Every woodworker I know wants to get better at design. Yet it’s hard to carve out time to devote to it. Perhaps it’s because most of us go it alone. Design like any skill responds to our time and attention, but progress often comes in fits and starts.
I’ll be teaching a design workshop at Marc Adams School of Woodworking the week of August 27th through the 31st. It’s a chance to make a significant leap in your design journey. You’ll leave the workshop on a whole different level equipped with tools to develop your design skills with purpose.
It’s not quite as magical as making your own water but it’s pretty close. Our latest book “From Truth to Tools” explores how artisan geometry was the flame that ignited the ancient builders imagination. And no less miraculous, gave them the ability to create a tool set out of thin air. That square you have in your tool box may have come from a factory but it really came from simple artisan geometry. Here’s the best part. You can make your own water, I mean tools out of thin air.
Not only will you get a great set of layout tools uniquely suited to woodworking, but also gain a deeper understanding of artisan geometry. Jim Tolpin and I have been working on a video series “Building Tools from Truths” to walk you through the build process for making your own tool set. Our first offering covers tools for the layout of straight lines. Here’s a link if you are interested in learning more.
Richard Grell knows drawknives. He’s been building Windsor chairs for a living more than forty years. That’s a forest of trees sculpted into an armada of chairs. Along the way he’s tweaked and refined his own user tools to a high level. Now the best part. Richard is now making his own version of his favorite drawknife and inshave.
I’ve been using Grell’s drawknife for about a year. The word drawknife doesn’t do it justice, it’s a two handed sculpting tool. First thing that strikes you is the balance. It flips effortlessly in your grip to slice with either push or pull stroke. The cutting edge geometry in relation to the handles give it the control of a spokeshave for fine cuts yet it also can hog off material without complaining. Take a look yourself at these two short video clips to see it in action.
One of the perks of being married to an artist is that we share a lot about design and the creative life. Barb’s always introducing me to her artist friends and mentors she admires. Here’s one of the greats, Wayne Thiebaud sharing his insight on a great masterpiece at the Met. Late in the clip he laughs about how the painting is just a bunch of cheap tricks.
You can say that about almost any great piece of music, painting, sculpture, or chair. Every detail by itself is just a cheap trick. But successfully blending a basket of tricks together may take all you have in you. I’ll be down in Cincinnati for Woodworking in America WIA in just a few weeks sharing a tool tote full of cheap tricks. Hope to see you there.
The fine folks at Horizon Wood Products in Western Pennsylvania are making available Beech blanks for making bench planes. This quarter sawn 16/4 material is European Beech (Fagus Sylvatica), not the American Beech (Fagus Grandifolia) I wrote about earlier. For those of you excited about the English Woodworker and his upcoming lessons on making a handplane, this should be perfect. I know, I know, in an earlier video, Richard made a workable plane out of some roadkill lumber he fished out of the scrap pile, just to show that it could be done. OK, I got his point, but for something as demanding as a bench plane that might be handed down and put to work for generations, you can’t go wrong with this.
My lovely wife Barb is a painter and when the weather turns mild you can find her outside with her easel and paints. She’s helped me to see the world through a painter’s eyes and it’s helped me dig deeper into this design language of the artisans. Here’s a link to an insightful article – It was my understanding there would be no Math – about the underlying design in a painting by one of the most outstanding contemporary impressionists in America, Anne Blair Brown.
There’s much in the article that applies to furniture design. If you would like to learn more about the underlying design in furniture, you might want to visit my other Blog By Hand and Eye, where Jim Tolpin and I both are writing and exploring the design language of the artisans.
George R. Walker
Posted inDesign Basics|Comments Off on Design wisdom from another craft
Richard applying the last touches on a finish process with too many steps to count.
We’ve heard the unbelievable stories about how workers of yesteryear cranked out huge amounts of high quality work in an insanely short period of time. There’s no way to confirm the exploits of Paul Bunyan and his blue ox, but I can share with you the work of one amazing chair maker. I stopped by Richard Grell’s shop today to see an order of chairs and tables he’s been building all winter. Here’s a peek at the 54 chairs and nine tea tables that will ship this week.
Every part, every spindle, and chair seat fashioned by hand. Richard did call on a few trusted helpers for items like the painstaking job painting the miles of pin-striping.
He’s been making chairs for a living for over 40 years and still passionate about the craft. That makes him a hero in my book.
Jim Tolpin and I have teamed up again to create an on-line resource for woodworkers to improve their design skills. The new website will be the home of an on-line design workshop series (slated for release in early May 2016) as well as plenty of practical layout and design related articles and video clips about design. We also have plans to use the site as a platform for gathering a woodworking design community and we look forward to rolling that out in coming months.
I’ll continue writing here on this blog, but I am delighted to be working closely with Jim again to create something long overdue. Go check it out at http://www.byhandandeye.com.