Category Archives: design workshops

Break the curse of the blank sheet of paper

That blank sheet of emptiness taunts our self doubt.

That blank sheet of emptiness taunts our self doubt.

“Imagination is the highest kite one can fly”.

Lauren Bacall


I remember a time when a blank sheet of paper had the power to chase away every creative thought. It’s a mind trick. It seemed like a mirror reflecting dead air and silence in my head, with not a whiff or a hint of an idea floating off in the distance.  I call it a trick, because if we could ever behold what our imagination is capable of, we would fall down in awe. Imagination is the thing that get’s you wide awake at 3:30 am rooting around the workshop making a racket and having a great time of it. But we seldom tap it in our daily routine, so a little thing like the emptiness of a sheet of paper becomes a wall too high to breach.

Cooking up an idea and letting it stew.

Cooking up an idea and letting it stew.



I said “remember” because now it’s my privilege and joy to guide many woodworkers past that stumbling block. That was brought home to me the last few weeks teaching a series of design workshops for the Guild of Oregon Woodworkers and at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking. Over and over came the words, “This is awesome! I don’t have to get stuck anymore staring at that blank sheet of paper” , or “This is 1000% better, I can get off square one and get the juices and ideas flowing”.


Sure – the first drawings were shaky dead ends and mud pits. And yes, the trash cans overflowed with crumpled paper and the maintenance guy had to vacuum up a bushel of eraser dust. But ideas flowed, designs took shape,  and those designs improved quickly. Best of all, woodworkers who doubted they would ever break free from the blank page came in sleepy eyed on day two, after staying up till 3:30 am.

I’m not sure who was more pleased. Forty six fired up workshop attendees, or Jim Tolpin and myself who had the honor of witnessing it.



George R. Walker


Filed under Design Basics, design workshops

Top Ten Reasons

palladio 001-001

Here are the Top Ten Reasons for signing up for the Foundations of Design workshop I’m teaching at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking the week of March 17th – 21st. 

10. You’ll learn proportions as a second language.

9. It will transform the way you see furniture. 

8. Port Townsend is a destination in itself, picturesque with great restaurants. 

7. Be inspired and jazz your passion for furniture building.

6. Learn the truth about mixing plaids and stripes – can it really work?

5. Going forward your furniture will be designated BFD (not what you think – Before Foundations of Design) and AFD (After Foundations of Design). 

4. You’ll walk away with the beginnings of a design portfolio you can build on.

3. Because Jim Tolpin makes great cookies.

2. Because design is rewarding, challenging, surprising, risky, and fun.

1. It’s January for Pete’s sake, treat yourself to something fun. 

George R. Walker


Filed under Design Basics, design workshops

Do Your Best Work


When I look back over my journey as a woodworker, there have been three great leaps that marked turning points in my work. They didn’t have anything to do with buying some fancy machine or hand tool (though I kicked up my heals when I first roped a Unisaw), these leaps had to do with pushing my skills to new heights.
The first leap was when I broke through the sharpening barrier. At the time I had only one scabby block plane that felt like a car that had been wrecked and drove with a stutter. Somehow I knew that a razor sharp blade might set it right but I had no idea how it would transform that blob of unruly metal into an extension of my hand. To my surprise, wispy shavings poured off the blade leaving behind tiger maple that sparkled. That one skill opened up the world of hand tools and with it the opportunity to venture where machines couldn’t.
The second leap was when I built a solid workbench. Not sure why I took so long to get around to it but I spent nearly fifteen years working on a variety of bench like things that were more suited to small engine repair than cutting dovetails. Finally I broke down and pulled together all the heavy timbers I’d been skeeving away and built a Frank Klausz style bench. Dang. Immediately my joinery and execution took a giant leap for the better and again the possibilities broadened as I felt confident about tackling more challenging projects.


