The Hand, the Hound or the Truth?

book covers

Editor’s note: Sorry, this post is not about “Game of Thrones.”

George and I often get asked which book should be read first, and we don’t have a quick answer. Because our research has been a quest, we didn’t write them necessarily in the order a beginner should take them up. We both agree, though, that our most recent “From Truth to Tools” would probably be the one we’d suggest reading first. It will go a long way to help you visualize space with practical knowledge of how our tools fit into the picture.

The second pick depends on how you like to learn. Read “By Hand & Eye” if you like to know the “why” as well as the “how” behind design and proportions. Otherwise, we suggest starting with “By Hound & Eye” if you tend to learn more by doing, and you just want to get down to it. Whichever way you begin this journey, we are confident you’ll come out seeing the world – and your craft – in a whole new way.

— Jim Tolpin, byhandandeye.com

Posted in By Hand & Eye, By Hound and Eye, From Truths to Tools, Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Now in Store: ‘From Truths to Tools’

T2T_cover_mockup
You can now order a pre-publication copy of “From Truths to Tools” in the Lost Art Press store. The book will ship in early or mid-November 2017. The book is $25, which includes free shipping to customers in the United States and Canada. All customers who order the book before Nov. 7 will receive a free and immediate pdf download of the entire book.

You can download an excerpt of the book via this link:

T2T_sample

Here’s what the book is about:

Good books give you a glimpse of small truths – about workbenches, joinery or sharpening, for example. Great books, on the other hand, stitch together seemingly disparate ideas to present a new way of looking at the world as a whole, from your marking awl, to your hand or to the line of the horizon.

“From Truths to Tools” by Jim Tolpin and George Walker is a hand-illustrated work that masquerades as a children’s book. There are funny drawings. There aren’t a lot of words. You can read the entire 208-page book in one sitting.

But “From Truths to Tools” somehow explains the craft, the entire physical world, our language and geometry in a way that makes you feel like the authors have revealed a huge secret to you. One that has been sitting in front of you your entire life.

The book begins with an explanation of a circle and a single point and show how those simple ideas can be used to create an entire set of layout tools – a try square, a straightedge, dividers etc. that allow you to build furniture.

Once you understand the language behind your tools, very complicated things become easy to understand. Compound joinery. Fitting odd miters. Making curves that taper.

And once you get those ideas in your head, it’s a short hop to how those same ideas can be applied to building anything of any shape imaginable – skyscrapers, boats, bridges. When you can calculate if a tree will hit you when you fell it in the forest you’ll be able to calculate the circumference of the earth.

“From Truths to Tools” is the third book from the geometry-loving team of Jim Tolpin and George Walker. Their first book “By Hand & Eye” makes the case that simple whole-number ratios are the underpinning to the built world and our furniture. The second book, “By Hound & Eye” gives you the exercises that open your eyes to the way geometry and ratios govern our world. And the third, “From Truths to Tools,” shows how geometry creates our tools and, once understood, leads to a deeper grasp of the things we build, the world around us and even our language.

“From Truths to Tools” is printed in the United States to exacting standards. The pages are sewn and glued so the book will last a long time and can rest flat on your bench. The pages are protected by heavy paper-covered boards. The book is designed to last several generations.

As always, we hope our retailers in North America and elsewhere will carry the book, but the decision is up to them. So as of today, we don’t know which retailers will stock it.

— Christopher Schwarz, editor, Lost Art Press
Personal site: christophermschwarz.com

Posted in From Truths to Tools, Uncategorized | 14 Comments

Inside ‘From Truths to Tools’

T2T-illo

Proverb: Give a woodworker a try square and it works (at least till it gets knocked off the bench). Teach a woodworker artisan geometry and he or she can build a try square, cathedral or a damn fine boat.

Why do dividers appear in countless old paintings and engravings? They show up in the hands of winged cherubs, scientists, stone masons, boat builders and artisans of every stripe. Yes, dividers were the tool that spanned almost every art and craft. But there is much more to it, something deeper, more profound and basic. Dividers were also a symbol of the entry into the world of artisan geometry. This world is a big place, as big as the universe, yet captured in a circle scribed with a pair of a dividers. This world of artisan geometry is just a collection of abstract discoveries, yet the truths of geometry are more true and solid than the Rocky Mountains.

Our ancestors understood that learning the truths of artisan geometry was fundamental to reaching our human potential. On a practical level, it allows us to imagine, design and build almost anything. They also understood that this world of artisan geometry can transform our thinking and train the mind to follow logic and truth wherever it takes us. For that reason it was a key part of the classical curriculum for centuries.

