Drawing Designs

I like drawing things by hand, there are times I can’t seem to think through what I am doing without a pencil in my hand.  Literally. Cannot. Think.  Without the pencil in my hand and a piece of paper in front of me.  I’m sure those computer programs that will spit out a cut list after you have designed your project are wonderful, I don’t build enough things in a year to need them.   

Tools for the Job

  • Mechanical pencil
  • White eraser
  • Felt Tip pen
  • Graph Paper / Fade-Out Vellum
  • Architects Scale

I like to draw on fade-out vellum, it’s a little different than that pad of graph paper you have on the bottom of a book shelf somewhere.  It has darker 1″ squares divided into smaller squares within that square.    I like 1/8″ or 1/10″ – which in English means you have 1″ squares with dark lines divided into either 8×8 little or 10×10 little squares with light lines.  This makes it easier to quickly count by either 8’s or 10’s.  Scales usually have either an 1/8 scale, or a 1/10 scale.  Just pick one or the other, and buy the corresponding paper.


You could just use any old ruler, but having a scale means that if you want a line 18 units long, you just quickly find that on your scale and draw it rather than trying to count out 18 squares.

I always start with a mechanical pencil, my favorite is actually 3mm.  If I have dimensions that aren’t going to change such as a wall, I’ll often ink them in so I don’t have to keep re-drawing them when I change my mind about something.  A felt-tip pen does just fine….remember to let your ink dry before erasing your pencil lines.

Fireplace Design

I drew this on a large 24×36″ sheet of fade out vellum.  I had gone into the community college I attended in high school to buy some drafting paper and they told me they were no longer going to stock it.  If I left my name and number, she would ask if I could just have all that was left.  Good thing I did!  A few weeks later my mom went back and hauled home a HUGE stack of drafting vellum, fade-out paper and the like.  We’re stocked for life ;0)

This is a picture of the design I drew for my dad’s fireplace.  It’s built into a corner with a hole for a  huge TV….right before flat screen tv’s became the norm of course ;0).  Then there is a gas insert fireplace below it and an add-on mantle.  They would like to cover up the existing hole, but still retain access to the plugs and have space for their DVD player and cable box.  In the drawing right above the mantle is an access hatch I will be putting a screen in so the remotes will still work.

Last time I was down I took measurements and snapped a picture of what is there currently.  My stepmom wanted something that would go all the way to the ceiling and frame the TV a little better.  She gave me some pictures of what she had in mind, I looked at them and got to work!


Notice the number on the drawing:  I tried drawing an elevation from the side, but kept getting confused when something taller was in front of something shorter, so I resorted to putting elevation numbers on the drawing itself.   This made it easier to visualize it in 3-d without trying to sort out what was in front or behind.  They aren’t inches per se, but rather layers from the wall.

The back wall and fireplace are 0, some of the elevations represent inches from the wall, such as the +3 below the mantle and the +5 in the middle of the lower columns, everything on top of that is + a layer in 3/4″ increments.  This was simpler to draw and I could visualize what I had.

While not a perfect representation, this method was good enough that I could come up with a materials list and price out options in pine, poplar and soft maple.  All three would be considered “paint grade” wood with pine and poplar being a bit soft, and soft maple being the hardest.  Using “select” pine from either Lowe’s or Home Depot turned out to be the same price as rough cut poplar.  Rough cut soft maple was about $100 more.

Design markers

Since I needed to get the ok before I started I took the extra step of getting out my design markers and shading the drawing to make it that much easier to “see” what the final project would look like.  My kids loved this part, they all had to try out the smelly Charpak markers for themselves, brings back the days of landscape design at college ;0)

I had several shades of cool grey, I started with a low number since it had been a while since I used them and finally just used the darkest to give the drawing that extra pop.



Regular 1/4″ Graph Paper

Sometimes what you need to draw isn’t as complicated as a mantle and carrying a pad of regular graph paper around while you’re at kids lessons is a little more convenient.  This is a cabinet I’m building for my bathroom to replace the little plastic floor to ceiling contraption behind the commode that came with the house.

The whole bathroom is getting a facelift actually.  It’s really cramped and awkward with the way the door opens.  I think if I replace the sink cabinet with a pedestal sink and put on a sliding door, and put in some new flooring I will be able to live with it.  I might even buy a shower curtain rod that isn’t bent in the middle ;0)


Bathroom Cabinet plans 1/4″ = 2″

One of the perks of drawing the whole thing out is that you can tweak the dimensions to make things proportional, decide that instead of having a door that divided it in half, the door would look better if it covered 2/3 of the cabinet.  Then while you’re at it making the whole thing 36″ instead of the 35 you measured in the bathroom wouldn’t be that big of a deal because you haven’t built the mirror yet….it can be scaled to look right.


Sliding Cabinet Door for  bathroom .

In the end I went with one cross piece instead of 2.  The tricky part is making the cut list form the drawing and knowing how you are going to do your joinery.  I decided on using the tongue and groove router bits I have been using to put ends on my floors.  I knew  they cut a 1/2″ tongue and groove, and I wanted my vertical slats to sit in that groove all the way around, but still look uniform.

On the cut list I added a 1/2 of width to the two outside slats, and a full inch to the three cross pieces.   This allowed me to put a 1/2″ groove on both long verticals, one side of the top and bottom cross pieces, and both sides of the middle cross piece.  Then there are tongue cuts on both ends of the cross pieces.

I just cut the diagonal slat to size once everything was in place.

I’m really excited about this door!  I used alder with circular saw marks left from milling and have big plans for finishing it!

Stay tuned to see this how these projects turn out!  Hit the follow button on to receive email alerts to new posts, or like my page on Facebook “Girl with a Handplane” 

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