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Handy layout tip

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This is from “Practical Geometry for Builders and Architects” By J.E. Paynter 1921

Here’s a slick way to layout an octagon from a square blank without resorting to math or measurements. Just connect the corners with diagonals and then use a combination square or a small wooden gage block like this one, set to half of one of the diagonals.

 

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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Thoughts on Handworks 2015

Rabbet Plane by Matt Bickford

It was much more than tools, even though the tools were spectacular! Rabbet Plane by Matt Bickford

 

I can give a hearty Amen to all the positive things already written about the recent Handworks event in Amana Iowa. The fact that it exceeded the first gathering two years ago says something larger about hand tool woodworking. We are a community now. At the risk of sounding sappy, we hand tool woodworkers somehow have come to be a family. I say that because this gathering had such a different flavor. Sure, vendors and toolmakers were there to sell their wares. Yet if you walked around and just listened to bits of conversation, it sounded like banter between friends. It was such a pleasure spending time with folks who share a passion.

I heard folks asking questions because they actually wanted to know answers and not because they wanted to show off what they know. And I saw people listen to each other with respect. Most of all I saw woodworkers having fun. Not fun in the way much of the culture sees it, a big glittering bang that’s an inch deep. Instead fun in the sense that we are engaging in something we are made for.  How fun (and rare) is it to spend time with other folks that get that?  

“One works because I suppose it is the most interesting thing one knows to do. The days one works are the best days.  (Georgia O’keeffe)

A month later I can still feel some of that energy.

George R. Walker

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Might be your lucky day

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On the fence about attending Handworks next week? Allow me to nudge you past the tipping point. Many of the exhibitors are contributing tools for prizes that are handed out throughout the day on Friday and Saturday. I’ve been busy this Spring with Jim Tolpin writing a design workbook for Lost Art Press, but  I still managed to steal away and work up this set of mahogany bench tools for some lucky woodworker. Hope to see you there.

George R. Walker

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Square the circle and see clearly

Note the circles inside this bookcase which offers geometric clues to the proportions

Note the circles inside this bookcase which offers geometric clues to the proportions

Pre-industrial design books frequently employed squares, circles, and simple rectangles to convey the basic proportions in a design. Often these drawings show circles surrounded by squares and rectangles to help the reader quickly grasp the composition. A circle conveys that the space is equal in width and height (essentially a square) and combinations of overlapping circles easily convey a square expanding into a rectangle. The beauty of using these simple overlapping circles is that it’s easy to depict rectangles which have harmonic width to height ratios. Draw two circles where the diameters just touch the focal points and the surrounding rectangle has a ratio of 2 parts high to 3 parts wide ( 2:3 is a fifth in music).

This design uses overlapping circles to reveal a rectangle governing the formthat is 2: 3

This design uses a simple rectangle with overlapping circles to reveal a rectangle that is 2: 3

I often encourage students to draw these simple rectangles to help them visualize harmonic shapes, rectangles with ratios of 1:2, 2:3, 3:4, 3:5, and 4:5.

Let’s say you want to draw a rectangle that is 4:5 or four parts high by five wide. Historically this was called a square and one quarter square. Begin by drawing a circle then scribe a horizontal line through the center and extend it in the direction you want to expand. Then use dividers to step off the line into four equal parts inside the circle. Go back to your  compass and draw  an overlapping circle so the circumference of your second circle overlaps all but one quarter of the first. Surround both with a rectangle and you have a nice harmonic shape to use for the opening on a fireplace or the outline of an end table.

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Merry Christmas!

Unto us a  Child is born, unto us a son is given.... Oil on canvas by Barb Walker

Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given….
Oil on canvas by Barb Walker

Barbie and I wish you and your families a blessed holiday.

 

George R. Walker

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A rose in the Woodshop

A gift from Bonner to a budding woodworker

A gift from Bonner to a budding woodworker

On this Veterans Day I’m re-posting this tribute to a woodworker and mentor, Bonner Hall.

Bonner Hall stooped down and flicked a Japanese beetle off the barely open rose blossom. He paused to relish the fragrance and take in the beauty unfolding before him. Bonner was sixty years my senior, quiet, spent most of his time putzing in his rose garden and cleaning freshly caught bluegills, his wrinkled hands now struggling to keep a knife blade steady. He was a hobbyist woodworker with a tiny shop tucked away in his basement lined with baby food jars nailed to the rafters filled with screws and tacks. He had an assortment of 1950’s vintage Sears power tools. All underpowered and wobbly by today’s standards, but somehow he managed to turn out some beautiful furniture pieces. I remember the first time I stood in his shop in the early 1980’s. He was finishing up a doll bed for a very lucky great grand daughter. “Doll bed” is such a poor way to describe it. More like a wonderful miniature with a piece of nicely figured walnut highlighting the graceful headboard. Like that rose blossom, one of those pieces that begged you to pause for a closer look. Bonner took note that I at least had eye enough to appreciate it, and that moment somehow bridged the gap between our ages.

On the wall above his workbench almost hidden amongst the collection of chisels and workshop flotsam was a small framed portrait. A pastel sketch of a young army officer with ruddy cheeks, a strong jaw and penetrating blue eyes.  Bonner tapped his pipe against the edge of his workbench and didn’t look up as he said,

“That was me in Paris on leave, right after the battle of the Argonne Forrest in 1918, hard to believe I was ever that young?”

Like most veterans he had few words to share about what he endured in the Meuse- Argonne offensive that claimed  thousands of  American soldiers, other than it was rough. He changed the subject by pulling down an old wooden bench plane from a cubbyhole and began loading me up with a box of hand tools and a small bundle of walnut cutoffs.

Bonner’s generosity is one that I know so well amongst woodworkers. Passing along tools, wood, and freely sharing hard won knowledge. But Bonner passed on something more. Apart from being a fine example of a man, he unashamedly brought his love for the things he cherished into the furniture he created. It makes no sense to put so much labor into a rose that can only be appreciated for a moment, or a doll bed that may not be appreciated by a child until Bonner was long gone. Yet he had other reasons to squeeze life out of every moment – 14,000 of them buried in the fields of eastern France. It’s somehow fitting that when Bonner’s heart finally gave out, he crumpled to the ground out in his beloved rose garden. We should all be so lucky.

George R. Walker

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