Magic in the forest


We paused on our hike Saturday to admire a stand of mature American Beech trees. In this part of the Ohio valley they are the kings of the forest, their smooth grey bark shining in the shadows underneath the canopy. Then, just as though someone flipped a switch we were under a shower of Beech nuts dropping from the sky. This wasn’t like the occasional plunk, plunk one hears when oaks shed their acorns. More like quick deluge that sounded like rain falling. A few minutes later and all was still again. I’ve hiked the woods all my life and never experienced a moment like this.


We walked a short distance and found an old cemetery. Many of the markers were limestone and melting away like dirty bars of soap. But there were a few other stones carved from a different material in better shape from the early 19th century that still showed crisp fine detail. I did a double take on this stone circa 1807 as it’s carved with a motif that a federal era cabinet maker might have employed. Note the fan carving pattern that looks just like many marquetry patterns found on furniture. Also note the trailing vine and leaves around the border. Cross pollination for sure. Also note this other stone which has a swans neck pediment carved into the face. These clearly show the connection between crafts that were all tied together. May you rest in peace Susannah and Sarah.


George R. Walker

Posted in Architecture, Design Basics | 4 Comments

Must see side trip for WIA attendees

The Young Sabot Maker by Henry Ossawa Turner(1859-1937). Nelson-Atkins Museum

The Young Sabot Maker by Henry Ossawa Turner. Nelson-Atkins Museum

For all you happy woodworkers getting ready to attend WIA in Kansas City. Make sure you sneak in a visit to the Nelson-Atkins Museum . This Kansas City gem has a wonderful collection of fine art as well as a great collection of furniture. Like many large metropolitan museums, it has a nice sampling of historic and contemporary American and European furniture works in it’s collection. But what really sets it apart is one of the best collections of traditional Chinese furniture in North America. You can get a close up look at some extraordinary examples of furniture forms that had a huge impact on the development of western designs in the 18th century. Plan on several hours minimum.

George R. Walker

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The English Woodworker Premium Videos



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

Posted in Design Basics, design workshops | 1 Comment

Look Ma! No Ruler!

shadow box

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

Posted in design workshops | 2 Comments

From Hand to Hound?



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


Posted in Design Book, design workshops | 1 Comment

Salvaging a Design Failure



I know artists who save some of their early paintings as a reminder that in spite of their doubts, they are making progress. Others more ruthless, cast their failures into the fireplace where they can at least enjoy a bit of light and heat as it disappears up the chimney. Samuel Beckett described the creative process as “Fail again, Fail better”.  This little side table is a fail better. I wrote earlier about all the things I disliked about the first version that went up the chimney (except I salvaged the legs). Every design challenge doesn’t have to result in a masterpiece. It can be a success solely because we are moving forward from our past work. I have my own reasons for liking it better, but the biggest plus is that Barbie is happy with it.

George R. Walker

Posted in Design Basics, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Handy layout tip

practicalgeometr00paynrich_0070 (1)

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

Posted in Design Basics, Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Mastering Design, Is there a Shortcut?



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.



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

Posted in design workshops, Uncategorized | 7 Comments

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

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Might be your lucky day


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

Posted in tools, Uncategorized | 1 Comment