Category Archives: design workshops

The English Woodworker Premium Videos

 

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I’m not too proud to admit that after thirty years of hand tool woodworking, there’s still much to learn. From the start, Richard McGuire’s blog and video clips at The English Woodworker struck me as the real deal. There was something about his approach that rang true and made me want pay close attention. What piqued my interest was his way of showing  how to get both your body and tools to work together and not fight one another. From my piecework days back in the machine shop, I always noticed that the really skilled (and fastest) journeymen made it look effortless. At the end of the shift they were calmly puffing on a cigar and touching up the edges on their tools, while I was still frantically fighting the clock.

Recently Richard began offering a subscription series of premium videos.  The first – The Spoon Rack Series is a primer on stock preparation and basic joinery. I give it a hearty thumbs up! If you are new to hand tool work, you could not find a better introduction. Perhaps most valuable are Richard’s thoughts on what’s critical and what’s not. Often there are just a few key points that mean the difference between sailing with the wind to your back and slogging through a swamp. If you are an experienced woodworker he takes you back to some fundamentals that can make a marked improvement on the way you work.   There’s plenty of valuable insight and tips that make it a great value. I know it has changed my methods at the bench and all for the better.

From a production standpoint the video and audio are high quality and it has a relaxed and unscripted feel. That’s not an easy fete as I’m sure that a good amount of thought and design went into this series.

George R. Walker

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Look Ma! No Ruler!

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What happens when you get fifteen woodworkers together for a workshop and ask them to design and execute a build without a tape measure or ruler? No, I did not go around and make everyone cough up their sidearms before entering Dodge City. But I did ask students to step away from their rulers just to let their minds focus on proportions and not on meaningless dimensions. This past weekends design class at Lie-Nielsen Toolworks was listed as “build a spice rack”. That might have been a bit off as what I really was aiming for was to help students step into the world of proportions. Obviously the class got it, based on this nice little design by Terry Mason. In his words,

“Hi George.. I just wanted to say how much my son & I enjoyed your weekend workshop @ Lie-Nielsen on the 8th & 9th.
I wanted to send you this photo! I found a good use for my “spice rack”. Thanks for the cool info!!”

So what happens when a group of woodworkers are asked to design and build without rulers? Well at first – chaos. But after a few forays into the weeds, most in the class found this to be a great way to really see in a new way. After making this mind shift, it also becomes obvious that this is an intuitive way to generate a design. What’s not to like?

I actually have to admit I had doubts about squeezing even a simple build in a weekend design workshop. After seeing how it helped students grasp the aesthetics as well as practical execution, I plan on including this in future classes. If you have already signed up for the workshop at Marc Adams in Oct or Richard  Grell’s in Nov, plan on taking the plunge and going rulerless.

This L/N workshop was full but there are still a few slots open in the MASW and Grells.

 

George R. Walker

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From Hand to Hound?

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Jim Tolpin and I are pleased that our latest project “By Hound & Eye” is available for pre-sale through Lost Art Press. Some might ask, “How did the title of your earlier book “By Hand & Eye” morph into “By Hound & Eye”? Both books share a common source and are true to what you’ve come to expect from Lost Art Press.  They bubbled up out of our exploration into the design world of the pre-industrial artisan. Aside from diving into the historical literature, we took it one critical step further, trading in our tape measures and rulers in favor of dividers, and a straightedge. That may sound extreme or even limiting, but to the contrary we passionately believe it’s the most liberating (and fun) leap you can take to unshackle the imagination.  Jim has a saying each time we stumble onto some new (old) nugget, “Just the tip of the iceberg”. We are continually dazzled at the simple and profound insights unfolding before our eyes.

In short, our earlier book “By Hand & Eye” is the why behind the rich legacy of pre-industrial design, while this new workbook “By Hound & Eye” is the how. Pre-industrial builders shared a common design language that spanned cultures, time, and place. That language was what I call artisan geometry or practical geometry. Don’t let the word geometry scare you.  It’s not those mind numbing proofs and theorems from your school days. In fact, almost no math is involved besides the occasional two plus one.  Rather it’s a way of imagining and laying out space with dividers, a straightedge, and a ball of string. This simple language was used in antiquity to design and build great temples and cities as well as employed by our closer ancestors who used this language to skillfully to build a barn, a boat,  or a cupboard. Our first book “By Hand & Eye” will change how you think and look at furniture, while the skills imparted in the workbook  “By Hound and Eye” will transform how you work.

Lastly, why the Hound? We both felt this workbook should be fun, as opposed to what you might remember from the geometry of your school days. So we penned this as a light hearted journey seen through the eyes of a smart aleck dog named Snidely and a somewhat clueless and skeptical woodworker named Journeyman. We wanted to share the fun we’ve had on our journey along with making you a better woodworker.

George R. Walker

Workshop note: I’m teaching up at Lie-Nielsen Toolworks this upcoming weekend and there are still a few openings available. Join in the fun.

Hope you enjoy By Hound & Eye.

George R. Walker

 

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Mastering Design, Is there a Shortcut?

