Proper planning is the most crucial part of woodworking. No matter how many times you measure before cutting, your project will not turn out right with improper initial plans.
In this article, we will discuss how to design a woodworking project. We will go over how to come up with a design, choose the right materials, take proper measurements, and create a blueprint.
How to design your woodworking project
There are 5 steps that you need to take in order to properly design a woodworking project. The steps are in this order…
- Get inspiration for design purposes
- Decide type of joinery, wood, and hardware
- Make sure you have everything you need
- Take proper measurements
- Make a woodworking blueprint
After we explain each step, we then will explain how to make the woodworking blueprint.
1. Get inspiration for design purposes
I like to get inspiration for my designs through Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, and internet searches.
Sometimes, I will find a piece of furniture or an item online that I want to replicate exactly. Other times, I will find aspects of many different items that I would want to incorporate into my personal project.
If you are creating a design for a client, make sure to incorporate them in the process as early as possible. Show them all of the designs that you are interested in, and also have them pick their own.
To learn more about planning and working with clients you should check out my article where I explain “Woodworking as a business: working with clients”.
Document what you like
I like for my designs to be unique. So, I gather a lot of inspiration and ideas on the web. In the past, I found good inspiration that I forgot about. So now I take screenshots and add it to a google document. Under the screenshot, I explain what I liked about that piece and how may plan to incorporate it.
2. Decide type of joinery, wood, and hardware
Before deciding on joinery, wood, and hardware, you will need to consider how this item will be used and what it is being created for.
Ask yourself why you are doing this project
If you are replicating an item online, ask yourself “Why don’t you just purchase the item?”. Do you or your client want something cheaper or higher quality? Does your client just want to do business with you to support you? Do you or your client prefer dimensions that are not sold? Do you want to make it out of different material or in a different color?
Pick wood, joinery, and hardware
These questions are essential because it will determine the use of your product. If you want something cheaper or more expensive materials, then that will affect the type of wood and hardware that you use. If you want something of better quality, then that will determine the wood and hardware, along with the type of joinery you use.
Picking the correct type of wood for your project requires that you know how wood behaves, cheaper and more expensive wood types, and joinery limitations to certain wood types. To learn more about wood behavior and types, then you should read my article “Wood 101: woodworking”.
3. Take proper measurements
After you have your design and materials in mind, you will need to take proper measurements of the area that your item will go into. Take measurement of the space that you have to work with in the room or outside.
This is essential to do before starting the blueprint, because it will determine the dimensions of the wood. Additionally, if problems arise, you did not waste precious time creating a blueprint that will not be feasible.
Taking measurements ensures that you and/or your client will know exactly what to expect.
4. Make a woodworking blueprint
Now since you have a design and measurements, you can now create a blueprint. I recommend making two blueprints that highlights at least two angles each.
The first blueprint that you will make will be the measurement blueprint that highlights the lengths and orientation of the wood.
The second blueprint will be the joinery blueprint that highlights joinery and specifics in your plan. You may not need the second blueprint if you are doing only pocket hole joints in your piece.
Calculate wood thickness
The first thing that you need to do when creating a measurement blueprint is to calculate the wood thickness.
The thickness of the wood will determine the length of the other pieces, and should be calculated first.
Important: Also note that the specified thickness of wood is rarely the actual thickness. For example, 3/4th inch plywood is more like 21/32 inches. A 1×2 piece of wood is actually more like 3/4″ by 1 1/2″.
Determine how the wood will orient
Next, you will need to determine how the wood will join together and orient.
If you have a right-angle joint, which piece of wood will have the butt, or end grain, attached to the other piece. If you are making miter joints, then you will have both end grains attaching.
Either way, those specifics will affect the length of each board.
Determine the length of the wood
Now you can draw up your design and determine the dimensions for each wood piece. Don’t forget to take into account the thickness of the wood when needed.
When you don’t account for the thickness of the wood, you may end up with pieces that do not fit properly, or a project that is slightly larger than expected.
Double, Triple, Quadruple-check your math
Now you will check your math over and over, and then once more. This part is extremely important, because if you did not calculate a number correctly then you will run into issues when assembly.
The joinery blueprint is where you specify all of the joints and how they will be created.
The joinery blueprint is not necessary if you are only using plywood. Additionally, you may be able to incorporate your joinery blueprint with your measurement blueprint if you are using the same measurements throughout your project.
The joinery blueprint is however beneficial to keep your joinery measurement organized and to keep your measurement blueprint uncluttered.
Create the measurement blueprint again
To create a joinery blueprint, you will first create the measurement blueprint again. However, this time you will not include the measurements.
It is good practice to keep both blueprints as similar as possible to avoid confusion and mistakes the design.
Sketch the dimensions for each joint
Next, you will mark each unique design with a number. Then, on the bottom, back, or on another page, you will sketch the joint according to that number.
For example, let’s say you have two different joint dimensions. You want to make a 6-degree angle dovetail joint with 3 dovetails for your 1×4 boards. You also want to make 8-degree angle dovetail joints with 2 dovetails for your 1×2 boards.
Each joint that uses the first dovetail will be marked with a one, and each joint that uses the second dovetail will be marked with a two. One the back of the page you specify the specifics for the #1 dovetail and the #2 dovetail.
5. Make sure you have everything you need
After you create your blueprints, you will need to take an inventory to make sure you have everything you need.
Determine how much wood you need
The first thing that I like to do is calculate all of the measurements from my blueprint to determine how much wood I need. I like to try to determine how I can manipulate the wood to get as much material and limit waste.
When doing this you will need to take into account the blade thickness. I like to give myself a few extra inches of space to accommodate for the blade thickness and to give me a few inches to shed off to square the board.
Get all other materials
After you determine how much wood you need, you can now record everything else that you will need for the project. I like to keep a list of all hardware, screw types, and paint colors that will be used.
You will also want to make sure that you have gloves, a mask, wood glue, sandpaper, the proper machinery on hand, and drills and drill bit for example.
The 10 essential things that you need are wood glue, screws, drill bit and driver set, sandpaper, clamps, measuring tape, combination square, safety glasses, hearing protection, and a respirator.
If you are creating a plan for a client or are looking to sell your plans, then it is recommended to use online software to create a 3D blueprint.
I have heard very good reviews from SketchUp, but I personally do not use 3D software… yet, so I do not really have an experience to give you recommendations on any.
If you want to learn more about 3D software, then I would recommend an article by fixitphoto that explains free 3D software for woodworking. They also show user experience photos so that you can visualize which one may work best for you.
In this article we learned about the steps to design your woodworking projects and digital options that are available.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this article and I wish you luck on your woodworking journeys!
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