Sometimes I feel like I’m on a one-man crusade to get woodworkers to plan ahead. I’m talking about project planning. I’ve talked about it before (read some of my other posts by clicking here or here) and I won’t stop talking about layout sticks until woodworkers everywhere see their true value – they save time and money.
Years ago when I started working at Irion Company Furnituremakers (before it was Irion Company) every piece of furniture was built from a handful of flat patterns and a crude sketch with some overall dimensions. And while that made each piece unique, it certainly didn’t help company productivity because the details of every piece had to be worked out by the cabinetmaker in the process of the build. This meant that every time a specific New England highboy was made, not only were the details different, but there was a ton of extra development time invested that could have been avoided by having a detailed plan available.
When I began working there, I brought with me a simple technique taught to me in high school by Werner Duerr – the layout stick. Suddenly each cabinetmaker had all the details of a piece at his finger tips: They didn’t have to spend hours figuring out all the details and dimensions.
So, what is a layout stick? Simply put, it’s a small piece of wood (preferably plywood or something that is dimensionally stable) upon which you draw full-size sectional views of the piece you want to build. The drawings can be as abbreviated or elaborate as you want or need. I’ve made layout sticks for one-off pieces that were little more than a cutoff that was in the scrap bin with a handful of lines drawn on it to help me figure out the dimensions of a specific part or parts. I’ve also made layout sticks that are extremely detailed, that show molding profiles and complex joinery. Some sticks include a cutlist right there with the drawings and others include separate drawings of details that are difficult to figure out without a drawing.
Although I walk 360 WoodWorking members through the entire process in the video that is the basis of today’s article (logged in premium members can read it here), if you review the previous blog posts for which I’ve provided links above and browse some of my other writings, you’ll quickly figure out that layout sticks are fairly simple to create and something I feel is an essential skill for every woodworker to develop.