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Prototypes for Custom Furniture Jobs

Custom furniture makers discuss whether, when, and how to make a prototype mock-up before beginning a furniture project for real. May 23, 2007

Does anyone out there make prototypes of their furniture before they start? And if so, do you make a complete example, or just pieces? How many versions do you usually make and do you make a prototype(s) for your customer to make sure you are all on the same page?

Forum Responses
(Furniture Making Forum)
From contributor J:
I had an order for a dining set out of cherry - table and 8 chairs. The chairs were to resemble a picture, in which the chair was only about 3/4 of an inch high. I made a full size prototype of pine for approval, we agreed on a few small changes (width of front, slope of back), and then went ahead with the job. I did use that prototype again with other modifications. If the order is worth it, a full size sample will be an accurate standard for the whole contract.

From contributor V:
I also have made a prototype of a dining chair I designed that was made in walnut. The prototype was made of poplar. It was helpful to work out the problems with a less expensive wood, and it was helpful to have the prototype on hand for a reference (I never glued it up).

From contributor A:
Only if I build it into the cost estimate. Or if they decide to pay for it once the estimate is agreed upon. I would say the cost of a prototype would be quite high for something that was not going to be completed. I usually give them a door sample with the finish as agreed on for both door and finish approval.

From contributor C:
I really can't emphasize enough the importance of making a mockup. Usually after I make one of lesser wood, I wish I'd used the nice wood to start with. I usually try to build in a few hours labor to make a plywood mockup, if not a full proto. The budget has to be able to stand it. A set of 8 chairs at 1200 each gets a proto. One Adirondack chair does not.

From contributor V:
Contributor C is right. If you notice, most of the protos mentioned here are all for chairs. That is so far the only time I have made a proto. Somebody needs to pay for it, however in the case of a chair, as long as you don't glue it together, it can be used as patterns for the flush trim work. Remember - make a pattern from the proto and use it. That way if there happens to be a fubar, you still have a pattern to make another with.