The Editors Mailbox

The Editors Mailbox

Cutlists are a waste of space

comments (107) January 24th, 2011 in blogs

MKenney Matthew Kenney, special projects editor
thumbs up 36 users recommend

Cutting directly from a list—as opposed to measuring from the piece—can lead to a drawer front thats too short.
Fit parts as you go—that way theyll fit the actual piece, rather than a measured drawing.
Put your ruler away and mark directly from the piece.
Cutting directly from a list—as opposed to measuring from the piece—can lead to a drawer front thats too short. - CLICK TO ENLARGE

Cutting directly from a list—as opposed to measuring from the piece—can lead to a drawer front that's too short.

We get a fair number of emails and phone calls from readers asking us to include cutlists for the furniture projects we run in the magazine. A small part of me understands that request. Cutlists are great for figuring out how much and what size lumber you need. But most of me thinks that the potential harm of cutlists outweighs their benefits. I'll run through the good and the bad, give you a brief explanation of why Fine Woodworking doesn't provide cutlists, and point you to some great resources to help generate more-detailed drawings and cutlists of your own.

Cutlists are great in the early stages

When you head out to the lumberyard to buy boards for a project, you can save yourself time, money, and headaches if you have a clear understanding of what you need before you get there. Don't worry so much about board feet. Rather, worry about the parts you need to make and the size boards you need to get those parts. My colleague Kelly Dunton has a great way to do that. He doesn't mention one explicitly, but a cutlist is a helpful tool for figuring all of this out. Because a cutlist lists each part with its final dimensions, you can quickly figure out that a 6 in. wide board that's 8 ft. long is big enough for you to get all of the rails and stiles needed for two doors (For this example, rails: 2 1/2 in. wide by 12 in. long; stiles: 2 1/2 in. wide by 30 in. long). As you find the lumber you need, you can check off parts on the list. Then, when you get back to shop you can use the list as a guide for rough cutting parts to size. (You should do that, too. After rough cutting them, let them sit and acclimatize to the shop.)

More Design Tips

• Drafting Basics 
• Making a Cutlist 
• Creating Working Drawings 
• Scaling Furniture from Photos
• Design. Click. Build SketchUp Blog 

But they're no good once you start building
Let's say I'm making a cabinet. The first thing I'd do is make the carcass: a top, a bottom, and two sides. I could get the final dimensions of those parts from my cutlist. But once the carcass is together, I'd put the list away and not go back to it. Why? Because at that point there is no guarantee if I were to use it to cut a shelf divider, for example, that the part would fit the actual carcass, because wood moves and the dados I routed might be a bit deeper, shallower, wider or narrower than on the plan. Instead, I'd first thickness the divider, testing its fit in the dados until it slid in without effort or slop. Then I'd square up one end, put it in place and mark for its length. Back to the tablesaw for a crosscut and test the fit. If anything, it would be a bit long, so I'd take it over to my shooting board and trim the divider to fit. All of measurements, in other words, are taken directly from the carcass itself. That way, I know the divider will fit. If I just cut it according to some theoretical design, it might not fit. And if it’s too small, I'm sc%$#@d and starting over.

So what does the way I work have to do with anything? Well, the biggest danger of a cutlist is that it might seduce you into milling all of your parts to their final dimensions before you start building. And that is a recipe for disaster. I know that it might be hard for some of you to believe that anyone would actually do that, mill and cut all of their parts to final dimensions first. But it happens. I've fielded the emails and Kelly Dunton has handled a ton of phone calls from folks who think one of our plans is wrong because his (or her) drawer front is too small for the opening. Eventually, it comes out that instead of fitting parts to the case as it was built, he (or she) cut them all out ahead of time. Don't get me wrong, I'm not coming down hard on those folks. We all make mistakes and we have to learn some time. But printing a cutlist in the magazine isn't going to help them. If anything, it will just lead them down the wrong road by suggesting that building furniture is just a matter of cutting out a lot of pieces and then putting them together, as if a piece of furniture were some kind of jigsaw puzzle.

How to break free of cutlists
"Okay," you say, "I'll never ask for a cutlist again. But tell me what I should do instead." Fair enough. Here is what I do. First, I sketch and sketch and sketch until I have a good understanding of the design I intend to build. And then I do a dimensioned drawing of the front, side, and top (this is a scale drawing). Then I often do a perspective drawing to get a better sense of proportions. Only then do I generate a cutlist. If you're building one of the projects in the magazine, you're in luck. We always include an exploded drawing with the most important dimensions given. Based on it, you could produce a front, side, and top drawing and generate every dimension from them. And then you could generate a cutlist. Or you could skip the front, side, and top drawings and go right to the cutlist from the exploded drawing. I know that sounds all fine and dandy, but if I were you I'd ask for some more detailed advice than that. So, up above you'l find a list of articles that we've run in the past that will show you how to do everything from making your own drawings to generating a cutlist.

Learning to fish
Finally, let me speak briefly about why the magazine doesn't provide cutlists. As you might have guessed by now, part of it is that we don't want to lead folks to believe that you can mill and cut all of your parts to final dimensions before beginning to cut joinery and put things together. But there are other reasons. Magazine space is limited and we'd rather use the space taken up by a cutlist to provide you with information about a technique or some other helpful tidbit that you might not be able to figure out on your own. I can't stress that enough. Explaining how to make a piece of furniture in eight pages or less is difficult. There are some tough choices to make about what to show and what not to show. Not including a cutlist isn't one of them. A cutlist for a big project might take up 1/2 or 3/4 of a page. In the same space we can show instead the great technique the author uses to set the plunge depth of a router for routing a hinge mortise, for example. You can use a tip like that for the rest of your woodworking life. But we're not leaving you high and dry. The exploded drawing we provide is complete enough to be used as a source for generating excruciatingly detailed drawings and cutlists. And that's something every furniture maker should know how to do. If you don't, it's nothing to feel bad about. Just get out there and learn. Not only will you pick up a good skill, you'll understand the piece you're making better, and you'll begin to develop a sense of design. You'll learn to fish (and in more ways than one).

So, what do you think? Would you rather we give cutlists? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

posted in: blogs, Dimensions, furniture design, cutlists, drawings

Comments (107)

jkasparian jkasparian writes: Picture worth a 1000 words. I can tell a lot about the project by the cut list and will go there first. If it does not have one, I do not bother. I have better things to do like sawing, routing and sanding then another 2 hours out of my weekend picking up one more piece of plywood, due to a layout error.
Posted: 10:18 pm on February 20th

AutumnWoods AutumnWoods writes: Sure, a cutlist might save a little time, but I fail to see how anyone couldn't work up their own cutlist in short order working off the extremely detailed drawings provided. I design my own furniture, and thus work up my own cutlist, and for me it's an important time to double check everything and review each structure and stage in my mind. I would suggest embracing the opportunity to really get to know the piece you're working on by making your own cutlist from the drawings and enjoy the challenge. It really doesn't take that long and it's an important skill building step. Some day you may want to build something that doesn't come with dimensioned drawings, much less a cutlist. What will you do then?

I know some people are new and want a little hand holding, but maybe you should consider live classes in addition to the magazine. I've only been woodworking for five years, I've learned everything I know about furniture from Taunton Press, and I just built a pair of endtables off a five minute scratch drawing on an old restaurant napkin. C'mon guys, you can do it!
Posted: 2:47 pm on February 19th

Ron Alley Ron Alley writes: There are two interrelated issues here. The first is the order of operations and the second is the cut list. Begin by acknowledging that most of us make one-off projects. The project plans we begin with are dimensioned with essentially nominal dimensions. If we begin by cutting every part to those nominal dimensions, measurement error will result in some parts being too large and others too small. The result will be a project that most likely will not be one worthy of photographing for the gallery.

I just can't make a good cut list unless I first address the order of operations required to build a finished project. In almost every final assembly, there are component parts that are "reference" parts which can be cut and machined to essentially final dimensions at the first stage (for example a case). There are other parts which mate with, and must be fitted to, the "reference" parts (for example drawers). There are joinery requirements which usually affect the order of operatiions. Unless I take the time to work through the order of operation issues, cut and machine the reference parts and build critical subassemblies, I won't know the final dimensions of most parts and how much "grind stock" to allow.
Posted: 8:29 am on February 19th

27BStroke6 27BStroke6 writes: I wasn't going to waste my time responding to this absurd thread but what the hell...

When I type I use the hunt and peck method. As hunt and peckers go (no pun intended) I'm pretty good, but would never consider myself a professional typist.

I am, however, a professional woodworker. To say a cut list is unnecessary to include in a plan is ok with me. Any shop drawing should be executed with stick layout or real world cad dimensions and an accurate cut list generated from it, or both. Yes, there are on occasion some parts that will be cut + or - but this is rare.

To take it to the next level, that is to say a cut list is useless and every part must be fitted as you go, puts one in the amateurish level that is as a hunt and pecker typist is to an executive secretary.

What a pathetic publication this has become.

