Hand built woodshop

Tolpin shop

The current 2015 issue of Fine Woodworking’s “Tools and Shops” has an article about Jim Tolpin’s workshop. Here’s a link to a slide show where Jim explains how he designed the shop around the way he works. Dream Shop

Jim and I met about six years ago and quickly realized we shared an interest in traditional design. Yet we both had a different take on the tradition. I was exploring the historical fixation with whole number proportions, while Jim wondered why the human form always seemed to be at the root of a good design. Actually, both these threads are part of the same fabric. Sort of like how pitch and rhythm combine to make music. Our study has gone far beyond just reading and debating, by making our own work a reflection of this design heritage. Sort of an exercise in experimental archaeology. This shop is just that. An experiment in applying the lessons of our tradition into something both beautiful and practical. Enjoy the tour.


George R. Walker

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Keep your eye inspired

Three on a hill by Barb Walker

Three on a hill by Barb Walker

We are bombarded daily by thieves that rob us of creativity and dull the imagination. I could list a hundred goblins that steal but instead, I want to remind you that you can (and should) choose inspiration and wonder. Choose ocean breezes that lift the imagination and broaden the realm of ideas. Fine art is for me is one such breeze, energizing the part of me that goes numb from the daily grind.

So I find it helpful to include some ritual in my day and sprinkled throughout my week. A friend of mine who’s mind was always teaming with ideas started each morning with a Camel non-filter and a cup of strong black coffee. We are all different and my rituals includes taking a few moments to drink from the world of fine art. Here’s a link to the late Robert Genn’s Painters Keys where his voice, and his daughter Sara’s voice offers encouragement for the creative soul. You can sign up for a weekly pep talk from a master on his island of creativity. I’m also lucky to be married to an artist, my wife Barb. We talk about someday building that forever home which features a large sunlit room with her painting studio on one end and my workshop on the other. Preferably on the coast of Maine. It’s such a delight to discover how her world of composition and color intersects with my world of proportions and design. Here’s a link to her website where you can see a few of her paintings.


George R. Walker

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Stuck and Unstuck


It happens at least once during every design workshop. A woodworker looks up with a grin and points to a drawing. It’s followed with a declaration that goes something like this,  “This drawing may not look like much to you, but for me this is a breakthrough. I just pulled this simple design together in ten minutes. At home I might have struggled for days to do this.”

I know, I’ve been there, know exactly what it feels like to get lost in the tall grass when it comes to design. The worst part about the tall grass is that you can wander for so long you lose your confidence. Even when the design finally does take shape you doubt your judgment.

After working with hundreds of students I find that they usually struggle in two areas. Either they freeze up at the very beginning, unable to get off square one, or they don’t trust their judgment and choke when it comes to the final refinements.

I have good news and bad news for both scenarios. First the bad news. Every designer, no matter how talented gets into that tall grass with the same struggles. The difference is they have been there many times and know that struggle is part of the process. But they still labor over details, just at a higher level. Now the good news. A basic understanding of proportions, simple shapes, and curvature can make a huge difference. Hence those grins from workshop students.

I’m finishing up 2015 with two weekend workshops. There are still a few openings in both. Come learn how to get unstuck.

Oct 17th – 18th at Marc Adams

Nov 7th – 8th  at Richard Grells

George R. Walker


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Magic in the forest


We paused on our hike Saturday to admire a stand of mature American Beech trees. In this part of the Ohio valley they are the kings of the forest, their smooth grey bark shining in the shadows underneath the canopy. Then, just as though someone flipped a switch we were under a shower of Beech nuts dropping from the sky. This wasn’t like the occasional plunk, plunk one hears when oaks shed their acorns. More like quick deluge that sounded like rain falling. A few minutes later and all was still again. I’ve hiked the woods all my life and never experienced a moment like this.


