“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?
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