View Full Version : All my woodworking is nothing more than coping

Jim Tabor
01-27-2013, 8:42 PM
Not sure this is the right forum for this question, but.......
I have probable completed three hundred or more woodworking projects over the pass ten or so years, from bird feeders to Maloof rockers. As I have completed these projects I have received many “wow, how did you do that, or, I could never do that.” Each time that happens, I fell embarrassed or ashamed because I know all I have managed to do is copy or duplicate (steal?) someone else’s design. I have never designed anything on my own. Its all been from magazines, the Internet, or seeing something I liked in a store.
I’m having a hard time getting my question clear in my own mind, but, I think its something like this: At what point does all this coping and duplicating become unethical or illegal? Is this the way most woodworking is done?

Mel Fulks
01-27-2013, 9:19 PM
I don't see any problem,except where something is misrepresented as the work of someone else.The nature of style,the meaning of style is many things are similar.And even when things are identical to one person they are quite different to someone with a better eye. Think about artists who employ people to do 'their' work. To me that is a bigger concern,but not worried about either.

Myk Rian
01-27-2013, 9:21 PM
Artists are copied all the time. Just ask anyone at an art show. Not a whole lot can be done about it.

Try some free-form things. That's how I made these plant stands for my Wife. Just drew them out, and went to work.

http://i938.photobucket.com/albums/ad222/MykRian/Plant%20stands/100_1979.jpg http://i938.photobucket.com/albums/ad222/MykRian/Plant%20stands/Sunp0016.jpg http://i938.photobucket.com/albums/ad222/MykRian/Plant%20stands/SUNP0063.jpg http://i938.photobucket.com/albums/ad222/MykRian/Plant%20stands/100_1986.jpg http://i938.photobucket.com/albums/ad222/MykRian/Plant%20stands/SUNP0066.jpg

John Coloccia
01-27-2013, 11:43 PM
What do you think...we all invent everything from scratch? LOL. Copy what you can. When inspiration hits you, take it in a new direction. Only a fool doesn't build on what came before him. Just give credit where credit is due. When someone asks, tell them where the design came from if it's not yours.

Mel Fulks
01-28-2013, 12:02 AM
This reminds me of Samuel Johnson's judgement of the writing of a younger man who had asked him to read his work.
"Your work is both good and original! Unfortunately,the part that's good isn't original and the part that's original isn't good".

Rick Potter
01-28-2013, 3:29 AM
Don't feel like the Lone Ranger. Looked at any new cars lately?

Rick Potter

Jim Matthews
01-28-2013, 7:31 AM
Even the greatest among us owe our predecessors.

If you copy something nice, for personal use, it's tribute.
If you copy something nice, for resale, it's piracy.


David Weaver
01-28-2013, 7:39 AM
There was a point where I wasn't "copying" other peoples' work, or at least copying elements.

My work is much better now, because I'm copying, be it making tools or spice racks or whatever else.

I spent four years in college copying mathematical stuff that someone else figured out, then I spent more than twice as long taking professional exams where despite the fact that they were free answer exams, the person reading our answers expected us to more or less figure out what part of what we learned should be copied or combined with other non-original thoughts for a particular question.

Even the honky tonk man copied his gimmick and he'll come straight out and say it any time someone asks him where he got the idea. :)

Rod Sheridan
01-28-2013, 8:55 AM
Hi Jim, most of my work is Arts and Crafts furniture, of which I've invented zip.

I do my own drawings based upon an idea or ideas I've seen, and modified for my uses/tastes.

Obviously I can't claim to have invented that type of furniture, however all my pieces have dimensions/features that aren't a strict copy of an existing drawing.

That said, there's no reason not to make as exact a copy of a Maloof rocker, or a Krenov cabinet as you can, you're not claiming originality, you're claiming to be able to work to an exacting standard.

Furniture making would be in a major bind if we couldn't copy as almost all furniture elements and construction methods are pre-existing.

Maybe I've been wrong to criticise those who made A&C furniture with pocket screws and biscuits, maybe it's me with my copying of M&T and dovetails that's not being creative........LOL.......Rod.

P.S. Please continue to make more high quality copies and further your skills.

Jim Tabor
01-28-2013, 9:33 AM
Thanks guys for the input. I think I'm getting to the age (73) where a person starts to reflect on their life and if they have met a certain standard. With that said....Myk, I love the plant stand. Think I'll make a copy for my wife.

Brian Tymchak
01-28-2013, 9:40 AM

You say you get embarrassed to admit you've copied a design. I wonder if you would feel much better if you could think of the piece as your own design. Maybe your real question (or maybe a 2nd question you are thinking about) is not about where the line of ethics is about copying pieces, but maybe how to take that next step in woodworking, to create something you can think of as your own inspiration and be proud to talk about? Hopefully I'm not crossing a line there with you by reading between the lines of your post..

