The title of this blog just happens to be one of my wife’s favorite sayings. As I’ve learned from her, it’s also one of life’s most useful maxims for maintaining sanity and perspective in our everyday endeavors. Having a plan gives us a sound foundation to move from Point A to Point B. What it often fails to take into account, however, are the foibles and nuances of the trip itself. A plan, while certainly valuable, can also stifle creativity. 

Woodworkers are, by nature, somewhat plan addicted. We often take on projects that begin with detailed plans, drawings and specifications, with precise outcomes for the appearance, size and shape of the final product. The closer our work matches the glossy photo of the one made by a master craftsman, the more satisfied we are. 

When I first began crafting bird nesting homes and bird feeders, I faithfully followed the plans that I gathered from birding magazines, internet sites and two highly regarded books (pictured).

As I did, I quickly learned two important lessons: 

1) Not all plans are equal. In fact, some plans, even in reputable publications, contain errors or omissions. Others are written by folks who may clearly have a love for birds but likely skipped some English classes at critical times in their education.  (Note: This is not true for the plans in the two books pictured – they are clear and accurate and I highly recommend these books if you wish to try your own hand at building nesting houses.) 

2) My pesky and mischievous mind kept interjecting ideas and opinions that sought to distract me from the rigidity of following someone else’s plan. 

And so, accommodating these lessons required modifications, which I took on as both a challenge and a chance to add my own “signature” to the project. 

A prototype of a covered platform feeder that I recently created provides a good example of this (pictured). Over time, I’ve likely looked at dozens, if not scores, of designs for such feeders. Nearly all involved fly-through (or end supports) that were butt-jointed, meaning that one piece of wood joins the other by simply “butting” up against it, requiring glue and a mechanical fastener of some type, such as nails or screws, to complete the joint.

While a butt joint can suffice in this case, it doesn’t provide an attractive optic. There are other ways of joining wood, that, quite frankly, look more interesting. One of those is a dado joint, where a groove is cut into one piece of wood at the same dimension as the piece of wood to which it will be secured. Although most dado joints involve right angle joinery, these can be modified for angles that might be more pleasing to the eye. It is this type of joinery that you see in both the photo of my prototype and my hand-drawn plans. In addition to a more interesting appearance, another advantage of this method is that it requires only waterproof glue to complete the joint.

Plans are a great place to begin. But, in any art or craft, allowing the flexibility and space for creativity and spontaneity often leads to a better product and a more joyful experience.

Dean Johnson