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I know we all work differently and often our work flow is based on different priorities. I thought it might be interesting to compare notes just for fun. While there must be certain logical ways to operate as a professional for the sake of efficiency and profitability we hobbyists can work in whatever way suits us. I don’t believe there is a right or wrong way for us, just the most fun way, unless of course you are not enjoying the work and/or the results. I will stick my neck out and go first. Please don’t follow my example. It is just the way I enjoy working and there is certainly nothing smart about it!

I work in a very undisciplined way. I’m not at all concerned with productivity and I don’t really care how long my projects last (except before Christmas).

I normally make a crude sketch, usually on graph paper if proportions are an issue and often with just a side or front view and I write on the width and length or other measurements I deem critical. From my rough sketch I do a rough estimate of materials and I often add 10% for waste. I do try to select the best pieces or planks I can find. I check to see where it came out of tree, for imperfections and warpage when that is an issue and I try to imagine based on my design what bad parts if any can be cut out without too much wastage

On dimensioned and planed materials I go to rough cutting the lengths and widths I need and then machine or hand plane to final dimensions. Next comes the joinery work. I like to do this with hand tools if there isn’t too much, but I’m all for using power tools to avoid actual work.

I try to get as much out of machine set-ups as possible, so Its good whenever different parts can have similar dimensions widths or thicknesses to reduce wasted time to reset machines. I try to get as many parts through one set-up before changing for different cuts

I try to get the stuff required for the next step joined, sanded and glued-up first so it can be ready the following day or sometime just an hour or so later so I don’t get too many glue-ups at once and I don’t impede the work. I often change details as I work. I like to do this because seeing partly constructed pieces stimulates me to make design and construction improvements.

I usually don’t clean up much while I’m working on a project. My shop gets dusty with lots of cut-offs and tools laying around. Please do not follow my example!

How do you carry out your projects with regard to:

  1. Planning
  2. Purchasing materials, quantity, quality, etc.
  3. figuring out the work flow
  4. setting up your machines
  5. Glue-ups
  6. keeping your workshop organized and clean underway

I’m not planning on changing my way of woodworking no matter how good someones else’s way is, but I am wondering if there are wide differences between us or just small ones.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway

21 Replies

Thanks for describing you way of doing things Mike .

I have my way also when I build a project when the size does not matter .
To begin with I look through my material stock and chose what I think will work as far as wood species and grain is concerned to go with the idea /design I have in my head and seldom do I make a sketch and the design and size sort of develop and change as I go along or I may have a piece of certain wood that want’s to be something .
On projects like cabinets where size is critical I make a cutting list and sometimes make a story stick as a reference and that works great for me .
On a curved stair which I don’t build anymore if I can help it as it is hard work I used to make a full size drawing on plywood sheets laying on the floor and all parts would be referenced of it using radius rods and line transfer tools etc. that way I was sure that the stair would go together right and the final size of the stair would fit in the location .
As far as my tools are concerned they are a mix of power and hand tools and when working at the bench I like to keep tools of the bench as much as possible and put them back in my slanted tool rack above the bench which works great for me . The table saw is my main work horse and then there are all the other power tools getting their turn as required .
One thing I like to practice is to keep the shop cleaned up and organized which I think is very important .
Other then that I just try not to get stressed and have a good time in the shop and not plan ahead as things always change anyway just go with the flow .



This is a pretty typical break-down of my working style.

1. Spend a few years of sleepless night thinking about projects and planning the joinery and building it in my head. (This sometimes includes years of convincing my husband to let me do it.)
2. Start to work on a SketchUp for it. That generally ends up being a few more years.
3. Dig through the pile of lumber to try to find the best pieces for the project. This step is my most disliked one.
4. Plane what I hope will be more than enough board feet to finish the project.
5. Sort through the planed lumber repeatedly while reviewing my cut list to try to get the least waste, then rough cut the lengths and widths. This is another forever step.
6. Attempt to do all similar set-ups at the same time, if possible. . . planing, sanding, sawing, routing, drilling, etc.
7. Build the carcass first.
8. When making drawers:
a. Plane all the lumber for the boxes.
b. Cut it to exact dimensions.
c. Stack drawer sides in sets and complete each one before going on to the next.
d. Dovetail one set at a time.
e. Route the grooves for the bottom.
f. Cut the bottom plywood to size.
g. Dry fit.
h. Glue up.
9. If the project is large, I often do the finishing in sections.

