Deciding On Your Next Woodworking Project

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Deciding What To Build

The first step of any woodworking project involves planning. Simple project may take just a bit of forethought before you’re ready to build, but more complicated furniture usually takes much more preparation. Either way, some degree of planning is essential.

Project planning has three basic stages: determining what to build, working out the details through drawings and prototypes, then calculating materials and cutting lists from your drawings.

Maybe your family has outgrown the kitchen table and you want to replace it with something a bit out of the ordinary. You can design any table you want and customize it to suit your individual needs or tastes. Maybe you’ve had your eye on an Arts and Crafts sideboard at the local furniture gallery, but it’s priced beyond your means.

Building one yourself allows you, rather than the furniture gallery, to control the quality and cost. Possibly you just want to try some new woodworking techniques or tools to expand your skill base. The motivation to build something has any number of sources.

Gathering ideas – whatever your motivation may be for building something, chances are you’ve already thought about enough to have some initial ideas about a design. The idea-gathering stage is an important one. It’s the time to let your imagination go without committing to any one idea. Feed your ideas with lots of concrete options so you can start to clarify a design.

Furniture stores are great places to examine different examples of various styles and types of furniture designs. Look at friends and families furniture, clip out photos from magazines and catalogs and keep them in a folder for ideas of what you would like to build.

Furniture follows some classical style trends and always has. Certainly everything you make doesn’t have to conform to an accepted style, but basic furniture design is the end result of centuries of trial and error. Study proportions of cabinetry, tables, chairs and chests to get a sense for how furniture functions in harmony with the human body.

You’ll know a comfortable chair when you sit in one, even if you can’t pinpoint why it feels so supportive, seat size, leg height and the tilt of the back rest are all factors that contribute to comfort.

Evaluate your skills, tools and budget – keep your skill level in mind as you study furniture. Furniture with delicate inlays, relief carvings or parts that join at angles or curves will be more difficult to build than pieces with straight lines and minimal ornamentation. If you’re just starting out, consider making projects in the Arts and Crafts, Shaker and country styles. These are good options for building sturdy furniture without needing advanced woodworking skills or a full arsenal of machinery or tools.

Try a new technique here or there within the furniture style your skill level to keep every project interesting. Your roster of skills will grow bit by bit without jeopardizing the success of a whole project.

Building sensibly means working with some project budget in mind. When you pockets for a project aren’t deep the dollars will go farther by building with ¾ inch lumber rather than thick slabs of exotic hardwood. It’s almost always true that the larger your project becomes physically, the more it costs. One way to help keep from blowing the budget on big projects is to substituted sheet goods for solid lumber.

Sheet goods are generally less expensive and you can steer clear of the wood movement issues you’ll face when designing panels made of solid wood. Remember to include the cost of special hardware you project will call for, such as slides, hinges, doorknobs and drawer pulls. These items definitely add to the bottom line of what your project costs to build.

Before embarking on a project, have a look around your workshop at the tools you own. Do you have all the equipment you will need for cutting out your project parts, shaping the edges, assembling wood panels or smoothing the part surfaces? If your project parts are small and curved, how will you safely cut the tiny curves?

A scroll saw is the best tool for this task. Will you need one or can you modify the design or accomplish the task another way? Think through the construction phase of the project and how you’ll manage each machining step. Otherwise, you could end up midway through the project and stumped over how to proceed. If you can’t accomplish the project without buying a new tool, will you budget support the expenditure?

Creating Working Drawings

This is where the fun begins! You get your first look at the project-to-be and you can work out the bugs in the overall look of the piece without laboring over the details. Approach concept sketching by giving your hand ‘free rein’ to draw and redraw any inspirations that comes to mind.

This is not the time to worry about perfect symmetry, properly scaled portions, crisp lines or exacting curves. You can take care of all that later when you produce the mechanical drawings. Do not however go on from sketching to drafting until you have something you really like. It’s too time-consuming to make major design changes at the drafting stage.

Choose an artist’s sketchbook and a soft #2 lead pencil with a pink-tipped eraser. Avoid using anything harder because their lines are difficult to erase from typical sketch paper. Hold the pencil lightly and just move across the page until something comes to you. Allow your arm to move with your hand as you make long lines and turn the sketch pad as you naturally sweep your wrist across the paper when drawing angled lines.

One of the benefits of doing ‘freehand concept sketches’ is that you can easily create a series of ‘what-if’ views. Instead of redrawing the form over and over, simply trace it onto a piece of translucent paper, leaving out the areas that will be changed in the ‘what-if’ views. Or you can photocopy as many basic outlines as you’d like and then flesh them out with your new design idea.

Once you have settled on a concept sketch that comes closest to what your idea is, it’s time to assign some dimensions to the project. By setting out the design to scale in a mechanical drawing, you can see clearly how the size and shape of components relate to one another. Methods and sequences of joinery also become more obvious. These working drawings are a bridge between your freehand concept sketches and a master cut list.

Drafting basics –

These skills are mostly common sense: make sure your board is free of lead and eraser debris before taping paper to it. Align the bottom of the paper to the parallel rule and then secure it to the board with a piece of tape in each corner.

Keep a scrap piece of paper between your hand and the drawing to avoid smudging your work. Use a brush to wipe away eraser debris, not your hand. Once you establish a baseline on your drawing, draw any degree angle to it using either angle templates or a protractor and straightedge.

Begin the angled line precisely on a dimension mark by fires holding the pencil to the mark and then sliding the template or straightedge to it. if you reverse this process, parallax can play tricks on your eyes, causing you to misjudge the placement of the pencil. Draw out a waver-free line by tilting the pencil slightly into the corner formed between the edge of the template and the paper.

A mechanical drawing is nothing more than a happy meeting of lines that indicate the outline of an object and where measurements are being made to. Unless these lines vary in some way, the drawing can be difficult to read.

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