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Woodworking Tips and Tricks Do You Need Plans?

This is a response to someone who asked about a very expensive package of lots of woodworking plans, and if they were worth the purchase.  I am posting this as a blog post because lots of people get this as an email and so don’t see responses.  Edited  for general consumption.

I have never heard of or used these plans. Not knowing your level of skill, I would say that there is a LOT that has to happen with one’s woodworking skills (that plans will not give) BEFORE attempting anything with equipment that can maim you for life. In looking over the plans, I suppose one can successfully build something from them. BUT if you can’t conceptualize in 3 dimensions, then the plans will not help.

Most of woodworking (like most trades, crafts and arts), whether it’s cabinets, toys, wood turning, carving, etc., is conceptual.  It’s bringing something into being that did not exist before. It’s shaping materials into forms that they were not originally intended. And if you can’t “see” that, see the project completed somewhat ahead of time, no amount of plans will help. I have had some clients who know exactly what I am talking about when I try to explain what I intend to build for them. They are a dream come true. But then there are those who have no clue, regardless of how many sketches, drawings, or even full size layouts that I draw. They just don’t have the mental conceptual skills. I have struggled myself at times, getting a job and then wondering, “How am I going to build THAT?” So I start drawing and thinking and waking up in the middle of the night worrying it all out to final assembly.

So if you can conceptualize, then the plans may help. But I think the price is way too high for what you get and for how few projects you will actually build from them; 10 years from now, how many will you have actually built? You may learn structures and how things are meant to go together, but these things can be learned elsewhere. Watch 200 hours of YouTube videos of how others are doing it. They will actually guide you through the process. I subscribed to Wood Magazine for years (I could deduct it as a business expense and got at least one tip per issue) and they actually show you HOW to do the cuts that are needed for the joinery. I didn’t see any of that in those plans, just very detailed drawings.

I have just started turning wood bowls on my huge ancient wood lathe. I am now watching  LOTS of hours of YouTube vids to see how, why and what’s needed to be successful, without killing myself or losing an arm or eye in the process. I see how I can make my own tools instead of spending $75-$150 each on them. I see how to mount the blank, how to start the cuts, how to angle the cutter for most precision, what processes happen in what sequence, how to dry the wood. No plans will tell you that, nor will they be in a format where you can ask questions (which you can do on YouTube or woodworking forums), which is key . There is more to woodworking than following plans. They are just the beginning.

If you were to build a box, how would you go about it? What size would the box be? What material would you use for strength or aesthetics, what dimensions of that material are available and how would that affect the final outcome? What joints will you choose for your intended outcomes? If you can successfully build a box, with all the variables involved, then build one with a lid, and then one with a drawer (which is another box) and door, and so on. You now have kitchen/bath cabinets and bookcases. All else is extra embellishment. That includes fancy grandfather clocks. There are basic construction techniques that need to be learned and then applying those to your project is successful woodworking.

I think plans stunt the creative learning process and bypasses the thinking of “why” something is done a certain way. It’s just following step by step and here is the end result, regardless of how nice it is. Sure there is satisfaction in “I built this myself”, but it’s not yours. You didn’t create it, you just followed directions.  I guess one thing that a plan can do is give a starting point, a concept, but then make it your own.  Add you own imagination to the piece, make it yours.  I have done that many times, “Well that’s a cool concept, but I can make it better, more beautiful, more useful, sturdier, etc.”

Another key component to any project is “why”. I heard that “those who only know how will always work for those who know why”. Why did he choose a certain wood? Why this joint, because it’s easy or best? Why build it this way? I used to watch New Yankee Workshop with Norm Abrams. It was kind of a comedy show for me. I watched what he did (he did beautiful work, don’t get me wrong, actually built 3 of each piece) but thought about how some poor guy at home tries to duplicate what he just did on a zillion dollars worth of equipment with decades of experience. And then there’s this: he built a beautiful corner hutch with all this fancy joinery and doors…. and then screwed the back on with black sheet rock screws… What?!  Why?

When you look at plans, ask why did they choose to do it this way? Is there another easier, simpler, better way and get the same result? Why make things so complicated, just because they can? Antique furniture was not built with fancy joinery not because they had a choice, it’s what they knew. I have repaired a LOT of antiques, including grandfather clocks from the mid 1800s and they are junk. All handmade but didn’t last. They did not follow through with the engineering of things and just “got it out the door, next please”. So asking “why” is super important. I have a reason for everything I do. I can answer the question. I never follow blindly with what “the plans show” or “it’s always been done this way”. I have had interesting discussions with interior decorators about “why”. “Form follows function”. Always.

