Planning your project -Part 2 : Detailed Design

Now that you (or you and your client) have determined the general results you want to achieve, and budgeted the time and money necessary, it is time to get into the nitty-gritty of design.

As often as not, the general concept is little more than a sketch on a napkin, or a few notes quickly typed in a text message. The detail design phase needs to go much deeper. The details may not all need to be shared with your client, but will be a tremendous aid to you during the actual construction. If your end product IS the plan, your customers will appreciate the efforts you put into it.

Let’s consider the details that you, as the builder, need to know:

  • What are the overall dimensions of the object you plan to build?

During the goal definition phase, you probably thought about the general size of whatever you plan to build. Now is the time to look very closely at the dimensions of the space this object will occupy. For example, you plan to make a chest of drawers for a client; where do they expect to use it? Are there constraining walls that dictate the maximum width? Is there a light switch or receptacle that musn’t be blocked? Are there any doors that will swing into the chest if it is too deep?  The answers to questions like this will establish the limits of the object’s size, and to some extent, its shape.

  • What materials will be used to build the item?

This is another question that should already have been discussed in general terms. Now you must determine what material to use for each  component of the project. For instance, our fictitious chest of drawers would not typically be made of a single species of wood. Let’s say your client (or your spouse!) wants a mahogany chest. Ok, so the visible portions will be mahogany. But what about the parts you can’t see, at least most of the time? Drawer sides & bottoms, dust frames, etc… It makes no sense to waste money on an expensive material (chosen for appearance, more than function), when a less expensive alternative will function as well or better. So, you choose poplar or pine, or some other readily available material for those parts. Take into consideration the wear characteristics of the species chosen for wear parts like drawer sides and rails.

What about accent parts? Things like drawer pulls or hinges, that are visible, and can have a huge impact on the appearance of the piece? Will you use metal, wood, or some other material? Will you make them youself, have them made to order, or purchase pre-made?

  • What function will the item perform?

Yes, this question was already answered, in general. But what about the smaller functions? A dining table could be made with or without a removable leaf. A side table may or may not need a drawer for storage. A chair may need arms, or perhaps rockers. Our fictitious chest of drawers may need to serve as a dressing table with mirror, or maybe a changing table with guard rails.

It is rare that a piece of furniture serve only a single function. The same is true of almost any object you might build as a “Maker”. Always consider the secondary functions early in the design phase. They may even lead you to re-evaluate and change the original basic design.

  • What finish or finishes will be used?

Considering the final finish right from the beginning is very important. The finish choice can influence the choice of materials, joinery, and surface preparation. In some cases it may even influence the form of the piece itself!

You wouldn’t choose a beautiful wood, like walnut, for a painted cabinet. You might prefer solid wood over plywood if the finish will be clear. Using a tinted stain or dye can impact the appearance of some species and some types of joints.

In review, it is important to understand how these details influence the final result. Always consider them as you prepare your plan, never wait until its too late!

Next time, we’ll examine ways to plan and schedule your time most effectively.

Until then, Savor the Sawdust!

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