Isn't relying of someone else's plans kinda like painting by paint by numbers?

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Dave,
Just my limited experiences:
I've built four major things from my own designs and two major things from plans.
The first thing I ever built was a shop table for my planer. I didn't have much else working, yet, so it's just screwed together and is rickety. I designed it myself, though. Wish I'd known about half-lap joints at the time. Maybe a plan would've helped.
The second thing I ever built was a table for my son, of my own design. I didn't get a plan because it seemed to be to be very straightforward. I looked at a number of other children's tables to get the basic dimensions, and designed a big, heavy library table with mortise and tenon jointery - but sized for a two year old. I'm very proud of it.
The third thing I ever built was my son's bed. I looked for plans as a basis because there was a lot about making a bed I didn't want to learn by messing up $250 in cherry. I had no idea how to distribute the loads, how big it should be relative to the mattress, or what knock-down jointery system to use. I got _The Bed Book_ and discovered that the first bed in it was exactly what the bed I wanted to build. I changed the design not one iota. I'm also very proud of that bed - while the design is not mine, I did select the wood, mill it and select and implement the finish. If I do say so myself, it's very pretty.
The fourth thing I ever built was some wall-mounted cabinets for my shop. I designed them myself. One of them is in the process of falling apart. I didn't do a dado for the backs, I just glued and nailed them on, and that wasn't sufficient for the stresses. I wish I'd spent more time looking at plans. Hopefully I'll be able to salvage the materials.
The fifth thing I ever built was an enourmous (6' x 2 1/2') planter for SWMBO. I designed it primarily to skimp on materials while allowing for a lot of wood movement while not actually doing any complicated jointery so that I could move on to a project I really wanted to do. Between you and me I realized after it was about 90% complete that, if you tried to pick it up in the most obvious way while it was full of dirt that it was going to fall apart, so I reinforced it with a bunch of metal L brackets. Yuck. I'm not very proud of it, although I am happy with how it looks. I looked at a lot of plans, and got a lot of ideas about how to design the drainage system for it, but I never really found plans that were exactly what I wanted, so I designed my own. I'm a big fan of the saying, "Experience is what you get when you don't get what you want." This project was good experience.
Finally, I'm building a bench along one wall loosely based upon Norm's "Miter Bench and Storage." It's not exactly the same, but it was very convenient, for such a large project, to have someone else provide a materials and cut list. I'm also paying a lot more attention to how to do things like build drawers so I don't make similar errors to what happened with the cabinets.
To me, there's two basic reasons to use plans. First of all, I know WAY more about woodworking than any other person I know. Unfortunately, that's not saying much. Rather than teaching myself how to design at the same time I teach myself craftmanship, building from someone else's plans allows me to focus a lot of time on the craft of building and not sweat about design details.
The second reason is that the plan is available and is exactly what I need. Most of my woodworking at this time has a utilitarian base - I'm building furniture and fixtures I need. If I see plans that are for almost exactly what I want, it's a definite time-saver to use them as a starting point. Since I'm researching plans anyway to get an idea of what the design elements are to consider, if I find exactly The Plan, why try to recreate it from scratch?
Do I hope to some day be able to just sit down and whip out a design for any project? Absolutely. But I guess in some ways this lets me apprentice myself to people like Jeff Miller or Norm Abram. The master designs, and I implement, and in implementing try to understand the design better.
-BAT
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Brett,
Thanks so much for contributing to this thread and answering in such detail. I may have to start Googling thru JOAT'S many plans before I start building my office desk, which should be my next project. I agree it's silly to reinvent the wheel.
dave
Brett A. Thomas wrote:

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Isn't paint by numbers fun?
If I have to whip out a quick project, like a stand for a shop tool or some built in cabinets to conceal some clutter, I'll find a plan. If I am building something for someone else and want to be special, like a desk for my daughter or a jewelry box for my wife, then I design from the ground up.
Montyhp

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Plans are the three "Rs" of woodworking. They are the distilled experience of their creator and generations of woodworkers before. You're using someone's plans even if you don't place a drawing on a board to guide you, the only difference is the paper they're rendered on. The principle is called vicarious experience - education.
BTW, if you don't make a plan, at least to note basic dimensions, you're going to have a lot more things to complain about here - like wasting wood.

