Woodworkers of any skill level will benefit from thinking of projects in three phases: Design; Test; Build.
I rarely touch a piece of wood without first sketching out a plan. On occasion I will simply scribble something out on a scratch piece of paper (sometimes I’ve used scrap wood), but most of the time I play around with a design on the computer using SketchUp.
I won’t go into detail now about SketchUp, but I think it’s the greatest development for woodworkers since power tools. The bonus is that the basic program, which gives the average woodworker all the tools needed, is FREE. I’ve been working in it for years and don’t go a day without using it. Go Google it, which is appropriate because it’s a Google product. It’s easy to use and won’t take you long to learn.
Sketching a project first seems like a no-brainer, but I can recall not so long ago that I would just go out in the shop and work at a project just because I had the “itch” to build something. Sometimes I would walk away with something worthwhile. Plenty of times I walked away very frustrated…
In this design phase, you can work out all the kinks of the actual design. In a program like SketchUp (or any CAD program) you can view the project from every angle and perspective and know what it’s going to mostly look like when finished. You can work out proportion and size without cutting a single piece of wood. It’s the best starting point you can have for a project.
Make sure you know some general standards for project proportions first – there are plenty of resources online, or you can simply measure some examples of what you want to build and start from there. I’ll follow up in a different blog some standard measurements for chairs, tables, and benches. But don’t be afraid to experiment with proportion, sometimes subtle changes can make huge differences and create a whole new look.
And I recommend you always sleep on a sketch/design, then show it to at least three people for their opinions. I use that as a rule of thumb for my personal and professional projects. Check your ego though, because your perfect project may turn off some folks.
Below is an example of a sketch (done in SketchUp) of a personal project that eventually made its way out of my shop. In the next blog in this series, you’ll see a photo of it in the Test phase, which will help illustrate the progression of a project.