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Designing furniture and other projects

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johnelliott

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Recently there have been various posts concerning plans for furniture etc. I thought it might be a good idea to start a discussion about the designing of woodworking projects-
I have always designed my own stuff. There's no implied value judgement here, BTW, the main reasons for doing my own designs and not following published plans were
I didn't have the appropriatly sized peices of materials
I didn't have the appropriate equipment
I didn't have the appropriate skills
Doing my own design allowed me not only to overcome these problems, but to be able to feel, hmm, how to put it, a bit like the Beatles when they stopped doing covers and wrote all their own stuff.
I offer these thoughts in order to encourage others to have a go and draw up their own designs.
Also to stimulate debate
John
 

Chris Knight

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John,
Interesting topic!

Apart from a few things I made when starting out, I think I have designed all the stuff I made (except rocking chairs!). This began because I couldn't find plans that fitted my requirements exactly ("size or style") but I quickly came to appreciate that it allowed me to design for specific spaces, needs etc.

Initially, I used to make detailed drawings in CAD (Turbocad in 2D mode), spending ages getting the joinery right and worrying endlessly about dimensions. As I became more skilled and experienced, my designs became much more sketch-like and I gave up using Turbocad because I was really only concerned with the external appearance of the piece (figuring that I could devise and do any joinery that proved necessary to accomplish a particular look) and details too hard to be worth the effort of drawing in a CAD program such as the hardware - that makes a huge difference to the appearance of a piece.

I rely a lot on my wife for advice on the appearance of furniture, she has a much better artistic and colour sense than I and she helps me a lot. It is amazing how much small details influence the senses - finishing and colour is an obvious area but the shadow detail provided by chamfers, cock beading and so forth represents another even larger area that needs to be taken account of at an "earlyish" stage if it is not to be overlooked or made impossible by construction considerations.

My stuff is, notwithstanding the foregoing, very derivative - I rely a lot upon published stuff about furniture design in both practical and aesthetic aspects. I am more than happy to take a good design and modify it to fit my needs and call it my own!
 

thomaskennedy

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Well... I usually look at plans, pictures ect. and "edit" it myself,

One problem i find is when i come to design a project i often just do a really simple sketch and work out what joint etc. during the project, mainly because i want to get in the workshop asap! Although not very practical, it suits me for most projects!

One problem i find though is it becomes very basic in looks, but thats what modern furniture looks like anyway so, it works out quite nicely!

Thats my part of the debate anyway! :lol:

Ta

Tom
 

SimonA

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Good topic and probably one of my favs (apart from tool purchasing :lol: )

Being a graphic designer by trade I've never really used or thought about using plans from books or magazines. I never felt the need. What I did find necassary was to learn about joinery and the mechanics of furniture construction. Why this has to be so big, how big do you make a table so each person has the right amount of room, how much space will need to be left for the timber to move...........These are the things that I think are important, if you have these, no matter what you build pretty or ugly it will always work.

One thing that Chris pointed out was shadow detail and I have to agree with him on this subject. I was always told to create detail and size by using shadow and negative space. One example is the oak table that i've just finished (see pics in other link) Before I added the small chamfers to each of the boards that make up the table top I found it to be very plain and of no disernable size. Theres nothing to gauge a size and scale from as everything is just so big and flat. Once the chamfers where added the table then had size, scale, detail and interest, but you don't really notice thats its the chamfers that do this. To be honest, you don't always notice them at all, your eye has see this kind of thing time and time again and just switches off to it. Sometimes its the things that you don't see that make all the difference!

SimonA
 

Bean

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Well all an interesting topic, I have never used a plan to build anything. This is due to a feeling that you are on a well trodden path. Like others I have taken a design from a picture or a photograph and made my own to my size and proportions.

making your own from your own designs is the best fun you can have.


Bean
 

tx2man

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Hi All,
the problem with plans, i find, is that whatever the project
is,it has originally been designed from someone else's point of view,
skills, wood preference, finishing preference,dims., so it's unlikely to fit your own criteria, BUT, looking at them, gleaning ideas and modifying
them is what it's all about.( Then calling them your own)
For instance, my porch swing (gallery). I doubt if i would have
come up with the idea unless i had seen pics of similar ones.

TX
 

devonwoody

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Although I have a full set of hand tools which have been collected over the last 40 years I have not been actively involved with furniture construction. More House and DIY type projects. Therefore to get the knowledge I have had to look at plans and what is needed to make a furniture project successful. Sizes are obviously a personal requirement. Perhaps in the future I can follow the path of the abovementioned threads.

I shall be posting a new thread of an experience I had with plans purchased this weekend which I am pleased to state has an happy ending .
 

