Plans or No Plans?

Last month I posted an article titled Old School V. New School, I have received lots of great comments and emails from this article and really enjoyed writing it as it made me think a lot about my grandfather and father. One of the last comments mentioned the difference between computer designed furniture and cabinets as compared to woodworker designed. This is a subject that I have been interested in for some time.

As a project manager for a national multi-family builder I built on a very large scale. The current project I am building is 592 units with 2 pre-cast concrete parking decks, 2 club houses, fitness center, swimming pools, and many other amenities all on a 10 acre site in downtown Atlanta. When you build on this scale plans are very important, we spend at least a year just planning a project like this and go through many revisions of plans trying to get the details worked out before the project even breaks ground. We have consultants to ensure that we meet handicap accessibility codes, we have waterproofing consultants, sound consultants, low-voltage consultants and many more. The point is that with so many people involved most of what I do is coordinate between all of these designers and consultants and the contractors I hire to build it. I suppose that is why I love woodworking, I get an idea in my head and will often start building just off of that idea.

Plans are great for interpreting what someone else wants built and learning a new method, but when I build I want to create my ideas or my interpretation of a piece of furniture. If you want to be accurate with a particular style plans can help in ensuring this, but at least for myself that is not always important. I am more interested in improving my skills of figuring things out on my own. Try this, the next time you see an interesting piece of furniture try to figure out how it was built, even if you have no interest in building it. Just look at it and think of how the woodworker started it and how the pieces came together. For most of us I believe the curiosity of how something is made is part of why we are woodworker to begin with.

Growing up I built a lot of custom cabinets with my father. The method of building we used was “building from the outside in”, by taking the lengths of the walls the cabinets were going on and sketching a layout of where the appliances go, we would get the linear feet of each section of cabinets. As the height (36” with counter top) and depth (24”) are standard dimensions we could take these outside dimensions and start building. Once the outside frame of the box was complete it was easy enough to look at the box and decide if for instance three smaller doors or two bigger doors would look the best and be the most functional. Try building a project this way, trust your judgment on what looks best without worrying about the exact dimensions.

The point is don’t always rely on someone else to tell you how to build something or exactly what size it should be. Come up with your own ideas and make your project fit the area that it will go in. There are standards out there that are great references but don’t get stuck on these as set in stone. If you make a mistake try and figure out a way to adjust the project to make it work, this is how we learn and most often the project comes out better because of what we originally thought of as a mistake.


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