Tag Archives: Design

Drafting in the Digital Age

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” — Benjamin Franklin

When it comes to design and drafting old Ben’s quote rings as today as it did in the 1700s. A good design and a clear set of plans can spare you from a lot of unnecessary frustration or wasted material. When I went to High School in the 1990’s I had the opportunity to take classes in traditional drafting on paper and using AutoCAD on old DOS based PCs that were old even at the time. The computer was viewed as the future, but the extra time for smaller projects and prices/availability of good software was a hindrance. For the sake of expediency and my wallet I generally broke out the drawing board when I needed to make a set of plans.

Workshop Shutters In Color + Perspective
Workshop Shutters In Color + Perspective

Years later when I went to the North Bennet Street School they also espoused the use of traditional drafting with leads and full size drawings. No messing with expensive computers and ever-changing software. This works great for chairs and pieces with lots of complex curves. But for timber frames and buildings, often with many repeating elements a small change in the design could literally send you back to the drawing board for hours.

Workshop Shutters
Workshop Shutters

I recently got a copy of SketchUp and around the holidays found a real good deal on Robert Lang’s SketchUp for Woodworkers Shop Class on Demand Videos and watched them around Christmas. SketchUp took a bit of getting used to compared to my old AutoCAD days, but after watching Bob’s videos, and with my background as a software engineer and traditional draftsman I got up to speed quickly. (You may have noticed a proliferation in some computer generated renderings in recent posts) Bob Lang’s videos start with simple projects and tools and increase in complexity. I recommend getting both videos as the second video (‘Advanced Techniques’) was the most interesting to me wherein he shows the user how to create dovetails, work in the round, layout the model for printing dimensioned renderings etc.

Shutters Workshop
Hand Drawn Shutters

Save a Tree, Burn some Pixels

About a year ago I designed some traditional interior shutters for my workshop — I started out drafting them by hand. The plans sat on my TODO list for a few months and now with SketchUp in hand I decided to explore some other design possibilities with the raised panels.

Various Panel Options
Various Panel Options

Design Options Explored (Colors added for easier reference here, I’m not planning to build any shutters for a circus):

  1. Red — Raised, Sunk Fielded Panel
  2. Orange — Raised and Fielded Panel
  3. Green — Raised and Fielded Panel (rounded fielding)
  4. Brown — Flat Panel
  5. Purple — Raised Panel
  6. Blue — Bead and Butt
Panel Details
Panel Details

In the end I settled on #1 above which was part of my original design, but this software saved me from having to experiment with a few test panels to see how things looked from different angles — a nice time and effort saver which offset the perceived longer time it took me to draft this project in SketchUp in the first place. Each project I get a little faster with SketchUp and I think part of why I feel like it takes longer is you generally need to complete your model in most if not all details as opposed to some shortcuts I can take when drafting by hand. (Though I think I am getting a bit OCD as I created all the mortises, draw bored pins etc in full 3D)

Dimensioned Shutters in Color -- Rittenhouse Blue
Dimensioned Shutters in Color — Rittenhouse Blue

With SketchUp you can also experiment with colors and textures. Above you can see my shutters in Rittenhouse Blue to match my existing trim out in the shop. For other projects I’ve used actual textures which help give you a feel for how a surface would look with real wood grain etc.

Exploded View
Exploded View

The other big time saver is how fast you can generate other views — beyond top, bottom, front and back you can quickly generate an exploded view….

Section View
Section View

Or a section view…

Molding Details Dimensioned
Molding Details Dimensioned

or a dimensioned detail view. The dimensioning goes in quickly and the model can be probed in the future if you missed a dimension and want to see exactly how big a part or detail should be. All of these views help me create additional visual aids for this blog and for my teaching as I think a lot of woodworkers are visual learners. You can also share your models with other users or download thousands of models from the 3D Warehouse to save you some time.

I also like the fact that I can draft from the couch in front of the TV at night when I am too tired to be out in the shop and don’t want to be in another room hunched over the drafting board. If you have been waiting for a good reason to try out SketchUp, or draft something new you have no excuse — if you are reading this blog you are likely on a device that can be used to run SketchUp.  🙂

I look forward to seeing some of your new creations and hearing what others think about using the program.

Take care,

P.S. If you’d like to build one of these shutters with me in person, there are still 1 or 2 seats left in my upcoming workshop at NBSS on this very topic. You can find more details here.
P.P.S. If you’d liked to check out Robert Lang’s SketchUp For Woodworker’s Shop Class on Demand Videos or DVDs  I bought my copies from here. (I don’t get any sort of kickback for this, just recommending a good resource)

What does your tool chest say about you?

The spartan exterior of many traditional tool chests was as much a security system as it was a design element. When closed the clean lines and rugged exterior looked did not draw your attention and looked much the same as many other stoutly built traveling chests and trunks you’d see on a given day. While unassuming in travel or quietly sitting in the back of the shop, many of these chests contained a far more interesting interior.

Beautiful Tool Chest from 1849 with extensive inlay work, divided tills, half lock etc
Beautiful Tool Chest from 1849 with extensive inlay work, divided tills, half lock etc. (The maker of this chest clearly must have loved card games)

How often do you see carpenter with a bucket of rusty tools and a paint splattered truck and wondered about ‘If this is how they take care of their tools and truck, what kind of slapdash work would they do for me?’

Beyond just a safe and secure place to store your tools, the way you build and customize your chest says a lot about you and how you work. A clean and orderly chest, worksite, and truck can be a great advertisement for the quality of work you do. I’ve found folks are drawn to a nice chest like moths to a light bulb.

Large chest with inlaid lid
Large joiner’s chest with inlaid lid

What do you look for in a solid chest?

  • It should be easy to find the tools you want to use and quickly pack and unpack them
  • Invest in strong but light materials like Eastern White Pine and use denser woods only for wear parts
  • Do not get caught up with fancy inlays, hidden compartments and nest after nest of drawers
  • Don’t skimp on the hardware, screws and finish — they will see a lot of hard use over the life of the chest
  • A strong lid, well secured with a tight fitting dust seal
Front view with drawer's opened
Front view with drawer’s opened

When I built a traveling toolchest for my own work I went with a utilitarian design that functioned much like rolling luggage of today. Inside there is a tray on top,  a series of removable drawers to hold planes and small items and some open cubbies that were easily accessible and could be secured behind locking doors. The heavy chest lifts, telescoping handle and wheels make it manageable to move. The drawers can be swapped out depending on the needs of the current project and I could vary the height as needed — having a double deep drawer etc.

Rear view with luggage style handle extended
Rear view with luggage style handle extended

Tips for laying out the interior of your own chest:

  • Design your chest from the inside out to fit your current tools and leave room to grow or modify as your tools and interests change over the years
  • Start with your largest tool — for most it is a No. 7 or No.8 Jointer Plane or panel saws — and segment from there
  • Tools you use most often should be the easiest to find  — marking tools, squares, bench chisels, saws etc
  • Make something you are proud of — you’ll be using this chest for years to come and it will be regularly inspected by all your woodworking friends
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment — the great chests all evolved from earlier models, but temper that by remembering that simplicity and expressed construction will often serve you better than lots of glitz without substance

The above principles guide me as I build my own tool chests I and I hope they will help you as get out into the shop and build a chest that is a reflection of your woodworking skills and personality.

You can learn more about my thoughts on Tool Chests on my blog here.

-Bill Rainford

P.S. The above post is an extended version of what I wrote up for my friends over at Popular Woodworking as part of their Daily Woodworking Blog which you can find here.