Posted: 8:07 pm on February 17th

Riffler Riffler writes: I agree with Magerback and deHardy-post the cutlist online.
Posted: 5:57 pm on February 17th

swenson swenson writes: When computer printers stopped using folded paper I discovered that I had a lifetime supply of paper at any length I needed. I can quickly make a full sized pattern of each piece used in a project and take them with me to the lumber yard. As I select each unmilled board I lay the patterns out and shift them around to get the best use out of each board. Later, in my shop, I do this again more carefully, leaving space around each pattern and avoiding end checks, knots, and defects. I mark the parts in chalk, roughly drawing around each pattern, and cut them out before milling. Each pattern then sits on top of its corresponding part till I have time to mark the part with sharpee and blue tape. Works for me.
Posted: 10:15 am on February 15th

Greg_Robb Greg_Robb writes: After getting my plans worked out, I make a cutlist with the priority dimensions highlighted, before I buy materials. I also make a numbered assembly plan. I then mill the wood to size and cut to length + 1", +2" or +3". Then set it aside in groups of assembly order. Following the assembly plan and cutlist I make the final cuts and best wood faces as I assemble.
Posted: 12:33 pm on February 12th

oldwindowguy oldwindowguy writes: I've noticed that cooking magazines always provide quantified lists of ingredients with the assumption that the readers are smart enough to scale them up or down as needed.

I don't think you can convert raw material efficiently or manipulate wood grain to the most harmonious effect if you don't know exactly and completely what you are doing when you start cutting up boards.

Starting with a cut list is a great tool to understand what you are doing, not holy writ to be blindly followed. Use it to layout every piece you will need from the stock you have, or to adjust sizes accordingly, before you make the first cut.
Posted: 8:46 pm on February 11th

Gerry4 Gerry4 writes: I am a novice woodworker, but I must agree that the best use of the cutlist is to help me to select the wood in rough dimension only.

As stated, the dimensions of each piece is determined by fit, not the cutlist dimensions.

I've had first hand experience with the above. One of my first finely detailed projects (a jewelry box) taught me that adjusting to "fit" is Primary. The example is as follows: A set of plans which I purchased from another well known and respected magazine fell short in both the accuracy of the cutlist and actual dimensions of one critical part of the design. Of course, I only discovered this after i was well down the road of building the project.

Only through a lot of help from fellow woodworkers and lots of knashing of teeth was I able to recover the project and get a good result.

Obviously, I know where the mistakes are, but the recipient was thrilled. This goes to my guiding watchword, from my cabinetmaker mentor and friend: A REALLY good woodworker knows how to hide his mistakes"
Posted: 3:29 pm on February 9th

rambogambo rambogambo writes: This article is so hypocritical of fine woodworking. NO you don't supply a cutlist for your major projects, but you provide a detailed plan in your store where you can get a complete drawing and I am sure much more information to help novice woodworkers, like me, get a handle on a complicated project.

I agree that precutting all your parts to length before you begin is a disaster. But that is a simple lesson learned very quickly bay all woodworkers. I don't believe for a minute providing a cutlist encourages that. If you were to poll your readers the majority would say they want the cutlist to save time in their lumber selection process.

Let's be real about the amount of money FW wants to make by not providing a cutlist.

Posted: 1:30 pm on February 9th

Farkled Farkled writes: One last shout from me:

Rarely, if every, am I going to build the project exactly as printed. I probably want it longer, wider, shorter , taller, more narrow, etc. than what was discussed in the article. I take the article as inspiration, not gospel.

As stated earlier, I believe that on-line availability (or via mail order) solves the problem. To the extent that you've created documents - make them available on line.

As a developing woodworker, I most value discussions of why. Why this technique versus another. To the extent that other approaches may work, it would be great to see/hear from others about the whys and wherefores of their approaches.

All of this can be done online. paper is going to be too expensive soon anyway. Use paper for the eye candy and as the hook to the online world
Posted: 11:58 pm on February 8th

PSeverin PSeverin writes: Making your own cut list is not hard using a spread sheet.

Unlike many I also use the information from a cut list to tell me how many lineal feet of a certain width stock I need to rip. That's a piece of information often not shown on cut lists. But knowing widths and lineal feet needed helps use the board widths I have efficiently. And yes, there's always a bit of waste so you always need cut a little extra.

I've even gotten to pasting little end profiles of the finished material so I don't mill everything the same as I go along. Obviously I've made that mistake.

Cut lists are a part of planning. Make them available on line. But being Fine Wood Working, see if you can't make the most useful cut lists out there.


Posted: 12:57 pm on February 7th

finekiwi finekiwi writes: I think folks have forgotten one good reason you make a cutting list. Optimization. You look down you cutting list and I quickly draw out what parts I will get out of a sheet of plywood so as best not to waste material. When it comes to the solid wood most of the time it is only the length which may change in the construction of you piece. Boards don't come from the mill exactly cut to your required width and so you look at your cutting list and you look at the peice of wood and you can now get the best yield from your boards.You can machine all your parts to wideth and thickness and leave cutting length till you need it.
Cutting lists are a must.
Posted: 9:24 pm on February 5th

walnutnut walnutnut writes: I believe cutlists are a good thing when used to purchase the materials needed for a project. Nothing is more aggrevating than finding that you have fallen short a few board feet and have to make a second trip. Now I understand the premium of magezine space and agree that having cutlists available for us online suscribers would be a plus. I'm sure that it wouldn't take much for the contributing editors to include the amount of wood they used to build a piece because I'm sure that they used at least a rough cutlist when they went to buy the materials. Also it would save others time instead of sitting down to figure it out from an exploded view which some might find difficult though they should learn. I've been woodworking for 20+ years but my sons are learning and any help for FWW projects would be great for them. Just my thoughts.
Posted: 1:06 pm on February 5th

swagmann swagmann writes: I tend to use and work from a cut list on my larger projects but to avoid the trap of cutting to the wrong size I always have 2 measurements for each part. One is the actual part size so that I can have a good idea of how much wood to buy. The other is a rough cut or "milling dimension" which is larger than the part size. By using milling dimensions, the parts that I am cutting are always oversize in all 3 dimensions. I always refer to the milling dimension or rough cut size to work from and I never have any fear of cutting a part too small as I know that I will have the extra length, width and thickness as a margin for error. But I don't normally refer to the final cut size without going back to the actual piece to do a final check before cutting the pieces. I have had plenty of "measured once and cut twice and it is still too short" pieces of kindling to learn from.
Posted: 12:45 pm on February 4th

planxt planxt writes: Most of the people here seem to be very, very experienced (so much more than I am.) maybe this magazine isn't meant for beginners.Still, I try to learn as I can.I'm just a beginning woodworker and I think that a lot of the points made in previous posts are valid. I think that for readers like me, a cut list is great for determining how much lumber to buy. BUT, and I'm embarrased to say this, I made the mistake of using a cutlist to pre-cut all of my material at once. I know,I know. I learned my lesson. A cutlist is great for determining how much to buy, but I'm learning that joinery-wise it's not maybe not as helpful.But I have to say that for us beginners, have a little mercy. please just put the cutlist on the website.
Posted: 1:27 am on February 4th

WoodCrafter WoodCrafter writes: I say pick your poison.
Because I've been screwed by inaccurate cutlists - I found myself wasting a lot of time verifying them. Even if they're spot on I still cut them strong, scribe and trim to fit.
Besides, more often than not I've scaled the project up or down to fit a specific nook.
A good undersatnading of proportions and furniture basics will take you further than a cutlist. And will serve you better in getting you to think, create and improvise for yourself.
I'd rather have the overall dimensions, expanded drawings and notes regarding any unique assembly concerns.

That's my wooden nickel's worth
Posted: 6:59 am on February 3rd

BCFred BCFred writes: It looks like the obvious use of cutlists is to tell you about the materials you need. Maybe the uses cutlists are put to differ depending on the experience of the user and how he/she likes to go about things. When I thought about it I realized that one of the big things I was looking for from a cutlist was some clue as to the order in which things would go together. In the beginning, as is still true now, I could quite easily figure out how much material I needed. But the order in which things should go together and, by extension, the order in which I should prepare material were crucial for me and still are. Articles where someone tells you build this part first and this second and so on, or where I can easily suss this out, really help me.
Posted: 10:45 am on February 2nd

MoePipeOrganCo MoePipeOrganCo writes: I use cut lists for just about every part of my pipe organs that I build. For certain parts (windchests for those of you who know what I'm talking about) I have actually written an Excel spreadsheet that will not only generate the cut list once I fill in the dimensions, but will also calculate the quantities of lumber needed for that unit. I find that this helps me to be uniform in my building process as I don't have to figure every part manually for each of my instruments. I have perfected my spreadsheet to the point where everything comes out perfect every time. I would suspect that something similar could be worked up for the construction of kitchen cabinets or even other pieces of furniture if it is something that you're going to make more than once.

Allen Moe
Moe Pipe Organ Company
Wadena, MN
Posted: 7:59 pm on February 1st

KenPh KenPh writes: I let my subcription run out because you do not have cutlist. I like the cutlist and cutting diagrams that other magazine provide. So I buy them.
Posted: 3:48 pm on February 1st

Emptycreel Emptycreel writes: There seems to be a kernel of truth in every comment I've read. In my experience, the dimensioned drawings in the magazine are sufficient to figure out the cut list for shopping. In my experience as well, I almost always give into temptation and make something bigger anyway.

If we're laying our cards on the table, I'd like to see more magazines per year and more pages per magazine and would be willing to pay for it.

