There are those who find and build from someone else’s set of plans
There are those who make their own, down to the last detail, set of
plans and build from them - exactly. There are some with The Gift (and
the discipline, experience, knowledge and skills) who can visualize and
construct the finished piece in their head while looking at candidate
boards/timber. And there are those who just wing it, starting with the
basics of an idea and evolving things as they go.
A pro will often develop a set a “product lines” of a dining table and
chairs sets, a bedroom suite, etc., in a style he likes and knows will
sell. He/she will basically build the same pieces over and over again,
varying the woods and maybe the finish, slowly refining his/her “style”
- and method of constructing.
But amateur/hobbiest woodworkers seldom, if ever, make the same design
twice. And I’m betting that few amateurs/hobbiest complete a project
without saying “I wish I had . . .”. Am also betting that few amateurs/
hobbiests make a mock up or a full prototype before making The Real
That’s a pity since seeing an idea at full scale and being able to
tweek/tweak it, with little if any risk, can take a good initial idea up
Now there are prototypes and then there are prototypes. You can do a
full scale basic mock up out of MDF and use a hot glue gun and pocket
screws to hold things together. With reversible “joinery” you can
experiment with parts placement and widths, edge treatments, shadow
lines and proportions. However, the shortcoming of an MDF prototype is
the joinery. It’s often the joinery that present the “challenges”.
THAT requires wood. Fortunately, construction grade 2x4s, 2x6s etc.
are, relative to hardwoods, fairly inexpensive.
Imagine doing a mock up in MDF, then a prototype in fir or pine and THEN
make the actual piece. Think of it - make your errors before you get to
the expensive stuff, figure out how to either avoid them next time or
fix them, THEN make the real thing. And you may be able to use the
prototype as shop furniture.
How would your last project turn out if you’d made a prototype FIRST?
Just something to think about.
On Sun, 10 Jul 2005 09:43:13 -0700, the opaque charlie b
I'm (3-D thankfully) somewhere in between the last two. I think I
ended up at Rev 5 or 6 by the end of the carving bench project. I
tossed 2 pieces of poplar which didn't work out for the hinges due to
not having mocked 'em up first. 6" of 2" x 2-1/4" isn't too bad of a
The clincher: Sell the prototype for enough dough to cover some
portion of the REAL wood you use for your REAL project.
- Tom Mix Died For Your Sins -
Does it count when I made another clock in maple to figure out how to fix
the screwup I made in the one in cherry? The assumption I made from
reading the illustrated drawing in FWW turned out to be incorrect.
Interesting post, charlie b.
I spent most of my professional cabinetmaking life designing and
building pieces that were particular to the customer.
Elements would repeat, but the whole was always a "one off" or,
I spent a lot of time drawing.
Drawing is, to me, a fundamental skill for a woodworker.
Let me say that I suck at sketching freehand and always drew at the
board, until the advent of reasonably priced drawing programs.
I would then use a simple 3D program like 3D Home Architect to do
basic space planning, taking the time to draw the room, with its major
elements; ie: walls, doors, windows, fireplaces, existing furniture,
I would then draw in a somewhat crude representation of the cabinets,
to the degree allowed by the program. Although not refined, it would
show the doors and drawers, and how the intended piece would relate to
I would then print out different views, setting the 'camera angle'
from various positions in the room, so that I could come to a general
agreement with the customer about mass, proportion, position, and the
gross elements of the piece.
Then I would go to the CAD program (mostly TurboCad) and make
traditional views of plans, elevations, sections, and details.
At the end of this regimen, I usually had a firm grasp on the project
- but often the customer did not.
At this point I would take sample doors, drawers, molding, hardware,
and finishes to the customer's house for some show and tell.
The whole game was to avoid having the customer say, at the end of the
job - "I didn't know it was going to look like that." (Note:
sometimes this can be said in a positive way - I am referring to those
instances where they see a finished product that they are not happy
Even though I'm out of the game, professionally; I still draw and draw
and draw until I understand the project that I am working on for
I'm fortunate in having access to AutoDesk Inventor these days, which
allows me to quickly generate a 3D representation of any object but,
it has only speeded up the process.
A CAD program like TurboCad, used at the level most wooddorkers are
going to use it; by which I mean basically rectilinear shapes (boxes
and rectangular elements) is not very difficult to learn.
The problem is that the tutorials and books are geared to a general
understanding of the program - while we only require the ability to
draw rectangles and the occasional curve.
I won't say that prototyping and modeling are wrong paths - they
simply were not what I learned to do when fleshing out an idea.
There are people out there who will never truly understand a two
dimensional representation of an object (a drawing) - I have most
often called these people "customers".
Tom Watson - WoodDorker
I think drawing is the first level prototyping... if you can build virtual
prototypes with CAD tools... that's just the next level.
