Hot Rod in wood


Tucked away in an alcove in the Springfield Museum of Art this 19th century desk begs more questions than answers. The form itself is typical of furniture built in a rural setting by a cabinetmaker who sparingly added a few touches of ornament in arches above the doorways and a few curves on the base apron.

Then something wild happened. Another artisan, possibly 50 – 100 years later carved the existing desk lid and chest facade with a riot of poppy flowers and vines.


If that was not enough, they put an exclamation point on this oddity and ebonized the carved panels. The museum attendant had no idea of the story behind it and one can only guess. The carving is expertly done, so much so that it makes one wonder why the carver went to so much trouble to mis-match it with this vernacular piece. It’s hard to imagine someone with so much talent choosing this chest for a canvas. Did they do this at gunpoint? Perhaps they were making a statement or making a joke. Any ideas why this might have came about?

George R. Walker

Posted in Design Basics | 5 Comments

Preserving the Fire

Seth with an old nail apron. What a combination - Star wars and Mule Hide Roofing

Seth with an old nail apron. What a combination – Star wars and Mule Hide Roofing

It’s 6AM and five year old Seth, sitting beside me on the couch wrapped in his favorite blanket, looks up and says,

“Poppy, can we go downstairs?”

“Downstairs” is Seth’s word for my basement workshop. It’s a place where he can play with toys unlike anything from the McGiant toy store. “Downstairs” contains cigar boxes with string, old pulleys, hinges, and rubber bands. There are bins filled with cut offs, and the joy of double stick tape, and nails and hammers, and Poppy never tells him to stop making noise. He’s always dusting off some box of treasures I forgot about. Seth’s job is to point out the wonder in the everyday, and mine is to preserve that fire in his imagination. He’s much better with a mallet than he was last summer and just now getting the hang of drawing circles with a compass.


Jim Tolpin and I have been thinking a lot about preserving the fire lately, and we have some fun and exciting plans in the works. I’ll have more to share about it in coming days but I promise it will be more fun than a cigar box full of string!

George R. Walker


Posted in Design Basics, design workshops | 3 Comments

Quote to Ponder


” One basic quality unites all the works of mankind that speak to us in human, recognizable voices across the barriers of time, culture, and space: the simple quality of being well made.” – Bill Reid

Posted in Quotes to Ponder | 3 Comments

Design Critique follow up

Finished table

Finished table

A few weeks ago I posted a design critique from Petri in Sweden who built a table and then took on the task of designing chairs to go with it. After several versions, here’s a rough mockup of a chair design with some elements echoing his table undercarriage. Here is Petri explaining his latest iteration:


“As I wrote earlier, too much thinking always makes for more choices and revisions.
Alas, I think this is pretty close now.
So, a quick description .. the fanback will now have two equally tall centers, 120 cm, with three descending pairs to either side. The four in the middle will have zero splay but some splay to the outer pairs. Approx ten degrees rake for all.
As to the undercarriage, the frontpair will be square to the seat with the backpair raking back 25 degrees.
The dowel from the table will be mirrored with a rusty iron hexagonal rod in the front  …
As always, all input is valuable!
All the best from Sweden!


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That most improbable thing……and yet….

Peace, oil on canvas by Barb Walker

“Peace” by Barb Walker

Barb and I wish you the best blessings of Christmas.

George R. Walker

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Design Critique, need some chair help

Finished table

Finished table

It’s a common problem for a chair builder to get requests to design and build a table to compliment some chairs. Furniture builder Petri Nojonen has this dilemma flipped around. After building a contemporary table of his own design he’d like to design and build some chairs to compliment the table. We had a bit of early discussion about how to capture something that echoed the table design and avoid seating that looked like and afterthought. His first thought was to build some Welsh stick chairs inspired by Chris Schwarz. That may be a perfectly good idea but I encouraged him to think about details in the table that he could use to link them. This actually brings up a bigger question about how to link furniture pieces together. Is it enough to simply use similar wood and finish? Or should he just grab a small detail like a curve, or perhaps think about sinking a contrasting strip of wood in the seat like is used in the table top? In his first attempt he wondered if the structure under the table could be somehow built into the chair undercarriage.

Below are some details on the unique design of the table and then a look at his concept sketch for the chair design. Your thoughtful comments are welcome. Hopefully we can help him find that chair design he’s searching for.

