If I had the extra time and material, I’d build a full-blown prototype of every new design I create. Prototypes let you see in three-dimensions all the mistakes and awkwardness you cannot see on a two-dimensional plan. And fixing the design is usually obvious when you have a prototype on your workbench.
As much as I love prototypes, they are not always necessary or even possible. So here is what I do instead.
I make full-size hardboard templates of the major components I have questions about. These components are almost always the curved bits. Even if you are good at visualizing curves in your head, seeing the curve and the space it occupies is helpful.
Hardboard is cheap (a 2’ x 4’ sheet is less than $5). It works quickly and easily with hand tools and power tools. And once you perfect the curve, seat shape or whatever, you are left with a permanent record of the shape that can be used to lay out future components.
Also, hardboard templates don’t take up much space when you store them. The stuff I buy is 3/16” thick. As a result, I store about 10 years worth of patterns in a small nook behind some pipes in my shop.
Oh, a quick word about hardboard. It’s probably not what you think it is. Unlike a lot of engineered wood products, most varieties of hardboard are just wood fibers that have been exploded and then compressed – no additional glue or resin is added. “Tempered” hardboard simply has a thin layer of linseed oil on it. It’s been around since 1898 and is quite tool-friendly compared to other fiberboard sheet goods. Read more here.
— Christopher Schwarz