I have done a couple of full sclale prototypes, but I would generally skip
the pocket joinery. For me prototypeing is not intended to aid the
construction process. It is a design tool to hone form and in some cases
There's a couple of other options for prototyping as well. One of
them is a really odd duck, but man is it cool. It's called Qoole 99
(which stands for Quake object-oriented level editor) and it is used
for making 3d map environments for the game Quake 2. The slick thing
about it was that you can design obects from simple polygons using a
drag-and-drop interface, and then skin them with a picture file
(called a texture in the program) Things like drawers can be nested
right into the frame you designed, and then made to open and close
with a bit of very simple code. It also allows you to set up "lights"
in different places, and then it automatically render shadows. It was
easy to learn and easy to use- and the end result not only gives you a
3d model you can "walk around" and interact with (opening and closing
drawers and doors, etc), but one which can be skinned in an actual
picture of the grain of the wood you intend to use. It's kinda nifty
to be able to model the room, then "walk around" the piece, and look
at it from any angle in the environment it is going to end up in, and
even set up lights outside the windows to replicate sunlight at
various times of day. Won't look exactly like the real thing, but it
can be pretty close.
And of course if you were to mess up the project after all that
planning, you can just run the game and blow it up with a rocket
launcher as stress relief. :)
AutoCAD may have some or all of the same features, but this one is
free (or shareware, at least) and it's very small.
(Please be warned that this page does try to install spyware, so make
sure you have an up to date virus scanner, or the information for
removing "Avenue A" spyware.")
Just one of those thinking outside the box things for folks with more
time than money- hope it helps someone!
Besides reinforcing a client's understanding/appreciation of the planning
that goes into a job, It's nice not to have to reinvent the wheel on each
project. Thusly, each of my projects generally has a loose leaf binder with
CAD drawings, cut lists, and associated notes and sketches that go along
The latest kitchen project has a 2" binder literally overflowing with these
items, including spec sheets on drawer slides, etc, along with a backup CD
of 5MB/125 files of the CAD drawings and cutlists.
In this day and age it is too easy not to ...
And makes expensive change requests easier to document and price, I
My favorite client, the one to whom I am married, asked me Saturday if I
would consider _not_ installing the wainscot she had required me to add
to the bathroom project Friday morning. As the glue was setting, and
the primer was drying, I asked her to exercise her creativity a little
sooner the next time. The wainscot stayed, and looks pretty good.
The hardest part seems to me to be getting agreeably to a plan, and then
being intelligent about making changes to the plan. That binder would
seem to be an excellent tool towards that goal.
If I can find something I like that already has a set of plans, I'll use
that simply from the standpoint of saving the time to make the plans
Not to the last detail; I'll make my own plans, excluding the details of
the joinery -- that provides a means of identifying overall design; it's
easier to see the joinery in my mind than it is to try drawing something
like that out.
I think that's both gift and benefit of experience. I know that as my
skills have matured, I can do more without anything more than a sketch or
idea of how I want it to go together -- but I'm certainly not there with
large scale designs yet.
I certainly found that doing full-scale mock-ups is a huge benefit. What
one thinks may fit in a space may not necessarily work as well when you
have a full-size 3D object there. That's saved me significant grief at
least once. It was a simple 1/4" hardboard prototype held together using
scraps and woodscrews. First layout turned out to be too deep for the
space -- that caused a major redesign. Second mockup fit the space much
better -- my wife wouldn't let me get rid of it until the real piece was
Given that it typically takes me a year's worth of weekends, holidays,
and vacation times to complete a major project, the idea of spending one
year building a full-scale prototype with full joinery, then spending the
second year building the real thing seems, somehow, un-appealing.
Now, components, such as doors or drawers using a technique I haven't
tried before -- those I will prototype -- that's sometimes what helps add
up to that one year.
In my consideration, it isn't so much the price of the materials for the
prototype as simply the time.
What I have found is that by using a 3D CAD system, one can get some
pretty good ideas of how to build an object and how it will look, although,
as mentioned above, not necessarily how well it will fit in its intended
If you're gonna be dumb, you better be tough
Prototyping for a one-off can be very time consuming. The couple of times
I've done it, I used the prototype for a template or I made it from a lesser
material (pine instead of ebony) and gave it away. I made some boxes for
Christmas gifts and wanted to see if it was going to work out as
anticipated. I made two from scrap pine, then did the rest from cherry and
elm. One was kind of second rate, but is used as a catch-all box on my
workbench. The other was good enough to become a gift. The biggest
advantage was in saving the good wood from errors in setup (like in second
I also want to make a clock. I have the idea in my head, made a sketch,
then made a partial prototype. It was a good learning experience on scrap
or cheap wood. I've made a couple of changes so far and had no expense. It
gave me an opportunity to experiment, hone my skill, see the real
proportions, made some changes.
I surely would not do everything twice, but there are good reasons to make
at least a partial of tricky parts. . Another tool to be used as needed.
That I do. I've done so with some tricky curved raised panel doors and
also for the tombstone style panels I used on the side a piece. Also spent
a lot of time making up some prototype dovetailed boxes to get the hang of
the Liegh jig before committing to the real wood for the drawers I was
Very good way to put it.
If you're gonna be dumb, you better be tough
charlie b (in email@example.com) said:
| How would your last project turn out if you'd made a prototype
I usually do. Photo of prototype for kitchen bookshelves (2 identical
units planned) have been posted to abpw.
Came out fairly well the first time :-)
DeSoto, Iowa USA
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