Posted: 12:15 pm on February 1st

Gnugs Gnugs writes: Funny! I hadn't really thought about it but I always work from cutlists. Sure you leave a little bit extra in critical dimensions to make sure things work out and like someone else said, FW could put the cutlist on the website if pages are at a premium.
The kicker that clicks in for me is that I have done many projects some of which have come out of suggestions in magazines and some from my own designs. I went back through my list and noticed that the only ones that I did do from magazines came from project plans that included cutlists -- none from FW.
Maybe I don't need to subscribe to FW at all and save money. After all, like your pages in the magazine, my finances are at a premium too.
Posted: 11:41 am on February 1st

Lane_Merrill Lane_Merrill writes: As a journeyman woodworker I have found that any smart woodworker always measures twice and cuts once. A very basic rule. The point is that I have never met a single person who does not make a mistake. A cutlist is a wise idea as it gives you the oportunity to double check your work. Nobody is immune to misreading a measurement. However a smart woodworker also double checks his cutlist to make sure his measurements are accurate before he starts his project. Even if he is using a computer program to make his project there may be a glitch in the coding of the program he is using. There are so many variables and it is time to return to basic woodworking skills.

Use a cutlist and refer to it often, it is a wise tool. Double check the cutlist to make sure the measurements are accurate and make any corrections that are neccessary. If you are using a formula then write that formula down so that you can refer to it. Use the tools that you have including cutlists and use COMMON SENSE.
Posted: 10:13 am on February 1st

DTH DTH writes: Boy! So many valid comments for and against (yes I did read 'em all).
In my 'Shop' (read - garage), my shelves, cupboards, drawers, stands et al, are all painted MDF glued 'n screwed. To keep everything uniform, I have cutlists. Need another cupboard? Grab the cutlist and make it.

BUT, that's NOT Fine Woodworking.

We all aspire to making the best furniture we can. Seldom do we make more than one of each piece. When we do - chairs for example - we will use cutlists to mill all the parts to size, chop the mortices and cut the tenons, leaving them slightly over-sized to be fitted later.
It's that last point that shows our skill at our craft. To know where to make allowances.
When creating a 'one-off' piece, we will use story rods, or mark directly onto the timber. Cutlists are not required. BUT, a purchase list is. When I shop for timber for THE project, I have a full list of parts, grouped into spiecies, thickness, width then length. I also have the drawings showing the front, sides, top, bottom and internal shelves and/or drawers. This allows me to keep track of any book-matched grain, or where I could use a special piece I found.

Should FWW include cutlists with projects?
Perhaps not in the magazine, online would be good and only if they are in metric ;) - 'cause that's what I use.
Perhaps an article or two on developing a project on paper. From inital sketches, through to joinery details and producing of purchase and cut lists.
Posted: 5:40 pm on January 31st

Marine30 Marine30 writes: I cannot believe all the complaints here - if you can't work out your own cutlist for the job you plan, or for the project you have seen in FWW and want to build, then you shouldn't be trying to build it. It's not rocket science: draw a plan; calculate dimensions; buy timber allowing for invariable wastage; build and adjust plans as things invariably work out a little different to plans. It's all part of the enjoyment of creating your own piece of work out of a beautiful piece of nature.
Posted: 1:27 am on January 29th

MarkAReed MarkAReed writes: Great comments here.
When I finally put my 150+ collection of Fine Woodworking magazines in my new office bookcase, I couldn't help notice that my oldest issue #52 from may 1985 had 11 more pages than #217.

Magazines must be a tough business these days with the Internet. Everything has changed.

If the info is available online, it really doesn't have to be published in the magazine, does it?

Every good project starts with gathering as much info as possible. Do your own cut list so that you can walk thru the project in your mind.

A side bar: I always clean my shop completely before I start any project.

I believe you must pay it forward.
Our immortality lies in the knowledge you leave behind.
Our mark in the world lives on in the things we create.
Posted: 9:48 am on January 28th

medicrs medicrs writes: I use the cut list as a referance point when I start a project. It tells me quickly how much material I need and if I find a grain pattern that I like, can I work it into the piece. also by looking at a cut list it will give you a idea of the best utilization of materials. also it helps you from coming up 1 board short. old school taught me 1/2 x 1 and cut once.
Posted: 8:17 am on January 28th

Periodcraftsmen Periodcraftsmen writes: I think this thread is just crazy. Are you serious about cutlist are a waste of space. Ask Phil Lowe if cut lists are waste. I bet you 1000.00 dollars that Phil will say cutlists are a must. If you are a skilled woodworker then everything will match the cut list to a -T-. I was trained to perform a rough & finish cutlist. In the rough cut list everything is a 1/2" wider and 1" longer than the finish dimension. With a cut list you are surely going to say several hours/days depending on the complexity of the piece at hand. This is just ridiculous....
Posted: 9:14 pm on January 27th

RWHPI1 RWHPI1 writes: Cutlists are helpful for sheetgood construction projects, but should not be construed as being totally accurate. Especially, when the dimensions of today's purchased lumber is so variable. They definitely assist on purchase estimates when going to the lumber yard, but after that they can become history. I have found that trying to follow some magazine cutlists is time-consuming and at times I have resulted in discarding their use. Also, unintentional errors by the list designer/publisher may tend to create material waste, or even ruin a project. In many cases, it's easier and takes less time to make my own custom list, in order to save material. An example: What if I have a "leftover" from a previous project? I'm sure not going to disregard the use, thus leaving me with another scrap. In that case, it tends to void the use of the provided cutlist.

If the project in the magazine is of interest to me, and did not include a cutlist, I would still proceed with the project.
Posted: 4:15 pm on January 27th

Peechee Peechee writes: Cut lists don't take up THAT much space! Why not include a disclaimer advising against milling all pieces at once? Personally I find them extremely helpful.
Posted: 8:15 pm on January 26th

Stew_wood Stew_wood writes: I disagree with the dismissive tone of the reply by the Editor to Austin Wade's enquiry re cutting lists.
As s former student of the TAFE (NSW, Australia) Technical College Cabinetmaking course we are taught to develop a cut list from the plans we have or draw ourselves. This is at least to ascertain the wood quantity/cost for the project.
Some correspondents have mentioned non-fitting drawer fronts as an example of erroneously cutting everything before you start, obviously a bad idea. After you do a cut list, the next thing you do is a job plan. On the job plan you can say what/when you cut parts that MUST fit. This solves the no-fit problem.
As to whether FW should include a cut list, I agree with at least one correspondent who said that it can be put on your web site for web subscribers under additional info. or a similar heading.
Posted: 7:57 pm on January 26th

AsaC AsaC writes: Great feedback here for us editors. Matt gave his take on this issue of cutlists in the magazine.

Here's what I would add. My biggest reason for leaving them out has always been that anyone can use our detailed, dimensioned, exploded drawings to make their own cutlist. That's what I do. And with the space a cutlist would consume, we can show you a technique that your couldn't figure out on your own. Also, cutlists encourage beginners to precut parts that shouldn't be precut, as Matt pointed out.

But maybe we were wrong. I'm going to put this question to a 1,300-member reader panel we have assembled. I think the idea of putting it online is a great one.

And I'll ask about materials estimates, too.

Thanks for this VERY helpful feedback. Sometimes you just have to ask.
--Asa Christiana
editor, FWW
Posted: 3:54 pm on January 26th

grbmds grbmds writes: The lesson to me from all of this. . . We all have a huge amount of time to write and read blog comments (me included). I think I'll try using some of that time to actually create the cutlist needed for my next project instead of arguing about the merits of a cutlist.
Posted: 1:46 pm on January 26th

benjamenjohnson benjamenjohnson writes: I don't buy this space in a magazine is at a premium argument. You have a website. If people want cut list put it on your website along with extra product photos and other info. Then put a link in the magazine article. You satisfy the reader and drive more traffic to your website.
Posted: 10:52 am on January 26th

NativeWoodLover NativeWoodLover writes: A cut-list encourages inexperienced woodworkers to try to use power tools to cut wood to a perfect dimension. As I learned to use hand tools, I began to understand how to cut close to final with power then to final with hand tools. On my current project I am using story sticks ~90% of the time, and I usually have no idea of the actual measurment dimension. It did take some courage to step out of the ruler box - but I just remind myself of what one of my mentor said: "it's just wood!"
Posted: 10:18 am on January 26th

csd125 csd125 writes: As a technology education teacher (wood shop), I find that having a very basic cut list is essential. I need that to know exactly how much material I need! However, when it comes to doing the exact cutting I don't really pay attention to the list any longer. I INSIST that the student have to measure (because, I don't know what anyone else has found, but high school kids don't measure well!!!) before they cut anything! While I like a basic cut list, using the cut list for anything other than purchasing lumber isn't the smartest thing ever. Or, at least that's what I teach my students!

And, thank you, for recognizing that some of those woodworkers are women!! I'm always sad when we women aren't recognized as woodworks, especially when I am trying to teach all the girls that they can do this too!!

Posted: 10:16 am on January 26th

Ed_Pirnik Ed_Pirnik writes: There's a great lesson here that rang a loud bell in my head when I read this post.

The bottom line is, one can't be a slave to a cut list. I can recall building one of my first projects from a plan and pre-cutting every component and piece of joinery to the exact dimensions of the cut list - then attempting to assemble the piece. Big mistake. Lots of my joinery failed to line up properly. One needs to "mark from reality" and not necessarily from a measured cut list.

