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.
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.