Juan Caramuel Lobkowitz, 1606-1682
One year ago Jim Tolpin and I were axehandles and elbows in final edit mode for our manuscript BH&E (By Hand & Eye). I was struck by how much work is involved down that final stretch and I just wanted it over with. Sort of like a large furniture project. It starts with the excitement of picking just the right figured boards to unleash something beautiful. That excitement gives way to a different kind of pleasure when the shaping and joinery begins, more like a long hike in the woods. Every good hike has a few brambles to muddle through, but the pleasure of building makes up for the hilly spots. Yet, near the end I always just want to get it done, shed the saddle and roll in some clover.
But this was different. After Jim and I high fived and broke some glass, we went right back to the fun of sending each other articles, links to historic engravings, and random thoughts about how our craft might have solved a problem. Rather than moving on, we continued to moving in. We’ve only scratched the surface as much of this knowledge can only be pried loose at the point of a tool. Jim’s still eager to test out every idea at the bench, and I can’t resist flipping over stones in the creek bed. A year later, actually three years later for the two of us, we are more convinced that the tradition has so much to teach us about how to see. And with each piece of knowledge we become more convinced that the traditional tool set is the key to breathe life into it.
I’m headed out to Port Townsend in March to share this knowledge in a design workshop. There are still a few spots left, so if you are game for a week of eye opening discovery, sign up.
George R. Walker
Carved Volute on Windsor crest by Richard Grell, Photo by G. Walker
is for volute. The Oxford dictionary defines a volute as a spiral or twisted formation or object. For the furniture designer, a volute is a graceful way to terminate a line. No doubt inspired by the unfurling organic forms that abound in nature, volutes are employed in endless variety, from the massive scrolls that grace an Ionic capital down to countless tiny detailed carvings. Most of the historical design books include a section on how to generate a volute with a straight edge and compass. At first blush this seems a bit useless for a woodworker as the actual layouts in furniture are too small to layout with a compass, akin to neutering a hummingbird. For that small carved volute on the end of a chair arm, a freehand layout is needed. Recently I was speaking to a group at the Woodworking Workshops of the Shenandoah Valley and we discussed this freehand layout dilemma. I proposed a little experiment. First I had everyone draw a small volute freehand about the size of a silver dollar. Then we whipped out our compasses and walked through the steps to draw a large classical volute complete with all the hieroglyphics and voodoo. Amid all the stumbling and some cursing, I could hear the “ahas” bubble up as the logic clicked at everyone’s fingertips. Finally everyone executed another small freehand sketch, this time using using the knowledge they had just gleaned. Here’s one example of a before and after. With a little practice and this knowledge, anyone can quickly and easily draw a graceful organic volute.
First attempt is on the left.
George R. Walker
It seems like yesterday I was wrapping up my keynote address on furniture design to a packed house in Chicago. Then a woodworker down in front raised his hand and posed a question I didn’t know the answer to. A little embarrassed, my brain froze and I fumbled through an awkward ” I don’t know”. The woodworker was Jim Tolpin and he hung around after the event and peppered me with more questions I didn’t know the answers to. That was the beginning of a great new friendship that eventually led to the two of us collaborating on our book “By Hand & Eye. They say that co-writing a book is a recipe for wrecking a friendship, but in our case we must have lost that recipe. As the project reached that point where it’s a slog (as all books do), my respect for Jim increased as his inquisitive mind and generosity of spirit rubbed off on me.
Charles Brock interviewed Jim for the November edition of The Highland Woodworker . It’s worth a look.
George R. Walker
Grell’s shop, the site of this weekends SAPFM meeting
Richard Grell’s woodshop lies at the end of a tree lined gravel lane. I dropped in the other day to see Richard in action teaching a child’s Chair class.
Grell made his sole living for forty years making Windsors and was often sought out by serious collectors and auction houses when the need for museum class reproductions arose. These days he’s changed course and in his words, “Do a download, and offer that forty years of craft knowledge to woodworkers”. A rare opportunity offers itself this weekend with the Ohio River Valley Chapter (ORV) of SAPFM hosting it’s fall meeting at Grell’s Hudson Ohio shop. Aside from our usual crew of furniture makers from Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and West Virginia, this is a special treat for folks up north in the western PA or NY area. The ORV usually meets in southern Ohio locations (West Virginia also), so this a a chance to attend an ORV event in your neck of the woods. Any non-SAPFM members wishing to attend and check out one of the premier woodworking furniture groups in the country, contact me at email@example.com for more details. This is a weekend you won’t want to miss!
