Recommended Posts

Are modern woodworkers to dependant on plans? The reason I ask recent I got into a rather heated discussion on another forum after reading a post from a guy who says he has 2 years woodworking experience but then apparently cant build a square box without a plan :blink: I replied with a response not trying to cause trouble or knock the guy at all but I said " A box is something that really you shouldn't need a plan for just pick the dimensions you want it to be and build it you really cant go wrong " Well that reply for some reason sparked a bunch of response defending the need for plans rather rampantly lol.

Am I alone in thinking a plan is sometimes needed if it is a dimension specific project but not for most projects it seems a lot of newer woodworkers are addicted to plans like they are a drug they cannot be without. I myself am a relatively new woodworker and have yet never used a plan and I find that it has helped me more than hurt my woodworking, but I must admit I feel building from plans every single project is hurting peoples woodworking skills they seem to have lost the ability to actually design and create something unique as they are dependent on having 50 detailed steps to complete even the simplest of project to the point that they have become sterile IMO.

What are your thoughts?

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Replies 57
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

Top Posters In This Topic

Popular Posts

This is a great discussion! It shows me that we all have an opinion on this subject. It has also helped me to identify something about the personal nature of my own approach to this craft. I have two

I agree 100%. You could also go further and say that modern woodworkers get caught up in the precision and lose the art. Instead of making sure the dado blade makes the perfect width, sometimes it's better to just fine tune the rabbet with a plane.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't know, I guess it's the definition of plans. To me a plan can simply be an idea of what you want to make or specific details like you mention. I almost always generate a plan, at least a plan of what I want to make and develop some method to create it. To me, that's a plan. Usually, I at least write down some important information such as constraints and create more details from that.

As I get more and more experience, I find that I use key points or measurements rather than "plans". But to me, that's still a plan.

Tim

Link to post
Share on other sites

None of my guitar have been from plans, I just got a picture from google, got the dimensions, and traced it roughly onto bristol board then refined it. The only time I make plans is after I mesure the real object in hand. Theres an acoustic blueprint laying around, but when it comes to building one this year I'll make one on my own. Im not sure about real woodworking, but my sister wants me to make her a bench. I'm sure a plan helps with material you need to buy though.

Link to post
Share on other sites

There are plans and then there are PLANS. The range goes from a fully detailed plan of a project designed by someone else to a back of the envelope sketch you make to help think out a detail of the project.

As a beginner I admit to having made a couple of projects from detailed plans I found in a woodworking magazine. I'm talking rocking horse, model trucks and cars and even some furniture. Its been a long time since I copied someone elses design.

I rarely make a detailed drawing of a project but I will sketch my design on paper and record the the dimensions. I hang the sketch on the wall and refer to it as needed. I also make sketches of any complex joinery or details that need accurate dimensions

Link to post
Share on other sites

I see the same thing in many skills / hobbies: cooking, playing musical instruments, knitting, etc. Some people like doing the design, some people like winging it, and some people like doing the craft and are happy that they don't have to worry about design. When I started wood working I never thought I'd use a plan, but now I see that for a complicated project, it might be very comforting to work with a proven design and plan, and not to have to worry about that along with all the implementation issues ("How come my jointer keeps making wedges!")

Link to post
Share on other sites

In a sense every project has a plan much like Mike suggested. Most of mine are scratched out on a proverbial cocktail napkin; there's a pile of them in a box for future inspiration. I assume Paul means these plans magazines sell with full cut lists, exact dimensions, and a mention of when you should take a bathroom break. I've never used the latter and know myself well enough to know I wouldn't follow it long. I much rather design my own from ideas then get some basic measurements from existing pieces (e.g., good height for a table, desk, stair rise/run and spacing, etc.) The downside is that I go to the hardwood dealer and eyeball how much I need; like my stomach, my eyes see more than I need so the excess starts to take on a life of its own (aka a previously empty garage bay).

For anybody who feels the need to follow a meticulously detailed plan, maybe try reading such a plan then fold it up and go at the project on your own. You'll have already seen how the joinery and parts go together and a good idea of dimensions or even tricky "I wouldn't have thought of that" dimensions. See how it goes. Resist the temptation to go back to consult the plan, which can be easily done by you married guys by giving the plan to the wife, say "if I ask to see this before I'm done, you can buy 4 more pairs of shoes". Done.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I have built a few project myself now and I have never used a plan. I will sit down and make a drawing or a sketch before I start to get an idea of what I am about to build but I dont look at plan for every aspect of a project. As for building a box that was one of the first things i ever built and it is something I think most woodworkers should learn to build, because building a box (a good box (at least for the most part)) requires skills like building square and can include a number of joint condition. These are all things that are neccesary in other types of projects.

