I have an idea for project, where do I start?

Well many of us have been here.  At the very beginning of a project where the idea has sprung forth, but not knowing where to start.  Maybe you have a plan or sketch or maybe a picture or a picture in your mind, and now you want make it a reality.

I can offer up a solution to this dilemma. This solution came in the form of a simple set of processes, set out in a methodical flow, that takes you from idea to finished deliverable project, whether for your own or for you client.

When I went to Humber College for my Industrial Woodworking Technician diploma course, our instructor laid our the flowing process flow for all our projects.  each project had to flow this flow in order of us to get a final mark on our projects.

Process Flow Steps

  1. Planning
  2. Material Ordering
  3. Breakout Material
  4. Machine Parts
  5. Trial Assembly
  6. Preliminary Sanding (or finishing)
  7. Assembly
  8. Final Sanding
  9. Finishing
  10. Final Assembly
  11. Packing
  12. Shipment

Now lets take a look at each step in the flow in a little more detail

1. Planning:

During this stage you gather together your inspirations for the project, whether they be a picture, sketch, or list of requirements from what you or your client wants.

Taking an idea from a sketch or requirements of the item through to a visual working drawings. You will either have to use a software drafting package or the old paper and pencil method. Your goal is to come up with a physical drawing of what you are going to build. You need to have details on the drawings parts with dimensions, joinery requirements defined, and hardware locations you will incorporate into making your project. These drawings will allow you to come up with a detailed parts list, cutlist, hardware list and approximate dimensions of the finished project to determine any packing and shipping requirements if that’s what is needed.

Quick tips: When you are doing your lumber and sheet goods part estimates for your cutting list, here is a few things to keep in mind. Add  1″ to the finished length of the part from a rough lumber or sheet good. Add a 1/2″ to the width of a finished part from rough lumber and a 1/4″ to the width of a finished part from sheet good.

When you are dealing with rough lumber, you will have spoilage. This could be due to part orientation on lumber when you layout for cutting, through a glue-up of parts to make a panel, and from normal lumber type defects in wood. You need to allow for this  additional requirement when determining your total lumber to buy. So add a minimum of an extra 30% to arrive at the total amount of a particular rough lumber type, to be sure you will be able to get your parts from the lumber. As you get more familiar with the rough lumber and supplier, you may have to change this extra amount up or down .  

If you know a certain machine needs a certain size of material as its “Minimum requirement length, width or thickness then make note of those adjustments on your cutlist of materials.

Output from this Flow Step:

  • Detailed drawings of the project
  • Detailed cutlist of parts (including sizes of rough cuts and finished cuts and the type of material you are going to use)
  • Detailed hardware ordering list
  • Detailed documented order of operations detailing the steps to which your project will flow from start to finish
  • Detailed list of additional equipment needed to build or to be supplied by someone else


2. Material Ordering

In this step you will using your cutlist of parts and hardware requirements to place the orders for your materials.

During this stage you may find out that certain parts will take longer to come in than you had expected, thus a requirement to adjust your order or operations to accommodate the time required to get the materials.

You may also find in this stage a better material, whether that be wood or just hardware that may fit better to make your project better. If you may also have to relook at your drawings to see if any thing has to be changed to accommodate the new material.

You should also be looking at finishes you require and the methods of application so that you can review and adjust or add orders of operation of the project.  Make sure you have the proper equipment for finishing identified or if necessary, you  have the placed an order for another firm or person to do the  finishing so they can be ready when you are to finish your project.

You should also draw up a detailed schedule of when you can pickup and or have your materials delivered to you. Again this will allow you to review your order of operations to ensure that materials will be available for that operation to take place.

Output from this Flow Step:

  • Wood requirements ordered or purchased
  • Hardware requirements ordered or purchased
  • Miscellaneous items ordered or purchased
  • Finishing materials ordered, or purchased.
  • If needed a supplier who will apply the finishes your project
  • Special equipment ordered or purchased
  • If needed a supplier who will make any required cutting assembly for parts for your project
  • Materials delivery schedule


 3. Breakout Material

Now the fun begins. After you have your materials for the build, this is the stage you have been waiting for;  time to start cutting and preparing your wood.

