Woodworking Mistakes to Avoid When Designing Pieces

Let’s take a look at potential woodworking mistakes – and opportunities – in designing and developing pieces. These design issues are especially important in woodworking and many relate particularly to the wood itself. In an earlier post, I offered woodworking advice, urging woodworkers to take the effort, risk and time to actively design, so now let’s look deeper.


Sketchbooks, the drafting board and CAD are convenient tools for design but there is another element of the process that usually must also be used: mockups. It is difficult if not impossible for even the most conceptually agile among us to fully appreciate the key spatial relationships within a prospective piece without the aid of a mockup.

The mockup should be quick, expedient and easily modified. Scrap wood, cardboard, glue, tape and so forth are just fine. It can be a simplified version of the whole piece or a more realistic rendition of only critical parts. For example, when designing a leg that has gradual curves, a mockup allows you to observe it from many angles, to see how light plays on the curves, and get an appreciation for the mass of the wood. A finished piece that is a previous version of a design may also serve as a base mockup.

Mockup of a Furniture Wood Table

In the photo above, a mockup with just one of four legs and a cardboard top starts to give me a better sense of the most important feature – the legs – and the overall size of this occasional table. Later, I may want to add three more very rough legs just to get an idea of how they will spatially relate.

Most woodwork pieces such as chairs, tables, beds, cabinets and even a simple box interact with the human body. A mockup can help us sense the real size of these objects relative to our surroundings and to us. As an example, maybe a 48″ tall bookcase looks great in the scaled drawing but disappointingly small in the room where it will be placed, and the top shelf isn’t high enough to bring to eye level those ceramic pieces you plan to display there. A quick cardboard full size mockup of a skeleton bookcase would be enough to avoid these sorts of problems.

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