I think the cut list is effective at the beginning of a project, when you're trying to figure out how much lumber you need, rough parts sizes, etc - but when it comes time to really craft joinery and assemble parts, a cut list can get you into a whole lot of trouble.

Some excellent points here.



Posted: 9:18 am on January 26th

catsclaw catsclaw writes: Oh , ... ...excuse me. It is "CUTLIST" not CULTIST...
I got confused/ confounded when I saw the name of M.Stewart coming to be associated with the usual sawdustiness themes of woodworking.
sorry .... I'll just go quietly back to my scribing and joinery.
Posted: 1:55 am on January 26th

CC_Smith CC_Smith writes: Oh My! Well, Matthew, you really got me fired up in regards to your question about the uselfulness of providing a cutlist. Yeah, and I know you will claim that you wrote the article to prove your point that cutlists play only a small part in the overall design and they are a waste of precious magazine space. Sadly, this appears to be typical of the attitudes of some of the editors, contributors and readers. While "Fine Woodworking" undoubtedly features some of the best and the most artistic projects, it is obviously geared more towards the "Master Builder / Designer" who in my opinion, can be a little arrogant about some things like this at times. They probably feel that once all their careful planning is done and all the cutting is finished, they merely have to assemble the project according to their sketches, preferring to "freelance" the remainder of the project. I would argue that maybe you need to learn to utilize the cutlist as a more integral part of the overall design than you do now.

The only way that I can even contemplate building some of the projects is only with the inclusion of a cutlist. Yes, I hear you when you say that "cutlists are good in the early stages...", "But they're no good once you start building". And it probably isn't needed on a simple project with just a few pieces. But I believe you are missing some other points to using a cutlist. How do you keep track of several dozen similar sized pieces if you don't mark them with numbers from your cutlist? In addition to using it in the early stages, you should be making notes and updating the dimensions on that cutlist as you work along. This way when you adjust a dimension on one piece, it is easier to see what other pieces will also need to be adjusted. I agree with you that "If I just cut it according to some theoretical dimension, it might not fit" - it probably won't. That is where the craftsman part comes in. But if you have 6 similar pieces that only differ by less than an inch, how will you know which one to use on the partially completed carcass after setting aside your now useless cutlist? I would consult the cutlist to see which piece I should be marking the actual dimensions on.

You state that "First I sketch and sketch and sketch until I have a good understanding of a design I intend to build" I too sketch out the design, but maybe I don't have as good as of a "Master" eye as you must have. I need the cutlist to show all the pieces and their relationship to the final design. Most times by carefully studying the cutlist (rather than blindly cutting), I am able to better understand the overall design and see things that weren't apparent in either the pictures or other diagrams. You don't really provide full measured plans, and I don't expect that, only the excellent pictures & diagrams which are limited by the neccesity to not devote a whole issue to one project and a cutlist.
I also use the cutlist and sketches to refresh my memory when I haven't had time to work on the project for several days. I learned this a long time ago. If you aren't working on a project every day, then quickly reviewing the "plans" before resuming work will save having to use the cutlist to re-cut another piece for the one I just ruined because I thought it was the correct piece when it wasn't. This is true for any project anywhere that has any complexity to it.

And what about when you are done building it? If you wanted to make another one a year or two later, do you start from your clean cutlist again, only to make the same mistakes and adjustments again for something that didn't quite work the first time you built it? For me the cutlist serves as a rough cutting guide, bill of material, ECO list, and a history of the problems that occurred during the construction in addition to the sketches which are similarily marked-up with "red-lines". Maybe the answer is to still include them, just make them even smaller.

Posted: 1:18 am on January 26th

raybachle raybachle writes: I think it can be all shortened up as ..... a shopping list. That is what people are pretty much using the cut list as anyways. Just rename it.
Posted: 12:23 am on January 26th

Hyrum Hyrum writes: Thank you all for your passionate comments. As a reader of wood magazines (and a very limited builder), I have learned a lot from all these comments. I would like to build more but... Anyway, I now know not to trust a cut list except for general layout & dimensioning. I always assumed that the publishers of this and other magazines were experts in their fields and knew what they were doing and the diagrams were accurate - (with the exception of WOOD magazine that invariably prints a correction to a drawing on their next issue - which I appreciate!) A little more detail on the exploded drawings would be nice as well as the sentence frequently mentioned telling how much material the author used in the initial building. Then, I can buy a piece of wood at a time and eventually have enough for the project. Some of us are on very tight budgets but still love the smell of freshly cut wood. A cut list on this "free" part would still be very nice. Thanks to you all.
Posted: 11:32 pm on January 25th

hippyengineer hippyengineer writes: The first project I did was a chest of drawers. Since I am an engineer (like a lot of my fellow woodworkers) I treated it like a set of machined parts to be assembled. I made a great 3D model, made part drawings with all of the dimensions, cut all of the parts and then tried to assemble it. I emphasize tried. I made a lot of mistakes on that project and soon learned about relative dimensioning and all of the inaccuracies involved with building with an organic material. We call it a tolerance stackup in machining and fabrication. All of the small errors eventually stackup and lead to larger errors. I'm still just an amateur and I have not made a cutlist since the first project.
Posted: 11:12 pm on January 25th

Ron_USMC Ron_USMC writes: A cut list, like a complex Marine Corps amphibious operation plan, is designed to provide as much information bearing on the operation as possible, allowing necessary planning decisions to be made. Then immediately after the first shot is fired, the plan takes a back seat to the action at hand.

So FW, provide a cut list, and then allow us to utilize it as the situation dictates.
Posted: 10:06 pm on January 25th

Dehardy Dehardy writes: Your comments are well taken, but I agree that there are a lot of features that could be viewed online. A cutlist is just one example. Many magazines are now including barcodes for smartphone scanners. These could link directly to online resources, including cutlists, more detailed drawings of components, expanded discussions regarding techniques used, links to older articles relating to similar projects or techniques, etc.
Posted: 10:01 pm on January 25th

magerbak magerbak writes: How about making cutlists available online instead of in the magazine?
Posted: 9:40 pm on January 25th

philmm philmm writes: Sign me up as someone who would like to see a quick note about the amount of material needed for projects.
Posted: 9:37 pm on January 25th

Bioman Bioman writes: I have always found cut lists useful. I don't need an editor at FWW proffering his preferences as an absolute. As a consumer who can do with or without FWW depending on its relative value to me, i would like to see cut lists.
Posted: 9:05 pm on January 25th

a_e_b a_e_b writes: One of the more frustrating missing features of FWW is the cutlist. I'm a moderately experienced woodworker, but as others have mentioned, cut lists provide a starting point. The fact that some users cut all their pieces using a cut list instead of, for example, building a carcass and fitting the internal parts is a matter of education, not a reason for abstinence.

As others have noted, FWW is at least partly in business to educate it's readers. Not including a fundamental planning technique (in the magazine or online) that in part, models how experts think about a project, misses a point about what is educational. I couldn't imagine doing a story problem as a beginner in a math class without someone defining just what is a story problem, what are the important elements, and how those elements are interrelated.

Please include cut sheets with possible materials choices somewhere in the magazine or on the site.

Also, I enjoyed reading through the good thoughts and thoughtful comments from other readers.
Posted: 8:23 pm on January 25th

golfdude golfdude writes: Personally if it's magazine space we're all worried about, how bout a compromise? Put cut lists in and get 1/3 of the stinkin' ads out of the pages. That ought to free up a little space!!!
Posted: 7:22 pm on January 25th

takashi takashi writes: Personally I'm enough of an amateur that I find cut list very helpful to start with. I'm inclined not to figure in enough kerf etc. I live in the sticks so I can't just pop down to the lumber yard to pick up what I didn't take into account. I have gotten past the fact that 8 1 ft pieces does not make up an 8 ft piece but not by much.
Posted: 6:25 pm on January 25th

tenonator tenonator writes: I have been building furniture for 35 years and have never used a cutlist. In reading other comments, I can't believe how many people assume that everybody does this or almost everybody does that. The hardwood lumber I purchase is just planed enough so I can see the figure of the wood, it comes in different widths and different lengths. A board may be 5" on one end and be 5 3/4" on the other.

There are sometimes checks on the ends and sometimes the checks may go farther into the board than what is first apparent.

Even if you buy lumber from say a Home Depot that is exactly 8' long and 12" wide when you rip the board it may bow so much you may lose an inch in rejoining it. What happens to your cut list then?

Learn to estimate!

I actually do estimate the square footage If I have a cabinet that is frame and panel sides and frame and panel doors in front, I don't worry about the over lap of the doors or the cope and stick. If my rails are only slightly shorter than my Stiles, I count them as all stiles and use the longer length. If the rails are half the size, they're 2 for 1 count the length will be which ever is longer 2 rails or 1 stile. Maybe it's 3 rails per one stile. The bottom line is I need, say 16 pieces of wood that are 3" wide by 30". I'll look for boards approx. 6 1/2" to 7".
The length should be a multiple of 30". Panels are wider and I would estimate them in the same way. If a door panel was slightly wider than a side panel I would estimate them in length and try to find lumber that was wide enough for the widest panel and not worry about the waste!

I have also gone the opposite way. If I have lumber that is that is not quite wide enough to make 2" framing stiles, I may make them 1 7/8" to get the most out of the board. I then would make the rails 1/4" longer. Unless you are duplicating a design that is side by side with inset doors, it won't make a noticeable difference.

