|Woodworking Plan Buyer's Guide|
So Many Plans, So Little Time
Back in the pre-Internet days, woodworkers typically acquired woodworking plans from woodworking magazines, woodworking supply catalogs, or books. If you opted to use the plans from the woodworking magazines - as many of us did - the tricky part was finding a suitable plan in the first place. Most magazines produced a yearly index and that was the primary tool for finding a plan. Once you found a potential plan entry in the index (which typically was only a text entry without a plan thumbnail photo), it was a matter of physically locating the plan. In some cases, you had the actual edition containing the plan, other times you could find it in the library and make a photocopy at minimal cost, and other times you had to order a plan reprint from the magazine publisher. It often was a fairly time-intensive process.
Woodworking catalogs made the plan finding process somewhat easier because you could browse through the pages, view thumbnails of the plans, and identify plans that looked promising. Then, you had to call in your order and wait for the plan to arrive. With any luck, the plan(s) would be decent quality, which wasn't always a given.
Getting plans from woodworking or DIY books worked well at times, especially if you had a large collection of plan books or a well-stocked local library. But a fair amount of effort was still involved in browsing through books indexes or card catalogs to find a plan of interest. You couldn't just enter terms into a search box and get a tantalizing list of potential plans instantaneously. One had to rely on the sneaker net.
The point of this little history lesson is to drive home the point of how good we have it nowadays with the Internet when it comes to finding and buying woodworking plans. You older woodworkers can appreciate this more than the young whippersnappers (who will someday muse about the old days before personalized woodworking plans could be generated on the fly). Now, finding plans is mostly a matter of a little Googling (or Binging or Yahoo-ing) to come up with a list of candidate plans. Once you've narrowed down the list to one or two plans, you can then pay online and, in many cases, download the plan right to your computer. How convenient is that?
Tips on Finding and Buying Plans Online
In spite of the convenience of the Internet, it's not always a slam dunk finding that perfect plan. This is often due to information overload -- too many links, too many plans, lots of material to sift through. But, in other cases, there's a seeming paucity of information, making it difficult to find even one plan that is worthy of consideration. Hey, that's the Internet, like it or leave it... Each of us has developed our own techniques for finding woodworking plans online. For what it's worth, I've outlined the strategy that seems to work best for me.
I'll start the plan hunt with a little Googling. Let's say I'm interested in building a barbeque cart, so I'll enter "barbeque cart plans" into the search box. The resulting links will either take me directly to a plan vendor's site or a 2nd party site like this one. Either way, my objective is to find an overview photo of the plan. If it looks promising, it warrants a deeper look. If not, I move on.
If the initial Google search doesn't produce many links, I'll perform a series of additional queries using variants of the original query. Such as:
I might also repeat all of the above queries using "BBQ" and "barbecue" in place of "barbeque". Or maybe "serving cart". You would be surprised at how many more plans pop up when you expand your searches this way. It's all about thinking outside the box.
And don't overlook the value of 2nd party sites like our beloved woodworkingplanfinder.com. These sites typically provide categorized plan links so you can quickly locate plans and compare plans from multiple sources in one location. A good example is this page containing thumbnails of bed plans from multiple plan vendors.
Another plan searching technique that I'll sometimes employ is the Google image search. This is a really cool tool because it allows you to skim through plan overview photos and drawings lickety split. It can be a real time saver.
Once I've identified a plan that has potential, the next step is to decide if it's a keeper. If the plan is free, I can just peruse it online and decide rather quickly. If it's a commercial plan, I may try to find a review of the plan. However, this is usually not very easy because there are few sites that offer plan reviews. One of these is Rockler.com. I find their reviews very helpful but the plan selection is rather limited. Woodcraft.com also provides reviews and has a larger plan selection, but the reviews are sparsely populated and therefore not of much help. You can sometimes find plan reviews in woodworking forums such as lumberjocks.com but this is definitely hit or miss.
In lieu of user reviews, the plan source helps me decide if a plan is worthy or not. Plans from woodworking magazine publishers such as PlansNOW, WOOD, and Fine Woodworking generally have consistently high quality plans. Some of the older U-Bild and Popular Woodworking plans are a bit more iffy. By the way, if a plan appears fairly old and is relatively inexpensive - say $5 or less - don't be surprised if the plan quality is marginal. At least, this has been my experience.
Whenever possible, I like to download a plan rather than pay to have it mailed to me. This is because it's less expensive and I get immediate gratification. The exception is when the plan includes a full-size pattern -- I'll gladly pay extra to have it mailed to me rather than spend the time and paper attempting to print it at home. Most of the woodworking magazine publishers offer a download option. This option is less common among the woodworking supply vendors - even when they offer a plan made by a magazine publisher. That's something to keep in mind.
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