We walked a short distance and found an old cemetery. Many of the markers were limestone and melting away like dirty bars of soap. But there were a few other stones carved from a different material in better shape from the early 19th century that still showed crisp fine detail. I did a double take on this stone circa 1807 as it’s carved with a motif that a federal era cabinet maker might have employed. Note the fan carving pattern that looks just like many marquetry patterns found on furniture. Also note the trailing vine and leaves around the border. Cross pollination for sure. Also note this other stone which has a swans neck pediment carved into the face. These clearly show the connection between crafts that were all tied together. May you rest in peace Susannah and Sarah.


George R. Walker

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Must see side trip for WIA attendees

The Young Sabot Maker by Henry Ossawa Turner(1859-1937). Nelson-Atkins Museum

The Young Sabot Maker by Henry Ossawa Turner. Nelson-Atkins Museum

For all you happy woodworkers getting ready to attend WIA in Kansas City. Make sure you sneak in a visit to the Nelson-Atkins Museum . This Kansas City gem has a wonderful collection of fine art as well as a great collection of furniture. Like many large metropolitan museums, it has a nice sampling of historic and contemporary American and European furniture works in it’s collection. But what really sets it apart is one of the best collections of traditional Chinese furniture in North America. You can get a close up look at some extraordinary examples of furniture forms that had a huge impact on the development of western designs in the 18th century. Plan on several hours minimum.

George R. Walker

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The English Woodworker Premium Videos



I’m not too proud to admit that after thirty years of hand tool woodworking, there’s still much to learn. From the start, Richard McGuire’s blog and video clips at The English Woodworker struck me as the real deal. There was something about his approach that rang true and made me want pay close attention. What piqued my interest was his way of showing  how to get both your body and tools to work together and not fight one another. From my piecework days back in the machine shop, I always noticed that the really skilled (and fastest) journeymen made it look effortless. At the end of the shift they were calmly puffing on a cigar and touching up the edges on their tools, while I was still frantically fighting the clock.

Recently Richard began offering a subscription series of premium videos.  The first – The Spoon Rack Series is a primer on stock preparation and basic joinery. I give it a hearty thumbs up! If you are new to hand tool work, you could not find a better introduction. Perhaps most valuable are Richard’s thoughts on what’s critical and what’s not. Often there are just a few key points that mean the difference between sailing with the wind to your back and slogging through a swamp. If you are an experienced woodworker he takes you back to some fundamentals that can make a marked improvement on the way you work.   There’s plenty of valuable insight and tips that make it a great value. I know it has changed my methods at the bench and all for the better.

From a production standpoint the video and audio are high quality and it has a relaxed and unscripted feel. That’s not an easy fete as I’m sure that a good amount of thought and design went into this series.

George R. Walker

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Look Ma! No Ruler!

shadow box

What happens when you get fifteen woodworkers together for a workshop and ask them to design and execute a build without a tape measure or ruler? No, I did not go around and make everyone cough up their sidearms before entering Dodge City. But I did ask students to step away from their rulers just to let their minds focus on proportions and not on meaningless dimensions. This past weekends design class at Lie-Nielsen Toolworks was listed as “build a spice rack”. That might have been a bit off as what I really was aiming for was to help students step into the world of proportions. Obviously the class got it, based on this nice little design by Terry Mason. In his words,

“Hi George.. I just wanted to say how much my son & I enjoyed your weekend workshop @ Lie-Nielsen on the 8th & 9th.
I wanted to send you this photo! I found a good use for my “spice rack”. Thanks for the cool info!!”

So what happens when a group of woodworkers are asked to design and build without rulers? Well at first – chaos. But after a few forays into the weeds, most in the class found this to be a great way to really see in a new way. After making this mind shift, it also becomes obvious that this is an intuitive way to generate a design. What’s not to like?

I actually have to admit I had doubts about squeezing even a simple build in a weekend design workshop. After seeing how it helped students grasp the aesthetics as well as practical execution, I plan on including this in future classes. If you have already signed up for the workshop at Marc Adams in Oct or Richard  Grell’s in Nov, plan on taking the plunge and going rulerless.

This L/N workshop was full but there are still a few slots open in the MASW and Grells.


George R. Walker

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