Downloadable Plans, E-Books, Process Improvement
Comments 4

Thoughts on cutlists

Future plans. The illustration of my next downloadable plan – the painted bookcase I built for my daughter.

I like graphic design. While in college, I did some freelance graphic design work and I have an interest in typography as well. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy blogging, messing around with the design of my blog and its also one of the reasons I developed my coffered ceiling e-book: I enjoy it.

I am working on my next e-book; downloadable plans for the painted bookcase I made for my daughter a few years back. It will be a free download and I believe a good project for the beginning woodworker. As you can see from the illustration above, I am almost finished with the SketchUp drawing (it still needs the shelves among other things) and I had thought about adding a cutlist to the plans.

At Fine, Matthew Kenney wrote a post titled, Cutlists are a waste of magazine space” and I have to say I agree with him completely. After almost 30 years of woodworking, I have used cutlists only a few times, most recently when laying out cuts on sheet goods for the Scott Bookcase project. Again, read Kenney’s article; how a cutlist is valuable, and his suggestions for ways to do without a cutlist (there are some good comments to his post as well).

I will probably go ahead and include a cutlist in the bookcase plans, simply because it is intended for the beginning woodworker and also because its a simple project and shouldn’t be a big deal to do.

Kenney comments that FWW always includes basic dimensions for their projects in exploded views. I have also started an e-book for plans to my TV Console project and have been working on the exploded view for it…

Much harder to do. My first exploded view illustration and it is a long way from being finished.

This exploded view is about 2/3 of the way finished. The base has not yet been exploded and I am playing around with the spacing of the various parts in order to better show how they all fit together. Then I’ll add some dimensions here and there, and I have a version of this drawing without shadows which I think is the way to go (although the shadow looks cool). But, are exploded views with basic dimensions enough? Should the woodworker that uses cutlists learn to do without and therefore expand their ability to think through how a project comes together?

What are your thoughts about cutlists, are exploded views sufficient, and what about global warming? – well, scratch that last one. If someone purchases downloadable plans (I struggle with what to call them: downloadable plans, e-books – at 27 pages, my coffered ceiling project is much more than just a plan) my feeling is that it probably should include a cutlist simply because some people expect them. Plans without a cutlist should be pointed out prior to purchasing them.


  1. Interesting. On my current project I had a method that would allow me some ease in machining – and I calculated materials to a fairly tight standard. Of course, I came across some funkiness that would require me to either buy more stock or rework my techniques. (I'm changing technique.) No cutlist can accomodate the reality that wood can be a balky, unreliable material.

  2. Christopher – good point and I would add in the case of my TV Console project where I ordered wood sight unseen via the internet, using a cut list to determine how much material is needed still leads to some guess work because I really didn't know what sizes my boards would be. The FWW article stated that cut lists could be handy for determining how much wood to order, and in some cases that would be true.

    Also, like you point out, one of the boards I received ended up not being usable – at least on that project; I've saved it for some future use.

    Thanks for the comment.

  3. This is a good question Jeff. I agree with Christopher. I also saw the article on FWW. My thoughts on cutlists:

    Cut lists are invaluable. To a point. Indeed, they are good for calculating approximate materials. They are a great way to get a project started. They are great when trying to keep a lot of individual pieces sorted.

    I think the biggest downside to them is that people use them as the Bible. Or a crutch that holds everything together. I think of them as road maps.

    Machining tolerances, human error, material inconsistencies…. The list goes on and on. But these are the reasons why you can't rely on them 100% of time. When I make my lists, I frequently mark certain dimensions with an “approx.” in front of the number. That way I know the number may change over the course of the build. It does allow me to get materials close in size and labeled. Using this technique you can still do a bunch of batch cutting and processing of pieces. Then I have a list that also is reminding me of the order in which things go together, and allows for inaccuracies that could have developed.

    I've never purchased a plan to build, so I don't have a gauge of what I would want if I did buy one. However, I would say this. If you choose to include one with your project that your selling, make it VERY VERY VERY clear to the end user that they will need to use some common sense before cutting all the pieces to their final size.

  4. Thanks for your thoughts Jason. While I can only remember one instance when I used one, I respect the point that others like them (the example I gave in the post of using a cutlist for the Scott Bookcase was really a cutting diagram which is different).

    I just can't imagine someone cutting all the parts from a cutlist and then constructing a project – that probably doesn't really happen much.

    I once saw on the Facebook FWW group page an angry comment about one of their plans which did not have a cutlist.

    So, if I am going to draw up plans, I have to keep in mind that others prefer that cutlists be included.

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