There is a variety of plans and patterns for a lot of different things; clothes, furniture, art projects… Some patterns leave nothing in question and provide very detailed, step-by-step instructions accompanied by accurate and helpful drawings and diagrams. Others make the assumption that the reader knows a lot about sewing, or woodworking, and provide only enough information to leave the casual hobbyist confused and frustrated. If you’re considering buying a set of plans or a pattern unseen and published by a company with which you’ve no experience, do your research.
This past summer, I purchased plans for a trestle table and bench set from Smoke and Fire Company, their item SF-502, for $5. I got pretty much what I paid for. The materials list was very accurate, detailing board by board what I’d need, along with an accurate hardware list. That’s pretty much where “accurate” ended.
The plans consisted of a couple of sheets of standard size paper printed on both sides. The cover page had a simple line drawing of the completed project, and a materials list. On the following pages were crude line drawings of the individual pieces without dimensions (despite S&F’s claim of “measured drawings”). To my weak brain, the text read like an algebraic word problem…
Cut the 10″ wide board into four 18″ lengths. Now, measure in 4″ from the right end and make a mark. Then measure in 6″ from the opposite end and halfway to the mark you just made and lay a square at that point. Draw a line in 3″ from that edge and halfway to the opposite side…
Without focus and concentration, it wasn’t always obvious which part the text was referring to. I had to read each paragraph several times to figure out finished dimensions and what cuts were supposed to be made where. I had to lay out the measurements for the top box several times before I realized that the plans were not intended for use with nominal lumber dimensions, but finished lumber dimensions instead. If I didn’t have a good working knowledge of carpentry, I’m not sure that I would have had success with these plans the first time around.
As frustrating and difficult as I found the plans, the table and bench set are awesome! In fact, my set won the local Arts and Sciences award against some pretty stiff competition at a recent event. I made my set out of hemlock (a little heavier than pine, but it’s what I had on hand). The benches are surprisingly sturdy and, when the pins are driven tightly through the tenons, even the bench tops stay securely in place. My favorite feature is the pegs that hold the mortise and tenon joints together. Where most folks use wedges made from 3/4″ flat lumber, this plan calls for using dowels with a flat taper cut in one side. Brilliant! I’ve seen flat wedges split along the grain, usually because they were made with too steep an angle. But these pegs are indestructible.
The plans are frustrating, though effective. The next table and bench set that I make will go better, and I’ll make the table top box differently. If you’ve got strong woodworking skills and decent problem solving abilities, you’ll do just fine with them. For $5, the plans are a good buy.