For the high price of sets of woodworking plans, you can buy a REALLY nice router or some nice carving tools, or some other tool or tools to further what you need in your shop, which will be used every day, including 10, 20, 30 years from now. The plans will gather dust in the drawer. You may get to the point in your skills where you say, “Why did I buy these?” and now you are stuck with them. You may decide after a year of sawdust in your eyes (and tracked onto the kitchen floor) and a pile of really nice firewood, that you want to just go a play golf instead.

I would suggest you buy individual plans (they are all over ebay and the internet) for what you want to build to see if it’s helpful, to see if you have the eye to see the project completed and understand how to interpolate from 2D plans to actual 3D material and processes to final completion.

I would not buy the package just because it’s a good deal…I realize that’s the American way and everyone needs to make a buck. But use the money in the most advantageous way. And I would think that buying tools would be more useful than plans. I still use tools I have had for over 45 years. I have no plans…




Wisdom for the Day

The people who care what you have don’t matter, and the people that matter don’t care.

There is no such thing as independence.  We all take more out than we put in.

Suffering is the most precious coin of the Kingdom.

In this media saturated culture, we should be grieving over what we laugh at.

There are no verses that say I am to understand Scriptural principles in order for them to work.

I cannot expect those I teach to be changed by God’s Word if I have not been changed by it first.

A zoo is the very height of socialism:
*free food
*free housing
*free housekeeping
*free utilities
*free health care
*free education
This is all paid for by the government through taxing the rich.  The only thing that is needed from the animals is for them to give up their freedom.

i < God
God > i
God ≠ i
i ≠ God
Too bad we don’t live that way.

Quotes from Books Holy Transformation by Chip Ingram

More quotes from the book Holy Transformation by Chip Ingram.

[In the movie The Matrix,] Morpheus presents us with an all-or-nothing proposition.  It can be a little overwhelming.  The caterpillar doesn’t get to try one wing on for size just to see if he’s all right with the metamorphosis.  Cocoons require total commitments.  People talk about wanting to change, but when the genuine opportunity comes along, they often decide to wait.

…continuing to live in sin is not an option for a Christian.

Our culture tells us lies and we believe them enough to invest time and money…eventually we realize that those who are telling us what will make us happy are wrong.

Life change demands that we act on truth.

The problem with Christianity is it has turned into a religion.  God never intended it to be a religion.  He intended it to be a breakthrough into a personal relationship with Him.

Only God can bring about change, but He never chooses to do it alone.  Life change never happens in isolation.

…Christianity in American is far too often characterized by people who come to church now and then, sit down, listen to a sermon, nod a little bit, intellectually assimilate it to some level, and then leave and live the same way the world does.

[Judgemental Christians are those whose] lives are filled with religious duties, but they experience very little delight in the Lord.  They complain of near exhaustion as a result of the their superhuman efforts in ministry, but when you get close to them, you don’s seem much joy or sense much love.

Wisdom for the Day

Relative truth only works in philosophical debates but not in the real world.

It isn’t until you come to the end of yourself that you become teachable by God.

The older you become as a Christian, you will have less and less expectations that this world will fulfill you.

If God answered your demand of “Why?” when tragedy strikes, what makes you think you would even understand the answer, much less agree with Him? Maybe it’s a blessing He doesn’t respond but only give us, “Trust Me”.

The dust of uncertainty that shrouds the Narrow Path has been settled by the tears of those who have gone before.

Jesus was the first world leader to inaugurate a kingdom with heroic roles for losers.

The truth will never hurt you more than a lie.

What is Worship?

Back in 1998 I wrote most of a book on worship that I never completed.  In going through some of my files recently, I found one that contained some research I had done.  I had sent an email to lots of friends and family, simply asking, “What is worship?”   The following is a compilation of some of their responses, slightly edited.


“…it would have to do with respect or reverence of something…the act of announcing/proclaiming or affirming the character or worthiness of someone or something…must incorporate some element of reverence/respect…involve an aspect of honor and respect tempered with a degree of solemnity.”

“To me, worship is giving adoration without concern for what others around me might think…abandonment.”

“…ascribing of worth to God…proclaiming His worth as our Creator, King and Savior…It is not entertainment or a social club.  It is the profound response of a saved people to a mighty God.”

“Worship is the ‘thank you’ that refuses to be silenced….Worship is a voluntary act of gratitude offered by the saved to the Savior, by the healed to the Healer, and by the delivered to the Deliverer.”

