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
Architectural niche by Batty Langley
Is for niche. A recess built into a wall to house a statue, trophy, or work of art. Often niches are capped with a semi-dome. The domes were sometimes carved to mimic the inside of a seashell. Found in Roman buildings from antiquity, niches were exploited by joiners and cabinetmakers for interior architectural work. The interior space for built in corner cupboards often included the graceful carved domes with dramatic effect. Sort of sheds light on the saying “Carved out a niche for oneself”.
Niche with carved seashell treatment in semi-dome
Niche from Guntston Hall. HABS photo.
This is one of those architectural elements that shares DNA with other bits and pieces often found in traditional design. Did this semi-dome from a niche inspire the fanlights capping a doorway (also found in some glazed furniture doors)? If you have any examples of niches to share, e-mail me at georgewalkerdesign.com and I’ll add them to this post.
George R. Walker
Here’s another pic for you from The Walnut Calamity. The fireplace is recessed under a flight of stairs, which ascend from the right. Niche Overmantel. “Particularly quaint, really,” said the unusually vain woodworker, Xavier. Yep, zany!
My brother and I looked on as a gunsmith at Colonial Williamsburg expertly fit together a black walnut stock with a metal lock. Without raising an eye the artisan patiently answered our questions as though we were fresh off the boat and in need of a good rifle. That is until my brother volunteered that I was a machinist in a former life.
“A machinist” He said as he set his file on the workbench, and peered over his spectacles at me, “In that case, I’ll…. talk…… slow…. for…. your…. sake.”
I often get questions that are less about design and more about engineering. It’s innocent enough and usually no fault intended. Yet to my mind there is a quite a gap between the world of design and the world of engineering. When I think of engineering I think strength of materials, load bearing capacities, slide rules, and efficiencies. For many, engineering is the default starting point. Our education system and industry is geared towards that approach. Engineering is logical to the core; much of it is expressed in numbers and formulas.
When design comes to mind I think of aesthetics, creating something with a “delight” factor. Yes, a chair has to function and bear the stress as we lean back and rack the undercarriage – that’s a given. But a chair also has to invite us to sit and beckon us to grasp the armrest as though it were a bit of shelter from the wind. Design is about learning to visualize a fair curve and a sixth sense for proportions. It’s about gaining something I call “spatial pitch” where the eye can sense visual music in a composition.
Corinthian Capital by Al Breed, Photo by Lie-Nielsen Toolworks
Jim Tolpin and I are excited about our book “By Hand and Eye” which is just a few weeks away from going to the printer. If you are hoping for a book to help you engineer furniture, you may be a bit confused and disappointed. But, if you ever wondered what it would be like to unlock that inner ability, to gain a designers eye, this book can help you begin that journey. Sure, we do go through some nifty layout tricks with dividers that will make you a better woodworker, but the heart of the book is about learning to visualize, gaining that perfect pitch, crossing that invisible line called delight.
George R. Walker