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George, I'm more highly educated this morning than yesterday, having read responses in this thread. When I built my workbench and wall cabinets, I first sat at my pc and worked in Excel to calculate dimensions, esp. since there were dados and rabbets involved. Even so, one cabinet came out a bit wider than I had designed, due to one oversight while doing the calcs. But all in all, those 3 projects went pretty well, considering how newbie I am at this. During construction of a drawer for my Unisaw, I forget to dado for the bottom, which I realized just as I glued it together. After much discussion, I ended up Roo gluing and stapling the bottom to the underside edge of the drawer sides, since it is a light duty drawer. Had I had more step by step plans, I would most likely have avoid that snafu. As my projects become more complex, I'm gonna hit a wall where I can't conceptualize the "whole package" any longer. For the time being I've been able to get away with winging it. :)
dave
George wrote:

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Watch the "step by step" plans. If you forgo good sense to follow them, you can end up remaking - as I am right now - some of the pieces. Like a fool, I cut them to measure, not to fit.
During construction of a drawer

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There is a concept in the software industry referred to Patterns and Practices. Or "Best Practices". Point of it is that if you are writing let's say an Accounting package, there are some things that they should all have, and ways in which certain function should work. Also, in the kitchen, we have a thing called a recipe box. In it we have "plans" for different foodstuffs. Granted I may like walnuts in my cake, or you might like cherries, but if you don't get the right amount of baking powder or baking soda in it, it will be a pile of goo.
I see plans as recipes. In the same vein there are reasons that most chairs are so high and tables are another height. Granted that if your family is taller than the norm, or shorter than the norm you might modify a set of plans to make it so, but if one were making let's say a bed, and wanted standard mattress and or sheets to fit it, you may wish to start with a set of plans.
As for paint by numbers, I have seen some oil's done that way that are beautiful, and the lady that did them thoroughly enjoyed herself. She certainly considered that a hobby. I know a guy that makes wine, but he starts with a mix rather than growing and stepping on his own grapes. he still considers himself a wine maker, and enjoys his hobby... and may I say the wine is delicious. hell, the guy that built my house used a set of plans.
Are you suggesting that one using plans is not a hobbyist? Ok, so one must make his own plans. How about using mfg wood products? Should one only use solid wood... From trees that he felled himself, grown from his own seeds, cut with an axe that he forged in a furnace that he built, fired by coal that he mined himself......
You find your enjoyment in the design of things. That is wonderful and you enjoy that. Some people, probably enjoy planing, jointing or dressing wood. My son, for example couldn't be bothered with any of it, he just likes to hammer nails. There are many aspects to this hobby, in the days of the tradesmen (please no flames about how we still have tradesmen, I agree) there were separate jobs. Jointer, Sawyer... etc. I can't imagine making hand cut dovetails 10 - 16 hours a day, but that might really be somebody's thing. I don't mind cutting a couple, either as a matter of discipline or for bragging rights, but if I had to do a bunch give me a template and a router...
This is starting to sound a bit flamey... I am not intending it that way. Just ranting. I think I remember a thread a long time back about purists getting to the point of banging on a tree with a rock... You can take any aspect of the art, and say that is all it is. But design, is just that, one aspect. On another note, just because one has a set of plans, doesn't mean he can make it. The skills necessary to make a joint or even make a square cut are still involved, as is finishing (something I absolutely hate by the way.)
I have built some things from plans, others modified from basic plans, and still other things from a picture or a discussion. I have fired up turbocad and made my own things too. I have also "winged" it and found a certain way through "I guess I can't get to that screw since I already glued that other joint in the way..." I find no pleasure in that though.
-- Absinthe

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On Fri, 22 Aug 2003 02:42:30 +0000, Bay Area Dave wrote:
This is a pretty narrow and egocentric view to take.

I know what I want to make, but I don't know how. Not yet, anyway. And sometimes I just want to make SOMETHING and don't know how. I'm just getting started in woodworking. The first thing I did was build a cheap workbench, and I used my leftover materials to build a low assembly table. I got the workbench plans off the Interweb (har) and I drafted the plans for my assembly table on my own.

Like?
So?
Not everybody has the know-how to draft quality plans that they can follow. I've done 4 years of hand drafting and CAD, am a decent artist, and I still can't just whip up plans to whatever I want. What I can do, though, is measure the area I want to place a piece in and go find plans for a piece that has the look I want and adjust them to fit my space. Why re-invent the wheel? Why go to all the hassle of drawing up plans when somebody else may have drafted exactly what I want?