Jim Tolpin and I are on a quest to explore this artisan geometry and we’d like to invite you to join us. This isn’t about memorizing theorems. Instead it’s about exploring truths with a pair of dividers and a straight stick. The lone requirement is you must bring your curiosity.

In our own case, it’s taken us to a wide-open space filled with ideas and possibilities. It’s also given us deeper insight into every tool found in our woodworking tool kit. For each of these tools is the embodiment of a geometric truth. On one level you can know how to use a try square to mark off a line for a saw. On a much deeper level it’s possible to grasp the immutable truth underlying the square and then apply that knowledge across much more than a chunk of lumber.

Our soon-to-be-released book, “Truths to Tools,” is an introduction to artisan geometry. It just might change the way you see your tools and open your eyes to the timeless world of artisan geometry.

— George R. Walker, byhandandeye.com

 

Posted in From Truths to Tools, Uncategorized | 11 Comments

Taking Refuge in Geometry

Image.ashx

Over the recent season of political and social angst I’ve been finding solace in research and development work with my co-author George Walker. While our fellow countrymen argue the gray areas of morality and policy, George and I have immersed ourselves in the immutable truths that underlie the first principles of geometry.  While there might be some gray areas in a few of the tradesmens’ layout shortcuts (which we explore at length along with the fundamentals in our forthcoming book “From Truths to Tools”), the core geometric constructions of reality that flow from the intersection of line and circle not only represent perfection – they are perfection.

Scan 6Scan 11

 

For example, two intersecting circles that share a common radius will present us with two rim intersection points to which we can connect a line that automatically – and unequivocally – “bi secare” (cuts in two) the shared radius line.

Page 22 001

The intersection of the lines at the bisection point form a “rectus” (right) angle with the radius line. We know it’s a right angle because the other angles are “co-rectus” with one another and any two of them form a straight line.

Scan_20170914

A further “proof” of the correctness of the four angles can be had by using dividers to “demetiri” (measure-out) between one circle’s focal point and a rim intersection point. This dimension will be exactly, precisely, perfectly the same at each of the other three point spans. This immutable truth provides us with the geometric construction we need to make a try square as well as the key to testing the tool for true. We now have in hand the ability to accurately lay out everything from a cradle to a coffer to a cathedral with little more than a bunch of sticks.

— Jim Tolpin, ByHandandEye.com

Posted in From Truths to Tools, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Down the rabbit hole

or…watch Nancy Hiller morph into Basil Fawlty

IMG_0503

A peaceful view over the hills from the garden at Standen, just the kind of thing you need when you’re ready to tear your hair out

I take copyright and permissions protocols seriously. It’s a simple matter of the Golden Rule: I write and design stuff, and if someone’s going to use my words or designs, I’d like my part in the process to be acknowledged. I have no right to expect this consideration from others if I’m not willing to give it myself.

So I paid attention to what the museum staff told me when I visited the marvelous Wilson Museum in Cheltenham last winter to measure one of their Voysey chairs. I signed a bunch of forms agreeing to their terms, which require written permission to publish photographs of their holdings, even in a blog post.

In early July, as I neared completion of my manuscript for a book on English Arts and Crafts furniture*, I thought readers might be interested in seeing some of the details I found while peering under aprons, stretchers, and such in the course of my research – you know, stuff like through tenons, decorative gouging, and artfully chamfered rails…but also the occasional cupped table top, gap at a tenon shoulder, or split stile. It’s tempting to attribute perfection to our craftsperson-heroes, but one of the things I love most about furniture is its decidedly human imperfection; I’m intrigued by the question of what we’re willing (or not) to live with.

So I dutifully wrote to my museum contact, requesting the necessary permission.

“Dear Nancy,” he wrote back. “Thank you for your email. Permission would need to come from our decorative arts curator, however she is currently away from the office until [a date ten days later], so I will be unable to get a response to you before then. I shall pass your message on to [her] and bring it to her attention when she returns. I hope that this helps.

Best wishes,
B.”

Ten days later I received another missive. “Hi Nancy,” he wrote. “Thank you for your patience whilst the decorative arts curator was away. For using images of our collections in blog posts there is a small charge of £16.70 per article/blog post. We also request that you would send us a link to the blog post so we can have a record of how the collections are being used.

Please let me know if you are still interested in proceeding. If you are interested in proceeding please let me know and I will send the relevant forms and arrange payment.

I hope that this helps.
Best wishes,
B.”

