Have you been watching "The Great American Handyman" on HGTV? This show challenges the contestants to demonstrate knowledge and skill on a variety of tasks related to woodworking and home maintenance. The season started with 20 men and women, and 10 were to be eliminated in the first episode. Wow, that's a lot of competition! So, what was the first challenge? The contestants were given two sheets of plywood and told to build something, anything, which could be used around the home. Two sheets of plywood, a handful of tools, time pressure, and no woodworking plans! That's right; they had no woodworking plans from which to build. They had to make it up on the spot. The results: a couple of useful pieces and a busload of wasted plywood.
The point is that you can't build without a plan! We all have ideas about things we'd like to build; perhaps an entertainment center for that big new flat panel TV? We can picture it in our minds: walnut case, glass panel doors for the electronics, fluted columns, crown molding to top it all off. It will be the talk of the town. What's our next step? Do we run right out and buy expensive lumber, drawer slides, hinges? No, we sit down and sketch it out; we make an entertainment center plan. Then we buy the expensive stuff, wax the saw table, check the fence setting and start cutting. And later, if you're like me, you start wishing you'd paid just a wee bit more attention in your high school math class. Who knew that stuff would ever be actually useful?
Live and learn. I've come to depend on two things in my woodworking career; woodworking plans that someone else has carefully thought out, done the math on, and for which precise illustrations have been drawn and, for those times when I do stray off the beaten path, a good friend with excellent math skills. Much of the joy of hobbyist woodworking is in the creativity of an original piece. We want our friends to look and say, "You built that!" Truth is they'll say that even if you follow someone else's plan because ,with or without a plan, they could not have built it. If they could, RTA furniture wouldn't exist. Still, personal touches make a big difference. Your choice of lumber, hardware and finishes make the entertainment center all yours.
Look, if you don't want to take the time to learn technical drawing or how to use a CAD program, premade woodworking plans are the way to go. They are plentiful and inexpensive. You can get them online at woodworking sites, in woodworking magazines, even at the library. Use what is already out there; make a few modifications to fit your style and your home. You'll get that same fresh lumber aroma and you won't waste nearly as much money as you would flying by the seat of your pants!
Now, go on, get outta here, it's shop time!