Saw guys

If you happened to be in Cincinnati last weekend you might have seen a lot of folks walking around with hand saws. Most of them were smiling. This years WIA (Woodworking in America) gathering was a special event that keeps getting better each time. The only complaint I heard was that there was too much to take in. I whole- heartedly agree, as I spent the bulk of my time upstairs conducting sessions on furniture design. So many people I wanted to connect with and classes I wanted to take.

 This was my 3rd WIA and the conference has become something more to me than a place to drool over hand tools and learn from the masters. Those things are worth the admission all by themselves, but I’ve been richly blessed by all the new friends and lively discussions. Most of the toolmakers are the most un-pushy sales persons you’ll ever encounter. They don’t need to tell you that much. They do something much more tempting. They put a (you fill in the blank) ______ plane, backsaw, float, chisel, drawknife in your hand and invite you to feel what a perfectly tuned and well made tool feels like when it slices through wood fibers like butter. Words like shazaaam, come to mind.

 I had the chance to talk furniture design with quite a few people. Ron Hock (Hock Tools) and I have agreed to get together some time in the future and kick around the modern vs traditional approach. Jim Tolpin (Port Townsend School of Woodworking) and I snuck away for our own pub crawl. It’s always a pleasure to hear what he’s up to. Jim pointed out something about using dividers that never occurred to me but I’ve been practicing for years. Pressing the divider point into the work at hand provides an accurate and positive indent to register a pencil or a marking knife. Important for pre-industrial artisans under bad light, and still valuable today for over the over 50 crowd fumbling with crappy vision no matter the light. Also had a chance to compare notes with Don McConnell and Larry Williams (Clark and Williams). Don is a storehouse of knowledge on period design literature and we enjoyed looking at some engravings for a 1732 edition of Gibb’s “Rules for Drawing the Several Parts of Architecture….”

I want to thank all of you that attended my classes and were kind enough to encourage me in my writing and research. The last several months I’ve been buried in a business commitment that’s consumed everything in it’s wake, including this blog. The tide should be receding soon and in coming months I’ll get back to sharing more regularly about furniture design. Your questions and enthusiasm has reignited a spark.  Much appreciated.

George R. Walker

About walkerg

Woodworker and writer
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8 Responses to Saw guys

  1. Sounds like a fantastic weekend. Shame it’s so far to travel. I look forward to reading everyone’s blog posts.

  2. woodcanuck says:

    Thanks again George, the sessions as WIA were fantastic, a treasure trove of information. As woodworkers it is easy to go out and practice cutting dovetails and using planes, but often foreign to us to practice design work.
    I really enjoyed the insights into shapes and proportions and how intimately tied together furniture, architecture and nature really are. All without mentioning the Golden Mean. 🙂

  3. Mark Maleski says:

    “Pressing the divider point into the work at hand provides an accurate and positive indent to register a pencil or a marking knife.”

    George, just last night I was laying out lines on a piece on the lathe. I’d turned it to a cylinder and next needed to lay out a succession of marks 1/2″ and 3/4″ apart. Using a ruler in this setup was clumsy, so I used 2 dividers to make the indents, dropped a pencil in, and flicked the lathe on/off. Result: perfect marks (that I then failed to cut accurately against…oh well).

  4. walkerg says:


    Using dividers to mark off repeating elements is a task that these tools really shine. Plenty of evidence that dividers were used traditionaly to quickly lay out carving patterns, and as you found out layouts on the lathe. Quick and accurate. Along came the industrial revolution and the emphasis shifted from proportions to specifications from a drawing, their use was supeceded by a ruler. I intentionally set my scale aside and use dividers as my primary tool to organize a design. Aside from the inherent advantages it posseses, they force me to think proportionally.


  5. Jim Tolpin says:

    George…it sure was good to see you in Cincinnati! Enjoyed the meal out at the pub with you–and like you said, it was a good thing we were seated in the smoking section instead of the chain-smoking section!

    Like you, I’m finding dividers in my hand more and more as I delve deeper into hand tool-primary woodworking. At this point I can get through an entire furniture project without knowing the numerical length of any one part. This information simply isn’t necessary when you are cutting one piece to fit another, and the parts are all stepped out by dividers in the first place (or marked from a tick stick). In the machine mode, you need the numbers on a cutlist so you can use the machine’s numerical indexing system (such as the cursor on the table saw’s rip fence). Otherwise, you lose far too much efficiency.

  6. Steve says:

    I have been missing your new articles on your website so I’m excited we can be expecting more in the future! I very much enjoy reading your insights. Hope all is going well George!

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