Keepsake box: the six P’s

My father in law used to always quote the six P’s: Prior Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance. Very wise words, to be heeded at all times! Especially when making furniture.

I spent a lot of time thinking about the box before I even started. A lot of time. Too much time? I don’t know. Looking back, I think the time I took was worth it. It was the first time I was tackling a project of this complexity on my own. Although I was adapting an existing design, I had to rethink not only the external dimensions but also the joinery (tenon sizes, dovetail layout, etc). Since this was an important gift I wanted it to look really good, and didn’t want to mess up (that should apply to all projects, but still, this one was different!).

I tried a few things to get the dimensions to where I wanted. I tried scaling the original design. However, this didn’t really work: I wanted a box that had a shorter width and length than the original, but still had some height. It had to be of a practical size so you could still use it to put things in. One practical consideration was that the wood had already been sawn into planks, so I had a fixed wood thickness to consider in relation to the size of the box.

After doing a lot of thinking in my head and some sketching, I delved into the world of the Golden Ratio. This did help me get some ballpark ratio’s, like the ratio of the drawer height to the rest of the box. But it became a slippery slope towards being over complicated and fussy for my liking. I also tried using Sketchup. Although I’m quite computer literate and it gets rave reviews, I can’t connect with it. It took me hours to just draw a box with a flat lid. I’m not sure I’ll be using that again.

What helped me the most was simply drawing on paper. First I made some scale drawings. I thought about how deep the inside of the box and the drawer would be and if these were practical dimensions. I sketched on the wood itself to see how the grain would look once it was sawn to size.

But what helped me the most was making life sized drawings. I drew each side of the box on a large sheet of plywood. After some resizing/redrawing I got what I wanted. I also penciled in the joinery – the mortise depths, the frame and panels the dovetail layout etc. Penciling in the joinery was very helpful, not only during the design phase but also during construction and assembly. I really recommend drawing out the joinery, especially when building something for the first time. It helps as a reference and also helps think the project through before you start marking out and sawing bits of wood.

I felt comfortable with the design and felt I had taken care of the six P’s. Time to start building!


5 thoughts on “Keepsake box: the six P’s

  1. If I recognise I’m overthinking a design, sometimes it helps to stop and make a full size model from scrap material (even just cardboard). If the grain is important to the design, you could make photocopies of the actual planks you intend to use and glue them to the model.

  2. I learned the Six Ps in college from a great friend. Use the concept all the time and see it not being used even more often, unfortunately.

    The only problem with the Six Ps is that it can sometimes cause the two Ps, Project Paralysis, where you spend too much time worrying about making it perfect and you don’t spend any time actually making it.

    Seems to be an issue I constantly struggle with, anyway.

  3. I like that 6 P’s thing- I drive people nuts because I am always explaining that fine work is all in the Prep -prep prep and more prep! I have no worries of the two P’s as I do not believe in “perfect” perfect is an opinion so everyone has a different version of it. I do believe in the best I can do and getting better and more efficient with every build.

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