Link to post
Share on other sites

For anybody who feels the need to follow a meticulously detailed plan, maybe try reading such a plan then fold it up and go at the project on your own. You'll have already seen how the joinery and parts go together and a good idea of dimensions or even tricky "I wouldn't have thought of that" dimensions. See how it goes. Resist the temptation to go back to consult the plan,

Why do you see the need to follow a plan as something to be resisted?

-- Russ

Link to post
Share on other sites

I understand how some people would want a plan, they just prefer to follow a list and have a predictable result. I would find them restrictive, myself, and if I were to use a plan I wouldn't trust someone else's numbers. I start with overall dimensions and work inward. I want to build the pieces that are in my head, anyway.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Ooh good topic, I'm going to mention this on WTO when we record tonight. This is a sore point for me. I can see why you got a heated response Paul because it is hard to suggest you don't need plans without putting someone on the defensive. Moreover, I think it is tough to articulate why you don't need them. With a little experience you just get a feel for how things go together and the measurements are kinda secondary. I believe that a good study of your form whether it be boxes or furniture is essential to make you a better woodworker. Looking at finished pieces and visualizing how they go together is a great exercise to eliminate the dependency on a plan.

On the other hand this may be one of those fundamental personal things that some people need to have. Some are visual learners and need to see if while others are aural and need to hear it. This could be the same thing.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I think we shouldn't judge the way people see them...

At the beginning, I was relying a lot on them. It was giving me some comfort, something to fall back on like a pair of training wheels on a bike... Then someday, even thought i follow up the steps, it doesn't fit like it was supposed too... Damned plans :-)

Now i practice what Marc show us on many projects.... The plan can be a reference, but it comes a time when the real measurement comes from what is built at this moment, not the plan.... With time our skills evolve so do our needs of following very detailled procedures.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Why do you see the need to follow a plan as something to be resisted?

-- Russ

I should have worded that part better. It should have been prefixed with: "if you are dependent on a plan and can't break away from one try...". It isn't to say it is wrong, but if something completely spells out a project and you follow it to the letter, that dependency completely stifles your creativity.

I also think that most people who are plan-followers do so because they are afraid of making a mistake or perceived mistake on a project. Naturally this is a generalization. A perceived mistake could be using a bridle joint where the plan calls for a dovetail... isn't wrong, just different. A real mistake is not creating an allowance for something you are building later in the project so now you have to either fix or compensate; fixing or compensating, I feel, is a good thing to learn how to do (maybe cuz I make lots of these mistakes ohmy.gif) and sometimes the fix becomes a useable skill.

On the other end of the spectrum, I know I'd have difficulty following a plan. Making repeated projects like 6 identical dining room chairs would likely be more difficult for me than for someone who is used to following a plan. I'm not sure of a remedy for this other than having Gunnery Sergeant Hartman bark at you the whole time in the shop.

I agree with Shannon in that studying a plan like those exploded diagrams in Fine Woodworking is good since many times I'll notice something that catches my attention and studying it reveals the 'why' it is there.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I have been thinking about this a lot lately. Not because I use plans, but because I never have. I think it comes from a computer technical background, but I "see" the plan in my head. Fully detailed as if drawn in Autocad. I can explode alter and reassemble in seconds allowing me to daydream up all kinds of nifty crap. Which creates a problem in explaining and/or teaching my ideas. I start talking, then out with the paper. By the time someone is on the same page, I have moved to a new model, idea, or design.

With kind of a return to the craft I expected my skills to be there and I am having trouble. My first project is a butcher block island. Simple no plan. Only a ruff idea and measurements.

Project two, a coffee table table. No measurements yet, just an idea and "I like the look of black walnut".

Third project, probably a couple of months away, two matching wall hanging cabinets. Heavy on the molding, and hold the finish. I probed for more info and received a fairly impressive sketch.

