Plan Your Woodworking Project 101

Having a plan is a big part of a successful project. In fact, without a plan, you can count on running into issues that either greatly hinder or completely stop your project. What’s more, without a plan, you risk disappointing your clients and, in turn, harming your reputation.

No one wants that, which is why this article is all about making plans for your woodworking projects.

You’ll learn:

Not only will you find useful tips, but you’ll also find the inspiration you need to create a foolproof plan for your next project. And with a foolproof plan, you will make more quality woodworking projects and guarantee your clients’ satisfaction.

Let’s jump right in by answering an essential question…

WHY do I need to plan for a woodworking project?

A hand sketching out project plans on a desk covered in woodworking toolsGreat question. No doubt, the inspiration for a woodworking project can come from a moment of genius, but in order to properly execute your idea, you need a plan.

If you don’t have a plan and, in turn, don’t visualize what steps you need to take, what to avoid, and potential problems, you’ll probably find yourself disappointed with the end result. You’ll have wasted time, money, and materials trying to make something that looks nothing like you intended.

Not only is it wasteful, but it’s also really disheartening and might discourage you from trying new things in the future.

The obvious solution then is to make a plan. It keeps your budget happy, your clients happy, and ultimately, it will simplify your life and enhance the quality of your work.

Let’s break this down one more time to truly see the benefits of making a plan and the downsides of not making a plan.

When you make a plan, you

  • Use your resources (time and materials) responsibly
  • Work efficiently
  • Produce a quality piece that you can be proud of and your clients can love for a lifetime

When you don’t make a plan, you

  • Waste time, materials, and, therefore, money
  • End up with unforeseen issues extending your timeline
  • Possibly produce a piece that doesn’t match your original vision and that isn’t repeatable in the future

Clearly, one of these ways is better than the other.

So now that we have established why it’s so important to have a plan before you start a woodworking project, let’s discuss how to make a plan and what an example plan might look like.

How do you plan a woodworking project?

If you want to make woodworking project plans, here are some steps that you can follow:

  1. Envision and make a sketchup of the piece
  2. Figure out how you are going to fasten pieces and what kinds of techniques you will use
  3. Gather the tools that you will need
  4. Determine the materials needed and prepare your wood
  5. Carefully execute your project
  6. Reflect on the process

Let’s take a closer look at each of these steps.

1. Envision and make a sketchup of the piece

At the beginning of the woodworking project process, you need to do two things:

  • Envision your piece
  • Make a sketchup of it

We’ll break down each one.

Envision your piece

A woman in her wood shop, brainstorming plans for her next project with pen in handThe first step in your woodworking plans should be to figure out exactly what you are going to make. This is the brainstorming part of the process!

Is it a coffee table, a workbench or organizational system, a bookcase or bookshelves, an end table, a jewelry box, a picture frame?

Big or small, complicated or simple, a DIY project for yourself or a project for a client, the possibilities are endless.

What if you want to come up with a new project but don’t know where to start?

Well, there are a couple of things you can do to get inspired.

The first thing you can do is determine a problem that you want to solve. Most projects come from a problem that an individual has experienced firsthand. The project is the solution to the problem.

For example, you may want to create storage solutions for your clients, but you don’t like the bulky, unattractive nature of most of these, so you create a project that is both beautiful and functional.

The second thing you can do to get inspired is to start searching your favorite resources for ideas. There are several blogs, YouTube channels, and websites with free woodworking plans that you can use as a starting point.

These come in a variety of skill levels, so whether you’ve been woodworking since you can remember or you’ve just started taking things more seriously, you can find a plan for you.

Here are some of our favorites:

Make a sketchup of your project

A man making a sketchup of his next woodworking projectAfter you envision your project, you’ll want to begin creating more concrete plans.

There are several ways to do this.

You can use woodworking design software like Sketchup, Fusion 360, Pro100, SketchList 3D, MacDraft Pro, and many more. You can also draft the old-fashioned way: using a pencil, paper, ruler, and compass.

Whatever method you use, you can follow these basic steps:

  1. Determine how much space you want the project to fill and what the dimensions are for the final project.
  2. Using those dimensions, determine the different shapes involved in your project and determine their measurements and thickness.
  3. Keep in mind the ratios of the piece and how they will complement each other and be pleasing to the eye.

