Extrapolate…extend the application of (a method or conclusion, especially one based on statistics) to an unknown situation by assuming that existing trends will continue or similar methods will be applicable.

Edit 01/25/16

My reference to “plans” in the following is referring to 3rd party plans.  I fully support working from plans that you create yourself.  I also advocate for the creation of full-scale shop drawings before starting a project.

Detailed woodworking plans can be a great learning tool.  They help us to start visualizing furniture.  Elevation views (looking at the front, sides and back) and plan views (what the piece looks like from above or below) help us to understand how a piece of furniture comes together.  These views also strengthen our ability to “see” the piece in our minds.  Eventually leading to our ability to mentally manipulate the piece in our minds.  Turning it, adding or subtracting details and even changing the scale of the piece in our mind is an important skill to develop.  As we build from these detailed plans, we further develop the ability to visualize the joinery and how it relates to the whole.

The plans also help us to understand what the important elements are that need to be addressed before building a piece of furniture.  Overall dimensions, decorative details and joinery notes as well as positional details for such things as drawer pulls and the like.  The plans help us to develop patterns of workflow and establish norms for certain details.  This latter bit can be difficult when learning from plans that come from several different sources though.  Plans, especially highly detailed plans, obtained from multiple sources can create frustration.  These multiple sources will inevitably have differing tool sets and differing ideas as to where things, such as drawer pulls, are to be located.  Developing your own “norms” can fall to the wayside and thus make the workflow in your own shop slower and introduce more opportunities for error.

The cut list included on many woodworking plans seems to create the most frustration, particularly the thicknesses of required material.  Again, highly detailed plans or plans that include imperial and metric can be frustrating due to conversions.  Plans based on antiques can present some odd material thicknesses as well.  Which leaves many asking questions pertaining to deviating from the indicated thickness listed by the provided cut list.  In extreme cases, folks simply abandon the entire project because the listed material thicknesses are not available to them.  Which brings me to the point of this post, extrapolation.

There is nothing wrong with direct duplication based upon a given set of plans.  There are some instances where it may even be required.  But what if you like the overall design of a piece, but the size given does not meet your needs?  What if no plan exists for a piece that you would like to build?  What if obtaining certain sizes and thicknesses of material is difficult or impractical?  What do you do?  You employ extrapolation.

Some may call the process improvising, others may call it ingenuity.  We, as a people, used to be masters at this.  We possessed a “can do” attitude.  Sometimes out of pure necessity and out of curiosity at other times.  Often taking very little actual information, filling in the blanks and creating something of use and/or beauty.  Generally speaking, we seem to have lost this ability somewhere along the way.  I touched on this idea in a past post, “Expectations and the Literal Thinker“.  We have lost the willingness to take a chance and gamble the outcome.  In many ways, woodworking has become a “paint by numbers” activity, IMHO.  Didn’t a lot of us take up woodworking as a direct opposition to mass production?  Why the hell do we then try to replicate the sterile methods of that same mass production?  Verbatim replication of another’s work, while a great learning tool, still smacks of being a production, not creation, process.

David Pye’s term, the “workmanship (craftsmanship) of risk”, gets quoted quite a bit in various circles.  I’m not sure that very many truly grasp the idea, let alone put it into practice.  Woodworking, as with other crafts, is not an activity that has ever had absolute outcomes.  Wood is a dynamic material, with no two pieces behaving exactly in the same way.  Besides, where is the fun, let alone the feeling of accomplishment, when you approach woodworking with such absolute parameters?  The “workmanship of certainty”, while comforting and safe, is not where I find joy and satisfaction in my woodworking.  I would much rather be certain of the risk and then go with the flow, so to speak.

Please, relax and enjoy the journey. Endeavor to take chances, make alterations and fill in the blanks for yourself.

Excuse me now while I dismount this empty crate of cleanser product.

Greg Merritt

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15 Responses to  Extrapolation 

  1. You have made some very valid points Greg, I think however before one can start developing his or her own artistic flare one must as one has no choice recreate furniture that has already been done. You may wonder why and the answer as I see it is quite simple “experience” One must gain the experience before one can develop his own style of whatever he wants to make. I look at furniture that’s in galleries and magazines and I see almost every piece a recreation of what already exists with slight variances which has brought me to believe that no one is truly unique but rather a copycat with additions that sets them apart from the rest. I don’t mean this in a bad way at all but it is human nature and with this I mean we all basically think alike. I would like to draw your attention to the ancient Japanese woodworker. Now Japan at the time did not allow foreigners to enter their country and neither did they venture off so for centuries they were isolated. When Bob Rozieski did an article for popular woodworking on the art of Japanese woodworking just to see the similarities he quickly discovered that they did not woodwork any different to us with the exception of pull vs push but the idea and methods were the same. So with this thought in mind I believe that we all think alike and create alike but we learn from each and add our own personalities into the project which to some small degree makes them unique. I know I’ve drifted off the topic and to get back to it, plans yes they are a good things as long as they are accurate but seldom so they are which is why it’s important to make mock ups but better still using a 3d software like sketch up or really go professional and use Autodesk Inventor. This will not only save you time but money as well. Before I used to just draw them in autoCAD but now I check my work in 3ds max as I’m currently studying inventor and am not fully confident using that software none the less modeling it has saved me hours upon hours of frustration not to mention my hard earned money which is getting harder and harder to come by.