With the third project in the back of my mind. I have been wondering when do people force themselves into sketchup or some other program. As as a modern woodworker when do I stop flying by the seat of my pants.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I have been wondering when do people force themselves into sketchup or some other program. As as a modern woodworker when do I stop flying by the seat of my pants.

Is there really a need? I mean if you can build it without needing them then isn't it kind of a redundant step? Unless you plan on selling your design then I could understand.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Are modern woodworkers too dependent on plans?

Depends a little on what you mean by "plans", and I see in a later post that you're talking about super-simple instructions that explain every step of a project in gory detail.

I can certainly see the value of plans like this for beginners. I think everyone will agree that if you want to do woodworking, at some point you have to stop reading magazines and stop watching Wood Whisperer videos, and actually head out to the shop where you can BUILD SOMETHING.

Well, some folks have the imagination and the experience to do that without a lot of external help. But others, for whatever reason, truly need some hand holding, especially in the beginning. Without that help, they'll either never hammer together their first birdhouse, or they'll fail enough times that they just give up in frustration. So I'd say that take-me-by-the-hand-and-show-me-every-step plans are a good thing, espeically for people these days who didn't get to take shop class in high school or who didn't grow up with a mentor of some sort to show them which end of a screwdriver you're supposed to hold on to.

So, of the people who get started using take-me-by-the-hand-and-show-me-every-step plans, some fraction will progress to the point where they don't need the explicit detail any more, and that's great. Others will progress even further to where they are creating their own designs and plans. That's also great.

But what about those who keep using their baby-step plans to crank out endless copies of other people's designs? Maybe they like to build things, but they're just not all that creative (not everybody is). Or maybe they like that structured plans reduce the risk of mistakes or failure. Or maybe they're trying to learn a style or technique, and they find that imitation is the best way to do that. In any case, if detailed plans help to make them happy and productive in the shop, then I say "no harm, no foul." I don't see anything especially lamentable about that.

---------------

Although I don't think Paul intended it, the other issue that's come up here is whether it makes sense to make drawings or sketchup files first, or whether it's better to just build on the fly. That clearly depends on the complexity of the project, as well as the preference of the guy doing the build. I happen to be in the "make a drawing first" camp for all but the very simplest of projects. I'd much rather make my mistakes in 2D on paper than in 3D using wood. YMMV.

-- Russ

Link to post
Share on other sites

Very well argued, Russ.

Rather than a question of creativity, which I think is further down the road, it's more a question of confidence and technique. For people like myself, barely a beginner, the 'woodworking by numbers' approach is perfect. As long as the plans and operations are provided by a trustworthy source, you're reducing the problem to being able to reproduce the operations - which builds your confidence.

Unfortunately that doesn't really do much for technique because it isn't always obvious why some operation is done the way it is. So perhaps you'll start experimenting, or (as I do) float ideas on a forum - which is also more efficient than mangling wood.

Probably Paul's concern was that, after 2 years, someone is still doing things by numbers. That depends on your objective. Designing things, and working out ways to build them can be stressful for some, as much as it is fun for others - even if it's 'just a box'. If all you want to do is pass a few peaceful hours building something to the best of your ability, for fun rather than profit, starting with a known goal - and a known result, then sticking with the numbers is a sensible move.

John

Link to post
Share on other sites

Is there really a need? I mean if you can build it without needing them then isn't it kind of a redundant step? Unless you plan on selling your design then I could understand.

Doesn't my "just do it" attitude eventually have its limitations? Would you, me, or we resort to a large plan and/or cut list if there were a full kitchen involved? If you had to build a hundred boxes all the same size, what then? At what point do we stop and rethink the process?

The original question being at what point we wean ourselves off of baby stepper plans. But isn't there a point where you would need them. I have built whole kitchens from my head, but I would not even attempt that now.

I guess, like so many times in the past, I skip steps and then turn around and have to relearn or rework what I should have done to start with. Maybe I do know my limitations and I'm just over thinking everything.

Link to post
Share on other sites

My thought on the subject is that most people are more into the building than designing of pieces. I think that's why they tend to be reliant on a plan of a piece. While I think that's a fine approach, I much prefer the design aspect of woodworking. I like the relative dimensioning approach to building much better for something when it's not constrained to a specific space. The cradle I built was very rough sketches to work out the dimensions and look of the piece and then fine tuned on the boards, then cut. Each piece was cut to fit as I went along. It was a quite fun. Now, that's not to say I wont do a more comprehensive plan in the future, but I'll always build to the piece and not the plans.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I have been thinking about this more and more after reading all the great responses to the question thanks all by the way! I think I have finally come to a understanding in my own mind as to what my problem is with the situation it goes back to something from along time ago I heard from our own wood whisperer himself i think it was a convo between him and Matt.