If I made a cut list for each and every project I made I would have lost interest in woodworking a long time ago.

Posted: 6:10 pm on January 25th

Farkled Farkled writes: I would like to see them online. I agree that they are a waste of magazine space. I think a tighter integration between the magazine and online resources would be a very good thing. If drawings were done for the article, make them available online. Same thing for additional technique photographs and/or videos. The more you put online the easier it is to sell pricier advertising - especially if include hot links to all the cool tools that could be used at each point.

You could expand each technique to discussions of WHY that technique as opposed to the others that could also be used. Don't have a Leigh FMT with which to cut the mortise? Well then here's an example of how to cut a mortise by hand with links to the books you sell on the subject (should also be e-books for instant download) and a list of the chisel manufacturers who bought the space.

Posted: 5:53 pm on January 25th

santafewoodworker santafewoodworker writes: In the early days of Fine Woodworking project drawings were often printed as orthographic projections which is the standard professional practice. I find drawings in this mode much more useful than the exploded schematics that the magazine now favors. As for cut-lists. In my shop the practice is to include a Rough (length plus 1", thickness plus 1/4") cut list on the same sheet as the full-sized drawing. You need the list to buy or pull your stock and to accomplish the rough milling. You confirm finish dimensions by coordinating with the full-size drawing and he piece as its being built. If space is lacking to include a proper drawing along with a cut-list this information could be posted on line.
Posted: 3:52 pm on January 25th

shopfan shopfan writes: FWW, unless they have changed their direction, is not totally focused in its editorial policy to only support the top level expert woodworkers of the world. There is a spectrum of paying readers from beginner to top-of-the-line woodworking artisans. It would seem a shame if the policy is changed to exclude tools, like some form of cutlist or material list, to satisfy only the upper end of this spectrum. Someone mentioned that this seems to be a "dogmatic" approach. I would add "elitist", since it is obviously exclusionary for those in the early to mid stages of their woodworking development.

I'm sure that those who were trained in the top level furniture training schools had to learn to work without many of the "cheats" that we get from the magazines, and maybe that is what has helped to make their work so good. But, most of us didn't have that opportunity. Some of us work in small crowded shops with limited space. Sometimes we have to travel long distances to buy good lumber, and in these poor economic times have limited cash and need to conserve purchases to the bare minimum. Choosing a project is quite often based on whether we can afford it rather than whether we have the skills to build it. I certainly fall into that category. I have no less interest in creating high quality furniture than the top guys. I have no less interest in developing my skills to the craftsman level than the experts do either. That is why I read FWW and pay 2X the price of other woodworking magazines.

A cutlist helps a woodworker like me to estimate the costs, the size of raw material I will need to buy, and the size that material will be when I have to transport it in my personal car. When I go to the lumberyard, I can carry the cutlist to help in making decisions based on what material is available. If the cutlist is assuming we have 8 inch boards but the available stock is only in 6 inch widths, I can visualize what changes I need to make in terms of quantity of each material on the spot, and quickly. Just having a parts list certainly wouldn't do for that for me, at least not as quickly as I need when I am at the store.

The argument about the misuse of cutlists by people wanting to cut all the parts out in advance according to the cutlist comes across as talking down to a large number of your readers, which is pretty rude. We aren't stupid. Some of us may be a bit ill informed, and so there is an opportunity for FWW to educate on the subject. Some will learn, some won't. Refusing to include what many may find to be a useful tool for this reason is like a parent never letting their school age kids use a table knife because they might cut themselves. Teach the kid how to use the knife! The top level woodworkers may be a bit bored by such educational sidebars, but you need to judiciously provide for the whole spectrum of subscribers if you plan to continue to grow your publication. You don't have to "dumb down" the articles and projects, that would be a disaster. Just provide the tools that all levels of skill feel they need.

As to whether the cutlist should take up editorial space in the magazine or be provided online at this site, that should be a decision that best suits FWW's editorial, budgetary and sales needs. The partslist and cutlist should still be provided in one or the other. Purchased and downloaded plans should always include a part and cutlist as these should not be a cost issue for FWW and add value to the purchase for those of us who prefer to have the lists.

Best magazine in the field. Lets keep it that way, for all of us..

Posted: 3:37 pm on January 25th

rgdaniel rgdaniel writes: Just call it a "rough cut list" and offer it as a download for those serious about building the piece. It's useful information. The warnings about the dangers of treating it as gospel, though, are also useful! Relative dimensioning is certainly a core concept.
Posted: 3:27 pm on January 25th

CaptainSkinnyBeard CaptainSkinnyBeard writes: Let’s say, for example, that you want to build a bookshelf with pine shelf boards from the home center and join the pieces with biscuits and attach a plywood back with glue and a brad nailer. All the parts for this can be cut in advance from a cut list and assembled like a model.

Now let’s say that you are making a chair with riven legs and a seat contoured by eye with travishers and a compass plane. There is no need for a cut list for this.

If you are going to make a table with dovetails, tenons and a drawer from wood with some knots and interesting grain then you are somewhere between the two above examples. The overall dimensions can be cut out to precise dimensions but the parts need to be made to fit each other. This is not obvious when we first start working with wood.

I enjoy designing what I am going to build as much as I enjoy building it. Many folks have no interest in designing and they want to get on with building something.

When I design something on the computer I enter precise dimensions for tenons, mortise depths etc because they help me envision the building process before I actually start building. This doesn’t mean that all the parts will end up exactly as designed.

Coming from an engineering background the exploded views in FWW look incomplete to me. No project would ever go from engineering to construction with such limited drawings. If I choose to build something from someone else’s design I would like to see all the dimensions. More information is better than less.

Posted: 2:46 pm on January 25th

MKenney MKenney writes: I'll pass along the many request for us to include a note on the total Bd. Ft. (or pieces of sheet goods) needed for a given project. It certainly doesn't take up much space.

Also, I'm glad this has sparked so many comments. It's always a good thing to discuss topics like this. Folks who have been around for a while have their ways of working and understand how to buy lumber, but new folks don't.

I'd like to give my two cents on that topic, though. Personally, I don't find knowing the estimated number of Bd. Ft. very helpful. I don't go to the lumber yard and just pick out boards until I have the right number of Bd. Ft. (I doubt many people--if anyone-does.) Rather, I do what my friend Kelly Dunton does (I linked to his approach). I go and pick out boards that are aesthetically pleasing, have the right kind of grain and color, and will give me the parts I need. After I do that, I quickly calculate the Bd. Ft. and know exactly how much it will cost.

As for estimating the cost before I go, I must admit that I have come to a point in my woodworking where I have resolved that the cost of the wood doesn't matter. I want to make the best possible piece I can, and I'll buy the wood that is necessary.
Posted: 2:25 pm on January 25th

KnotNow KnotNow writes: I don't bother with a cutlist at all. I have built enough projects to understand how tiny errors can accumulate by pre-cutting too much. At least in my work! As was mentioned above, I would simply like a dimensioned-exploded view that shows, in general terms only, how something fits together.
Posted: 2:08 pm on January 25th

jawhorse jawhorse writes: I sort of agree with the FWW cutlist argument as even in my own designs, my cutlist goes out the window once I've got the material rough cut.

However, when looking at someone else's project, it is extremely important to be able to assess the feasibility of the project (costs, materials, etc.).

To this end, short of a true cutlist, a summary of parts would be valuable so I don't have to pore through the drawings to cull that information myself.

Also of value would be a clearer notion of the initial stock/material I would expect to need. Others have suggested this as well. Sort of a summary of "we used 47 full sheets of baltic birch, 250 6"w x 8"l 8/4 bubinga boards, about 472 stainless steel 3 1/2" hi-lo threaded panhead pocket screws and a single piece of 12"w x 12'l african ebony" *chuckle*
Posted: 1:28 pm on January 25th

DanW999 DanW999 writes: Agree with post from brdavis
Posted: 1:21 pm on January 25th

ellopt ellopt writes: I like the cut list also. As stated what will be put in the publication instead? More advertising? I don't think a few pages of cut lists is really going to make a difference.

Posted: 12:55 pm on January 25th

grbmds grbmds writes: Part of the fun and satisfaction of building a piece of furniture, cabinet, or anything is to be able to make that piece yours. Generating a cut list would imply that the woodworker doesn't want to really do that. For a true beginner, it would be a great lesson to be able to generate a cutlist and build exactly the piece described. I think that this can be done based on almost all drawings I've seen in FWW. Even if you build the piece exactly as is, it would be almost impossible to make it with every piece being exactly the same size as the drawing. Most people don't own tools that are quite that accurate or have eyes that can be used to measure that accurately. It would be extremely lucky if, by using the cut list supplied the only problem encountered would be that you cut the pieces a little too long. I'm not that lucky. Maybe FWW could supply a cutlist from their website on demand for those who still want this feature.
Posted: 12:49 pm on January 25th

nealaron nealaron writes: Most of my customers hand me a crude drawing or pictures from a few magazines and ask me to build them "something like this" with some size constraints built in. No exploded drawings, no cutlists. What a luxury a cutlist is - if you can trust it. Unlike the previous poster who recalibrates all his tools and mic's his wood after milling, I don't treat my wood shop like a machine shop. Wood is alive, it's inconsistent, it moves. That's it beauty and its charm. I like to shape it with handplanes more than routers. Generally, once the basic structure of the piece is done, I put away the tape measure, ruler and micrometer and use a story pole or transfer the marks directly to the piece being cut.
When I go to the lumber store I have generated my own cut list and have added 10 to 20% to what I think I need. If I'm lucky I have some leftover material for a future project. If not, I go back to the store. Generating plans and cut lists are an integral part of making furniture and is essential for us to learn by doing it. I don't think the magazine does us any favors by doing this for us.
Posted: 12:47 pm on January 25th

brdavis brdavis writes: So, I see that we've determined that individuals work differently. And that whether they're newbies, or have vast years of experience, does NOT determine whether they use, don't use, approve of, or disapprove of, need or don't need, a cut-list.