    Excellent post Greg well worth the read.

    • Greg Merritt says:

      Thanks Salko.
      Like I said in my opening paragraph, plans are a great way to learn. What troubles me is how many folks are either totally dependent on plans or unable to deviate from them.
      The human condition is such that we all require basically the same items in our daily lives. Furthermore, there are only so many ways to cut wood, chisels, saws and planes. Appearances and direction of cut may vary, but that is about as deep as the differences go.

      • Too true I agree whole heatedly but I am one of those who must draw everything before I make and due to my own carelessness when drawing and I believe that tiredness has more to do with it than anything else, I make mistakes which is why I so heavily now rely upon my 3d application to recheck my work plus I get to see what it will look like in 3 dimensional views and textured rather than relying on my own imagination and if any changes need to be made I go back to autoCAD and makes my changes. This is my only method of working of incorporating modern day technology with ancient practices. I guess you can call it the best of both worlds.

        • Greg Merritt says:

          Maybe I was unclear. I’m all for creating your own plans. I create a full-size shop drawing for all of my projects. My reference to plans is regarding 3rd party sources. Once one has developed basic skills, they should begin using these type plans as basic guidelines, not holy writ.

  2. Brian Eve says:

    Well said, Greg.

    One problem I used to have in my hand-tool-only shop was following cut lists. Once I discovered that it was easier designing (or adapting) a piece around the lumber you had available, my work flow sped up considerably. Normally there is no need to plane to thickness, as long as your lumber is sort of close in the rough. Bringing 4/4 lumber down to 3/4″ just for the sake of following the plan is a waste of doughnuts. There may be no difference between that and 13/16″, or whatever measurement it turns out to be in the finished piece. My most recent desk is the depth it is solely based on the board I was using for the top.

    • Greg Merritt says:

      Thank you Brian.
      You have the idea well in hand. There are a lot of folks out there that are paralyzed by the thought of deviating from a given dimension. Once they get their head around it, a whole new world of possibilities opens up.

  3. That first paragraph sums up mechanical process, succinctly. Most people are taught to observe and experience in two dimensions, and have difficulty with the 3rd, 4th, etc.
    I’m not qualified to hand out grades, but…nice bit of writing.

  4. Wesley Beal says:

    It never really occurred to me that I should follow a plan to the letter. My process has been more along the lines of “that is a nice plan for a bench. I’d like one a little higher though, and the correct length to fit this space by my door.” So I take the general idea, and deviate wherever it makes sense. When beginning, I’d see a plan that called for a joinery technique that I didn’t feel like attempting yet, due to lack of experience or tools or both. “OK, I’ll follow this idea in the plan, but use a different joint here.”

    One downside of being too willing to extrapolate: it’s easy to be lazy about accuracy. The numbers in the plan are out the window, so if one part doesn’t come out like you wanted, you simply adjust the numbers elsewhere for the piece to work.

    That’s not a bad thing, but it causes the beginner to miss out on some skill development required to precisely achieve a result. Something I could certainly use more work at.

    • Greg Merritt says:

      I’m not advocating this for the absolute beginner. A certain level of skill needs to be first developed. Once that skill level is in place, judgement will be far better as to what can or cannot be changed.

      Even the beginner can benefit though. Strict adherence to thickness seems to be a recurring issue. Material availability can create issues, especially when converting between imperial and metric.

  5. Kinderhook88 says:

    Plans are really only suggestions. It is the application of knowledge that brings wisdom.

  6. Roy says:

    I believe the same sentiment applies to methods. I have only taken one woodworking class. It was a weekly class that lasted about 6 weeks. I found myself (and observed others) constantly asking the teacher…”is this the right way to do this”…or “how do you do this”…and surprisingly the answer was always…”it depends”. There is never ONE right way to do anythings weather it’s chopping a mortise or the design of a table. It all depends..on what? It depends on you! You are in charge. Not some plan, book, video or instructor. You are the one making it, so learn and develop you own design as well as work skills. Once I realized that, woodworking became so much more fun. It’s very freeing.

    • Greg Merritt says:

      I agree that there is rarely any “one right way” when talking about woodworking. I do believe that it is important to seek out the best instruction/information you can find. Try all of the techniques and variations, then decide what works best for you.

If you don't comment this is just a fancy way for me to talk to myself.

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