O.k., I have been building things and doing repair (apt maintenance)
stuff and do fairly well. Following plans is no problem.
However, I have noticed my biggest screw ups are when building things with
no plans IOW when I have to decide on the design and steps,
is a disaster. Is this a fairly common problem or am I missing a 2x4
I will be interested to see what kind of replies you get.
For me, the main enjoyment is figuring out the construction details to make
the finished product. That makes it more like puzzle solving than a simple
craft. If I couldn't do it, I would find a new hobby.
I don't know what your problem is, except that we all have different talents
and this probably just isn't one of yours.
And after you figure out the best way, you have to figure how you can do it
with the tools and materials available.
Best thing for the OP to do is make his own plans. Nothing fancy, but at
least crude sketch of where things should be. I also mark the wood as I go
to be sure everything is properly oriented and rabbets, dadoes,
grooves,mortises, etc are on the proper sides. Not that I've ever made
three left and one right for chair legs or anything like that.
I recently built a corner cabinet from a Gottshaw book and found more
mistakes than you can shake a stick at, plus there was a bunch of stuff
incorporated in the drawings that were never mentioned in the
You've given TWO problems you're having when working without
plans, designing and building. "Designing" can have several
meanings - one being the proportions, another not only the
proportions but the joinery and order of assembly. The "building"
is the parts fabrication and assembly
Working from a good set of plans will make you aware of the
joinery available, perhaps provide suggestions for making the
joints, assembly instructions and maybe even some notes about
things to do and things not to do. A GOOD set of plans can teach
you a lot of things you need to know for that project and which
you can use in future projects. BUT finding a GOOD set of plans
is a rare occurance. Hell. getting plans with accurate dimensions
forALL the parts can be hard.
If you "wing it" there's a more to know up front - types of joints,
what applications they're to be used for, when to use joint A
instead of joint B, how to make them ... Winging it also requires
making things in increments/modules and dry fitting them together
to get critical measurements for the next increment/modules -a
"design/fit as you go" thing, as opposed to cutting all the parts and
THEN put them all together - in the right order.
The advantages of winging it and "make as you go" are
- you get to see what you've got so far - at the actual size
with the actual wood
- screw ups are limited to the increment/module where
- it's easier to make something to fit in an ACTUAL space
than to make parts that are supposed to fit a space shown on
the plans but may or may not be actually what you made.
It takes a good working methods and procedures to make
multiple parts that all have the same critical dimensions.
Even minor differences between parts that are suppose to
have the same critical dimensions can accumulate and raise
all kinds of hell.
- breaking down a problem into smaller, manageable parts
lets you focus on just what you're doing now and how it
fits with what you've got so. It also gives you a series
of accomplishments to enjoy along the way, encouraging
you to get on to the next increment / module/ step.
Personally, I enjoy wing it, though it no doubt takes longer.
For me it's the journey, not the destination, that makes
Learning from "mistakes" can be as valuable as getting
it right the first time. Hang in there.
I've seen too many poor measurements and out-of order instructions in plans
to place much more faith in them than the ones I sketch myself. After that,
there are some common mistakes, like not preparing enough stock where a
certain number of pieces have to be the same, forgetting to add dimension
for joinery, inside versus outside dimensions, getting too ambitious in
glue-ups and such.
A plan can help you avoid someone else's mistakes, never your own.
No you are not missing any pertinent brain functions. heheh. I am the same
Alot of it is experience. If you built cabinets all day and had to design
one for say a wine rack it would be no big deal.
Keep at it and enjoy the ride!
The "2x4" you're missing may be as simple as a sheet of paper, a ruler and
pencil, or a CAD program. You'll find that the discipline of taking the time
necessary to make an accurate, and well thought out, shop drawing will
result in a lot less frustration and screw-ups when it comes time to put
blade to wood.
I am currently building a bar for my daughter. Didn't have a clue how I was
going to go about it. Looked around for some plans for a long time and
couldn't find anything that I liked. Actually, couldn't find many plans for
a bar at all. Anyway, am now just winging it and what a ride this is
turning out to be. I initially drew up some very crude plans that really
weren't much more than the basic shape and size, but as I talk to my
daughter about them the plans keep changing anyway, so the plans have gone
out the window. Just today I found the original "plan" and this thing
doesn't look anything at all like it was initially going to. The shape has
changed, the counter height has changed, the bar counter height has changed,
The finishing is still not totally decided yet, etc., etc., etc.