Note that the more detailed your plan, the more you will be able to reproduce an exact project. Furthermore, once you become experienced at creating plans for woodworking projects, you can also sell those plans to other woodworkers.

After you have a written plan and know what each of the elements of the final piece are going to look like, you should figure out how those elements are going to come together, which leads us to the next section.

2. Figure out how you are going to fasten pieces and what kinds of techniques you will use

A man sitting at a desk and drawing plansNow that you have a vision for your project and a general template, it’s time to get a bit more precise. You’ll need to determine how you are going to fasten pieces together so that when it comes time to gather tools and materials, you know what you need and how much you need.

If you are going to use mortise and tenon, dovetail, or rabbet joinery, you’ll need different tools and materials than if you are going to use pocket hole joinery or adhesives.

The type of joinery you choose depends on your personal preference and experience, but certain types of joining methods do lend themselves to certain projects.

For example, mortise and tenon joints are great for furniture, cabinets, doors, and windows. Dowel joints are great for furniture.1 Dovetail joints are great for furniture and are often found in dressers and other pieces with drawers. If you often use plywood, dado joints are especially useful.

Figuring out, step by step, how the individual parts of your project will combine will help you achieve a sturdy and thoughtful final product.

3. Gather the woodworking tools you need

Woodworking chisels and carving knives on a work tableAfter you’ve figured out what kind of woodworking project you want to make and how you are going to join the pieces together, it’s time to gather the proper tools to execute that project.

Different types of projects will require different types of tools, naturally. If you are working with a lot of straight edges, you’ll need different tools than if you are creating a lot of curved edges. And, as we’ve already mentioned, different joinery methods will also require different tools.

Here are some tools to consider as you determine exactly what you need:

  • Router
  • Tablesaw
  • Bandsaw
  • Clamps
  • Different drill bits
  • Hand planes or planer
  • Hand tools vs. power tools
  • Jointer
  • Lathe
  • Jigsaw
  • Etc.

Once you’ve determined the tools you’ll need, gather them and have them nearby so that you don’t have to go searching for them in the middle of your project.

Now, on to materials.

4. Determine the materials needed and prepare the wood

Stacks of lumberNext, it’s time to gather the materials you need. Does your project require solid wood or are you going to use some kind of manufactured wood, wood veneer, or plywood?

After that, if you are going for solid wood, what kind of wood are you going to use? Oak, cherry, maple, birch, walnut, etc.

And, of course, before you buy, you need to measure your material’s moisture content (MC). If you buy wood that is too wet or too dry based on the equilibrium moisture content of its working location, then it’s almost guaranteed that the wood will either swell, shrink, or warp.

This is a nightmare for you as it will slow down your project and potentially damage your material. This is also a nightmare for your client because if you send your client a warped project, they will be disappointed and your reputation will suffer.

Using a wood moisture meter, like those from Bessemeter, to measure the MC of the wood before you buy it will save you a ton of time and money. Plus, your project will match your vision and your client’s vision.

But determining the materials you need doesn’t stop at gathering wood. You also need to figure out if you’ll need any adhesives, stains, fillers, or other types of finishes so that you don’t get held up during the next step.

5. Execute your project!

A woodworker cutting a piece of wood with a tablesawAfter you’ve done the previous steps, you are ready to execute your project.

This is the most exciting part, as you get to see your vision come to life!

Don’t be afraid to take your time through each step. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

However, it’s probably true that you’ll run into a hiccup at some point, and that’s okay. That’s where the last step comes in.

6. Reflect on the process

This is just as important as the previous five steps. If you don’t reflect on the process and take note of what went wrong the first time, you’ll continue to make the same mistake the next time and the next time.

Consider these points:

  • Did you run out of material midway through the project? Make a note to buy more next time.
  • Did you try to make do with the equipment you had but didn’t love the result? Make a note to invest in the right equipment.
  • Did your material warp, shrink, or swell before, during, or after the creation process? Then you need a wood moisture meter, like the DS500 from Bessemeter, to ensure that the MC of your material is exactly where it needs to be. Add this to your shopping list, and you won’t need to worry about making the same mistake next time.

So here’s to woodworking project planning and success!

Add a Bessemeter wood moisture meter to your tool kit and reap the benefits of saved time, money, and a great reputation.