Alf

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The plans v. no plans debate reminds me of the power tool v. hand tool one, and my response to them both is pretty much the same. Use whatever works for you. Perhaps you want/have the time to fine tune joints with a shoulder plane and sketch the perfect <insert project type here> and that's fine. But maybe the LOYL is screaming for a <wotsit> and you really don't want to do any more than biscuit it together, and that's fine too. After all, if there's the perfect plan out there that has exactly what you're looking for and someone else has done all the hard work for you, why fight it? :wink:

For myself I've never yet found the style, size, type, or difficulty of project I'm looking for in a plan, so I always end up designing my own. This may explain why I never make anything (got lots of plans though)... I think the FWW box is the only one I've ever followed to the letter and even then I've done variations on it subsequently. But designing for yourself is yet another skill to master and there's something to be said for learning how to do it by copying existing stuff so you get an idea of the "rules". A bit like copying stuff while you learn to write legibly, rather than writing a novel straight off. Me, I'm still at the short story stage. Somewhere around "See Spot run" I think... :oops: :lol:

Cheers, Alf
 

dedee

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Everything that I have built has come from a need. The need has dictated the size of the project. My skill levels have dictated the method of construction.
I have never used anything more than a sketch but have taken tape measure and pad to a furniture shop in order to get a feel for proportion.
eg How far should a table overlap the frame? What is the distance between the seat of the chair and the frame of the table?

Plans can help with ideas and inspiration but I do have problems in visualising a finished project just from its dimensions.

AndyP
 
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Anonymous

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A great source of inspiration for design is the web.
The first thing is an spontanous idea and the i try to make some drawings.
My to next projekts are 2 nightstands and a large cabinet of maple.
As I couldnt take my workshop with me on holiday, I made some drawings Perhaps someone has suggestions or photos of finished projekts to give me some more inspiration....
I have still found the post about the nightstands and downloaded the ziped files.... :)

After the drawings by hand, I make a scaled drawing with a simple graphik programm.

Then the building starts without detailed plans. Sometimes I am a little bit to spontanous :oops: , but I think its more easy to modify the parts so that they fit as to make detailed plans.... often I have to change the design because of the joinery or the wood available......

Here is a my first drawing of the cabinet
You can find 5 others here:
http://www.hobel-und-eisen.de/Design/waescheschrank.htm

And here is the link of the nightstands:
http://www.hobel-und-eisen.de/Design/nachttisch.htm

regards
Rolf



 

Manny

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Hi
I did a mature students course in hand made furniture some years ago with the intention of improving my skills with handtools. It was excellent for that purpose except that at the time it seemed as though the college were promoting themselves as an alternative to Parnham and trying to push the design side, even for us on a one year course.
A third of the class were from a carpentry/joinery background, as I was, a third were into repro and repair and the last third were from a design/architectural background.
Everyone seemed to get caught up in the design/build thing with hopes of getting a piece in the end of year show, even those like myself who had no previous experience of designing. In a way it worked, it was a crash course in what it takes for a designer to produce a piece of work.
Two of the guys who were architects had pieces accepted for the show and they were very beautiful, simple forms built in wood with just the right proportions to look the business. Most of the rest of us ended up with things that were too complicated or didn't quite look right. My particular "masterpiece" fell into both categories (although I swear that one of the visiting "top" designers who came in to advise us ripped off part of my design, cos he produced something very similar the next year).
 
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Anonymous

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John

I always design my own pieces because I find the design process at least as enjoyable (if not more so) as the making.
However, I have folders full of clippings from magazines etc and a few books where inspiration is often found.

My latest project is a small shoe cabinet for the side of the front door and the inspiration for this came from our favourite forum - CYC posted a baby changing unit a while back and I saw some similar baskets in B&Q the other day......
 
A

Anonymous

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Rolf":8ed4e3bz said:
Here is a my first drawing of the cabinet
You can find 5 others here:
http://www.hobel-und-eisen.de/Design/waescheschrank.htm

And here is the link of the nightstands:
http://www.hobel-und-eisen.de/Design/nachttisch.htm
Rolf,
I loved your drawings ! I personally think that the project and its variations and refinements are half the fun of the whole hobby. I would never use a someone else's pre-printed plan for my pieces, yet I don't mind to "steal" (with the eyes only !) from magazines, web, furniture shops, etc etc.

Cheers
Alberto
 

Midnight

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I tend towards doing my own design, although I'll freely admit to working to bought drawings a time or two. Personally, I prefer the carte blanche method, starting with a "work scope" that the piece needs to fulfill, refining initial sketches with sizes, features etc.. I try to design in such a way that each new project demands I familiarize myself with a technique that I haven't tried before, so that each project expands my capabilities (and tooling). The two projects I've worked on using someone elses drawings were both educational and frustrating at the same time. I put absolute trust in the first... finding out too late that it had errors in the cut list...errors that were known, publicized but not corrected... sloppy.!!

The second was always going to be more inspiration than guide; with the experience I have behind me, I felt more comfortable to make radical changes to the design, tailoring the cut list to suit.
 
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