I don't like this analogy. It doesn't take any knowledge, skill, experience, or even any real tools to follow a paint-by-number kit. Suppose you were a painter, however, and masterfully replicated Monet's _Le bateau atelier_. Would you then be willing to say that you've done nothing and your painting isn't a hobby because you just copied somebody else's idea? I doubt it.

Anything you do on a semi-regular basis to pass the time could be considered a hobby, in my opinion.

Yes, you do. You're mixing woodworking with design. You don't have to be a masterful woodworking to design a piece. You don't have a design a piece to be a masterful woodworking. I think most people learn how to do both at the same time, but certainly many people, especially newer folks like me, probably lack enough skill/knowledge in either discipline to design what we want to build. It's also possible that people just want plans to get an idea of what kind of joints to use, what type of wood looks good, veneers, what order to do things in, the name of the router bit to use, etc, etc.

Well, my feelings aren't hurt, but you do come across as a bit self-righteous. Not everybody does it your way, so you are openly questioning whether or not they're even "real" woodworkers?

MANY people have this problem. MANY MANY MANY people. You need only witness how many people can easily cruise through a year of two-dimensional math in college and just get crucified when they reach the second year and have to do three-variable calculus. But I think many people just lack the time, training, expertise, or desire to draft their own plans, especially if they think there's a good chance that somebody else had the same idea they had and they don't feel like re-inventing the wheel.
Just my input on it the topic, as a complete neophyte.
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Ben, funny you began your post with "narrow and egocentric" view. I used somewhat the same description of myself earlier. I hope you realize that I crafted the OP to be provocative. I expecting to be flamed, actually, but thankfully everyone that has responded has done a superb job of detailing that plans are useful in many ways.
Yup, I am mixing (in my thinking) woodworking with design, as relates to woodworking as a hobby. That's why I was looking for comments on the practice of using plans. From many of the replies I can now see that a plan can be like a recipe that you spice up. a starting point. well engineered joinery. I'm getting it, man, I'm GETTING it!
Yes, I know I sounded self-righteous. I expected that response. I was playing devil's advocate in order to prompt discussion. The tone I took was " I don't get it. why are you guys doing this? doesn't make sense to me. plans aren't needed. why spend money on them?" Now I've gotten a more clear understanding of the value of using a plan, or maybe just culling some ideas from one, to incorporate into our own creation, thereby saving time, using proper joinery, or adding design elements that otherwise would have been lacking, or misproportioned.
My biggest liability is a lack of imagination. I'm more of a problem solver; doing is easier for me than envisioning. Once I finally get a "plan" in my head, I rest easy, knowing that building the thing is the easier part. Not that it's always so easy, but I'm talking relatively, here. I procrastinate at the beginning stages, thinking of what should 'it' look like, what materials should 'it' be made of, what size is 'it' gonna be, what finish should I use. I don't want to start a project and then realize well into it that it's not gonna "work". So I agonize over my plan before I cut the first boards.
and to answer your question about what I'm amazed people ask for plans for: a sled. I gave my .02 to a recent thread on sleds, and I believe that the OP understood my response that HIS sled needs to be dimensioned for HIS needs, rather than a one size fits all strategy. I wasn't trying to be either rude or unhelpful; quite the contrary, sometimes it's good to push someone to think a little more about the reason for building a shop aid, such as a TS sled, BEFORE they blindly follow someone else's design. When they ask how big it should be, wouldn't you tell them to think about what they plan on cutting with it?
I'm not sure it doesn't take some skill to paint by numbers. My attempts at it as I child were atrocious. The final result always looked like hell! :)
dave
Ben Siders wrote:

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On Fri, 22 Aug 2003 16:07:30 +0000, Bay Area Dave wrote:

I wasn't flaming or attacking, just letting you know how your question came across to me.

Are you trying to claim that somebody on a newsgroup learned something by reading it? Impossible! :)

Plus some of us just don't know how to build something without some step-by-step instructions. I followed a plan to build my work bench but using that knowledge, I was able to draft my own plans for an assembly table and put it together without assistance. Plans can be a learning tool. I didn't learn calculus by sitting down deriving the Fundamental Theorom on my own. Isaac Newton did that and somebody else taught me, step by step, how to use it.

I wouldn't know how to build a sled. :) I'd go get plans, adjust the measurements, but otherwise basically follow them.