Following the order of operations, you make all your rough cuts for your solids, sheet goods and veneers using the equipment you have.  You take the rough lumber from boards through to rough finished pieces ready to be milled to final lengths, widths and thickness, cut down your sheet goods into rough sizes and also cut your veneers to rough sizes. If you have other material that needs to be cut to rough sizes do it now during this step.

Rough sizes at Humber meant for rough lumber 1” longer and 1/2” wider than final size.  You can use these additional measurements for both sheet goods and veneers also. If you know a certain machine needs a certain size of material as its “Minimum requirement length, width or thickness then make those adjustments here during the breakout stage.

Output from this Flow Step:

  • Rough lumber, sheet goods, veneers and other materials cut to rough sizes ready for final machining of parts


4. Machine Parts

During this step you will be using the appropriate machines to mill the rough cut lumber, sheet goods, veneers, and any other identified materials to their final sizes required for assembly.

You will be doing any joinery making necessary to be ready for assembly. This could be cutting dovetails, making biscuit joints, drilling for doweling, etc. anything that prepares the machines parts so they ready for a trial assembly.

Output from this Flow Step:

  • Machined parts
  • Joinery prepared


5. Trial Assembly.

Now for more fun and frustration.  During this step  you test your assembly processes, by temporarily fitting and clamping your project together. Both sub assembly and main assembly are tested here.

If you need screws, use only what is minimum number, don’t use all the holes or places to put screws, just incase something has to be retested after adjustments. And Yes!,  you will find something always needs a bit of a tweak.

Take the time make and use cauls when applying clamps. This will  ensure not only distributed clamping pressure is applied, but also to ensure your project is marred by the clamp heads. In this regard, if you are making a number of the same types of subassemblies or main assemblies maybe a caul in the form of a jig maybe require to be built.

Fit the hardware to where it is going to go, drilling holes for pilot and shank holes for screws before you put screws in. If you have or need jigs for drilling screw holes to locate screw holes in certain places (for example in the case  of door and drawer pulls) make or obtain these during this operation so that holes can be made in the correct places.  If you are going to put door and drawer pulls after assembly and finish them make sure you have the appropriate jig that will fit the pulls later. You don’t want to screw up the finished project.

If you need jigs to setup or install drawer slides, make or buy that now and check to ensure the jig will work when the time comes to use them.

Determine the methods to ensure your project is squared up.  This may mean simple diagonal measurement, using framing squares, using squaring jigs.

Remember you want to ensure the project will go together as designed and fit as tightly as possible.

ONE POINT TO NOTE “Glue adds another possibility for project assembly to become a nightmare” So make sure you test how to put the project together well during this stage. Glue adds slipping possibilities to a joint.

Output from this Flow Step:

  • Main and subassemblies identified and glue up process documented.
  • Putting numbers on corresponding joints help to identify how the joinery is to go together.
  • Part numbering assemblies may help you gather the parts together for assembly
  • Clamping strategy for main and subassembly
  • Number and types of clamps required
  • Make or buy jigs are required for hardware
  • Identify or make or buy jigs for squaring project
  • Helpful note, if you set your clamps up to slightly oversized required for a joint and locate them close the place of use, helps in the assembly process


6. Preliminary Sanding (or finishing):

In this step you do all sanding, down to your final sanding grit, to all parts requiring sanding.  Final grit sanding will be done after final assembly of project. The plan is here to get the project pieces sanded before they are assembled. It makes life easier.

It is sometimes a good idea to see what parts may be finished or at least have one coat of finish applied to before they assembled. For instance if you are doing a frame and panel door, having the panel finished (stained and/or varnished with one top coat, before you assemble the door helps make sure that any bare spots around the rails and stiles are eliminated or sometimes glue accidently spills out onto the panel and the finished panel will at least make it easy to clean up.