Now I dont remember the thing in full detail as far as word for word but it was something to do with dovetails someone asked a question about if he should dovetail as he had never used them before and Marc said something along the lines of The question shouldn't be should I use a different method because I dont know HOW to do it, you use them because its the Best joint for the job.

People become stuck in a rut never learning new things they found that one thing that was easy to do and never advanced beyond it, I guess I see using baby stepper plans ( and I am not using the saying "baby stepper" as an insult or to belittle it just its the best way I can think to explain them) as the same thing I also believe Marc said something along the lines of "How can you learn something new if you never push yourself to learn something you have never done before if you stay in that comfort bubble?"

Just to address the issue of sketch up etc I have no issue with that I have used it myself to get an idea of how a piece is going to look once im done the same as writing down dimensions I feel would work best so i have no issue with that or like Chad said about building set of kitchen cabinets agree 100% just building a bunch of random cabinets and hoping they fit doesnt work so yeah a project plan is needed but that plan wont hold your hand threw it all it will give the basic dimensions you need and how it all fits together.

But my problem isn't with someone new to wood working using a "baby stepper plan" in fact it probably would have made my learning curve a lot less stressful but my problem is when people have become so dependent on that hand holding that they never advance.

Sure I understand the circumstance that some people just like building it from a plan just the point of putting it together kind of like doing a jigsaw puzzle. I guess for me I just see so much lost potential in those kind of people when you have someone who has been woodworking for 2-3 years and are afraid to build even something as mundane as a bird house without a plan to me its an extremely sad event as there is so much talent,potential and skill just going to waste being a cookie cutter woodworker.

I even had one guy tell me "Everyone needs a plan or they couldn't do it" my response was "Really? Then who was the first guy who built it to begin with to even make the first plan?".

Hope this long reply makes sense I haven't been awake long lol

Link to post
Share on other sites

I struggle with this from time to time. My family is on opposite sides of the spectrum, half are engineers that rely heavily on plans and instructions, and the other half are artist types. So I was raised by both types of personality's, so I've got a jekyl and hyde thing going on. I went to school for graphic design which in a sense is like both worlds because you have to have constraints but there still needs to be some creativity in it. The only times I really use plans is for shop items, jigs, shop furniture etc, in my head I fell like that those things need to be exact and do their job well, and I need a plan for that. But for the furniture, small boxes, other little things I have made I just wing it, I feel that just designing on the fly helps me confront challenges head on and make me a better wood worker. Half the time I just don't feel confident enough to do something without a plan, and then the other half of the time i just see a picture and wing it from there. I do find me taking the time to do a sketch up drawing helps me visualize the end result and make changes without wasting material, but I never make them to exact dimensions, I just use it as a visualization aid. Because I spent some much time in adobe illustrator I find sketch up easy to use so it really doesn't take me much time to design a project. I don't think that there is anything wrong with plans and sometimes there is a need but I don't I see myself using the exclusively.

Link to post
Share on other sites
...I "see" the plan in my head. Fully detailed as if drawn in Autocad. I can explode alter and reassemble in seconds allowing me to daydream up all kinds of nifty crap.

That's probably a big part of it right there. I'm able to do that too, it surprised me to find that few can. If I were unable, I'd find a lot of comfort in a fully detailed plan.

I'm also always "daydreaming up nifty crap". :D It's a very handy ability, and it would suck tremendously to have that taken away.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I tend to build everything in my head, which has its downsides but its how I like doing things. Biggest downside is that there are places where I wind up with sloppily designed parts. Projects that I have to hastily fix. Those parts do become apparent to those looking at it who know how to design.

warning opinion section:

I don't like the look of projects made from purchased plans. I like them for learning but after a while if everything is built like that it makes all your projects look bland and pattern copied. There are plans that are neat and look different but then that goes away after a bunch of woodworkers all build it. The upside to making your own plans and designs is that you get to be creative which is why I like woodworking in the first place.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.