“[It] is an attitude of living that is completely encompassed by what God would desire for my life…Peter says we are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, belonging to God.  The only logical conclusion in this for me is that we were created worshipers.  …God wants us to worship Him and Him alone.   [“Love the Lord with all your heart and do no lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.”] Prov. 3:5,6  Acknowledging God in all my ways is worship.  If I get the “why” correct, the how is not nearly as important.”

“…taking time to focus on God and Who He is.  Spending concentrated effort to reconnect with Him…I think God can do just fine without us…we can’t do very well without Him.”

“…worship describes a very strong feeling similar to love, only perhaps even stronger…Worship should be more a verb than a noun.  Worship may be more something that you do, rather than something you feel. ”

“…we as people can not help but worship.  As we breath so we worship. It is how created beings are put together.  If we worship the mountain god who we believe brings rain and then sun to our crops, we pay attention to the mountain god. We make sure the god’s needs are met.  If it is our anger we serve, then everyone around us suffers when that god’s rituals and requirements are not met.  We offer in sacrifice whatever the anger god demands because what we worship we serve.  If we worship Jesus, we serve Him by following His commands, making disciples and teaching them to worship in spirit and in truth, teaching them the way of the Cross is first the way to death, then the way to life.”

“Worship is a reverent response from the soul in recognition of the Glory of God and His love for us.  We are to worship in Spirit, in holiness, we are commanded to, needs to be preceded by confession of sin.  It is an attitude, a definite focus and mind set.  It is not a ritual, or altered state of consciousness.  It can be corporate or alone, any time any place.  It can be through music, prayer or meditation on the Word of God.  It can be spontaneous as well as planned.  Posture is not relevant.  Worship and praise go together, an offering to God.  It’s good to know all this, but we need to do it.” (from my mom, now worshiping in fullness at the feet of her Savior)


May this be a good reminder as to what worship is and should be in our lives, privately and corporately when we meet.


Wisdom for the Day

Unforgiveness is retaining the right to hurt you for hurting me. It ends up being a self-inflicted wound.

Your personal fulfillment isn’t even on a list of what’s important to God.

If God doesn’t have your money, He doesn’t have your heart.

The real test of stewardship is not how much you give to God, but what you do with the rest of the money.

There comes a time when a pastor not only speaks to his church, but also must speak to the world for the Church.

Becoming a Christian isn’t just giving God your life but it also means giving Him your lifestyle.

The nearer you get to Jesus, the nearer to hell you’ll feel.

The refiners fire brings out the dross.  Don’t be surprised when it starts showing itself in very unChristian ways.

Woodworking Tips and Tricks Mitering Against the Fence

One of the most dangerous procedures on the table saw is mitering against the fence.  You put a waste piece of plywood on the fence, then tilt the saw, say to 45 degrees, bury the blade into the fence and the run the piece through.  So what happens to that little sliver of wood that is trapped between the blade and the fence?  It’s one reason you don’t stand in line with the blade.  It becomes a projectile that flies back at you at very fast rate of speed, possibly injuring you and bending the blade or teeth on the blade.  A buddy of mine put a piece through his garage door doing this.  Not safe at all.

Now you can make a scrap pusher that you use to back up the piece as it goes through the saw to push the little missile out the other end but that still leaves it rattling around on the other side with the chance it will recycle back into the blade at the worst time.   So you lean over the turning blade to get rid of it….

The way to avoid this is cut the taper but not go through all the way by leaving the blade out of the waste piece on the fence.  I leave a little sliver holding that little waste piece in place.  I then break these off by hand and recut, adjusting the fence a bit closer just a hair more, raising the blade into the scrap piece which takes off the little nib and also takes off any burn marks that will have to be sanded later.

This will also work  where the piece is being mitered, trapped between the blade and the saw, another very very scary proposition (and totally not to be done with short pieces).   That piece of left-over wood is now floating on top of the blade, either to get jammed into the throat plate or come flying back at you.  I make a  piece of bookbinding equipment that needs a 30 degree taper cut on one edge that I can’t do against the fence; I have to do it with the blade on the left and the piece trapped as I move it through the saw.  Since I came up with this solution, I have had no problems with that little piece coming back at me.

When you are cutting with a piece trapped like this, the wood usually gets burned by the blade.  So when I break off the little piece, I move the fence a tad smaller and then recut, which takes off the nib left by the first cut and also takes off the burn marks that would have to be sanded afterwards.  It’s more labor intensive because I am doing this twice but because of the safety factor and not having to do all that extra sanding, it’s totally worth it.

So stay safe and hope this helps.