How to Plan Your Next Woodworking Project

All too often it is easy to get excited about a new woodworking project, but then once you get to your workshop, your mind goes blank. What exactly are you planning on making? This will often occur because you did not have a strategy of approach before deciding to start a woodworking project in the first place. Thankfully, we have come up with a list of tips to help you plan your next woodworking project and be knee deep in sawdust before you know it.


The easiest consideration to make when beginning a woodworking project is the function of the project. This can work two ways. First, you can look at the project from the end result in terms of what the finished product will actually do. If you need something for storage, like a chest, then your plans will differ greatly than if you need something for a surface, like a table.

The second way to look at it is in terms of your skill set. Specifically, are you making the project with a particular purpose in mind or more to challenge yourself? If you are looking to challenge yourself without a true end goal, then the function of the project takes on a less practical dimension and can technically be anything you want–so long as the techniques required to accomplish its construction are difficult for your current skill level.


Once you know the function of your woodworking project, next comes the fun part: figuring out which tools you will need. This will depend on a couple factors, but they all ultimately boil down to the different types of workpieces you expect the project to require. The tools you will use to make a small, ornate jewelry box are likely to be different than the tools you will use to construct a set of cabinets.

Within this category, you also need to take a hard look at what types of tools you will need–specifically between power tools and hand tools. The latter are generally used for finer, detail work and for advanced woodworker trying to challenge their skills and precision. Regardless, both types of tools are liable to be used with most woodworking projects in some fashion.


This will generally relate to the wood that you intend to use and will be determined by a combination of skill and budget. While using the most expensive type of hardwood you can get ahold of might seem enticing, it is important to remember that different types of wood behave differently when being worked.

If you have spent hours and hours working with oak, that does not mean that you will be as immediately comfortable working with maple even though they are both hardwoods. This applies even more so if the woods in question differ markedly in grain. Simply more than appearance, grain can affect how you approach your cuts and finishing job with a woodworking project.


While the tools may get all of the headlines when constructing a woodworking project, just as important as the actual construction is how you will fasten the different workpieces together. This in and of itself can be a fairly difficult choice that will hinge primarily on the type of project you are building, your budget, and your skill level.

For instance, constructing a piece of furniture with primarily dovetail joints can help reduce the amount of additional fastener costs tacked on to your project, but they also require a bit more skill. The same applies for tenons with small woodworking projects.

On the flip side, metal fasteners are only appropriate when the workpieces are large enough to handle the stress installing will apply. Of course, both glues and metal hardware will need to be judged on their longevity as well.


This will depend as much on your skill level as it does on your preference. If you are an intermediate woodworker, you should feel more comfortable challenging yourself with more advanced techniques than if you are still a beginner. As an advanced woodworking, the name of the game is challenging yourself and refining your fundamental skills to a master level.
Techniques can involve anything from how you intend to put the different workpieces together to what type of decoration you want to adorn the project. Keep in mind, while it is a good idea to try and challenge yourself, it makes no sense to try and bit off more than you can chew. As a hobby, woodworking is a marathon, not a sprint.

Do not feel discouraged if a certain type of technique intimidates you. Give it a shot on some scraps hanging out in the barrel or whatever storage designated for the leftover wood from previous projects. If the technique turns out to be a bit too advanced for that specific project, look for alternatives.


While you may not need to rely on these too terribly much, it is always a good idea to have a set of plans drawn up beforehand to make sure that you know what to do and when to do it. You do not necessarily need to purchase an additional set of plans if you are fairly experienced, but you should then at least make sure to draw them up yourself.

The main purpose of the plans is to make sure that you understand what steps and measurements need to be followed and when. Many a skilled woodworker has ruined hefty sums of resources simply by jumping headfirst into a woodworking project without an adequate plan only to realize that one workpiece or another was misaligned.


However you go about it, just make sure that you are well-prepared before embarking on any woodworking project. If you are not, it is quite easy to get halfway through a project before realizing that you forgot a crucial step of preparation. By following these suggestions, that should be an issue, and your next woodworking project should be well underway.

About the Author

James Niehaus has owned and operated a cabinet shop specializing in fine furniture, reproductions, and custom architectural fixtures for over twenty years. He is a master cabinetmaker and avid writer for woodworking magazines across the country. He also teaches woodworking in colleges, woodworking clubs and schools throughout the United States.

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