But we, everyone of us, find it convenient to know how much lumber (and especially sheet goods), we need before we head out to the retailer, right? So adding that small amount of info to the magazine article, canNOT be "wasted space" (and as several have pointed out), and IS useful for the initial purchase and choice of wood (and perhaps, making a quick guess as to whether we can afford it, whether there's enough of the appropriate material - whether solid or sheet - and saving us time & fuel pre-project). Two lines in an article simply aren't going to take up that much space.

Which means one of the premises of the FW editors is simply incorrect: a line or two specifying the sheets needed, and/or the total board foot of a project, isn't simply "wasted column space" at all: it's absolutely vital to EVERY project, for EVERY woodworker.


And as these totals are MUCH easier to estimate from a cut-list, another (implied) premise falls by the way side. (The implication being that: cutlists, or layout lists for sheetgoods, is - somehow - an additional task during the design-and-drawing phase. No, they're not. And decent software can make this either automatic, or - at least - easy.)

And - as several have pointed out - what may at least be arguable for a printed publication re: available space, is simply nonsense when it comes to the digital world: server space is cheap-cheap-cheap, bandwidth is rarely a limiting [cost] factor, and so the costs and size limitations for including a dimensioned cut list (of ANY scale, up to and including full size, as far as that goes), simply do not apply. Indeed, the argument there is irrelevant.

Further: since access to a cutlist might perhaps be an inducement to pay for online membership (or to buy a plan), some marketing manager at FW is surely not doing his job by not pointing this egregious lack of incentive (at relatively little-to-no coast) out.

So what's left of the heart of the REAL argument?

This: "Well, the biggest danger of a cutlist is that it might seduce you into milling all of your parts to their final dimensions before you start building. And that is a recipe for disaster."

And perhaps this: "Eventually, it comes out that instead of fitting parts to the case as it was built, he (or she) cut them all out ahead of time".

...which can be - always - addressed, for the benefit of those who need it, whether craftsmen with years of experience, or newbies & intermediates to whom the concept is entirely new, by a single caveat (on the cutlist itself):

NOTE: The cutlist is provided for you as a suggestion only, and should not be relied upon for final dimensions. We HIGHLY recommend that you cut-to-the-build other words, the final dimensioning of a cut piece should be laid out as you assemble the parts.

And, since this caveat would be with the online cutlist itself, you could even provide a hotlink to this article. Which MORE than adequately explains, even to beginners and the rest of us, why cutlists aren't to be trusted for final cuts. And, coincidentally, how an experienced craftsman, AVOIDS even minor cutting mistakes.

...seems like a no-brainer to me. Hardly worth arguing about.

Posted: 12:37 pm on January 25th

johncbrownmd johncbrownmd writes: I agree with previous comments that a cut list should be available on line for subscribers and for folks who bought the issue and want a cut list - one could give a code in the article to access the cut list online.
That would be the best of both worlds.
Posted: 12:06 pm on January 25th

zyx_301 zyx_301 writes: A really interesting discussion. As a hobbyist with years of practice but, regrettably, only a medium level of skill (I certainly don't create my own CAD drawings) I like a cut list. It's very helpful at the lumberyard and in cutting pieces to rough dimensions. I take your point about potential over-reliance on cut lists, but it's always struck me as a bit lazy and unhelpful not to include one. I like the suggestion about including it on the free part of your website if the governing issue is magazine space.
Posted: 12:04 pm on January 25th

dboetb dboetb writes: Would some one please buy up Taunton Press and get FWW back on track?
Posted: 12:04 pm on January 25th

TonyMcG TonyMcG writes: Cut lists are a helpful cross-check for me, being relatively new, to ensure I am interpreting the design or project correctly.

Even now, I rarely then use them for anything other than initial purchase or planning but they do serve a purpose.

I must add, though, that a cut list without a kerf allowance is a bit of a waste of time, especially if the components are "stacked" onto a piece where, with the addition of kerf, the cut list can't be achieved.

I don't think they need to take space in the magazine, as you say, I would much rather see that space devoted to another tip/technique segment but an online repository would be great.
Posted: 12:03 pm on January 25th

JustAbout JustAbout writes: A cut list should be digital content for paid members. It is very useful for getting a sense of material requirements and how to cut things, especially sheet goods, but I have found cut lists rarely work out perfectly. For me, sequence of cut makes a significant impact on cut lists, and no generated list ever gets cut sequence correct, even when I generate them with my own brain.

A short list of required materials, as described in posts by other members, would be helpful in print, and would take a very small amount of space.

My son and I are currently making a relatively large Chifforobe-style dresser that he will take with him. It is of my own design, and I generated cut lists but did not take them to the store, just a list of needed items. While at the store, we found a unique piece of 5/4 lumber that was perfect to cut four corner posts (a slight design change). All of the cut lists went out the window after that, and I regenerated them when we got home. We are using straight-grain oak, so grain figure is relatively easy to look for at the store. I would have taken the cut list if I wanted to book match, or get interesting grain patterns on the drawer fronts.

I do measure from the build to get accurate sizes, but I find that they should not vary from the plan more than 1/64". I have learned it is (generally) better to fix or replace miscuts than to try to adjust everything else to fit. If my cuts are not accurate, the craftsman in me should want to learn why. Quality measuring tools (square, micrometer, rule) have made my life far more enjoyable.

Here are rules I follow before I build each project:

Adjust the table saw. Accurate cuts prevent disasters. Buy or build accurate table saw extension tables. Use wax on sliding parts. Replace a defective fence or miter gage. Clean everything and grease appropriately.

Adjust (or build a new) flat goods cutting system. Use wax on sliding parts.

Adjust the jointer. Make certain that both tables are perfectly flat to each other and that all three blades project properly, etc. Adjust the fence perfectly square with the table.

Adjust the planer and outfeed and infeed tables. Mike the wood after jointing and planing. It should be consistent. If it isn't figure out what you are doing wrong.

I have the above suggestions on a small card I hang from the table saw. I always read them and check them before I start a project. I am amazed how often expensive equipment needs a little loving help to work perfectly. When it gets it, my projects go a lot closer to plan. And to be honest, I can check every thing in less than 15 minutes. Adjustments take longer, but much less time than fighting inaccurate cuts.
Posted: 10:52 am on January 25th

songbirdfeeder songbirdfeeder writes: This is exactly why I don't subscribe to your magazine. I NEED a cutlist. The cutlist lets me see, at a glance, how much lumber, and the type of lumber, so I can calculate an approximate cost of building the project. I can also tell if the lumber will fit in my vehicle since I don't have the capability of hauling a whole 4x8 sheet.
Posted: 10:46 am on January 25th

wdcraftr1 wdcraftr1 writes: Like premiebabyboomer stated, there are a dozen woodworking magazines out there, so why ask an advanced publication to now offer basic instruction. That's like buying a blank canvas and then asking the company to now start putting in lines and numbers for you, when there are those types available already from another company. Would you buy an advanced sheet of music when you are just starting to take music lessons? Quit crying, and study up, or get more basic projects..Just a fact of life..
Posted: 10:42 am on January 25th

rwyoung rwyoung writes: You don't need a cut list. "Whining" that you don't know how to read a plan or even compute lumber quantities doesn't fly. If you don't know how, LEARN HOW. It is that simple.

If you are working from a plan not your own but which has projection drawings, isometric or exploded drawings, get out your Big Chief tablet and a sharp pencil. Write down each piece you see in the plan in a column on the left of the paper. To the right, its dimensions as a whole (i.e. the full size you need to cut out any joinery). Then compute the board feet. Add those up and add your fudge factor.

The fudge factor is the ONLY thing should fret about. It will depend on a multitude of factors ranging from skill level to lumber species, grade, your budget, stock thickness (all 4/4 and mill down or buy some 8/4 and resaw), etc.

With your own material list in hand select the lumber. Take along some chalk and a ruler or tape. If you can pick individual boards, do so and mark out parts. If your supplier doesn't allow you back in the yard, make friends with the yard boss & staff. Explain what you want and they will help you. Coffee and donuts may lubricate the gears of industry here. If you mail order your lumber, call them up on the phone and discuss, don't just punch buttons and click the mouse. Lumber suppliers of any sort worthy of your patronage WILL HELP YOU.

Finally, know that you are going to make mistakes. Some big, some small but all will teach you something and nearly all of them can be recovered from by modifying the design or even just getting a little extra when you order your material. Worst thing that happens if you get extra material is a well stocked shorts and scrap box for small projects!
Posted: 10:38 am on January 25th

Will_Matney Will_Matney writes: Instead of providing cut lists, why not simply state what material was purchased for the job? How many sheets of 3/4" Birch plywood, how many 1X's, and so on. I think we, as builders, can figure out the rest. If there's a little left over, who can gripe?

