Every time I buy a new tool there is a progression that takes place. A good example would be this Lie-Nielsen bronze beading tool. There’s usually a break in period, not the tool, but me. I have to teach my hands and muscles how to guide the tool and hit that sweet spot where I can feel the blade cutting the wood fibers. Inevitably there are a few wrecks while I experiment with acceleration and braking. I’ve done this enough to learn that most of the break in has to occur on scrap wood. Slowly the tool begins to reveal its secrets and becomes an extension of my hand. That’s when the fun begins. Finally, when you pick it up you no longer have to think through how to stay out of the ditch. You reach a point where you explore and play with the all the new possibilities within reach. It’s always worth the effort it took to get there
I’ve been putting the final touches on another upcoming article for my Design Matters column in Popular Woodworking Magazine. Really excited about sharing this information because it’s loaded with creative potential. I was reminded just how much fun it can be when designs skills come together and you start making connections. The article looks at how you can add proportions and simple shapes in layers to bring about a harmony in a design. Designers have long understood that you can link a design visually using proportions on different scales.
A form may be governed by a simple ratio that can then be re-echoed in smaller elements. A single ratio or a simple sequence of ratios can be employed playfully even down to a micro level in how the moldings or inlay are composed. The same concept can be applied to shapes. A simple curve can be repeated on different scales to create subtle and fun surprises in a design. This clock face is loosely based on a Shaker design. I built it twenty years ago so I don’t remember why I selected the brass escutcheon that I did. I wasn’t thinking much about design then, just learning basic joinery. Look at how this small detail shadows the arch on the hood. Even a blind pig finds an acorn once in a while.
I realized as I was writing this that in many ways, learning about proportions, forms, and harmony is not much different than learning to master a new tool. There is that break in period where everything seems mechanical and awkward. Then slowly the connections start coming, your eyes begin to see, and the mind gets filled with possibilities to explore. You reach the fun part where you feel confident enough to play. You begin leaving small echoes with proportions in your work simply because it’s fun. It doesn’t matter if you are the only one that notices. How many non-woodworkers really stop and take note of really perfect thin dovetails? We do them because it’s the fun part. That’s a good place, worth the effort to get there.
In the interest of disclosure I do have a business relationship with Lie-Nielsen Toolworks through my DVD series. My comments about their tools are from the perspective of a woodworker. I buy them like everyone else and receive no discounts or compensation for writing about them.