I've read through the various iterations of the thread and I am heartened to see that so many of my fellow wreckers are so seriously engaged in thinking about design level problems and solutions.
If'n ya ain't got a plan ya don't have a project.
I don't care if the plan is only, "I need a shelf that is big enough to hold my wife's chotchkas." That is at least the beginnings of a plan.
Of course, Dave's initial question was about other folks plans and our slavish use of them.
Since I came to cabinetmaking from the building business, I was long used to having plans shoved in my face. Sometimes the plans were drawn sketch style by my bosses and other times, much more frequently in more recent years, they were drawn by architects or designers. Some architects and designers are pretty good at drawing cabinet plans - most of them suck.
Mostly the plans had only gross measurements and a description of what was to be provided.
Some of them were pretty damned good, though. There's a pretty famous architectural firm that used to be called, "Venturi, Rauch and Scott Brown". They are currently called, "Venturi and Scott Brown." Some of you who are familiar with the history of Post Modernism in architecture will recognize the names.
Rauch was more of a traditionalist in his approach to architecture and ultimately became a minor voice in the partnership, which became a celebration of the allegedly artistic accomplishments of Robert Venturi and, to a far lesser extent, his wife, Denise Scott Brown.
Well, through a friend, who happened to be his son, Mr. Rauch decided to use me to make the built in cabinets in a home that he had designed for himself towards the end of his career.
John Rauch made those drawings himself. They were not farmed out to any of the many subalterns that he could have used. John Rauch knew what he wanted and he wanted to communicate what he wanted through very detailed drawings. I was damned happy to be involved.
The drawings described not only the general form of the cabinets but went to the level of joinery, installation and finish details. The man was a partner in one of the hottest architectural firms in the country, so I went to those plans with the intent of learning from a master.
The plan didn't work.
Without going into endless detail, let me just say that the drawings showed no appreciation for the facts of wood movement; no understanding of the load bearing capacities of shelving materials and no appreciation of the relative merits of various finishes, in so far as they were to be exposed to pretty serious daily usage.
This, from a partner in one of the most respected architectural firms in the country.
Getting away from that, I've bought many books of plans for furniture. In almost every instance I have found flaws. In one of Gottschall's books I found a secretary that, if it had been built according to plan, would have resulted in a construction that could not work, as far as drawers and doors go.
Let me say that I have learned a tremendous amount about design and construction from reading plans. I have learned even more from the deconstruction of old pieces during my attempts to repair them.
What I've also learned is that most plans are flawed and, if followed blindly and faithfully, will result in a project that does not represent the design level intent of the plans. Even the deconstruction and rebuilding of historically important pieces can result in furniture that ignores the realities of wood movement and therefore is doomed to failure.
The bracket foot is a good example.
I still love looking at plans. I even still enjoy looking at the joinery level drawings but I watch them with a cautioned eye.
I really believe that plans should be viewed as a resource, and one of many resources, the most important of which is our personal experience and intentions.
Not all the current or old masters are worth following.
JOAT posts many plans that he clearly marks as inspirational. I look at many of these and some I find to be truly inspirational in the sense that they run counter to the accepted traditions of joinery and design. JOAT, in my view, is to be commended for supplying these resources. However, if we were to think of all the plans that he or anyone else posts as bullet proof recipes for the construction of good work, we would miss the point.
I believe that we should be informed and excited by plans but that we should not be slaves to them. That path is fraught with too many problems. But, I would never give up looking at plans, as they are a source of ideas and information that we can all use, once they are passed through our own editorial function.
My final thought would be that we can all be improved by drawing our own plans. There are problems that can be solved on paper that would cost real time, money and effort in the construction phase. Drawing your own plans allows you to play with all the elements of a piece and their interactions. It is a tremendous help in the area of relative weights given to the elements of a design. It is a great help in figuring out the interrelationship of design elements that might conflict with each other in the real world.
Paper is cheap. Time is irrecoverable.
Regards, Tom Tom Watson - Woodworker Gulph Mills, Pennsylvania http://users.snip.net/~tjwatson