How To Read Engineering Drawings & General Workflow For DIY Plans

Looking to understand the general project workflow for our DIY plans? Or need a more detailed explanation of how to read engineering drawings? Read on as we’ll cover all this so you can be fully prepared to start using our DIY plans and get your project going!

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Maybe you’ve got a set of DIY plans or are considering grabbing some, but want to understand the process first and how to even understand the plans. As a trained landscape architect and engineer, myself and the hubby have a deep understanding of it and can think through the processes needed to accomplish a completed project. But we know not everyone is exposed to drawing plans on a regular basis, and could use a little guidance.

So we will answer your basic questions and cover where you can grab our plans, general project workflow, and how to read engineering drawings, so that you’re ready to get started on your DIY project!

Where Can I Get DIY Plans?

Over the years, we’ve done a lot of projects and planning. We of course made them into digital plans so you can build them too! Just hop right over to our Shop and see all our project plans. We make new ones whenever we build something too! 

Also, you can check out our Woodworking & DIY Projects resource page which shows you all of the project plans together in one place. It even gives you more details without having to click on each product listing.

Lastly, we also have an Etsy Shop, if you prefer to grab the plans there.

What Is The Workflow For A DIY Project?

All projects using our DIY plans have a general workflow. This workflow will vary a little from project to project, but this will give you a general idea of how we approach the project with our DIY plans.

General Project Workflow

  1. Start by reviewing the plans and the How To article to understand the full process.
  2. Review the material list and purchase necessary supplies. Supplies are linked on the How To post, too!
  3. Layout your cuts. Pay attention to the wood grain & reference the recommended layout sheet.
  4. Then use the part drawings to cut all your materials to the needed dimensions. Keep cut sheets with or label each part to keep track of them.
  5. Complete intermediate steps like sanding and finishing. Reference our How To post for advice on how to finish & at what stage.
  6. Use the assembly drawings to understand how each part goes together for assembling the project. Begin putting it together.
  7. Enjoy your DIY project! Send us a photo or tag us @biglivinglittlefootprint on Instagram!

Every project workflow may be a bit different, especially in the cutting, sanding, and finishing stages. That’s why we write our detailed How-To blog posts to help you see the exact workflow we did for each project and the lessons we learned along the way.

How Do You Read Engineering Drawings?

If you read the product description, our DIY plans are comprised of renderings/images and engineering drawings. Now the phrase “engineering drawings” might make some people hesitate. 

It sounds fancy, but engineering drawings are simply drawings rich with specific details that show all the information needed to build an item or part of an item. They detail the specific dimensions needed for individual parts and show assemblies of how it all goes together. Engineering drawings are just visual and graphical representations of the information for a project.

If you’ve never seen an engineering drawing, it might be a little confusing or intimidating. But don’t worry, it’s not complicated once you understand it! Let’s cover some of the basics of how to read an engineering drawing.

Note – We also include an example page on how to read engineering drawings with each DIY plan, so you are never without a reference, if you need it. 

Reading Engineering Drawings (aka our DIY Plans)

Typical Drawing Layout

Engineering drawings are set up in a standard way to show a 3D view with the corresponding front, top, and side views. This allows you to understand every aspect of a part and its dimension related to each side.

Assembly Drawings vs. Part Drawings

Our DIY plans are broken down into two sections: assembly drawings and part drawings. Assembly drawings are the pages that show the overall project or larger project components put together without the specific dimensions of each part. The part drawings are like a visual cut list showing the final dimensions of each part that’s required to assemble the project.

Why not just include all the information on the overall assembly?! If we tried to put all the needed dimensions on one overall assembly drawing, it’d get so messy and overwhelming that it’d be difficult to build, or critical information would have to be left out. Honestly, even with simple projects, we’d never be able to ever get everything on one assembly drawing! 

Following the general workflow noted above allows you to start with the part drawings and work your way to the assembly drawings so that you get everything you need.

Tip –  As you cut each part, tape the part drawing to the cut piece (or label it with a pencil), so that you don’t end up confusing parts when you go to assemble the project.

Check Numbers In Circles

On our assembly drawings, you’ll see a lot of numbered circles pointing to different parts of a 3D image. These callout numbers correlate to the individual parts of the project (aka the part drawings, your visual cut list). The numbered callouts will always have a table on the side of a drawing (or on an earlier page) noting what each number represents and the quantity required for that assembly. Most of the time the callouts are for a specific part drawing, but sometimes they will call out an additional assembly like a headboard.

Here’s an example of these numbered callouts with the corresponding table.

Line Types Have Meaning 

Another aspect to be aware of is the way lines are drawn (aka their line type). Most lines will be a standard solid line to show edges and profiles, but there are a few other line types you’ll typically see.

