The Fundamentals of Furniture Design: The Furniture Design Toolkit

by Patrick Harper - Blood, Sweat, and Sawdust

Toolkit Web

What you keep in your furniture design toolkit is a personal choice.  I intend to give you tools that can expand your design experience; not tell you which ones to use or how.

There are two distinct approaches to design: digital and analog.  You can use either effectively.  You can do as I do, and use a combination.  I draw my rough sketches on paper, and polish my designs in Sketchup.  It’s nice to see your designs in three dimensions.  It helps me workout functional issues that are difficult to see on paper.

The Analog Toolkit

I prefer to start my designs with pencil and paper.  I freehand a rough sketch to capture the basic form.  Then, I refine the form with a straightedge and compass to produce a 3-view orthographic projection.  While I complete my designs digitally, you are free to finish them on paper.  If you prefer the analog route, there are some tools you’ll want to keep nearby.

Paper and pencil are obvious.  I prefer a sharp #2 and a spiral bound notebook for my rough sketches.  For my 3-view drawing, I like a 16-20lb paper and a set of Draft-Matic mechanical pencils.  You’re free to use whatever pencils you like, but make sure you keep them sharp.  You’ll also want a soft white eraser, eraser shield, and dust brush (don’t use your hands).

You can create any shape with no more than a straightedge and compass, but that takes skill; something we will dive into later (there are excellent exercises in Sacred Geometry: Philosophy and Practice).  However, it’s nice to have a few angle templates and a T-Square.  You’ll also want a compass and at least one divider.  A set a French Curves are nice to have.  You can typically find a complete set for around $10.  If you really want to splurge you can purchase a parallel sliding rule (I plan to purchase one soon).

The Digital Toolkit

If you prefer digital, then you’ll need to get acquainted with some 3D modeling software.  SketchUp is what I use.  It’s free and easy, but there are license restrictions.  There are many others, but you’ll find the Sketchup’s community is growing very quickly.

Whatever you use, get familiar with software as quickly as possible.  Buy a few training books.  Search Google.  Look for resources on YouTube.  Rob Cameron has a great website if you’re using Sketchup: SketchUp for Woodworkers.

Whether you decide to go analog, digital, or both, get out there and start practicing.

Next up, Proportion.  Stay tuned.

Fundamentals of Design: Series Index