Creating a Woodworking Plan, E-Books, SketchUp
Comments 5

Creating a Woodworking Plan, Part 3: the Cut List

A vital part of a woodworking plan: the cut list.

A vital part of a woodworking plan: the cut list.

To recap where we have been so far, the first installment in this series discusses the updates to the queen size bed SketchUp model (see it here). In part two, we discussed some of the creative aspects of the plan: the various formats and a little bit about graphic design and the set-up story for the plan (see it here).

Once I get the initial introductory story completed, the next thing to work on is the cut list, which to me is the most dreadful part of the plan. Why? It is one of the most important elements of a woodworking plan and it is the part which I always have trouble with.

Do you need a cut list?
Fine Woodworking magazine regularly receives emails asking why they don’t include cut lists with the projects they feature. There is a very interesting blog post at FWW.com with a lively comment thread on the subject.

Matt Kenney was brave enough to write the blog post which boldly proclaims “cut lists are a waste of space.” He wrote: “Cut lists are great in the early stages…but they’re no good when you start building.” The blog post (see it here) has at present 107 comments, a high number for FWW.com and is indicative of the controversial stance taken by them. From a quick glace at the comments, I would say most woodworkers favor cut lists, but there are some good points for not using them as the project nears completion.

During my low tech days of design work (pre-SketchUp) I would draw a piece of furniture on graph paper. This would be a scale drawing using the grid on the graph paper and the resulting illustration was sufficient for me to determine the size of each component. I almost never used a cut list.

Woodworking plans are meant for the masses and woodworkers will use different ways to organize and execute a furniture project. As the comments of the FWW blog post show, some people use cut lists sparingly, while others rely on them more heavily. Since some woodworkers expect a cut list, I include them in my plans. Cut lists also work well with my method of explaining the construction process.

An example of a cut list with a cutting diagram from Woodsmith magazine.

An example of a cut list with a cutting diagram from Woodsmith magazine.

But what about a cutting diagram?
There are some popular magazines that always include a cutting diagram with their plans, but many do not. I don’t include them in my plans.

One of the books I use for plan inspiration is Glen Huey’s Fine Furniture for a Lifetime (a killer book). Glen does not inlcude a cutting diagram for any of the gorgeous pieces featured in his book. I asked him why. He said that diagrams are good for home center style dimensional lumber, but for rough sawn lumber which comes in irregular sizes, a cutting diagram is largely no good.

I would add that even if you are using dimensional lumber, component location on a given board should be driven by pleasing grain vs. a layout which yeilds the least amount of waste. I have drawn out a cutting diagram for sheet goods before, but that is about all.

Cut List 4.1 - an accessory available for SketchUp.

Cut List 4.1 – an accessory available for SketchUp.

Getting the dreaded cut list right
Again, a 100% accurate cut list is my greatest challenge as I create a woodworking plan. Since I don’t give dimensions of individual parts during the construction process, getting the cut list right is vitally important. My method of creating a cut list is laborious and tedious, and I usually dread this part of a plan.

SketchUp has a cut list plug-in (Google it if you don’t know what I am talking about) which is pretty much a requirement to run for my woodworking plans. With it, I can get an acurate cut list (as well as a cutting diagram). Because I am so picky about the visual consistency of my plans, I don’t simply paste the output of the cut list into the Publisher file. Rather, I re-create it using the graphic standards set up for the plan.

This measurement by measurement duplication of the SketchUp data is where I can make a typo. One of the problems I have with my plans is that by the time I finish one, I have been working so hard to complete it I simply miss the error. I can be looking right at it and not see it. I won’t say I am mentally exhausted, but I am in a small way. My current rule of thumb is to leave a plan for a day or so, then fire up Publisher and verify the accuracy of the cut list multiple times. One of the benefits of working with Sawtooth Ideas is they will go behind me and also verify the cut list is accurate.

So, the cut list is a standard part of my woodworking plans. They are time consuming and something I certainly don’t like to work on, but cut lists are necessary and being totally accurate with them is a must.

In the next installment, I’ll go over the process of communicating through illustration – see Part 4 by clicking here.

To see my list of woodworking plans, some of which are free, click here.

5 Comments

  1. I see that you’ve been using the Cutlist plugin for Sketchup, which we have found to be very useful. I have found that the plugin generates the cutlist as a series of vectors and textboxes, which can be edited very easily in Illustrator or other vector editing software.

    • I may have to get you to show me how to do that. At present, I don’t use Illustrator. I’ll put it on my list of software to learn. 🙂

  2. I have to tell you, I appreciate cut lists but I never follow them. For me they are a very rough guideline. To be fair, I rarely follow woodworking plans and I usually draw up a few rough sketches of a project and then a final, more refined drawing with measurements. At that point the material usually dictates the size. For instance, if I wanted two bookcase sides 10″ x 6ft and found that I could only get 70 inches of usable length, my bookcase is suddently 5ft 10″ tall. If I had an unlimited supply of lumber (or money!) maybe I would work a little differently. But, I certainly don’t think that a cut list is a bad thing. Thanks.

    • Bill – I think you and I approach things in a similar way. Since I now use SketchUp so much, I’ll get some dimensions from the model I create and then like Matt Kenney wrote, I’ll begin using the furniture project to dictate dimensions. When someone is buying a woodworking plan from me, I know enough people want them to make it is a standard part of the plan.

      Thanks for the comment.

  3. Pingback: Creating a Woodworking Plan, Part 4: Bringing a Plan to Life | Jeff Branch Woodworks

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