It's very, very unusual that anyone creates something truly unique. Almost all products / art pieces are based on ("or inspired by") prior designs. Go over to the woodturners forum and although there are some magnificent pieces being displayed, not many of them have a truly original base shape. Uniqueness in a hollowed form is pretty much limited to pecularities of the turning blank. The shapes are fairly standard, with maybe just a tweak of a curve here and there. In fact, it seems that most prefer trying to get to a classic shape. After that, adding beads, coves, a rim treatment, a feature ring if you are in to segmenting, dying, etc, is generally how artists are creating pieces. (There are many more techniques than I'm calling out here.) All these treatments have been done before in some fashion, some for decades or hundreds of years. The uniqueness comes in how many, how big/small, proportion, where positioned, types of wood used together, etc. So, hopefully you can buy in to that just subtle changes to existing designs are where most "uniqueness" is coming from.

So,, how to come up with something different?? Everyone draws their inspirations from different sources. Here's a few I use:

Go wood shopping without any specific project in mind. Just buy a board or 2 that strikes you as interesting. You may have to pay a premium price but maybe it will be worth it to you to have those boards. Put it in the lumber rack (stickered so that it doesn't warp). A couple of months from now, think of a project that will highlight what you found interesting in that board.

Or try this -on your next project, once you decide what you want to create in the most general terms, such as a coffee table, don't go to the internet looking for designs. Pick up a sketch pad and draw it out. You've completed a good many projects so you know the basics of what the project needs - support (of some sort), and a top (of some sort), and maybe a frame (of some sort) to hold it together. If possible, look at where the piece might end up and note what's around that area in color, shape, function. Now, start drawing. Instead of a straight apron put holes in it. Inlay a band on the top. Use a natural edge. How about a butcher block top? Use a bent lamination for a stretcher. Straight legs, curved, turned? How about a top with a lacewood frame with a birdseye veneered middle? Try to put 1 element into the design that you personally thought of or put something in that ties back to the target environment. Don't like what you create?
-> trash can. Start over. What's that old adage - Invention is 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration. (Thomas Edison?? I think).

Or this - look at something entirely outside of the woodworking world for inspiration. Something that seemingly has no place in woodworking. I've always wondered how the first person came up with the idea to turn a hat on a lathe. A hat certainly is not unique. Been around for thousands of years. Turning one a lathe though?? :confused:

Personally, I find the design/inspiration process as interesting as the woodworking itself. My problem is finding shop time to try some of these ideas out. Sorry for the long-winded response.


Jim Underwood
01-28-2013, 9:40 AM
This subject comes up all the time in the woodturning circles. If you make a direct copy of a famous turner's work, then pass it off as your own at a show, or for resale with no credit to the originator, then that's obviously wrong.

On the other hand, at what point does one finally stop and realize that potters and turners have been making bowls for millenia, and whose bowl shape did one just copy? How often do we credit God with coming up with the design that inspired us to copy it? There's the ultimate plageurism.
Just go out there and have fun. If it's not fun copying, then come up with something original. I find it best to let other's work inspire me, then change it to suit my own sense of aesthetics. No one is 100% original. Give credit where credit is due and quit worrying about it.

David Helm
01-28-2013, 12:51 PM
Can't add too much to what has already been said. For rectangular furniture, the pieces that look best are those made to the "golden mean" ratios of length to width. Most good furniture design starts there, so how many possible variations are there?

Jim Koepke
01-28-2013, 12:55 PM
Maybe your best answer when someone asks would be to say it was something you saw it in a book or magazine. Just don't be surprised if the next time they see you they have a picture cut from a magazine of something they want you to build. Maybe tell them the plans were in a magazine. Most people are not impressed by the originality as much as that you actually have the skill/ability to make something.

My start in woodworking came from a desire to have some chairs for our yard. My inspiration came from taking our son to a kids park someone told us about. This was a park where kids were allowed to use saws and hammers. The kids and the supervisors built some chairs based on the Adirondack chair style. My research in the library took me to a book written by a high school shop teacher in 1937. The design was changed slightly to my taste, still nothing original. Over the years the design has changed, but in the world of Adirondack chairs there really isn't much that hasn't been done. When people ask me how my chair's design came about, the story of my chair's lineage is proudly related.


Jim Rimmer
01-28-2013, 1:26 PM
If you are at all like me (and many other woodworkers) you haven't "copied" someone else's work. You've been inspired by it and built your own version. I recently built two bedside tables based on a picture of one I saw on the FWW site. I "copied" it but I changed some dimensions, left off a decorative piece on the top and tweaked it to my own liking. I had contacted the original builder and told him what I was going to do. Since it was not for resale, he was fine with it. As long as you are not profiting by someone else's design, there is no ethics violation, IMHO. So, continue to get your inspiration from wherever it may come and try your hand at your own designs. Even with your own design, you'll probably look at existing pieces to zero in on standard heights, widths, etc.

Myk Rian
01-28-2013, 1:30 PM
..Myk, I love the plant stand. Think I'll make a copy for my wife.

Go right ahead.