I have a good friend whose has spent a lifetime collecting arrowheads. He’s got scores of display cases with wonderfully colored flint tools, and many more boxes of broken cutting tools, stone hammers, axes, and various tools for grinding corn. Here’s a nugget of wisdom. Don’t be too quick to volunteer to help an arrowhead collector move. Anyone, whose collection is primarily made of stone, makes for a lot of heavy lifting. What never ceases to amaze me is how humans were able to take the most basic simple materials and create wonderful and useful objects. This brings me to my favorite woodworking tool, the lowly dividers. What could be simpler? A pair of pointed sticks joined at a fulcrum. No wires, chips, servo motors or sensors. Yet for centuries this simple tool was fundamental to science, art, and building (including crafting furniture).
I was pretty excited when the folks from Popular Woodworking Magazine contacted me about the upcoming Woodworking in America Conference this Oct 1st – 3rd in Cincinnati Ohio. Chris Schwarz wondered if I could put together a session on using dividers in the woodshop. Shazam! That sounds like fun. I’ve got more than a few tricks up my sleeve about how to use dividers to make quick and accurate (math free) layouts at your workbench. Most exciting of all is I plan on assembling some material to help you visualize how to “think proportionally”. After all, what makes dividers really powerful is they can be used to collect data, but not the kind of data we are used to. We are used to collecting numbers with a tape or digital calipers that help us comply with a plan or specifications. Dividers help us collect and manipulate proportions. How is this door frame in proportion to the raised panel? How is the thickest part of this leg proportioned to the thinnest and to the overall height? If sharpening is the touchstone for unlocking hand tool skills, using dividers i.e. thinking proportionally is the key to design.
George R. Walker