I was a trained draftsman in a previous life so I tend to plan most
projects to a certain extent. When I say "draftsman" I was trained
at a drafting table using drafting instruments of the day. I did get
some CAD training in later years but moved into some writing and
management jobs before I got a chance to use the CAD tools much.
Planning includes some sort of graphic representation of the project
and a list of materials. I currently keep some of my old drafting
tools near a small drafting table in the basement; and some of the
tools are in my workshop. Smaller projects are planned on a clipboard
in the shop. As projects become more complex, I resort to the
drafting equipment. Instead of vellum or mylar drawings I usually do
a scaled and fairly detailed layout or "shop sketch" on a sheet of 24"
or 30" poster board which is cheap and durable when I hang it on the
wall of the shop. I am artistic by nature but art and drafting are
two different disciplines. I sometimes say I do a half-a**'ed job at
both. When a board drawn shop sketch gets to the shop I refer to it
often, and modify it as needed. Sometimes the modifications reflect
my artistic side; sometimes I'm fixing screw-ups.
Had I come along a few years later, I would probably be using Sketch
Up or a CAD tool of some kind. While I consider CAD pretty
interesting, I would rather be using my time building, not learning
software. Contrary to some people's belief, a trained board draftsman
can put lines on paper (and move them) pretty fast. In my earlier
life we made a lot of design changes on a change order pad while
working with an aircraft technician in the hangar. Also, I would say
that about 50-70% of my projects get planned on the clipboard.
To summarize: planning to some level is essential to successful
projects. But don't let the planning methods override your
woodworking creativity. Visualize, think, sketch, make sawdust
For some the planning and drawing portion of the project is an
enjoyable endeavor itself or at least part of the process as a whole,
for others it's a means to an end.
I'm definitely more on the artist side of things, even though I
studied to be an engineer and was terrible in art classes. I'll do a
drawing in sketchup to help me visualize, because I can think in 2D
easily enough but I have a harder time keeping everything straight in
3D. But I don't model everything, just enough so that I have a pretty
good idea of what needs to be done, and where I can start and how much
I can do that has to be done regardless of what comes next, and then
the saw dust starts to fly. Then I have something tangible to work
with along with my partial drawing. I like going into the shop
without knowing all the answers, so that I'm free to make changes as I
I can't speak for 'most' woodworkers, but I seldom do anything without
making a drawing first.
Where that drawing goes, or to what extent I develop it (3D) depends
on the project.
I draw 1 or 2 full size kitchens per week, some of those get the whole
3D photographic-grade rendering if the job and/or client warrants that
kind of hand-holding. Often they're just plan views to be sent to a
cabinet manufacturer for pricing.
Sometimes my drawings are my models to be machined directly from the
data they contain.
Those plan-type of drawings is all I need for countertop pricing as my
program gives lineal inches of edges, square feet of material and they
become a white-board for further instructions as I do the templating
on the actual job-site.
Drawings are tools.
Past few years I've gotten the same way. "Time" is such a big factor
that any of my time spent on drawing/planning generally pays for itself
two or three times over down the road - in cutting back on mistakes,
with scheduling where getting a thing done on "time", means the next guy
up can get his job done, and with waste and as in "... why the hell do
we have all those tubafours/tile/whatever left over?"
Probably the most important tool in the construction process ... in the
final analysis, lack of a detailed drawing/plan will _always_ end up
being the single most expensive item in the project.
I have degrees in Software Engineering, Mechanical Engineering,
Chemistry, and paint with watercolor on paper. I guess I'm both and
hopelessly addicted to woodworking and mountain hiking. I found
myself flustered with most software programs and use an obsolete
drafting table with T-square, French curves, and triangles. Certainly
not against computers, but It works well for me.
I'm a retired engineer. I can't design a round hole without creating
a Pro-E model of it first :-)
One time when our daughter was about 9 or 10 she needed a birdhouse
made for a school project. I asked what kind of birds are suppose to
live in it? How big will it need to be? Will it have a roof with a
peak or will it just have a single slope? She responded with "I don't
know but let's go to the shop start cuttin'." At that point I began
to wonder if she was mine :-)
One positive thing about 'Cash for Clunkers' is that
it took thousands of Obama bumper stickers off the road.
I made, virtually with SketchUp, the first workbench I was thinking about
I posted 3 pdf files (front, side, bottom) in the thread Second SketchUp at
The dimensions are 30" by 30" by 7'. Please let me know what comments you
have about the design, from what you can see.
My first thought is that I need to make the top a little longer than the
base so I can get in
one of those "reinforcing pieces" on each end (to better support the top).
By the way,
doing this exercise generated a number of questions in my mind (which is a
Any thoughts welcome!
I think that you can be neither and still be a woodworker -- if the
only things you make are from premade plans, then you aren't doing any
design, and thus it's not engineering, and you aren't doing anything
overly creative, so it's not really art. If, on the other hand you do
your own designs, and the design is both functional and asthetically
pleasing, then you are an artist and an engineer.
Seeing as most woodworkers make custom stuff, I would say most are
I think this is an instance of a false dichotomy.
Any activity practiced at the highest level becomes an art and the
artisan and artist share more in common than their linguistic roots.
The woodworker needs to incorporate both and, in the words of a famous
"Theory without practice is sterile practice without theory is blind."
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