The first step of any woodworking project involves planning. Simple project may take just a bit of forethought before you’re ready to build, but more complicated furniture usually takes much more preparation. Either way, some degree of planning is essential.
Project planning has three basic stages: determining what to build, working out the details through drawings and prototypes, then calculating materials and cutting lists from your drawings.
Maybe your family has outgrown the kitchen table and you want to replace it with something a bit out of the ordinary. You can design any table you want and customize it to suit your individual needs or tastes. Maybe you’ve had your eye on an Arts and Crafts sideboard at the local furniture gallery, but it’s priced beyond your means.
Building one yourself allows you, rather than the furniture gallery, to control the quality and cost. Possibly you just want to try some new woodworking techniques or tools to expand your skill base. The motivation to build something has any number of sources.
Gathering ideas – whatever your motivation may be for building something, chances are you’ve already thought about enough to have some initial ideas about a design. The idea-gathering stage is an important one. It’s the time to let your imagination go without committing to any one idea. Feed your ideas with lots of concrete options so you can start to clarify a design.
Furniture stores are great places to examine different examples of various styles and types of furniture designs. Look at friends and families furniture, clip out photos from magazines and catalogs and keep them in a folder for ideas of what you would like to build.
Furniture follows some classical style trends and always has. Certainly everything you make doesn’t have to conform to an accepted style, but basic furniture design is the end result of centuries of trial and error. Study proportions of cabinetry, tables, chairs and chests to get a sense for how furniture functions in harmony with the human body.
You’ll know a comfortable chair when you sit in one, even if you can’t pinpoint why it feels so supportive, seat size, leg height and the tilt of the back rest are all factors that contribute to comfort.
Evaluate your skills, tools and budget – keep your skill level in mind as you study furniture. Furniture with delicate inlays, relief carvings or parts that join at angles or curves will be more difficult to build than pieces with straight lines and minimal ornamentation. If you’re just starting out, consider making projects in the Arts and Crafts, Shaker and country styles. These are good options for building sturdy furniture without needing advanced woodworking skills or a full arsenal of machinery or tools.
Try a new technique here or there within the furniture style your skill level to keep every project interesting. Your roster of skills will grow bit by bit without jeopardizing the success of a whole project.
Building sensibly means working with some project budget in mind. When you pockets for a project aren’t deep the dollars will go farther by building with ¾ inch lumber rather than thick slabs of exotic hardwood. It’s almost always true that the larger your project becomes physically, the more it costs. One way to help keep from blowing the budget on big projects is to substituted sheet goods for solid lumber.
Sheet goods are generally less expensive and you can steer clear of the wood movement issues you’ll face when designing panels made of solid wood. Remember to include the cost of special hardware you project will call for, such as slides, hinges, doorknobs and drawer pulls. These items definitely add to the bottom line of what your project costs to build.
Before embarking on a project, have a look around your workshop at the tools you own. Do you have all the equipment you will need for cutting out your project parts, shaping the edges, assembling wood panels or smoothing the part surfaces? If your project parts are small and curved, how will you safely cut the tiny curves?
A scroll saw is the best tool for this task. Will you need one or can you modify the design or accomplish the task another way? Think through the construction phase of the project and how you’ll manage each machining step. Otherwise, you could end up midway through the project and stumped over how to proceed. If you can’t accomplish the project without buying a new tool, will you budget support the expenditure?