I have written some rants on using woodworking plans before on this site so it is probably pretty obvious that I don’t like them. That doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t use them from time to time. There are times when I need to knock out a project and I’m happy with the design of something already in existence. Usually this is a project from a woodworking magazine and there are already good drawings and a lot of the “figurin’” is already done. Hey no thinking, more building…so I jump on it.
Wait, no thinking? (cue sad trombone)
Just because I am building the same project with the same joints and dimensions doesn’t mean the process is the same. In fact with my crazy neanderthal leanings, I can almost guarantee that my process will be different. Hand tool methods need to be approached differently. Layout is key and the order of cuts is usually different. The differences telegraph back to milling of the stock too as sometimes you want to leave your pieces oversized to give more room to cut the joints. Then the piece is planed/sawn to final size afterwards.
Maybe it is just me but when I choose to use a plan, the tendency is to follow it step by step like a recipe and before I know it, I have started down a path that I can’t go back from making my hand tool centric tasks much harder. Ever try to chop out a mortise 1/4″ from the end of the board without blowing out the end? See what I mean? The funny thing is that when you end up in this situation, even though you know better, you stare dumbfounded at your plans.
“But I followed the instructions???”
This is probably the same way accidents happen, by blindly following a set of steps laid down by someone who isn’t you with different tools, and different working conditions. So here is my new take. Use plans, go ahead, knock yourself out. Just make sure you do your own planning first.