Woodworking Project Planning and Measuring Tips

Project Planning

With your lumber and tools ready to go, you’ll be ready to make a start on woodworking project planning.

To make sure you get the result you’re aiming for, it’s a good idea to visualize each step you’ll have to take before tackling your woodwork. In this chapter, you’ll learn how to measure wood angles, check wood moisture and design your project from start to finish.

How to Plan a Woodworking Project: Function over Form

Always start with the function when you’re planning a woodworking project: What function do you want your finished piece to serve? For example, if you’re building a set of shelves, what do you need them to support and how do you want them to look?

If you’re building a birdhouse, what size and species of bird are you planning to attract?

This may seem like a simple idea, but if you don’t get it pinned down early on you may end up getting diverted and missing the mark in your finished piece. With your function identified, you’ll be able to create a sketch to work from.

This sketch may just be a basic drawing of the overall shape of the piece, but it will be more useful if it also lays out the lengths and angles on different parts of the project. A good sketch drawn to scale (for example, drawn so that every inch on the plan corresponds to a foot in real life) can be a real asset.

Woodworking design software

You can create a plan using nothing more than a pencil, ruler and paper, or you can download woodworking design software that will help you make highly accurate furniture plans. We’ll run through two of these furniture design software tools later in this chapter.

How to Measure and Cut Angles in Wood

Measuring wood parts

On your plan, you can measure and draw angles using a ruler and protractor.

Beginners may find measuring and cutting angles a bit daunting, but a miter saw can make cutting standard angles much simpler. Most miter saws (and chop saws) have preset locks for the most common angles (generally 45º, 30º and 22.5º).

How to calculate angles

When it comes to calculating the angles you’ll need in your piece, the main thing you’ll need to keep in mind is that all the angles in a shape will add up to 360º. This means a shape with four equal sides will have four 90º angles, adding up to 360º.

If two pieces of wood are to meet at each of these angles, those pieces will need to be cut to a 45º angle, with the two pieces adding up to a 90º angle.

Making accurate marks and cuts in your wood is much easier if you use the measuring tools we discussed in Chapter Three.

Easily-Forgotten Woodworking Supplies

One part of the woodworking plan that is often neglected is the establishment of the various glues, fillers and finishes needed. This won’t take long, but making sure you have these supplies and that they are suitable for the materials you’re using will make all the difference.

Each finish has its own specific properties which will determine the conditions in which it is most durable and easy to apply. Common finishes include spray-on lacquer, hand-applied oil or brush-applied varnish. Dyes and stains can be used to color the wood.

We’ll talk more about glues in Chapter Eleven (coming soon), while painting and finishing are discussed in Chapter Fourteen (coming soon).

Which power tools do you need? Plan ahead

Also plan ahead which tools you are going to need, do you need a table saw, circular saw, jigsaw or miter saw? Do you need a random orbital sander or a belt sander? Is a cordless power drill enough or do you need a corded one? Jointer, planer or jointer planer?

How to Measure Moisture in Wood

Moisture in wood can be a major concern for woodworkers, whatever their project. Too much moisture can cause the wood to swell or become misshapen or even rot or become moldy. This is why measuring lumber moisture is such an important part of project preparation.

In Chapter Three, we included moisture meters as one of the key hand tools for woodworkers. These come in two main types – pin-type and pinless.

  • Pin-type wood moisture meters are used by inserting the pins into the wood and activating the meter. An electric current passes between the pins to give an accurate reading.
  • Pinless wood moisture meters are used by pressing the base of the scanning plate firmly against the wood and activating the meter.

These meters will give you a reading in %MC (percentage moisture content). The optimum %MC for your project will vary depending on the humidity of the area in which you live. This chart from Wagner Meters breaks down the moisture levels you should aim for in various levels of humidity:

Humidity of the location EMC of the location MC the wood will attain
19-25% 5% 5%
26-32% 6% 6%
33-39% 7% 7%
40-46% 8% 8%
47-52% 9% 9%

Developing Your Woodworking Project Plans

Planning woodworking projects

It’s inevitable that you’ll encounter issues and opportunities that your original plans didn’t foresee as you work through your project. Your thumbnails will need to be continually developed and redeveloped for this reason.

When you spot an issue with your plan, you don’t need to scrap the whole thing. You just need to make some modifications to your original drawings to facilitate a new approach.

A minor adjustment won’t need a whole new toolbelt or a new supply of wood. It just means you may have to change an angle or the depth of a cut slightly to better fit together the pieces of your project.

Woodworking Planning Software

If you want computer software to help you plan and manage your woodworking projects, there are plenty of options out there. Two of the most popular options are SketchUp and Fusion 360.

SketchUp Fusion 360
Price Free for home, personal and educational use Free for non-commercial use
User Guidance Wide range of how-to and training videos Videos and Facebook Groups
Plugins Range of woodworking plugins including “Cut List” Range of woodworking plugins including “Shaper Utilities” and “MapBoards Pro”
Community Huge community with “3D Warehouse” forum where users can download free designs by other members Forum and blogs
Cloud System Mostly web-based, 10GB of cloud storage Cloud and web-based
CNC & 3D Printing Options 3D printing possible but tricky Works with CNC machines and 3D printing
Rendering Extensions available to provide higher quality rendering Detailed rendering
Changes Slightly more complicated to change Model can be changed easily

With your tools and materials ready and your project planned, you’ll be ready to get stuck into your project. Read on to Chapter Six to learn everything you need to know about sawing (coming soon).

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