I am not by nature or nurture a planner or an impeccably organized person. I have always been more of a spontaneous mess, a character flaw to which my friends and family can certainly attest. To be truthfully honest, I hate not being more organized, neat and methodical. I am, however oddly enough, a habitual cleaner. I cant stand things being dirty like a messy sink, dirt on the floor and wood chips in my planes. Unfortunately for me, my need for things to be sanitized apparently does not actually translate into picking up my toys once I clean them.
I think my natural tendencies toward the higgledy-piggledy may be what has led me to my fascination with movies and tv shows in which the protagonist is just the opposite. Hannibal Lecter, Dexter, Mr. Brooks, and Patrick Bateman from American Psycho are some of my favorites because the character is so organized, neat and calculating. After all, you can't hack someone into pieces or prepare a meal
What on earth does this have to do with woodworking you ask? A lot. I have found that the more methodical I am and the more planning I do for a project, the better the results and the more enjoyable the process becomes. An added benefit I have noticed is that the process feels much more safe, not only for my personal physical safety but also for my wallet. In short, less screw-ups means less waste which means more money saved, which means more projects I can build. I still do a lot of "design on the fly" but my overall project flow now consists of much more planning and preparation than it used to, although still not necessarily enough.
This probably seems like an obvious no-brainer to most people, but I used to feel that the piece took on a more organic feel if I designed as I went. In my daily job I detail, organize, and prepare things to the n-th degree for clients, but on jobs for myself I have most of the details in my head (which is mostly empty anyway). Additionally, working with a lot of architects and engineers on a daily basis made sitting down to draft something feel too much like work. Sketching also eats up time I want to spend working on projects, as my time is often very limited in the workshop. The problem is that too often projects turned out with muddled design details, improper proportions, they take forever to finish (if they get finished at all) and I end up wasting a lot of time and material making test pieces and mistakes.
I have always done a lot of research and planning when restoring or re-creating tools so that I could get them as functional and sometimes as historically accurate as possible (but mostly so I don't ruin them beyond repair). I have, however, started doing much more sketching, research, and detail layout than I used to think was necessary for small woodworking projects. I think it has paid dividends in my final products. It just seemed to make sense that if it worked for my tool restoration it would work for my woodworking as well, and of course it did.
As far as my sketching goes, typically, a quick drawing and layout is all that I usually complete. It doesn't have to be a full set of architectural drawings or a copy of a Rembrandt. Just a couple quick sketches to layout the concept, materials, part sizes, finish ideas, detail inspirations or concepts and occasionally a cut sheet. The amount of detail I put on paper depends a lot on the material I am using and the time I have to complete the project. More sketching and planning also leads to much less of me standing around the workshop staring at the piece wondering where to go from here.
Google SketchUp is also a great tool for quickly getting extremely accurate details, material lists and 3-D renders for projects. I can see this taking over for my green engineering paper in a hurry.
This is a resource I use if I happen to be out of graph paper and I need some quickly. Downloadable Graph Paper!
|Rimming the Undermount Sink With Brazilian Cherry
and Copper Was A Real Chore
|Cat Added For Scale
|African Padauk and Brazilian cherry Inlays and Banding
|Half Dovetail Detail and African Padauk Banding
|Birds Eye Maple And African Padauk Inlaid With Copper Nail Accents
|Under Construction Covered In Stuff
|In The House Covered in Stuff
|A Hook And Basket
Now to apply this philosophy to my workshop layout and organization...but that's another story all together.