Plans vs Proportions
Popular Woodworking|November 2020
Plans vs Proportions
Adapt a furniture plan with your eye.
George Walker

I think of plans as sort of a roadmap. They were a big part of my early work as a machinist and later as a woodworker. We had an unwritten rule in the machine shop. Never touch a job if it didn’t come with a drawing. Admittedly, what qualified as a drawing was sketchy. It could be just a crude scribble on a napkin with a few dimensions or a full-fledged engineered print. Yet drawings insured one thing above all. That the maker would turn out something exactly as ordered. The correct size, correct material all made precisely to specifications. When I took up woodworking and wanted to build a table, it began with search for plans from books or magazines. It worked well for my first few projects, but this “plan as a roadmap” idea began to fall apart. In real life, a roadmap offers alternate routes if you want to take a detour or go off-road. A woodworking plan offers no clues to go about building something shorter or wider or changing things up a bit. That doesn’t seem like much of a problem until you consider that slight changes in the size of parts can have a dramatic impact on how something looks.

For most of the history, builders had a working knowledge of how to use proportions and simple geometric shapes to create pleasing designs. This gave them freedom to improvise and make sound aesthetic choices. In this article I want to explain how I used this approach to design and build a contemporary chest of drawers.

Getting a Rough Idea

We have a foyer in our home and my wife Barb asked me to make a small dresser to fit in the space. It had to be narrow but with a top large enough for a lamp and a place to toss the day’s mail. She also wanted something a bit more contemporary yet still function as a chest of drawers that would provide some much-needed storage. Lastly, since it’s the first thing you see when you step in the front door, it had to be a stunner.


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November 2020