The Immediacy of Pencil and Ruler

I commute to work, which means I spend a significant portion of each weekday on the train (up to 2.5 hours in the aggregate). Before I started woodworking, most of my train time was spent reading documents and catching up on emails.  Now, I try to bang out a new blog post (like this one) or put pencil to paper for a new furniture design whenever I can.

A while back, I started keeping a black composition notebook – like the ones for middle school creative writing class – with graph paper (instead of ruled) for my designs.  I’ve tinkered with Sketch-Up and other computer-aided design software before, but I keep coming back to the immediacy of pencil and ruler on graph paper.  That way, I transcribe the idea before the inspiration fades.


The fastest design program of all!

Each design gets dated and in truth few actually get built. But it’s nice to have a tangible record of the varying levels of woodworking inspiration that hit me.  Each page is a snapshot of my small-space woodworking journey, telling the story of how my sensibilities and style have evolved over the past few years.  I may never get around to making most of these pieces, but that’s okay.  Many of my favorite or best (often not the same thing) designs are amalgamations of past ideas, gleaned from old sketches and made fresh.

A few plans are further refined before going into a binder I glibly refer to as my “portfolio”.  These designs I truly intend to revisit and execute one day.  When I free-build a piece of which I am particularly proud, I will reverse engineer a design to also include my portfolio.  In this way, I have for myself a neat repository of my best and favorite pieces.



    1. I have, but I prefer graph paper to guide me in drawing lines straight and keeping things roughly in scale. Plus it’s easier for me to draw a true angle with some mechanical assistance. Just my preference, though.


  1. I once had to commute to work for a few weeks by train. It was a nightmare, I never want to do that again. Depending on the weather and stuff it took 60-90 minutes one way. Usually I had to stand and found no place to sit down.
    Anyway, I despise Sketchup. It never does what I want it to do. I think Sketchup was invented to draw all liveliness and happiness out of my body. I use it once per year if at all.
    Pencil & paper, that’s the way to go. I usually don’t like graph paper, though. I prefer plain white paper.

    Thank you for sharing this with us. Good luck on your train adventures!


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