the wall they had this sign that read, “A man that works with his hands is called a laborer. A man that works with his hands and mind is a skilled laborer…But a man that works with his hands, mind and heart is called a Craftsman”.

There are a lot of Craftsmen here in LumberJocks.

-- Bob Vila would be so proud of you!

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