In between each of these steps, is more planning and building in my head during sleepless nights. I’m always rethinking how to achieve the end result.

These steps get jumbled when life gets in the way and I forget where I was by the time I get back to the project.

I try to somewhat keep up with organizing the shop throughout the project, but often fail. When I finally finish the project, I try to do a thorough cleaning/organizing of the shop for the next project.


-- “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Benjamin Franklin

Thanks for your response. I hope others will join in too.

Klaus Your approach is the most organized and far more professional than mine. This undoubtedly comes from your orderly mind and many years of professional stair building (I hope I got that last part right, just assuming from your comments, please correct me if I’m wrong). It is the right way to work. When we had a visit from an American friend of mine who owned a furniture factory before retiring and he was appalled that I didn’t clean up after a work session in my shop. Truth is I just like to get as much work done within the time constraints and/or I get too tired to clean up at the end of the day. Neither excuse is a point of pride.

L/W I too have my project in my mind constantly and when I go to bed, and I often solve a lot of project problems or make decisions about them between bedtime and the following morning. I used to use Sketchup a lot, but In most cases I think it takes far too much time, so I have not been using it much the last few years. That said, it is a wonderful tool and I would use it more if I could do so with greater speed.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway

Good morning Mike
The most important thing I have learned is to put tools back where they belong which is not always easy but it saves a lot of time and keeps down frustration .The tool tray above my bench has done wonders .This is a picture when I first built it and now the work bech is below it and the clamps have moved over to the right and the tools have been rearranged and added to several times .
This was actually published in a WOOD MAGAZINE issue three years ago .

I have wood and hardware stashed in boxes and on shelf’s all over the place and in no particular order but I usually know what I have and where it is .
I don’t profess to be a clean freak but I have three garbage can’s in different locations and that makes it convenient .
The thing that bothers me the most is the fine dust and that is something that I mean to address more as a dust collector and air filter have not done a good enough job and a air to air heat exchanger may be the way to go as it will exhaust the dust and keep the heat loss to a acceptable level and the other issue is the collection of dust at the source which is something I have played with for years and I am getting closer with this problem on my table saw .
I could go on and on but it is a big subject and I will never have a shop like these pristine looking shops that seem to be a show piece but seldom get worked in that would take all the fun out of it for me as I prefer to design and build .

Good topic Mike
Planning and working is a bit of a mix for me,it will differ depending on if it’s a job for myself or a customer. Customer work I tend to try and firm up the design and dimensions and get approval of both before I start work. Then I may go as far as making a prototype or make a full-scale drawing. Of course I have to acquire wood ,hardware and any finishes I don’t have before I start. When planning a good size project I do give it a lot of thought before,during and after as to the correct joinery to use and logical order in which to build. Selecting wood is always time-consuming to get the proper grain matching an plan arond defects .Depending on the scale of the project I may produce a cut list.After a few days in the shop and the wood has acclimated I rough cut it to size and let in acclimate some more just to make that I’m not going to have any crazy wood movement. I then plan my approach as to minumize set up time on whatever machinery I’m going to use. As I proceed I try and clean up after myself as I go but not always depending on how close my delivery date is. If feel it’s safer to no have things under foot to trip on.
On my own projects I seldom purchase material,since I have a shop full of wood or make elaborate cut list or drawings and work on them when I can.
All said and done I guess my process is not that different from your 1-6 list you posted Mike.
I have often wondered how Klaus has come up with his diverse and great projects other than his great creative skill ,now reading that he wants to see what the wood want’s to be helps me understand a little better. I think I will try and adapt that approach for my own personal builds and perhaps I can be a little more creative and use up some of the wood that fills every corner of my shop.
All of you have that have posted I really like and admire you great projects.

-- woodworking classes, custom furniture maker