I have seen cut lists for plywood, with all the parts lain out, but they didn't take into consideration the saw blades kerf width. By the time you finish cutting, you could lose 1/2" or more due to the kerf, as it's according to how may cuts are made.
Posted: 10:37 am on January 25th

gmiller25 gmiller25 writes: Personally I prefer cutlists and layout diagrams, especially when planning stock purchase -- whether sheet goods or board feet lumber. However, there is a major problem with some of these published items -- people forget to include SAW KERFS in the overall measurements. It's very frustrating to end up short on the last piece (one or more dimensions), because some idiot didn't keep adding in the 1/8" lost each time the saw blade cuts through the stock. Having both cut list and diagram help in double checking "measure twice and cut once"
Posted: 10:36 am on January 25th

DustyTrails DustyTrails writes: I much prefer dimensioned drawings to cutlists.
Posted: 10:34 am on January 25th

mustangmarine mustangmarine writes: Yes, cut lists are a waste. Basic dimensions are helpful. But beyond that, different construction techniques, as well as some of the points mentioned in the article (different dado depths, etc.) make cut lists more harmful than helpful.
Posted: 10:25 am on January 25th

littlej littlej writes: If you like using cut lists, use 'em. If you don't like using cut lists, don't.
Posted: 10:20 am on January 25th

sidial01 sidial01 writes: Speaking as probably one of the most "green" people reading this, for me, at least, the cut list is a very useful thing. I've passed over collecting a plan because it didn't include a cut list, and I don't have the skill yet to be able to look at an exploded view and figure out what pieces came from what. The exploded view is very helpful for figuring out how those pieces go together, but not how to _get_ those pieces.

In my very few (one large (computer desk) and two much smaller projects), I've used the cutlist as the shopping list, and the sketch as my guide on how it goes together. But woodcraft seems to be like cooking - I never follow it exactly. (Following things exactly is usually a recipe for disaster (pun intended).)

An additional reason cut lists are useful: I only have a small sedan to put wood into, and I don't have a setup of any kind, not even a workbench yet. I only have a table saw and a couple of plastic (wobbly) sawhorses in the storage shed. So I need to have an idea of what I'm cutting a piece of plywood into, so I can get the store do it for me, so I can even get it home and into pieces small enough for me to manage by myself.

So I guess the question is: Are you wanting to ONLY cater to skilled and knowledgeable woodworkers, or are you wanting to draw in newbies like myself, who need a bit of extra hand-holding? Print a caveat if need be, to double-and-triple check the numbers beforehand. Or a notation "you can find the cut list at this web-address" and provide a URL. A few kb of data on a webserver is less expensive than printing it, I'm sure.
Posted: 10:14 am on January 25th

Yettiman Yettiman writes: I agree with mkrok and shrink2 It's quite useful to have a approximate quantities of the various materials used.

So rather than a full cutlist my vote would go for a rough buying guide


Posted: 10:14 am on January 25th

jpierce jpierce writes: Yeah, another agreement here with the multitude of others; I don't need, (or particularly want) a detailed cutlist, but a quick "we built this using 4 sheets of 1/2" cabinet ply, and roughly 30 board feet of lumber.", One sentence. Perhaps two after the caveat about individual results varying, or something.

Still leaves me to figure out how much I actually need, which obviously depends on the quality and sizes of each of piece of lumber, etc; and how to get those pieces out of what I have, but at least gives me an idea.
Posted: 10:03 am on January 25th

NickManley NickManley writes: +1 for shrink2! If I have to go through a drawing (or sketchup) process, which I'm not particularly good at and therefore don't like, before I can start on the project, then I'm less inclined to get to the woodworking, which I really like.

Just tell me how much of which lumber you used, along with the exploded view. I can handle the rest. A short paragraph vs. a quarter or half page of cutlist.
Posted: 9:54 am on January 25th

MarieWJ MarieWJ writes: Please, include the cut lists. As others have already stated they provide a starting point. Some of the cut list can be used almost as stated. As for the finner pieces (i.e. drawers, cabinets, etc.) they are just a guideline. I over cut the pieces then slowly cut each piece, sometimes multiple cuts, to get them to fit correctly (or cut to fit that's pleasing to the eye). Thank you.
Posted: 9:50 am on January 25th

sprucecarver sprucecarver writes: I totally agree with the idea of using magazine space for content other than cutlists. While it is necessary to have a list of the sizes needed for parts when selecting wood for a project, generating that list for yourself, ideally from the drawings you've made of the project, is a key step in understanding what building the project will involve.

It's much easier, cheaper and less frustrating to figure out how a project needs to be built on a drawing as you create the drawing than to figure out the details while actually building the project.
Posted: 9:40 am on January 25th

preemiebabyboomer preemiebabyboomer writes: As a hobbyist who has been building furniture for for over 30 years, I fully agree with the editorial position you have taken. There are some hobbyists who are primarily looking for the satisfaction of saying "I built this". They would be better served by relying upon magazines that provide cut-lists. For hobbyists that really want to learn the craft of woodworking, FWW is the magazine that will more closely meet their needs. This is not snobbery. It is just a fact. Some people enjoy painting by numbers. Others want to paint on a blank canvass. Amen
Posted: 9:38 am on January 25th

jashadow jashadow writes: PLEASE KEEP THE CUT LISTS! This give me an idea of what boards to buy and how to use them. Most of the time, I will have extra boards around to use for some parts, but buying correctly leaves me with extra pieces again. Some of these give me extra little projects to work on later.

More importantly however, with the exception of the first cut I make, I ALWAYS measure the other cuts. I'm not very good at making parts to order, so if I don't measure, I'll have prats that don't fit.

Yes, by all means, keep the cut lists
Posted: 9:38 am on January 25th

Brundo Brundo writes: Hi Matthew,

seems to me most people, at least those who find necessary to respond to your article, agree with you, but I do not. Few questions: why did we invent cut list at the first place?; Isn't primary purpose of the cut list to get an overall picture what material we need? Isn't this the best way to avoid missing some material and not to build to the detail from it? The woodworkers who are well organized appriciate cut list. When I go to do some project from your magazin or say WoodSmith I do not expect to recreate the drawings and bill of material.
Posted: 9:26 am on January 25th

cocobean9 cocobean9 writes: I like the idea of cut a list,one mistake and you blame the cut list people. It's better for to use own brain ,it healthier and you have to own up to your own mistakes and can't blame someone which is the easier way out. You will be a better woodworker from the experience. Tom
Posted: 9:03 am on January 25th

saschafer saschafer writes:
I agree with mkrok and shrink2 that what's more useful than a cutlist is a set of approximate quantities of the various materials used.


Posted: 9:00 am on January 25th

Tim_38 Tim_38 writes: why would you need a cutlist if you have a dimensioned drawing- even just an isometric?
Posted: 8:36 am on January 25th

Bob Gre Bob Gre writes: A cut list is certainly helpful only in giving an idea of total material needed. I find them useful in estimating the amount of each type wood needed. I always add 30% to the total list and never cut to it. I use a drawing that I have made from your prints or other sources print. My mother used to tell me I was perfect! That was the only thing she was ever wrong about. I make mistakes on my own prints and I made my living reading and proofing prints. How can I complain about yours being wrong, they're no worse than my own. Include them it does help a lot even to the pro, BUT. Add a note saying the dimensions should be checked before cutting and to always leave a little extra for shrinkage after cutting and material aging in the shop. Bob G.
Posted: 8:29 am on January 25th

DougStowe DougStowe writes: I certainly agree with Matt. Cut lists can be useful for getting a sense of what is involved in a project and the materials required, but they also convey a false sense of security that leads beginning woodworkers to difficulties and disappointment. Even when the cut list is perfectly accurate, there are variations in the ways we measure and set up. Those variations add up over full width or length of an assembly, and the greater the complexity of a project, the more likely following a cut list will lead to disaster.

Cut lists tend to present woodworking as an over simplification. Just cut to this size and everything fits? Machines might work like that but human beings are not machines. We make mistakes and recover from those mistakes, and in doing so, reveal the best in ourselves. We discover things along the way that lead us to being better woodworkers.

So, good advice to publishers is put them in with a warning to readers as to how they are best not used or followed too close. On advice to readers, use a cut list for your first steps in defining the scale of a project, but then use your tape measure and common sense for the rest of it. And please don't think that you can just start out by cutting the parts to size as listed in the cut list and expect them to fit. They more than likely won't.
Posted: 8:15 am on January 25th

Cincinnati10 Cincinnati10 writes: I do a combination. However, I don't trust someone else's cutlist. I always double check dimensions to make sure the cutlist is correct even before rough cutting parts. I confess I have rough cut all parts from my cutlist. I cut parts oversize first and then cut to final dims. I generally final cut outside parts first and then check measurements and final cut the mating parts.

Although mistakes can be made in the cut list so that even a rough cut could be grossly wrong, my understanding is that programs like Sketchup that can create a cutlist from the design, so the rough dim should be correct. Perhaps someone who uses Sketchup can comment. I am just learning the program. Of course it can't correct for errors or wood movements.

I realize this is a lot of "coulds & shoulds".

