I have recently been experimenting with using scale models to help both myself and customers get a sense of what a finished piece of furniture will look like. When a client asked for design ideas for a light colored table to complement some mid-century chairs she had, I drew up scale drawings of a few ideas, and then decided to “build” small models from balsa wood of the two she liked best.
I used balsa wood from the craft store, which comes in a variety of thicknesses. In addition to helping her visualize the finished piece, making the models helped me figure out proportions: how thick the top should be in relation to the legs, how much of an angle the legs should be set at, how much of an overhang I liked on the top. I even fit working leaves onto the ends of the model, which gave me a good sense of how the massing of the base would look when the leaves were in place. I am not so computer savvy, but in this case, my client was, and she was even able to take a photo of the model and photoshop it into a picture of her dining room to see how the proposed piece would look in her house. In the end, I think that is what really sealed the deal.
The finished table, full size Photo: Glenn Moody
It is sometimes a little tricky, handling such small pieces on the tablesaw, so you do need to pay close attention. But, the balsa is also soft enough that you can often use a utility knife to cut it. Use hot glue to stick it together.
I use models to design pieces, and to help sell them to clients. A miniature version of custom made piece of furniture is quite compelling for some customers. And, once the work has gone out the door, the models serve as a nice record of your work. Sort of a 3-D portfolio, for yourself and future clients.
Below is a model of a bench that was never made. The base and uprights were intended to be stone, with an oak seat and back. I think the model gives a better sense of the piece than the drawing alone. And, who knows, maybe I’ll build it some day after all. The model sitting on my windowsill keeps the idea alive in a way that the drawing out of sight in a drawer never would.