Woodworking is a skill that you can take as far as you want. The more you learn, the more complex projects you'll be able to tackle. But no matter your skill level, your project can always benefit from plans someone else has made. Here's how to find plans for just about any project online. Photos by Jordanhill School D&T Dept., Damien Pollet, 123_456.
Gather Your Tools
Before you begin even the simplest of projects, you'll need some basic tools. A variety of screwdrivers, tape measure, hand saw, miter box, and sandpaper can take you far. A cordless drill/driver and jigsaw can take you even further and help you finish your projects in less time.
When your budget, space, and ability are ready for stand alone shop tools, consider a table saw, miter saw, router, and drill press. These larger power tools will help you handle bigger lumber and make accurate and repetitive cuts.
Woodworking also requires proper safety gear which includes eye and hearing protection and gloves. Proper shop ventilation and vacuum system, coupled with a respirator mask are also recommended when using tools that throw off fine particulates.
What to Look For in a Set of Plans
Woodworking and DIY project plans can vary in quality and detail, so before you start searching, get acquainted with the kind of stuff you'll be looking for. Here are a few requirements that all plans should include.
- Cut List: This list provides the amount of lumber needed for the project and what dimensions it should be cut at. The best cut lists and projects will leave the least amount of scrap lumber, which means you've maximized the use of an entire board or sheet of plywood.
- Tools: Every tool and accessory needed to build the project. Even better if it lists alternative tools in case a tool is unavailable.
- Materials: All materials should be listed and include items such as screws, glue, and other hardware.
- Diagrams: 3-dimensional diagrams of the finished project and exploded views are helpful to learn from. These are often available in PDF form or as a file for Sketchup, a free 3D modelling program used by woodworkers of all stripes.
- Photos or Video: Visual elements, in the form of photos or video, are incredibly useful to walk you through a project step-by-step.
- Time and Difficulty: By knowing how much time a project will take to complete as well as the difficulty level, you can evaluate if the project is suited to your needs and skill.
Start Searching: How to Find Good Plans Online
Google is probably the first place where most people would start searching for woodworking plans, but often the top results can be a mix of articles and how-to pieces that just aren't detailed enough. Sometimes they will link to the plans (like we try to here at Lifehacker), but other times, they're just showing off a cool project. There are better, more precise ways of finding what you're looking for.
Use Google's Advanced Features
If you're going to use Google, a better option is to search Google for PDF files, which are most likely from print resources and will often be very detailed plans. You can use Google's
filetype operator to do this. For example, if you're looking to build a birdhouse, you might search
filetype:pdf how to build a birdhouse.
You can also use Google image search to research a project. Unlike the PDF search, the image search provides a photo of what the project will look like, which is helpful in determining if you want to pursue building it. By doing an image search for
how to build a step stool, you will have a ton of options that all lead to woodworking plans of various quality. (The
how to part of these is important — otherwise you'll just get pictures of step stools.)
Search Around on Forums
Woodworkers are a social bunch, and there are a few popular forums where people share thoughts on tools, discuss technique at length, and — of course — upload their plans. Some of the most active online woodworking communities include Lumberjocks, Woodworking Talk, Wood Magazine, WoodNet, Kreg, and Sawmill Creek. Search those to see if they have what you're looking for (either with their built-in search tool or with Google's site-specific search, e.g.
site:lumberjocks.com side table).
Although it's not a forum, Instructables also has a ton of woodworking projects. Most skew towards the beginner side of things, but it often feels forum-like due to the active and helpful commenters.
Connect with Woodwoorkers' Associations
The Woodworkers Guild of America provides a few plans on their web site, but it's best to find an Australian association so you can attend meetups and source ideas from members. If you're in Sydney, the Woodworker's Association of NSW meets every second month. Modern Woodworkers Association does weekly podcasts and has active forums but not a lot of projects. It is a great place to connect and find woodworkers to follow on YouTube or their blog.
Subscribe to Woodworking Magazines
As your interest in woodworking grows, you'll want to subscribe to a woodworking magazine. This will help feed your new found obsession with articles on tools, techniques, and woodworking plans. As a print magazine subscriber you'll also gain access to their database of plans on their websites. Popular American magazines include Woodworkers Journal, Fine Woodworking, and Popular Woodworking. For Australian magazines, look for The Australian Wood Review, Australian Woodworker, and Australian Woodsmith.
Scour Blogs and YouTube
A lot of woodworkers share their projects through their own blogs or YouTube channels. In fact, we've shared many of them here before, including, Woodworking for Mere Mortals, The Wood Whisperer, Matthias Wandel, April Wilkerson, Sawdust Girl, House of Wood, FixThisBuildThat, Pneumatic Addict, Build-Basic, Rogue Engineer, Her Tool Belt, and Ana White. The best YouTube woodworkers create great videos, but also provide a complete blog post with a cut list, tools, materials, and instructions. Find your favourites and save them for when you're doing your searches.
Woodworkers Workshop and FreeWoodworkingPlan.com have been around forever. They provide free woodworking projects covering almost anything you can imagine, but the quality of the photos and instructions aren't as good as what you'll find elsewhere. They can still serve as a great jumping off resource for experienced woodworkers.
Manufacturers that produce woodworking tools and materials have got into the content creation game, too, and some will share woodworking plans online. Minwax and Ryobi, for example, provides their plans free of charge, and Rockler offers their woodworking plans for a fee. Seek them out along with the other blogs and you'll have a handy list of resources you can turn to for any project.