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Yes, but it’s not what you might think. Design, like almost any other creative act involves some fundamentals. My wife Barb loves to paint. She’d humbly say she’s still paying her dues, but she’s put the time and effort into understanding color. I’m always amazed that she uses just four tubes of paint – red, yellow, blue, and white to create any color. And she does it almost without a thought.

So is there a shortcut to good design? No, if you are looking for it in some new touch screen whizzbobble. Yes, if you think there has got to be a better way than endlessly stumbling around in the fog trying to latch onto something that might resonate. Truth is, the shortcut is putting in the time and effort to understand the fundamentals. Once learned those basic skills become enough of who you are that they spark the intuition.

 

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If you would like to awaken that intuition within, I have two workshops lined up in coming weeks you won’t want to miss. July 11th & 12th at Richard Grell’s in Hudson Ohio,  and Aug 8 & 9 at Lie-Nielsen Toolworks in Warren Maine.

George R. Walker

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Top Ten Reasons To Take a Design Workshop

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These “Top Ten Reasons” I gleaned from woodworkers who have taken my two day intensive design workshop.

1. Improved judgement – designs you like, you will know why you like them.

2. Improved judgement – designs that suck, you will know why they suck.

3. Improved judgement – designs that fall short of the mark, you will have an idea why and how they can be fixed.

4. Feel comfortable (excited even) designing with curves.

5. Learn multiple simple drawing methods and tips that will help you think through a design and yield results that delight you.

6. Become a better critic of your own work.

7. Learn enough structure to get from blank paper to finished project while still leaving plenty of space for creative surprises.

8. Learn to make small adjustments that can push an ok design into a splendid design.

9. Learn to read and deconstruct great furniture and architecture to deepen your understanding.

10. Find out you have ability that you didn’t realize was there.

I’ve added several additional weekend By Hand and Eye workshops to my schedule in 2015. Think about signing up and joining me for two days of challenging fun.

“NEW! July  11 – 12, 2015  Hudson Ohio,     R. Grell Fine Woodworking Workshops

August 8 – 9 Warren Maine, Lie-Nielsen Toolworks

A few folks have asked about the Lie-Nielsen workshop. It’s listed as “build a spice rack design class”. We are building a small rack as a way to put the design principles into practice. If you want to build a rack for your chisels, whiskey flasks, or kazoos – that’s fine also. It’s more about the design skills than any specific project.

Oct 17 – 18, Franklin IN, Marc Adams 

“NEW! Nov 7 – 8, 2015  Hudson Ohio,     R. Grell Fine Woodworking Workshops

 

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Awesome carved bowls

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Last year I had the pleasure of spending time with Dave Fisher in his workshop. It’s a feeble attempt to try to explain his work with this photo. You only get  this one static look that doesn’t capture the sparkle of sunlight bouncing off the curved forms or the messages only your hands can read.  Dave recently started a blog (Link) about his craft journey. Regardless of your interest in carved wooden bowls, he has a wealth of hard won knowledge about design, especially about incorporating curves in a design. He’s someone I pay close attention to. I must warn you though. After I spent a day in Dave’s shop I came away with more questions than I went in with.

Just a note, I’ll be teaching a design workshop at Richard Grell’s in Hudson Ohio on the 26th & 27th of January and there are still a few spots available. Also, I’ll be in Phoenix in Feb at the Southwest School of Woodworking. Still have a few open spots in that design workshop also. Hope to see you there.

 

George R. Walker

 

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What can you gain from a Design Workshop?

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Design workshops are a horse of a different color. The focus isn’t on a single project, but instead on every project you build going forward. OK – if you must have a clear idea of a project before signing on, my design workshops project involves a bit of demolition, setting a foundation, erecting walls, staircases, installing windows, running miles of new wiring, and it all takes place inside your head. Oh, and we accomplish all of this with a pair of dividers, a stick, and a pencil.

Students run the gamut from beginning woodworkers, to professional carpenters, graphic designers, engineers, free thinking artistic spirits, to the average Joe who just wants to take his or her work to another level.

Some common themes resonate with all.  Everyone senses when a design looks right, but most can’t go much past just a vague feeling.  After a workshop, that inner sense is decidedly stronger and students can begin to pinpoint why a design works or fails. Much of this progress results from getting a firm grip on what you already know intuitively.

That simmering doubt surrounding proportions evaporates. Yet, this is not about recipes or formulas. Students get the opportunity play and experiment with proportions, much like learning how spices combine to create depth of flavor in a good chili.  This quickly leads to the ability to unpack proportions in the wild. Great buildings, furniture, and works of art reveal their secrets and become a practical source of inspiration.

Most notice a marked improvement in the designs coming off their pencil by day two, and the ability to execute and self critique takes a dramatic step forward. Treat yourself to a weekend in 2015 that will change every aspect of your woodworking by attending a By Hand & Eye Design Workshop. Here’s a list of dates and locations for the coming year.

January 24 – 25, 2015  Hudson Ohio,     R. Grell Fine Woodworking Workshops

February 20 -22  Phoenix, Southwest School of Woodworking

August 8 – 9 Warren Maine, Lie-Nielsen Toolworks

Oct 17 – 18, Franklin IN, Marc Adams 

 

George R. Walker

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