With the weather getting cooler and generally more pleasant here, I’ll be getting more opportunities to get outside and work on the pleathora of projects I have that need attention. Specifically I’ve got a workbench that needs finishing up, a yarn-ball-winder that’s almost done, a few garden beds that need to be ripped up and redone, a “cat-blocker” to make for the craft room’s door, a kitty scratching post, and a portable laptop desk that I want to get finished up before it gets too cold to work outside. A lot on my plate, for sure; especially with a pool that will need to be winterized in a few weeks; a lawn that needs to undergo several weed-treatments, feeds, and reseeding; and a toddler who goes out of his way to make sure his parents don’t get anything useful done. I’ll feel accomplished if I get even half of my list taken care of.

Anyway, with getting out to the workshop a bit more before the onset of winter, I thought I’d share one of my resources with all of my readers (all 3 of them). Most of the time when I’m going to build something, the first thing I do is check and see if somebody has already designed it for me (or at least something similar). If it’s already been designed then it makes my job easy, especially if that design is available free.

The first place I always go is Free Woodworking Plans. They have a huge number of plans linked in a wide range of project types. If they don’t have exactly what you’re looking for, they’ll at least have something pretty close. Google is another great resource too, and doing a simple search for plans matching what you want to build can return a plethora of both free and pay-for plans, and an image search can provide lots of ideas if you want to design it yourself.

Now generally my projects happen in 3 to 4 parts:

  • Project aims and research
    • First I determine exactly what I want to build by determining what I want to accomplish
      • This generally prevents over-engineering or scope run-away.  A lot of projects that I start with only a vauge idea tend to get carried away and snowball on me.  Taking time to outline exactly what I’m trying to accomplish can help me focus on what I actually need to do
    • From there I do research.
      • I check and see if anyone has a free plan for exactly what I’m trying to build.  If I don’t have to re-invent the wheel then I can save time
      • If there are no free plans, I then look at purchasable plans.  Most of the time purchasable plans are unrealistically expensive, so I’ve had spotty luck with buying plans.  Sometimes I’ll find that a plan has been published in a magazine, and as my father has every woodworking magazine known to man, I can sometimes leech an issue off of him.
      • If I can’t get plans in a reasonable fashion, I research built samples of what I’m trying to do.  I save pictures that match close to what I’m trying to accomplish and deconstruct what I think the builder did to make the piece.  I’ll often gather over a dozen samples of different work so that I can piece together samples of different design ideas.
  • Design
    • More often than not, I won’t have any actual plans to work from.  But if I do manage to get plans this step is skipped.
    • Once I’ve got all my research done, it’s time to break out the graph paper!  One of the best ever websites is Incompetech’s Free Online Graph Paper site.  I use this page all the time for making project graphpaper.
      • My favorite for woodworking graph is to set up a square multiwidth graph paper with the following settings:  large grid weight 0.7, medium grid weight 0.3, largest grid spacing 2 Lines per inch, medium grid spacing 12 lines per inch, small grid spacing 0 lines per inch.  Everything else left as default.
      • Those settings produces a grid that works very well for woodworking when using English based (inches/feet) measurements.
    • It’s all about drafting at this point.  Using a combination of a straight edge, compass, and protractor I hash out a scale design of what I want to make.
      • It’s at this point where I decide what materials I’ll need, and more importantly what kind of wood I’ll be using.
      • Joints and special techniques are also outlined and decided upon so that I know whether the project can be built with existing tools, or if I’ll need to buy anything new or make a special jig.
      • I also include a wood list, and a cutting diagram in my design.  This way I can determin how much wood to buy and how I’m going to cut everything. 
      • Laying all this out first reduces the amount of waste lumber I produce, and consolidation of cutting generally means I can minimize the amount of wood that needs to be purchased.  This consolidation also tends to produce a few larger pieces of scrap lumber rather than lots of little pieces.  Larger pieces of scrap are more desireable as they are of greater use in future projects.
    • Once I’m happy with the design I move on to the next part
  • Purchasing
    • I buy the wood and hardware necessary to build the project. 
      • For larger projects I may stage the purchasing and building into smaller phases.  As with all projects I run into the occasional issue and have to do a quick modification to the design.
      • Building larger projects in smaller steps reduces the amount of parts that are rendered obsolete due to a required design change.  I buy and put together phase 1, and then make sure phase 2 looks like it’s going to go accordingto plan, or if I need to make a revision before continuing.
      • Smaller steps also allow some extra latitude for buying some parts inexpensively online that need extra time to ship.  EG: I can be working on phase 1 while awaiting phase 2 parts to arrive.
  • Building
    • Pretty much as you would imagine: I build the project (or the current phase).
    • If I’ve done my due dilligence I shouldn’t need to deviate too much from the plans I made/downloaded/purchased.
      • Rarely do things go 100% according to plan.  Even when building from somebody else’s design often you’ll run into parts that  you can’t do as they designed, the designer doesn’t properly explain what they’re doing, or you think “why did they do it this way?” and improve their design with your own methods.

And that’s pretty much it.  I try to keep most of the patterns I draft up with any notes of changes I do, but a lot of my projects are pretty specific (Like custom workbenches for the basement) so my plans end up getting tossed or lost when I’ve got everything done.

-Confusion is a state of mind, or is it?