Lost Art of Story Boards

simple story board for layout
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Before I start most projects, I kill half an hour or an hour making a full-size layout on a piece of scrap wood. This can be a simple stick, as shown in the photo, or it can be a full size section drawing. It all depends on the complexity of the piece. The value of this is that it gets all of the measuring and layout work completed. When the story board is done, I can put my tape measure away and concentrate on building. There is a rhythm to building that’s easy to get into if you don’t have to worry about crunching numbers, figuring angles, or making layout or joinery decisions. I take care of that at the beginning, and it’s one last review to make sure I know what I intend to do as the work progresses.

story board is a full size drawing
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There really isn’t any difference between the story board and a full-size drawing. Sometimes I will print out a full-size cad drawing and use that for a reference as I build. The whole idea is that it saves time, and improves accuracy if I can size parts and layout joints by directly comparing pieces of wood to the reference, and making any needed marks from the reference. As the parts come together, I can place a sub assembly right on top of the reference to see how close I am to the plan. If I need to make an adjustment somewhere, the story board will tell me which piece is off a little, and by how much. When I’m working on something with a bunch of angles, I don’t have to worry about how many degrees anything is, I have a real life example to compare to.

set the angle from the layout
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For a piece like this, a piece of birch plywood is ideal. All the parts, and the relationships between the parts can be clearly seen. If I’m not sure about something, I want to figure it out when I’m making the story board, not when I’m in the middle of building a complex project. There is also space to write notes to myself about assembly sequences, things I want to watch out for, or groceries to pick up on the way home.

layout parts without measuring
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This is the bottom rail for the side of a Morris chair. It’s higher at the front than at the back, so the tenons on each end sit at an angle. There are also five vertical slats that are mortised into this rail, and those too are at a slight angle. With my handy-dandy story board, I lay out all seven joints by transferring pencil marks. That doesn’t take long, and the piece for the opposite side will be an exact match because those joints are laid out the same way, from the same reference. If I measured each location and marked from a ruler, there would be a lot more opportunities for an error to creep in. It’s easy to transpose a number, but it’s a lot harder to transpose a piece of plywood.

place sub assemblies on the story board to check the work
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The vertical slats also have angled tenons, and they get progressively longer from back to front. Each spindle has to fit just so. I get nervous about stuff like this, but the story board helps to calm me down. I have the rails clamped between the legs, and I can mark the joints for the slats as easily as the other parts, and I know whether or not I need to adapt to any changes that might be needed due to the fit of the surrounding parts.

–Bob Lang

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One thought on “Lost Art of Story Boards

  1. Very educational!

    Thank you very much.

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