Try Something New

Donna was able to generate this curve in about ten minutes.

Donna was able to generate this curve in about ten minutes.

We both grinned at each other and asked – Why Not? Half the fun at a Lie-Nielsen hand tool event, are the informal jamb sessions between woodworkers. I walked Donna Hill through the steps to draw a volute with a compass just after she finished a demo on stringing using the inlay tools developed by Steve Latta and produced by Lie-Nielsen. Many of the traditional designs produced on furniture incorporate simple circles or sections of interwoven circles based on designs worked out with a compass. I can’t recall seeing a volute incorporated in a stringing design, so I asked Donna if she was game to give it a try. The example above is the result after one botched practice try on a chunk of scrap mahogany. This tool has the ability to make precise adjustments that broadens the range of possibilities beyond simple circles and sections of circles. Here are a few ideas of traditional geometric curves that could be generated with this tool. Anyone game to break some new ground? All of these are generated using compass, so in theory should lend themselves to this adjustable radius cutter.  Let me know what you come up with.

scotia (2)

Geometric layout for a scotia. Drawing by Author


Geometric layout for an oval. Drawing by author.

swans neck 002

Geometric layout for a scrolled bracket. Drawing by author.

George R. Walker


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5 Responses to Try Something New

  1. scott emmons says:

    absolutely enjoy these treatises on geometric layouts to the effort of good design.
    in the above examples — the 1st two were self explanatory, but the 3rd leaves me stumped as to its formal creation. could you provide a resource to show a step by step methodology to geometrical scroll creations?

    • JimG33 says:

      Scott, the line that George left out is the is the common, or tangent line that the circles sit on. This line can be vertical, as in a bracket, or horizontal as in a swan’s neck pediment. In either case the diameters are at right angles to this tangent line. You can work the circles in a rectangle of some chosen proportion that you feel works with the project you are designing. Also remember that this type of detail comes along rather late in the process if you are working geometrically, but as an early footnote as you sketch out your ideas freehand.
      Two books that are very helpful in this field are Handbook of Ornament by Franz Sales Meyer, a Dover reprint; and Ruler and Compass by Andrew Sutton from Wooden Books.
      By the way, building a beam compass so you can work full size is great fun.

      • JimG33 says:

        By the way, I forgot to mention that the angles defining the arcs of the circles can be any angle through ninety degrees. However the most common choice is sixty degrees, with the less common choices being thirty and forty-five degrees. As can be expected these curves will have different effects. We will not go into the Greek habit of generating curves by laying out ellipses, those dudes seem to have had a lot of time on their hands.

      • walkerg says:

        Jim and Scott,
        A period text you can refer to is Batty Langley’s The city and country builder’s and workman’s treasury of designs…. Which you can access through the Chipstone Text collection undre my inspiration links listed above. The text is on page 19 and it refers to plate 38. Many of the historical explanations are convoluted and have a narrow application. The scrolled bracket can be a brace to support a cornice over a window or stretched out as decorative element to flank a fireplace opening. Just think of it as a pair of circles – major and minor connected by a cyma curve with major and minor arcs. The circles outline the boundaries of a pair of volutes. Feel free to experiment with different configurations of circles and cyma curves.

  2. KMarx says:

    MY guess is that a jamb session opens new doors. Or something…

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