The third leap is a bit harder to explain. Broadly speaking it’s when I finally steered away from printed plans and ventured into design. But more specifically the leap came when I learned to see with my inner eye. It wasn’t quite the big eureka moment like when that block plane came alive in my hands but more like a gradual dawning on a whole new world. Of the three leaps, this ability to see and design is the most profound because it enhances all the other hard won skills. My best hand work, my best joinery, my best furniture is in front of me now and I can see it waiting to be built.

If you’ve wanted to venture into design but unsure where to start, or you’ve already begun but could use help focusing your inner eye, 2014 may just be the year. I’ll be holding workshops across the country to help you take that leap. Here’s my schedule with a few more yet to be added as things firm up.

Guild of Oregon Woodworkers, Portland Oregon – Two Day design workshop March 14 -15, 2014.

Port Townsend School of Woodworking (PTSW), Port Townsend Washington – Five Day Foundations of Design Workshop – March 17 – 21, 2014

Port Townsend School of Woodworking (PTSW), Port Townsend Washington – Two day Workshop with Jim Tolpin “By Hand & Eye” – March 22 – 23, 2014.

Lie–Nielsen Toolworks, Warren Maine, Two day workshop – May 17 – 18, 2014.

Kansas City Woodworkers Guild –  Two day workshop – September 19 – 20, 2014.
The Woodworkers Club, Rockville MD –  Five day workshop – November 3 – 7, 2014.

George  R. Walker


Filed under design workshops

Dream Workshop


Just a stones throw from the Cuyahoga Valley National Park is the new workshop of chairmaker Richard Grell. I stopped by over the the last year as the walls went up and and shared in the excitement. Richard’s been a full time windsor chair maker for over forty years and he’s finally building that shop he always dreamed about.  Two full stories with plenty of light and storage, and best of all an atmosphere that makes one feel like grabbing a drawknife and slicing into some freshly felled timber. It gets better.

Grell has another dream that’s about to unfold. This year he will begin offering classes in chairmaking and finishing. I can’t say enough about his technical prowess as a maker or his cheerful and enthusiastic approach to craft. Our woodworking community is about to get blessed and I’m excited to see this dream become a reality.

Here’s a link to his website for a peak at his new shop and schedule of upcoming workshops.    Richard Grell

George R. Walker


Filed under Design Basics, design workshops

Hidden Treasure

A pair of child’s writing arm chairs in the white

The workshop sits down a tree lined gravel drive, barely visible from the road. Since 1973, thousands upon thousands of Windsors went from freshly harvested logs to exquisitely crafted chairs by one man in a modest workshop. You’ve never seen Richard Grell’s name in a woodworking magazine, but his chairs are found around the globe, sought after by serious collectors. The big auction houses know to call Richard when a buyer scores that final chair on their bucket list, often commissioning a sister chair or a set based on the prized original. He’s known for museum quality reproductions, as well as his own graceful adaptations of this iconic chair form.

A small sample of one of his painted finishes.

Today when we think about design, it’s often in the context of exploring new ground and novel forms. Yet, our tradition also has a long history of extending and perfecting the past work of artisans. This comes with it’s own challenges. Building on a tradition as rich as Windsor chair making; respecting that tradition while adding to it, requires attention to detail and a practiced eye.  It’s rare as gold to find someone so deeply immersed in a craft. Rarer still is Richard’s open and sharing attitude. With nothing to prove and a true love of the craft, he’s a treasure trove of knowledge.  As we talked chairs in his shop, I noted how he still gets excited about a new detail, using his hands to explain how the lines of a chair converge to make music with wood. Although he’s noted for stunning reproductions, his own Grell chair designs add depth to our American Windsor chair legacy.

Richard in his shop, an artisan you need to know.

One big change is on the horizon, and we all stand to benefit by it. Richard reached the point in his craft where he feels compelled to pass on the knowledge. Starting in 2013 he’ll be offering a variety of workshops on chair making, chair design, and finishing (his painted finishes are second to none).  Whether you are a novice or experienced maker, Richard has much to share from a lifetime making his living with his hands and wits. Details are forthcoming, but for now here’s a link to his commercial site to wet your appetite. Check out the section on finishes.

George R. Walker


Filed under Design Basics, design workshops, Resources