“A tradition is essentially a body of knowledge or a collection of practices that is inheritable” (Steven W. Semes 2009).

 We inherit all sorts of stuff. A recent loss in our family filled the garage with boxes of jelly jars, plastic flowers, and wax fruit. My already bulging attic took on more stuff as emotions were too tender to do otherwise. Deal with it later.

If you think about it, the only inheritance of real value is what we can keep alive. Something that enriches our lives, and if we are lucky, pass along to the next heir. Sure, who wouldn’t want a big pile of cash, but that’s likely spent on stuff that ends up in someone’s attic.

Our craft of furniture building is an inherited tradition. A body of knowledge about design, a collection of inspiring masterworks, and a highly evolved set of woodworking skills.  Its value is not in some masterpiece kept under a glass case in a museum, but in the continuation of the craft. This is a wonderful time in this tradition. It seems every month a toolmaker rescues some part of our craft from the flames. Steve Latta’s work with Lie-Nielsen Toolworks on the inlay tools is a great example. And who would have thought there would be such interest in hand saws? Admit it, would you have dreamed that hand saws could perform as wonderfully as those now offered by new saw makers? Now that we have such riches in new or reinvented tools, what marvelous things will we be able to create?

Molding profile from James Gibbs circa 1732

Which brings me to the lowly dividers. They played an important role in every pre-industrial tool kit, yet today they are little more than a symbol of a forgotten time. Can they offer something valuable to the modern workshop? In the Feb 2011 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine, I offer a primer on using dividers. Actually, it’s just meant to wet your appetite to learn more. Starting also with that issue I’ll also be posting drawings on this blog you can download. All of them will be drawing exercises, meant to be worked out with dividers. Apprentices were often encouraged to study and draw great examples of built work. I’ve found it to be very helpful and want to pass it on to you.  These are intended to help you think proportionally and help you train the eye. In addition, I’ll try to build a library of models you can refer to when working up your own designs.

Sure beats a wheelbarrow full of jelly jars.

George R. Walker

About walkerg

Woodworker and writer
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12 Responses to Inheritance

  1. Jack Plane says:

    I for one am looking forwards to your primer; I enjoy the nuts and bolts of design and I’m sure it will prove very popular with others too.

  2. Jim Tolpin says:


    What a great post…I’ve been reflecting on this topic for some time now.
    While I have also been exploring (and enjoying) how dividers make layout work so much simpler and more accurate, I’ve also been realizing how much I’m enjoying teaching what I’ve learned…and appreciating what others have taught me over my 40 years of woodworking for a living. My greatest pleasures in this work have come from learning, doing and passing it on. Thanks for being a part of this!

  3. Mark says:

    That is exactly the kind of info I have been looking for. I have read lots of posts on different blogs about how great dividers are for layout, but I have found very little information on how to actually use them for this purpose.
    This is one of my favorite blogs. Thank you George for the effort you put into it.

  4. Denim says:

    The homework is appreciated, thank you. Being new to woodwork and design, I have read and re-read your blog and I’m eager to put what I’ve learned into practice.

  5. Mark says:

    Thanks for recommending the Book, it is great. Quite overwhelming at first but after the second time through, things are starting to make sense. It gives a whole new perspective of looking at something, even empty space has meaning, now.

    Thanks again.


    • walkerg says:

      The only books worth reading take two or three passes. The really fun part about writing of this caliber is that you can return to it in a year and glean even more.


  6. Jim Galloway says:

    I’m glad to see so much on classical proportioning methods. If you like Mr. Semes book I’d like to recommend “The Theory of Moldings” by C. Howard Walker. Also if your interested I would like to forward a drilling pattern for a set of proportional dividers. They are set for 1:2, 1:3, PHI, and the square root of 2. Keep up the good work.

  7. Justin says:


    When I check your blog and see you have posted, my mind jumps up like a child and screams, “WUHUUUU!!! George Posted!! Now, what jewels has he given us today!”
    Like the previous comments, I greatly appreciate your work, especially your sharing of your work. And, I too, have read very little about how to actually use dividers. I hope to see a book from you one day in the future…? The only concern I have is that my inner child get’s soooo anxious waiting for your posts!
    Again, thank you so much!

    • walkerg says:

      Your enthusiasm as well as the above comments are encouraging. Hope I can live up to it. Actually, this whole concept of using dividers is not so much about technique as it is a mindset of thinking and seeing proportionally. The actual act of using the tool somehow alows the mind to make connections. Really fun stuff.


  8. I can hardly wait for more articles on this topic. I have several sets of dividers in varying sizes. I use them all the time and am always willing to learn more about their uses. I am teaching my stepson woodworking in my new shop and can use all the help I can get. He is learning quickly and challenging me to keep up with him at times. n Hope to see many more of these articles in the future.

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