Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I Love a Good Super Model

Hi there PORC friends.

A few months ago, I went into detail about the design process I go through with a good majority of my clients.  You got an opportunity to see the design process from beginning to end.  Turns out, that post was very popular and I got some great feedback in the comments, as well in person.

I've decided to take it to the next level.  Drawings are an amazing tool to help visualize.  Especially when the drawings are 3 dimensional renderings that allow you to walk around the room and see the completed project from all angles.

Sometimes a picture just isn't enough.  This is when a full size mock-up of the finished project gets made.

Keep reading from a bit more about making a model of a finished project.

For the task at hand, let's look at this weeks project. 2 bar stools to accompany a freestanding kitchen island.

After a few sketches and brainstorming meetings, I went to the computer.  I sent over a few versions to get a feel for the style to go with.  We agreed early on that they did not need or want to "match" the island.  The room has some other distinct cabinetry and furniture.  If we tried to make everything 'the same', we would quickly find ourselves chasing our tails looking for what to copy.

We wanted stools that could stand on their own (literally) next to the island or in another room all together.

We narrowed down the style from the base options shown below.

We ended up playing with an Asian inspired style.  Below is a rough idea to start tweaking.

I felt confident about the scale and proportions of the base.  The leg design we a gem (at least I thought so)  However, I found myself scratching my head with the seat rest.  Let's face it.  We all have different shaped bums.  To find a shape that is both pleasing to look at AND easy on the buns is not an easy thing to do.  Add to that, we all sit on stools differently.  Some sit striat on with one or both feet on the ground.  Others, sit at a 45 degree angle to the base.  Ideally, we would accommodate all.

The only way I could see a way through this, is to make a full sized mock up and let my clients try it out.

When building a model like this, I have a chance to tweak proportions, arches, lines, joinery and refine the fabricating details.  It's kind of a pain because I need to spend several hours building the darn thing, but in the end, it's worth the effort.  After all, we can do a lot in the computer, but having the ability to actually sit on a piece, and feel the solid nature of an actual stool is invaluable.

"x-ray" view of the joinery details AND problems

You can see from above, the adjoining tenons run into another.  We need to fix that!

After a few alterations on the computer to fix some little things, we head out to the shop.  Time to start making a life size Super Model. 

I yanked a pile of wood down from the racks to play with.  I made up some router templates as well so I could repeat the results.

Stretchers with arch cut and tenons

Mating mortise

Almost there
The beginning shape of the seat

Getting closer after a bit of hand planing

After quite a bit of belt sanding, the addition of 2 small blocks of wood, several "cheek tests," and a few beers, I ended up with comfy little stool. 

If I need to modify it a bit I still can.  I am very interested in the clients opinion!

So much can be learned and refined with a dry run, and in the end, I will have another shop stool to use and abuse.

As always, thanks for reading!


  1. Pretty keen! I just don't have the knack for computer sided things heh. Maybe someday...

  2. The illustrations are great - never have messed around with the x-ray view, but it looks cool.

    Your super model is just that: super. The leg design is very pleasing to the eye. Good luck with it.

  3. @ Nicholas. I am slowing learning the computer thing. It has been a long road but is proving to be helpful. You actually have drawing skills, and I don't. That helped me to the computer. :)

    @Thanks Jeff. I've only started to use the x-ray view. It's proving quite helpful! More learning curve indeed. I'm digging this little stool, and I just got back from the client meeting, and they LOVE it. It's a great feeling to know when were all working on the same page. Now I get to go shopping for some sick Walnut. :)

  4. Jason, thanks for the entry. I'm developing a relationship with a client similar to the client in your previous post. I've always sketched and drawn my projects at the drafting table, but this client wants a number of large furniture pieces. I have some time before this project kicks into gear, how did you get started? To be honest,I'm pretty intimidated by the whole computer design thing.

  5. James, thanks for chiming in.

    I am happy to hear that some good work appears to be on the horizon for you as well! Congrats! A win for all.

    The intimidation thing is totally understandable. Learning something new IS a bit overwhelming and time consuming. But it's been a lot of fun to learn at the same time.

    Start off by downloading the free version of Sketch-up. Also watch some of the tutorials that google has about using the program. Then start playing around a bit.

    Both Fine Woodworking and Popular Woodworking have a lot of info for the program as well. I did purchase an ebook from Bob Lang that was VERY VERY helpful. I HIGHLY recommend it. He covers the basics and he is spot on! Once the basics are learned, then the playing is a lot easier.

    His tone and overall boring approach is enough to put you to sleep, however the info is there and I think it is a solid book that is made FOR woodworkers. It's worth the $$.

    And lastly, just play with it. Set your bar low and just make something silly and easy. Don't get too fancy too quickly. I've been using it now regularly for close to 9 months and I STILL jack stuff up and curse at the computer.

    So there you have it. I hope it helps!!!!!! Please don't hesitate to drop me a line if more questions come up.