Yeah, I agree with you here for sure. When I wanted to build my workbench, I found four or five sets of plans. One just used 2x6's for the surface and I didn't like that. For one, they're never straight and for two, there'll be cracks in them that dust and crap will fall into. I kept shopping around until I found something closer to what I wanted, and even then I changed the height of it to fit my physical size.

Yeah, same here, but my point was that the paint-by-numbers analogy isn't very good. You hit on this earlier, but basically it comes to knowing how to build something and knowing how to design something. I could make a design for a bookcase that looks great, build it, put four books on it and have the shelves collapse because I used the wrong kind of joint, wrong kind of wood, or any other number of things that goes wrong. You may have the know-how to avoid those kinds of mistakes, but not everybody does. I almost built my workbench out of yellow pine until somebody told me to use a less brittle wood. I didn't know pine was brittle, I'm just starting out.
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Dave:
RE: your question...

I'll present the other side of the coin. I look at plans in the same way that I look at a recipe in a cookbook...it's a start. I may not know anything about making my own pizza crust, but I can look in a cookbook and find a start. Then, I can add parmesan cheese, garlic, herbs, etc., to the crust--and make it uniquely mine.
Same with plans. They give me a starting point with instructions on how to do something I like, and I can then tweak them to make it unique. The other thing--sometimes I learn some new techniques or ideas from plans.
Having said all that...now that I'm getting some additional experience under my belt, I'm starting to do less and less from plans.
I understand your point, and I'm not disagreeing with your POV, just presenting an alternative.
Jim
p.s.--I've always wondered where in the bay area you are? I live in Chicago but travel to Alameda about once a month for work. Just curious. (C:
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I always enjoy reading over a set of plans. From my point of view they are no different from a book or short story. I'm always interested in learning different methods and styles. How else, except for serving as an apprentice under an accomplished cabinetmaker, am I going to see how others practice their craft? I look forward to the plans I get in my Woodsmith subscription just to get to try a new technique.
Oh, I'm looking for plans right now. I'm interested in library shelves and built-in china cabinets at the moment. We're going to need about a dozen Adirondack chairs for our front porch in the spring. And I'm still on the quest for the perfect fishing rod rack, something stylish and solid that suits my arts and crafts taste. How else can I see what others have learned unless I look for plans?
Jim

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point taken, Jim. I'm a believer! I've seen the light! (seriously) I'm not being facetious.
dave
Jeepnstein wrote:

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Sometimes people are looking for a little inspiration. I look at all sorts of plans and get a few ideas from them, then draw out what works for me. Thank god for libraries, magazines and pictures. Now do you GET IT?
Bay Area Dave wrote:

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Yup! I sure do! please read my other responses...
dave
Grandpa wrote:

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To all who responded:
I appreciate your thoughtful responses. Truly. I sort of thought my opinion on the subject was askew; you've all helped to make me less reticent to search for plans for my next project; an oak desk to replace a metal Hon desk in my study. It can't be very big, and I'm over 6 feet, so it'll have to be a bit higher than normal. See, I'm already thinking of modifications! :)
dave
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I'll put it on APBW

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Guess what my first real major, furniture project was? A Red Oak, raised panel desk. Yes it was from plans. And Indeed I learned alot. Like Color matching, and in particular reading a set of plans the RIGHT way. To understand that last phrase you must realize that my drawers ended up on the opposite side because I machined the panel on the wrong end. Talk about your modifications.:) I still had the reputation for the "GUY with the drawers on the wrong side of the desk". I may still have the plans or at least where they came from lying about.
--
Young Carpenter

"Save a Tree, Build Furniture"
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Bay Area Dave wrote:

I have never built directly from others plans but look at a lot of them and have learned a lot that way. However, if I ever did run across a plan that was exactly what I wanted, I wouldn't hesitate to use it.
That said, I usually do work from plans, my own CADD plans. Not a lot of detail, but the sizes, joint design and cut sheets get worked out ahead.
The important thing is the the individual hobbyist is doing what they want and getting satisfaction out of it.
Rico
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Rico,
you are absolutely right on. Everyone has his (or her) special reason for indulging in this hobby. One of my reasons is that it's fun to fabricate things. That's why I especially like working on the router table. The flip side is I get bored if I have to make too many of the same things. I'm not yet into Neandering, but I might dabble in it later on. I don't have any Neander tools yet, unless you count one very lousy Crapsman chisel I picked up over 25 years ago.
I use Excel to help with measurements related to dados and rabbets. I don't own a CADD program, but I can imagine how helpful that must be.
dave
Rico wrote: snip

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