Error in Cutting Lists | Popular Woodworking Magazine
 In Letters, Shop Blog, Woodworking Blogs

Gordon Humphrey writes: As (you are) past-editor of Woodworking Magazine (which I am more than a little sorry to see disappear), and still editor of Popular Woodworking Magazine and designer of the sideboard on the cover of the Summer 2009 issue of Woodworking Magazine (the featured project of that issue), I wish to call you attention to what I believe to be an error in the cutlist on page 12. The web frame stiles are said to be 33″ long. Given that the interior measurement of the table is 34″ and you state (page 15) that the “guts” should be “a little too tight” with respect to the interior of the base, this listing of 33″ should appropriately be more like 34″, preferably 35″, or so.

As a “intermediate beginner” woodworker, I jumped ahead and made the “guts” before reading your statement on page 15: “Measure the inside of your base and make the web frame so it fills that space exactly,….” This sentence may serve to absolve you of responsibility, I suppose, but I don’t see why a cut list should be wrong. If it’s wrong, what’s the point of it? I wasted lots of time making the mortises and tenons for the “guts” and assembling the “guts” before gluing up the base (and therefore before measuring or looking at the 34″ interior dimension shown in the schematic. That was time and effort wasted. I don’t understand why that should have happened, since I don’t particularly like making wasted mortises and tenons with wasted wood. (Does this disqualify my from the realm of woodworkers, I wonder?).

I shall take 20 percent of the blame and let it serve as a lesson to me, but I suggest that as editor you need an editor or a proofreader or a reader stand-in who builds your stuff and checks your figures before going to press.

– Gordon Humphrey

Editor Christopher Schwarz responds: Sorry for the error. We don’t make too many of those and we do have proofreaders. However, this is a human endeavor, and we make mistakes.

I will say this (and I’ve said this before), that woodworkers should never (and I rarely use that word in woodworking) cut out all the pieces from any cutlist. Even their own. Even from a cutlist that has been checked 1,000 times.

The proper procedure is to build the exterior case and base all your measurements off that as you proceed. Heck, I think that providing parts lists for drawers is a waste of valuable ink. But when we remove them, we get phone calls.

In any case, I hope you can find a use for that extra wood.

– Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 14 comments
  • Ross Manning

    I would like to put in a vote for Ians suggestion, coupled with Merlins comment "…cut list <helps> to price and buy materials…". This should help newcomers from making this mistake reinforcing the correct approach – build to the project, not the plans.

    I would not like to see cutlist dissapear. Personally, I find complete cutlists very helpful in interpreting drawings that may not have all the details shown (I notice that Popular Woodworking often has assumed construction knowledge in projct articles – for example the Shaker Stepback drawings in the most recent edition do not show the drawer guides) And it does make life simpler when ordering wood for projects.

  • Mark Salomon

    I think that you miss the broader point. Why don’t magazines such as yours and your competitors maintain an errata page? We all run across mistakes and I’d be happy to let others know of it if I had a forum. Sure, we can send a note to the editor and maybe it will get published but who is going to be able to remember or find that correction a few months down the road?

  • jeff

    Some of you guys may mean well but come off pretty arrogant. That type of attitude is what makes some of us noobs scared to ask "dumb" questions or display our work for you "experts" to rip apart. For one thing, it appears that Mr. Humphrey wrote an email directly to Chris, and did not intend his mild upbraiding to be public. Chris made it public as a means (I imagine) to let all of us learn from the writer’s mistake. So for you guys to pile it on, reminding us of your brilliance and the silliness of cut lists, is really unfair.

  • If cutting is not perfect then looking becomes worst… Thanks for your post…

  • Merlin Vought

    In my experience the only reason for a cut list is to price and buy material… Other than that they are of NO good use. If you are going to make 20 or 30 then it’s not a hand crafted project it’s an assembly line. So right on all you guys that have responded.

  • Jeff

    I drew up a cut list for the first time for my current project and it was mainly to help me price the project.

    In more than 20 years of woodworking, I have never used a cut list to cut stuff.

  • Bruce Jackson

    I like Ian’s suggestion!