Hidden lines are small dashed lines that show an aspect of a part that might not be visible from that specific view, but is important to be aware of. A hole running through the middle of a part can be called out using a hidden line type on a view of a part.

Center lines are lines with a long solid line broken by a small dash or two to indicate the center of an object. This helps to show the center of a cut or part in the drawings. Center lines can also be used to show symmetry. If a features shows up on either side of a center line, but is not explicitly dimensioned, then it it is symmetric and centered on that part.

Break lines are solid lines that have a zigzag in them. This line type indicates that the item or dimension continues beyond what’s shown on the drawing. It’s used to save space on the drawings by shortening an item, and you’ll typically see this in zoomed-in details on parts, or on long parts that have trouble fitting on the page.

All these line types, assembly and part drawings, and layout views help you understand how to read the engineering drawings that we use for our DIY plans.


All the engineering drawings will have some combination of standard dimensions needed to build a part. Below are all the standard ways we’ll indicate dimensions: Linear, Angular, and Diameter.

Running & Stacked Dimensions

Sometimes you will see what are called running dimensions and stacked dimensions.

Stacked dimensions are dimensions that are parallel to each other with a common extension line. It’s simply a why to keep the drawing clean by sharing the same line if more than one dimension starts in the same place.

Running dimensions are similar where dimensions are connected end-to-end in a chain fashion sharing the vertical line. This allows you to see the overall side of a part broken down into separate dimensions.

Engineering Drawing Components

Now beyond the typical layout, dimensions, and line types, you’ll need to understand the different components of an engineering drawing.

Title block

The first place to start is the titleblock on the bottom of every engineering drawing. It will contain crucial basic information about the drawing. It typically includes the following in our DIY plans.

  • The name of the part (or assembly) 
  • The unit of measurement for the drawing
  • The drawing scale
  • The material and raw material dimensions

Symbols, Numbers, & Abbreviations

A lot of information typically goes onto each drawing page, which can leave a limited amount of space to work with. So there are common symbols and abbreviations used to shorten written information. 


You’ll see basic symbols like ° (degree), ⌀ (diameter), and R (radius). But we often also use engineering and architectural standard symbols that may not be as commonly known if you aren’t in a related field. Below is a quick list of key ones you find in our plans. 

Symbol MeaningNote
Depth SymbolA depth symbol is typically followed by a dimension to indicate the depth of a hole needing cut.
SlopeA slope symbol typically has a slope ratio number with it.
TaperA taper symbol typically has a ratio number with it
+CenterpointIndicates the center of a hole, object or circle.


Like symbols, our plans will have some standard abbreviations that you may or may not know the meaning of. Here’s another quick list of typical abbreviations you’ll see.

  • CL  – Centerline
  • OC  –  On Center
  • QTY – Quantity
  • MAX/MIN – maximum/minimum
  • ID/OD – inside diameter/outside diameter
  • TYP – Typical – This means the dimension repeats elsewhere but is not specifically given to eliminate clutter.
  • # X – example: 5x 2″, this means the dimension 2″ repeats 5 times.

If you don’t know what a symbol or abbreviation means a quick internet search helps or don’t hesitate to ask us in the comments or email!

Section & Detail Callouts

The last component to be aware of is section and detail callouts. These help to clarify more complex features on a part.

Section callouts indicate there is a section or a view showing that specific spot cut through perpendicular to the line. The section callout will have a line with arrows on the end pointing in a direction. The arrows indicate which direction the section drawing is looking. The section callout will also have letters after the arrows to label the section to its corresponding drawing. For example, a section callout with A’s after each arrow will prompt you to look for a section drawing labeled “Section A-A”

Detail callouts are circle lines with arrows at the end and a letter labeling it. Similarly to a section callout, there will be a corresponding drawing zoomed in on a particular detail. Detail drawings will show more specific information and/or dimensions for that area. We use this when parts are a little more complex and have a lot of required dimensions. It makes it so the drawing pages don’t get messy and illegible with too many dimensions that could lead to confusion.

Section and detail drawings will either be found on that same page or on a following page. Just look for the labels of “Section X-X” or “Detail X-X” that correspond with the callout letter.

More DIY Projects

Equipped with the knowledge of how to read engineering drawings and general project workflow, you can get started on your DIY project! 

If you’re looking for more inspiration, check out more of our DIY projects and Sustainable Home Improvement articles.

Hope this guide on how to use our DIY plans helps clear up any worries about starting a project! Let us know if you have any questions we didn’t answer and what project you’re starting on in the comments below!

Disclaimer: This post includes affiliate links, and I will earn a commission if you purchase through these links. Please note that I’ve linked to these products purely because I recommend them and they are from companies I trust. There is no additional cost to you.

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