Table has a wood and metal undercarriage

Table has a wood and metal undercarriage


Detail of his connection between metal rail and legs

Detail of his connection between metal rail and legs








His jumping off inspiration for the chairs is from this Chris Schwarz Welsh Stick Chair

His jumping off inspiration for the chairs is from this Chris Schwarz Welsh Stick Chair









Here’s Petri’s the concept sketch for the chair design.



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A worthy project and great gift for the holiday

The Thinker, by Auguste Rodin 1880 (Cleveland Museum of Art)

The Thinker, by Auguste Rodin 1880 (Cleveland Museum of Art)

What might happen if we pulled together three tribes from the furniture world that don’t often travel in the same orbit, furniture builders, conservators, and the world of furniture scholarship? The result might be a unique blend of perspective and inspiring insight. You can get all that in the inaugural issue of Mortise and Tenon Magazine now available for pre-sale. My hope is that this publication will play a vital role in keeping our craft alive and vibrant. I just purchased my copy and look forward to reading every page. Treat yourself to “issue one” of Mortise and Tenon Magazine.


George R. Walker


Posted in Resources | 2 Comments

Hand built woodshop

Tolpin shop

The current 2015 issue of Fine Woodworking’s “Tools and Shops” has an article about Jim Tolpin’s workshop. Here’s a link to a slide show where Jim explains how he designed the shop around the way he works. Dream Shop

Jim and I met about six years ago and quickly realized we shared an interest in traditional design. Yet we both had a different take on the tradition. I was exploring the historical fixation with whole number proportions, while Jim wondered why the human form always seemed to be at the root of a good design. Actually, both these threads are part of the same fabric. Sort of like how pitch and rhythm combine to make music. Our study has gone far beyond just reading and debating, by making our own work a reflection of this design heritage. Sort of an exercise in experimental archaeology. This shop is just that. An experiment in applying the lessons of our tradition into something both beautiful and practical. Enjoy the tour.


George R. Walker

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Keep your eye inspired

Three on a hill by Barb Walker

Three on a hill by Barb Walker

We are bombarded daily by thieves that rob us of creativity and dull the imagination. I could list a hundred goblins that steal but instead, I want to remind you that you can (and should) choose inspiration and wonder. Choose ocean breezes that lift the imagination and broaden the realm of ideas. Fine art is for me is one such breeze, energizing the part of me that goes numb from the daily grind.

So I find it helpful to include some ritual in my day and sprinkled throughout my week. A friend of mine who’s mind was always teaming with ideas started each morning with a Camel non-filter and a cup of strong black coffee. We are all different and my rituals includes taking a few moments to drink from the world of fine art. Here’s a link to the late Robert Genn’s Painters Keys where his voice, and his daughter Sara’s voice offers encouragement for the creative soul. You can sign up for a weekly pep talk from a master on his island of creativity. I’m also lucky to be married to an artist, my wife Barb. We talk about someday building that forever home which features a large sunlit room with her painting studio on one end and my workshop on the other. Preferably on the coast of Maine. It’s such a delight to discover how her world of composition and color intersects with my world of proportions and design. Here’s a link to her website where you can see a few of her paintings.


George R. Walker

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Stuck and Unstuck


It happens at least once during every design workshop. A woodworker looks up with a grin and points to a drawing. It’s followed with a declaration that goes something like this,  “This drawing may not look like much to you, but for me this is a breakthrough. I just pulled this simple design together in ten minutes. At home I might have struggled for days to do this.”

I know, I’ve been there, know exactly what it feels like to get lost in the tall grass when it comes to design. The worst part about the tall grass is that you can wander for so long you lose your confidence. Even when the design finally does take shape you doubt your judgment.

After working with hundreds of students I find that they usually struggle in two areas. Either they freeze up at the very beginning, unable to get off square one, or they don’t trust their judgment and choke when it comes to the final refinements.

I have good news and bad news for both scenarios. First the bad news. Every designer, no matter how talented gets into that tall grass with the same struggles. The difference is they have been there many times and know that struggle is part of the process. But they still labor over details, just at a higher level. Now the good news. A basic understanding of proportions, simple shapes, and curvature can make a huge difference. Hence those grins from workshop students.

I’m finishing up 2015 with two weekend workshops. There are still a few openings in both. Come learn how to get unstuck.

Oct 17th – 18th at Marc Adams

Nov 7th – 8th  at Richard Grells

George R. Walker


Posted in design workshops | 4 Comments