Quick Tips: When sanding light and damp clothes can be your friend! Hold the piece you sanding up to the light source or shine a light on it from angle that allows the light to reflect off the piece. Scratches will pop out and you can sand those away or at least determine a plan to get rid of them rid of them now.  Wiping the surface with a damp cloth will also highlight scratches to allow you to sand them or fix and sand them out now.


Output from this Flow Step:

  • All assembly pieces sanded to one grit less than final sanding
  • Any prefinished pieces that may be hard to do when assembled are sanded and finished for assembly


7. Assembly:

Now lets brave!! we are going to take the assembly to the final level.

During this stage you use your glue up document, made above during trial assembly, to first glue up subassemblies and then final glue up.  This means adding “GLUE” which makes for fun getting joinery together. TAKE YOUR TIME, work within the “Open time” of the glue and carefully follow your steps to glue up the project.

Apply only the amount of glue that is required. TOO MUCH IS NOT THE RIGHT AMOUNT


CHECK FOR SQUARE as you go along and make adjustments to clamping as required to keep the project assembly square.


Clean off glue squeeze out just as it hardens, don’t wait until it is dry.

Quick tips:  What I do is apply painter’s tape beside the edge that is being glued on mating pieces. Make sure the tape will not be in the joint, just slightly beside it. What the purpose of this, is to make clean up afterwards when glue has dried a bit.  Also when cleaning glue that has spilled out of a joint on the project, I usually wait about 15 minutes or to when the glue has formed a gel like film on the squeeze out and then used a sharp wood chisel or card scraper to remove the gelled glue. I never wipe any glue off, either using dry or wet clothes. Glue smears and fills grain on wood, thus making finishing and issue. Finishes don’t like glue they will telegraph the glue through the finish and thus spoiling all you hard work thus far.

Output from this Flow Step:

  • Assembled project ready for final sanding


8. Final Sanding

Now is the time to do your final grit sanding. Ensure any marks on the grain of the wood has been sanded off smooth. Using a damp cloth to wipe the project will highlight not only scratches but also glue squeeze out that need to be removed now before finish is applied.

Repair ad required using the appropriate methods any scratches or spills before you finish with this step.

After sanding wipe down again with a damp cloth to ensure you are ready for finish.

Output from this Flow Step:

  • Assembled project ready for finishing


9. Finishing:

Now it’s time to apply the finish. This is done using the method of applying coats of stain and top coats appropriate for the project and while following the manufacturer’s instructions of the finish.

Output from this Flow Step:

  • Assembled project ready for final hardware and assembly required


10. Final Assembly:

Now it’s time to add the hardware to the project and do a final wipe down of the project and make sure all is well.

Take the time to add the hardware, doing any adjustments to door or drawer as required.

Inspect the piece again and make sure no scratches or finish issues have not reared their evil heads. Make any repairs using the appropriate methods.

Output from this Flow Step:

  • Assembled project ready for delivery and use


11. Packing:

Although this process is different for the commercial business and handyman woodworker it does apply to both to a certain extent.

To the commercial business this would mean packing the project ready for shipment.

To the handyman woodworker this is wrapping the project so you can carry the project to its final place of show.

Output from this Flow Step:

  • Assembled project ready to deliver or put in place for display and use



Again this is not the same process for commercial business and handyman woodworker.

Here the commercial business would deliver or have the project delivered to the customer. For the handyman woodworker he or she would place the project in its final pace ready for use as intended.

Output from this Flow Step:

  • Completion of and project put in its appropriate place of show and use


Now this BLOG entry may long winded, but I hope it has explained a simple guide to a structured process to take your next project from idea to finish. There may be things that I missed, and you can help me by telling me what should be added or changed, but as they say, it’s a starting point to stop confusion and chaos!!


See you in the Workshop!

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