I do visualize a project in my mind first but I also at least do a rough sketch of the project before I start cutting parts. If the project is elaborate then I will make better drawings in Sketch Up or another CAD program. There is a learning curve to use Sketch Up or any CAD program but there are free tutorials available online as well as dvd's you can purchase.
Doing a quick sketch before I start cutting parts has saved me several times because I see things that might be a problem that I would only see 3/4th of the way through a project. I can rethink things before I start cutting expensive wood.
Sometimes I also make a mock-up of some parts out of MDF or cheaper wood that need redesign before cutting the good piece.
The most important thing, like you say, is to make a cutting list and check the dimensions before you start the project.[/QUOTEi]
I'm not sophisticated to know about CAD programs. Also, I think from talking to people othe than members of this forum that not all folks have the visualization skills that others have. With out these skills, working without detailed sketchs might be a little out of the question. I'm pretty fortunate that my abilllity to visualize are pretty good and so far me, the need for sketches isn't needed, I reserve the right to change my mind on this point. But, as I said, the cut list looks like, for me anyway, is the key to my success. My big concern is that I don't have to measure once the project is started, or at lease this my hope since so far this cut list only exists in my thinking. I'll post the results for how it works once I give it a try.