As far as printing the cutlist in the magazine, skip it. Make it available as a download.
Posted: 7:53 am on January 25th

mkrok mkrok writes: I like cutlists only for sheet goods. It's nice to know that I know I'm going to need 5 shhets of that expensive plywood instead of 5. This stuff is expensive, and I don't have the room i my shop for too much extra. However, I only use the cutlist for ballbark dimensions and rarely use them to cut piecec to exact size. It would be nice to see what ws used in a project;
"We used 3 sheets of 3/4 Baltic Birch plywood, 1/2 sheet 1/4 baltic birch plywoord, and approx imatly 20 board feet of solid stock."
Something like that. I do agree however that detailed sketchup models should be paid for, however included in the members only section for paid online members.
Posted: 6:49 am on January 25th

B.L. Zeebub B.L. Zeebub writes: Cutlists require a tape measure and therein lies the rhubarb. Early on in my woodworking life I discovered that cutlists can be wrong and there's nothing quite like cutting something too small after having considered the cutlist as holy writ and NOT bringing enough lumber to the project. It's enough to make you curse the Gods. Or at least the guy who put the cutlist together. As for the magazine, the exploded view is perfect. FWW does it right and their illustrations are much preferred to the lifeless sterility of a Sketchup rendering.

So when it comes to cutlists, just say no.
Posted: 6:19 am on January 25th

shrink2 shrink2 writes: For me, the woodworking is mostly a journey to have fun and usually end up with a nice finished product. Though the full sketch up and drawing idea is clearly the ideal, that level of precision before I purchase rough lumber would keep me and my personality from starting a lot of projects.

There was a recent article on the lap desk, I believe, that simply estimated the project as needing "6 to 7 board feet of lumber." With such a simple phrase I can get a better idea of whether I have wood in the shop or need to purchase lumber, a rough estimate of cost of materials, and further decide which of many wonderful projects to pursue.

Posted: 6:01 am on January 25th

3909vpd 3909vpd writes: When I see a piece in the magazine that piques my interest, it never gets built to the same dimensions as the original. Instead, I create my own CAD drawing of the piece so I can document it, make notes on it, and have the CAD software tell me the exact dimension of each line. This way I have all of the necessary details to easily make another one when asked. For the pieces that require some plywood, I will use a CAD drawing to layout the pieces to get the best utilization of the sheet and allow for saw kerf. For pieces that require drawers using solid stock, I will usually use a spread sheet to assist in running the numbers prior to buying material. That list also serves as a count when you start cutting parts.
Posted: 5:37 am on January 25th

daltxguy daltxguy writes: Cutlists are not a waste of time, but including cutlists in magazines is probably no longer necessary if you were to provide the sketchup plans for free to subscribers.
Then, there is a range of free tools which can be used to automatically produce cutlists, board ft calculations, layouts, exploded dagrams, reports, etc.

I am the author of the free cutlist plugin for sketchup and there have been over 30,000 downloads of it in the last few years it has been released in its enhanced version.

I say computers should handle the heavy lifting of doing calculations, leaving ample room for discussion about design and construction techniques in the writeup. The digital site and accompanying data should be a companion to the printed version.

As far as cutlists go, they should be used as a guideline and they have their use in estimation and layout but I would never cut all my pieces to final size and expect it to all go together!

Cutlist for sketchup can be downloaded here:


Posted: 5:02 am on January 25th

Heron Heron writes: I have been working with wood for over 40 years now and cut lists are essential in ensuring that you have enough of the correct material material available and to help minimize waste. They are a tremendous aid to both novice and expert alike.

In a production run cut list that have been used previously and checked save you a lot of time and material. for custom fits the are a good aid

I do agree that using the cut list for the final dimensioning of wood can be dangerous, especially if you use a published list that you have not checked yourself.

So please keep on publishing them - your efforts are no wasted.


Posted: 4:25 am on January 25th

Judge999 Judge999 writes: RE: Cut lists. I use cut lists for only two purposes--both of which I believe are valid:

(1) Publishers of plans do make errors. The cut list serves as a cross-check when I suspect a dimension may be incorrect or when it is omitted entirely.

(2) As others have stated, to get an idea of how much lumber to buy (plus anywhere from 20% to 50% more).

Somewhere, on one of my machines, I have software into which I can input the size of each part and and have the application generate a cut list. However, I see no reason for the editors of FW to be so dogmatic on this subject since the better known computer assisted drafting software can generate a cut list from the plan drawing's measurements with little or no additional effort.

Let them publish the cut list on-line if they don't want to 'waste' magazine space so long as the editors put it in the free portion of this site. But please don't be so dogmatic about this.

Posted: 11:14 pm on January 24th

gatsby1923 gatsby1923 writes: I always use a cut list for one thing; and one thing only. Going to the lumber yard. That being said, a cut list in the article can save me the time of making my own. Other magazines do it so I don't think you including one is going to create a mass of people who get into cookie cutter mode, more than we have now.
Also I hate to say it, but the lack of a cut list has become a marketing tool for buying online project plans. I purchased one of these and the only additional info was a google sketch up file I will never use, a line drawing of the project that I did not need, and a cut list. Granted I did not buy the plans for the cut list but seeing "To purchase digital plans and a complete cutlist for these tables and other projects, go to" is only going to boost your sales from beginners who don't know how to use a cutlist anyways!

Posted: 7:53 pm on January 24th

DaveRichards DaveRichards writes: Thanks Matt,

Although I do include an accurate cutlist in the digital plans I draw as well as fully dimensioned drawings, I recognize that all these numbers should be used as a guide. At some point in the construction process you have to stop building to the plans and start building to what you've built.

As far as dimensions in the articles and the plans go, I know that the editors work very, very hard to make sure they are correct. If there are errors, they surely aren't intentional and they do get corrected ASAP.

Posted: 7:11 pm on January 24th

rlrjr rlrjr writes: What I don't like to see is a photo of the finished product with a cut list below it WITHOUT the exploded view showing an overview of where the parts go. Give me a dimensioned-exploded view any time over a cut list and I'll get it built. I might modify it slightly as I plan to do with a project I'm starting tomorrow to build adjustable-height sawhorses. Understand what it is supposed to look like when it is finished and be flexible while you build it.
Posted: 6:34 pm on January 24th

MP72 MP72 writes: I love the explode view. I agree that cut list can go completely wrong if followed as you stated. Furniture makers can learn much more by seeing the process that was used and how it was implicated during the construction process. I would like someone to proof the exploded view because I have built several things from the magazine and sometimes the parts of the sum dont equal the whole. That can be a painful thing to learn if a woodworker has decided to build the project and is not smart enough to go over the entire exploded view and see if there are any mistakes. That woodworker might have bought some wood and maybe cut a few pats to the exploded view specifications only to find out he or she has ruined a piece of wood meanwhile someone at FWW is busy making a digital/or full size plan that you can buy. The woodworker has already messed up and then FWW will publish a clarification a month or two later if at all. I always check t see if the plan checks out but it would be nice for others if the exploded views numbers made sense(sometimes they do sometimes they don't). I feel for the woodworkers who need the exploded view but get deflated before the process even starts because he numbers don't add up. That being said if you follow sound technics Like Mr. Kenney states you will not make as many mistakes.
Posted: 6:12 pm on January 24th

busterboy2238 busterboy2238 writes: I agree. As a hobby woodworker starting out, I trusted the cut list and was burned on more than one occasion.

There is nothing like dimensioning to the piece, like you say.
Posted: 5:52 pm on January 24th

Dulcimers Dulcimers writes: Cut lists are useful, but only after you have made an accurate drawing. I agree with the comment to sketch, sketch, sketch. I take it one step further, and draw the project full scale if possible. I have been building things out of wood for more than 60 years, and my drafting table is my most useful tool. I have used full scale drawings for two sailboats, a classical guitar, all the dulcimers I have built, and just about every other project. Time spent with a pencil - and an eraser - saves wood and building errors. Drawing the piece also helps you plan how you are going to assemble it. So, I vote for sketch, then draw as large as you can, then take your cut list from the large drawing. Cut lists in the article are only a guide.

Posted: 5:38 pm on January 24th

tkreeger tkreeger writes: I take a cut-list as a start point. I like to compare the cut list with the exploded view, it helps me to understand the pieces and how they are used. Of course, the cut list has to be correct. I have come across some where they were either not dimensioned properly, or the number of pieces were wrong. A cut-list may be more for novice woodworkers, but even then it could get them into more trouble. If blade kerf is not allowed for, or again with the different dimension size of lumber, the math just wont work out. So, I can have my cake and eat it too, A parts blow out type diagram works 100% better for me. I usually look at the cut list for a general survey of lumber needed, but even then, as I start, I will cut certain pieces 1st, leaving other more critical pieces to cut as I go, measuring what is needed, then if it does match the cut-list, well, how about that? I do like articles that sometimes will show a needed jig to perform a certain cut or layout that is needed. I would rather this than the cut-list. Or even the occassional, Hey, you need to build this part prior to adding this part idea, comes in real handy when you get to that poinr and realize you should have already done the prior part.
Posted: 5:22 pm on January 24th

lejim lejim writes: I agree don't bother with cut lists. I rarely, if ever, build anything exactly to the plan. I modify its dimension to match space requirements, materials, etc. Moreover, I have suffered from the accumulation of tiny errors. Understanding the parts and their relationships is much more important then knowing their exact sizes.
Posted: 5:12 pm on January 24th

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