Woodworking Plan Gotchas

Wood display case

Woodworking Plan Buyer's Guide

Things to Watch Out For When Buying Woodworking Plans

If you purchase a poorly made woodworking plan it won't put you in the poor house but it will sure tick you off and probably delay getting the project done. No one needs that kind of frustration.

Below I have listed some of the more common gotchas when buying woodworking plans. Deficiencies if you will. These are interspersed with some choice excerpts from disgruntled play buyers that registered their displeasure in the Rockler.com woodworking plan user reviews.  How can this information help you? Well, if you know what the potential problem areas are, you can ask the plan vendor for a sample plan and ask specific questions about the particular plan of interest. Also, don't be afraid to ask the vendor for your money back if you buy the plan and find that it's sorely lacking. By the way, the gotchas listed here also apply to free plans but because you can peruse them and use them at no cost, at least you won't feel swindled when they aren't up to snuff.

Lack of detail, vague instructions. This is hands-down the biggest complaint about woodworking plans. Sometimes the instructions are sparse and/or hard to follow. Or the plan is incomplete. Or it lacks coherent, logical step-by-step instructions. Whatever the specific deficiency, the bottom line is that you're forced to fill in the blanks.

Details are very poor. I spent more time looking at the picture to see how things are put together.

The plans are horribly hard to follow and leave an enormous amount for granted. You can plan on doing a lot of studying and analysis. Not for the amateur.

Maybe it works. Just a cut above a concept sketch on a restaurant napkin. Going to look elsewhere for plans that read less like a novel and more like a plan. Should have spent the money on a mocha.

Lack of visual aids. A plan cannot have too many exploded views, diagrams, or other visual aids. Unfortunately, it can have too few. The better plans provide overview photos, drawings, and exploded views of joinery and the major components. If the written instructions are poor, one can usually get by if there are sufficient visual aids. If both suck, then you're in trouble.

Exploded views and detail views are horrible. The plans do not show where these views are coming from. The instruction steps say "see exploded view" or "see detail view", which one?

Dimensions are inaccurate. If you've ever cut an expensive piece of wood too short because of an error in the plan dimensions, then you're painfully aware of this plan gotcha. Often, the problem relates to inconsistencies in the dimensions in the plan drawings, materials list, and written instructions. You're left wondering which measurement is the correct one. My only advice here is to first study the plan before you layout the pieces for cutting and make sure the measurements all jibe. Think twice, cut once.

There are several dimensions that are different in the cut list and the diagrams. If you decide to build this, check both carefully to determine which is correct or you will waste material.

Plan requires specialized woodworking tools or cutters.  Occasionally you come across a plan that requires a special tool, blade, bit, or other type of cutter. And you don't realize this until after you've purchased the plan. If the special tool or cutter is expensive or difficult to find, this can really set you back. A good example of this is a New Yankee Plantation Shutter plan that requires a molding machine and custom cutter head.  The good news is that you can often improvise if you lack a custom tool or cutter by modifying the plan slightly or making a one-off jig to get the job done. But that's extra work and time.

Easy to do until Norm got to the Molding machine and stated that he sent his specs to the company and they manufactured a special cutter head to do the job of milling the slats. First of all, how many shops have a molding machine?

This would be an easy project if you have unlimited funds. I was unaware to cut the slats a special cutter was ordered by Norm.

Plan does not match your skill level. Beginner woodworkers will sometimes buy a plan that is too complex for their skill level. One way to minimize this possibility is to check the plan's fine print before buying. Many will specify the skill level - usually novice, intermediate, or advanced.  In many cases, it's not that the plan is too complex but that it is poorly crafted and lacks detail.

If you have no experience with wood working, and cannot read between the lines, this plan would be impossible. Won't do this again!

Missing or incomplete bill of materials. A bill of materials should be considered an essential part of a woodworking plan. It helps you order the materials and lay out the pieces to be cut. If a plan is lacking a decent bill of materials, it's probably also lacking decent working diagrams. In my experience, it's the brand X cheapo plans that are lacking in the bill of materials department.

I found that the listed parts for this project were difficult to follow. A search by part number was not a help. Parts listed were not found. But substituted parts were available. Minimum detail on drawings. Lots of guess work.

Missing or confusing cutting diagram. When building a large project with lots of pieces, a decent cutting diagram is a real time and money saver.  This is especially true of projects that use several sheets of plywood. The thing to watch out for is that sometimes the cutting diagrams are either missing the part labels or are labeled incorrectly.

One of things I expected is that there would be a cut plan and there was not. That was my biggest reason for buying a plan. I assumed it would eliminate my time in developing one on my own. It took me a little time, but I developed one to minimize scrap.

Poor quality hardware kit. You toil diligently to produce a nicely hand-crafted piece of furniture and then discover that the hardware kit components are of inferior quality. How annoying is that?

While the plans are fine, the hardware and clock parts are cheap very cheap! I purchased two of the kits one for my parents 50th Anniversary and one for me, neither of the clock parts work!...screws are cheap, hinge and clasp are cheap...looking around for a better kit!



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