The first thing that she mentioned (aftert getting the shape and height
down) was that she wanted to put her small refrigerator in it (a small 1.5
cu ft job that she has had for a long time). I said fine, what are the
dimensions of the fridge? She says 24"x24"x20"deep. After I get the pieces
all cut to assemble the inside frame, I called her and asked her to go
measure the fridge before it's too late to do anyting about it. "It's a
little over 18 wide and the same height". OK, Same height as the "the
little over 18", or the same height as the original you told me? OK, so now
I know that it is a little over 18 square. Sure glad I didn't glue/nail
everything in place.
Just yesterday I was talking (chatting really) to her and I told her that I
was working on all of the drawers. She answers back "uh oh". All I could
think was "Aw shit! Now what?". After a few more messages I talked her
into keeping the drawers. BUT! She now wants the drawer fronts to have
cut-outs in them. That's just great! :-) What's going to be next with
Bottom line of all this is don't worry about your missing 2x4. There are
times for plans and times for wings. Winging it can be both fun and
instructional. I sure have been learing a lot about several aspects of
woodworking. Some are unintentional, of course. But it is definitely
interesting. Some of the "funest" things can be trying to figure out a way
to do something that you either didn't think of in the first place, or
decided on later, or because SWMBO (or other loved one) changed their minds,
or you discover that your design won't work the way you want it to, or . .
.well you get the idea.
I have managed to pick up a couple of tools too. Just yesterday I went to
Rocklers and picked up one of their dovetail jigs to do the drawers. (My
money is tight right now. Later on I want to get a D4 but for now I can't).
One thing that I can see coming up is that I might need to do a little steam
bending so I have been keeping my eyes open for materials to build a
No Terry, your not missing a 2x4, or maybe your not.
Building's easy when there is a plan. The better the [plan the easier something
is to build.
When building something from scratch without a plan no one is doing your
thinking for you.
As has been said, get a sketch pad and drawing tools. Get a drafting text book
and do some of the exercises. Expand on this by drawing up things you never plan
Here's a thing that kills me about some people in this news group: Some of these
people have the 8" jointer and the industrial planer and, golly, your not a
serious woodworker if you don't have at least the 10" Uni with 54" Byes, but
many of these same people can't plan a box.
How the hell can someone justify this level of equipment if they're still
needing others to do their thinking for them? I know they do because I see them
posting looking for plans. Mayhaps they should spend less time worrying about
having 'the right' make of tools and more thinking about what they're doing.
To me knowing what I want and figuring out how to get it is more a part of
building anything than having a shop full of tools.
Don't worry so much about your mental health, and buy 1/3 more wood
for a project than you think you need!! Pre made plans almost
invariably have mistakes so you have to think about the design anyway.
Learn good basic joinery, I also recomend the tuaton press book on
design (with the little side table on the cover) The book is not so
much on how to build one project, but a way of thinking about what has
to be done, why one way rather than another, how to do it and what
order to do it in.It will show you how to batch cut pieces for a
project including the joinery, it was very helpful for folks that
don't like to draft up each and every component of a project, and also
what parts should be completed and fitted first.Get the book.
A lot of times, my construction work is done without plans. Or at least,
without complete plans.
When I am contemplating a project, I may draw out a rough plan for the
project on graph paper as to where the components will go.
I then may spend days, looking at the site, and building the complete
project in my mind, over and over, thinking about the construction, how
those component elements will be constructed in relation to other
components, and the amount of material I may have to buy.
Very rarely do I run out of material, or have a lot of extra material
My latest project was a small 20' x 8' deck attached to a contractor
installed Four Season's Room added to my house.
I have never worked from a commercial plan. I do work to plans though, drawn
by me. Fairly simple projects are drawn in 2D cad. More complex ones in 3D.
By 3D I don't mean a picture of the finished piece. Each part is drawn to
size, including all joinery, and the item is assembled. 2D prints are then
made from these parts. With this method, running into something that just
does not work is virtually eliminated. Not really recommended for most as
the amount of time spent learning the program and how to draw effectively is
well beyond what most are willing to put into it.
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