  • Ian Wigle

    Granted a more experienced woodworker appreciates the value of measuring twice (from the work piece, and not the cut list) and cutting once, but Gordon’s education on this point does seem to have been a tad painful. While it is true that experience is the great Teacher, and Gordon will not soon forget the lesson, perhaps a word or two at the top or bottom of a cut list might help folks through this necessary lesson a bit less painfully.

    Something like "No project in the real world ever goes together exactly the way the original did. This cut list gives you a general idea of what size and shape to expect your parts to be, but you should always measure your based on the workpiece, and not the cut list alone."

    Maybe it helps, and maybe it doesn’t. Or maybe this warning could be attached to the cutlist for the introductory "I Can Do That" articles.

    My 2 cents.

  • Matt Gray

    I think it is sad that we have become a society that blames everyone else for their problems or mistakes. Granted, the cut list might have had an errror or two. Heck, the 21st century workbench plan has some errors as well, but I just worked around it. Whatever happened to "problem-solving" instead of writing letters to editors criticizing their work?

    I’m not an older guy (33), but I guarantee if you talk to some older craftsmen, they had to learn how to solve problems like this or they didn’t have a job anymore.

    Sad that it seems that society has forgotten these critical skills.


  • Chris C

    When Gordon gets a little more experience under his belt, he
    will realize that measuring and excessive pre-planning is for the birds.

    I’ve seen OK cut lists for things like plywood boxes. For anything
    else they always seem to fall apart before I even finish getting my
    stock prepared. I just ignore them. Work off of the piece sitting in
    front of you, not a theoretical model in a magazine.


  • Bruce Jackson

    In my younger days (funny I should say that – almost 56 but feeling much younger) as a "prog-ountant" – computer programmer and accountant, we learned and used work-planning methods at different levels, e.g. business, strategic, tactical, logistical – basically increasingly detailed plans as you drilled down from the top level. My dirty little secret is once I have a Sketchup made from a quick work-up of a form by hand – however I do it, I stop planning and start doing before the cutlist step. It helps that there is a Lowes down the road and an Ace Hardware in beautiful downtown Cape Coral.

  • Bill Sias

    Cut lists are just another example of where woodworking has gone astray. Cut lists are fine things for manufactured goods but for one-off hand build items they lead to mistakes like milling up all of your lumber at the beginning of the project. Then, as things don’t go together like the plan, you blame your lack of skill. In fact, the problem is that you failed to realize that in hand built projects the only accurate measurement is made relative to where the piece will be used. Improve your woodworking dramatically by ignoring the cut list and throwing away your tape measure.

  • Allen Lindsey

    There are some woodworkers who will recoil at what I’m about to say. The guys, a lot of them engineers, who work to extremely tight tolerances. The guys who whip out micrometers and feeler gauges and come into the store that employs me (not making this up) who want to open packages of adjustable shelf pins and measure each one with calipers to be sure each one is uniformly 5mm across the length of the pin because the batch they bought at a bix-box store had some that tapered all the way to 4.2 mm at the end. Gasp!

    I maintain that, unless you’re willing to frustrate yourself, the only part you cut that will exactly match the cutlist is the first one you do. human error happens and it compounds. If you strive to completely eliminate human error then you remove the human element of crafting things by hand in which case you might as well buy everything manufactured by CNC and other methods that can and do operate within those ultra-precise tolerances.

    If I need a drawer face I’m not relying on a cut list to tell me the size. Those dimensions are only helpful in a perfect world scenario which, were I forced to recreate it, would remove everything I find enjoyable about this craft.

    Relative dimensioning. Look into it.

  • rab135

    I was quite confused by this note, initially. I am getting kind of old now but I couldn’t recall ever seeing Gordon Humphrey’s name even on the masthead, let alone remember him being the editor of these mags! Eventually, I managed to figure out that the confusion was the result of grammatical error and that I wasn’t really sinking lower into early dementia! Chris, thanks for responding to us woodworkers with such tolerance. You could have been justified in providing a caustic reply but you were kind enough to respond graciously. Thanks for being such a gentleman.


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