Here’s a short video about SAPFM
I’m always a sucker for any story about keeping a traditional craft alive. So a small foundry casting bronze bells for a 1000 years got my attention. At 2:20 the master bell maker explains the simple geometry behind the bell design. Those darn simple ratios seem to turn up everywhere! See this short video of the bell makers of Agnone Italy.
George R. Walker
is for quaint. A trade name for a number of lines of furniture produced by the Stickley Brothers in Grand Rapids Michigan. They began using the name “Quaint Mission”, attached to a line of mission inspired furniture and then subsequently used the term as a brand to market lines of factory made furniture under the names Quaint Arts & Crafts, Quaint Tudor, Quaint Manor, and finally Quaint American. Here’s a link to a Quaint catalogue from the early 20th century. Quaint
Note – Thanks to Donna Hill for helping me find a solution to the letter “Q”. I decided to forgo the ubiquitous “Queen Anne” since according to Jack Plane at Pegs and Tails, we Americans cannot keep our Queens (or kings) straight.
George R. Walker
I debated about posting this non-woodworking advise, but thought you need to read this.
Get your shingles vaccine. Run – don’t walk to your doctor.
It started five weeks ago with what I thought was a kidney stone and the obligatory wrecked back. I did everything wrong – didn’t get the vaccine, or run to the emergency room at the first sign of a colony of angry fire ants holding war games on my midsection. Did I mention you should get your vaccine? Listen, I’ve skidded down thirty yards of tar and gravel hardpan behind a motorcycle hurling sparks into the nightime sky, my right kidney has birthed a litter of stones including one dreadnaught the size of a German mauser rifle bullet, I’ve busted fingers, broke ribs, and gotten knocked out by a rock hurled by my best boyhood pal. I’d trade all those in exchange for not having this present malady. In fact I’d trade a grade four Parker side by side shotgun, a truckload of Cuban Mahogany, and a Sandusky Rosewood centerwheel plow plane for not having to go through this. I swear the Doc has me on placebos, but he says if all goes well, I should get some relief in another month. Did I mention you should get your vaccine?
One of the really fun parts about our design critiques is to see the finished results on a project. Adrian asked for your help back in Feb 2012.
Here’s a link to his blog with more pictures and details. Check out the stunning wood he showcases in the top, nice work! Adrianmakes
HABS photo, Central Park NY
is for Fredrick Law Olmsted (B. 1822 – D. 1903), arguably the premier landscape designer in America. His list of public parks and landscapes across the US and Canada is unmatched and chances are, any great park that comes to your mind was either designed by Olmsted or hugely impacted by his ideas about design.
Here’s a link to a site to learn more about Olmsted and his legacy. One part of his legacy was to articulate a set of principles or guidelines to inform a design. This brief statement below is but one of his maxims quoted from the above site.
A Genius of Place
“The design should take advantage of unique characteristics of the site, even its disadvantages. The design should be developed and refined with intimate knowledge of the site.”
His genius of place struck me as especially applicable to furniture design. The part about taking advantages of unique characteristics, even disadvantages – reminds me of our love of using the quirks found in wood to enhance a design. We celebrate that burled or figured grain even emphasizing what might have been a defect, making it a focal point of interest and discovery.
Maple burl drawer front, Photo by author
Six inch marking gage by Jeff Hamilton in cocobolo.
Trust your gut. The folks that cooked up the 2013 Handworks event in Iowa didn’t check with an accountant, lawyer, or MBA. They trusted their gut and banked on the idea that hand tool woodworkers are motivated by the same thing that drives hand tool makers.
Passion shows up in different ways. It drives Jeff Hamilton to dig deep and create splendid marking gages that are functional and beautiful. It’s behind Don McConnell and Larry Williams at Old Street Tools lifelong quest to unlock the secrets of wooden moulding planes from the best historical makers. Passion can be lighthearted too as the gang from Mike Siemsen’s woodworking school proved building a pine “toe pincher” coffin.
Life’s too short to take yourself too seriously.
But this lightning in a bottle was mostly toolmakers and artisans quietly teaching and sharing their knowledge with other woodworkers. Time spent sharing the craft is gold and a big part of what keeps us all hard at it.
In my conversations with hundreds of folks at Amana I took away a few things:
Hand tool woodworking is alive and in fact growing.
A good number of these woodworkers are either beginners new to the craft, or veterans (Normites) turning to handtools to enrich their craft.
All seemed to share that passion for the craft.
Raney over at Daed Toolworks sized up Handworks better than I can.
Thanks again to the Abraham family and other co-conspirators. Thanks to all the participants that came from across the continent. It was an excellent ride.
George R. Walker