Like a sharp knife, cutting lists are helpful when used properly but downright dangerous in the wrong hands.
Case-in-point: In the 1990s I wrote an article on building a Limbert bookcase and had an error in my cutting list. I think I had the kick piece as the wrong width. Anyway, I soon got a phone call from an angry reader. He was making a run of these bookcases to sell and had cut out all the parts to the exact sizes in the cutting list. When it came time to assemble his bookcases, he discovered my error.
He demanded that I reimburse him for the wood he wasted because of the mistake.
When someone gives me a cutting list, I consider it as accurate as a map sketched on a napkin. It will probably get me where I’m going, but only with some interpretation, flexibility and wrong turns.
If I’m going to build a run of something, then I need to develop a cutting list that will account for small variations in the construction process. It needs to be a map that will get me to my destination every time.
That is the sort of cutting list that I design when teaching classes. The school needs a cutting list with finished sizes so their employees can cut everything before the class begins. Each student needs a pile of boards that will always create the desired object.
For example, here is the cutting list I’ve developed for the Dutch tool chest class. It is different than the cutting list I published in Popular Woodworking Magazine. If you cut all these parts to the exact sizes listed below, then you will be able to build the chest, even if you make a slight flub or two.
Item T W L
2 Sides .75” 11.25” 24”
1 Bottom .75” 11.25” 27”
1 Shelf .75” 11.25” 26.5”*
1 Front .75” 7.5” 27.125”*
1 Bottom lip .75” 1.5” 27.125”*
1 Lid .75” 16”* 28”
2 Skids .75” 1.25” 11”
4 Back boards .75” 7.25” 27.125”*
1 Fall-front .75” 9”* 27.125”*
2 Panel battens .5” 1.5” 8”
1 Catch .75” .75” 4”
1 Lock .25” 2” 18”*
* This dimension is slightly oversized for trimming
Note that some pieces are marked as “oversized.” These oversized pieces accommodate the most common mistakes people make when building this chest:
1. The shelf is overlong in case you make the dados in the sides too deep.
2. The bottom lip and fall-front are over-long so you can trim them to the final size of your chest.
3. The backboards are (in aggregate) wider than necessary because some people mess up the tongue-and-groove joint and need the forgiveness.
4. The lid, fall-front and front pieces of the chest are over-wide because some students muck up the 30° angle on the case’s sides. If the angle is too steep or too shallow, then these dimensions need to change.
Bottom line: Never trust a cutting list. Or, as we were taught in journalism school: “If your mother says she loves you, verify it.”
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. The photo above shows my small Dutch chest with its new lower case. You can read more about it on my blog at Popular Woodworking Magazine here.