Mistakes. Every woodworker has made them, and they’ve had to fix them. Sometimes, it’s an easy fix, and others it requires you to make that part again. Mistakes are unavoidable, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be limited. So, here is our four-step guide to limiting woodworking errors:
1. Start with Design
Before you start a project, you need to have a design. Some people begin by searching the internet for different design ideas. Some of these designs might even have blueprints with them. Other people make custom designs. In these cases, the plan is client-driven.
Most custom woodworkers have processes in place to effectively communicate the design of the product to the client. This process might be neat and professional hand drawings or using some sort of design software like SketchUp.
2. Have Blueprints
I think having blueprints is the best way to eliminate mistakes in the shop. Designing a project and having plans go hand-in-hand. As I mentioned before, sometimes you can find blueprints along with the design. With custom designs, there are a couple of different ways to come up with blueprints. Typically, design software has a way to make blueprints based on the design. But blueprints can also be made by hand. You simply need a few base measurements to figure out the rest.
It doesn’t matter where or how you get your blueprints. The only thing that matters is that they are accurate. Plans don’t help if the measurements are wrong. So no matter what your designs look like or where you got them from, double-check the numbers to see if they make sense.
3. Think Through the Manufacturing Process
With the blueprints in hand, start thinking through the manufacturing process from the beginning to the end. Think through how you will machine parts, do joinery, and the assembly. By having a process in mind before you start machining, you can eliminate errors later on.
4. Use Cheap/Scrap Material for Practice and Set-Ups
Woodworking uses lots of trial and error. You discover what processes work best for you and your set up. Each woodworker has a different process in making a piece. Experience is king. So what I suggest is if you are new to woodworking, using a new tool for the first time, following a different process, or setting up a machine for joinery, test that process with cheap or scrap material. Woodworkers do this all the time, and it’s very clever. Why waste that beautiful and expensive, walnut, maple, or cherry on something you’ve never tried before. Instead, replace it with pine, plywood, or MDF from a big box store.
There are some woodworkers that, for some projects, will make it entirely out of cheap material first. This way, they can eliminate errors on the practice piece and not the finished project. They can test the manufacturing process and make changes accordingly. This technique can be incredibly useful if you are making sets of things, like a set of dining chairs or if the project is made out of very expensive wood.
Finally, every woodworker makes mistakes, and every woodworker will continue to make mistakes. That’s one of the joys of woodworking. You get to make mistakes and learn from them. But mistakes are frustrating, and they push you back on time, and some mistakes are entirely avoidable. So when you start your next project, use this four-step method to help you eliminate errors on your projects.