Rob Porcaro urges understanding what you build before you build it.

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Furniture designer Wendell Castle, often called the "father of the art furniture movement," once commented that often, not enough time is spent designing a piece. The same can be said of researching a piece.

Neglecting adequate research before a build can lead to a lot of wasted effort, resulting in disappointment. The research phase of a project should be enjoyable as you explore the possibilities and expand your woodworking knowledge.

Here are three areas that require attention. To illustrate the research phase, I'll use lessons learned from a wedding wine box [above] I built.

1.  Function

Almost all woodwork is functional. Think of it this way: making a baseball bat requires more than understanding wood and turning; you have to know something about baseball. For my wine box, I researched the dimensions of numerous wine bottles to design a cradle that would accommodate a range of sizes.

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Practice on the chosen wood species provided understanding of the working characteristics of the material. This allowed fine-tuning techniques for flawless joinery.

2. Materials 

This is not an area for guessing or shortcuts. Processes that are routine in one species can be fraught with surprises in another. What's more, nearly every project involves nonwood materials that woodworkers need to understand.

A few boards of gorgeous curly ovangkol (shedua) caught my eye. I had not worked with this species before. So I looked at data on its physical properties and movement characteristics. Most important, I practiced sawing, chiseling, and planing it to learn its working properties. I also tested finishes and glues, and researched leather.

3.  Techniques and tools

Every project provides opportunities to develop as a woodworker by learning new techniques and reinforcing your skills. Almost every piece I make involves at least one modified or nonstandard construction technique. If you never venture from the conventional, you miss out on a lot of fun in woodworking. It really helps to consider solutions that other woodworkers have used, though it's important to use sound principles and experience to distinguish good information from bad.

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The internet contains vast resources for research. Just be sure that the information is valid and balanced against your own skills, experience, and knowledge.

With this project, I sat at the drawing board for a long time, scratching my head and then making mock-ups of the cradle before finding a solution.

And yes, there is also the excuse to buy a new tool, which, by the way, has to be studied and tuned. In this project, because I did not do enough research on installing the lock I chose, I needed to buy drawer-lock chisels to bail me out.

Research is part of smart woodworking. Don't cheat on your homework.

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