How do you go about designing a woodwork piece? Whether it’s furniture, or cabinets, or a more craft based type of woodwork— how do you design it? You can have a different technique for different types of projects. But I believe that if you want to be a successful woodwork designer/maker you must have a process. I’ve had this conversation with other woodworkers and not all agree with my viewpoint. Some arguments are; that having a design process isn’t very creative; or that some of the best work is done on-the-fly; or that it wastes time if you already know in your head what you want to make. I still stand by my argument. Here’s why.
A process is especially important if designing and making woodwork is your livelihood. But even if you’re a hobbyist it’s just as important for getting the most out of your time. A process is like a formula for success that you follow every time that gives you consistent results. It actually saves you time. If you have a process you never get stuck or have a woodworking equivalent of creative block or writer’s block. Instead you follow your process, and ideas flow. Following a process also removes a lot of opportunities for error. Especially if part of your process involves 3D modelling and producing a cutlist.
A hugely important part of woodwork or joinery design is setting out. I’ve done my fair share of setting out as part of a larger joinery design team that produced designs for up to 70 woodworkers out on a production floor. Setting out is producing accurate working drawings plus a cutlist to be followed for construction of a piece. Your drawing accuracy must be absolutely spot on when others are going to build a piece from your drawings and cutlist. In order to remove any opportunities for error it is vital to follow a process.
Everyone’s process will be a little different. Mine is very simple. I scribble and sketch any and every idea that comes into my head into a sketchbook. I even roughly draw the terrible ideas too. This helps me develop the general form and shape of the piece. I then take my outline into SketchUp and apply any measurement constraints that need to be taken into account. I work out what joinery methods are to be used. Then it’s refine, refine, refine. The small details make all the difference. Bevels, chamfers, tapers all can elevate a piece to a higher level.
Every time I go to make a piece, I know exactly what I’m going to do. I follow the steps of my process one after the other. I can design most projects in under an hour and am ready to start cutting then. I don’t spend ages staring into a blank screen, or out in the workshop holding pieces of timber up to each other to see what might work. I get consistent results all the time— quickly. This is ultra important if woodworking is your livelihood. Slightly less so if you’re a hobbyist.
But everyone has their own way. You just need to find what works for you.
Think about your design process. Do you have one? I love that my process helps me reduce errors, save time, produce designs consistently, and become more efficient. I honestly can’t think of a downside.
I’d love to know what you think in the comments below.
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