I wrote back immediately. Of course I was happy to pay to use the images. Museums — especially those, such as The Wilson, which don’t charge visitors an entrance fee — depend on this kind of revenue. A few days later I received the form by email, which I completed and signed. A week went by. Then:

“Dear Nancy,

Apologies for not getting back to you… We are currently experiencing issues with our payment facilities so we cannot accept payment just yet. How soon do you need to use the images?

Many thanks for your patience whilst we are working on resolving the payment issues.

B.”

I told him that I wouldn’t need to use the images for at least the next three weeks. “Hopefully we shall have this rectified before 31st August,” he wrote back. I hated to think of a museum not being able to take credit card payments over the phone in this day when plastic is the coin of the realm.

A month later B wrote back. The problems were ongoing. “We can accept cheques if all else [should] fail, although I understand the postage from America would inflate the real price at your end.” It wasn’t the postage that troubled me, but the fee a bank would charge for any form of payment other than a credit card. I’d already called my bank. They no longer issue checks in foreign currency but said they could wire the money for a $50 fee. Screw that.

The next week the ever-charming (truly) B wrote again.

“Dear Nancy,

The cost…was £16.70 plus VAT so that would be £20.04 overall [about $27]. I have been talking to the finance department and they believe[] they have resolved the issue, they are checking one final thing and have assured me that we should be able to take card payment over the phone by Monday. I shall email you again on Monday with the hopefully happy news. Again, please accept my apologies for the ongoing delays.

Best wishes,
B.”

Just to be on the safe side I gave it a few more days. On Thursday morning I was ready to call. The landline seemed a better bet than a cell phone. I dialed the number but got a sound that clearly signified a problem. I repeated the process several times, omitting various prefix digits in case they were unnecessary. Still no joy. I called the phone company again.

“All calls to international numbers are blocked at present,” the clerk informed me. Can this really be happening? I wondered. It seems that fraudsters overseas have been calling US households and threatening the vulnerable among us with harm to their relatives if they don’t return the call and fork over thousands of dollars. “So you’re blocking ALL international calls because a few people have fallen for this kind of scam?” I asked. Apparently so. “Is this just you, or all phone companies? Because this seems like serious overkill. I am just trying to make a business call to England.” She couldn’t say whether our phone company was alone in taking this paternalistic tack.

“You can bypass the call block by using this code,” said the clerk, reading out a symbol and three numbers. I thanked her and tried the call again, this time with the code. The call dropped as soon as I dialed. I tried again. Same thing.

I called the phone company back. Another clerk this time; he said I’d have to make some kind of different arrangement, aside from the code, to call overseas. “I am trying really hard not to pepper your eardrum with expletives,” I answered, taking a deep breath. “I just want to make a simple business call to England. England! Not Nigeria. Not Myanmar. I just need to make a credit card payment to a museum. In the past, all I had to do was dial the number. I’m not willing to go through yet more steps. I’ll use my cell phone.”

So I dialed the museum’s number on my cell. The call was answered by a woman whose first language was clearly not English. “I need your name,” she said after the usual pleasantries. I stated my first name and she proceeded to type, reading the letters back – incorrectly. I corrected her, knowing that the charge would be declined by the credit company, were the merest detail garbled. Then we got to the address. Between the spotty quality of the audio (even with Wi Fi calling) and our linguistic disjunct, it was taking forever. We got through the four digits of the street address, but the word “South” caused a problem. “Was that ‘ah‘?” she checked. “No, SOUTH,” I said. At this point I was not prepared to attempt the Himalayan peak of the next word, “Garrison.”

“Can I just email you this information, then call back?” I asked.

“Sure. That would be good. Thank you.”

So I sent the email, and she replied that she was ready to take my credit card information in a second call. I called her back at once. The phone was answered by a machine informing me that no one was available but I could leave a message if I would like.

I checked the time. 4 p.m. GMT. Perhaps they had just closed? I wrote back to her straight away, dreading the prospect of having to repeat the process with someone new the next day. But lo! Five minutes later I got a reply. The long-suffering staff person had been busy with a visitor, and so, unable to take my call. I called back.

Miraculously, we get the job done. I have the receipt to prove it:

img_21751.jpg

The receipt really does say JOY. Perhaps the name of a current exhibition?

All of which is to request that you refrain from blithely copying and reusing the images you will find in my post about the museum visit, which will arrive in your inbox a few days from now.

Please note: Although this post concerns one particular institution, I have enjoyed remarkably similar experiences with several others. I am a huge fan of The Wilson and highly recommend a visit. 

*scheduled for publication by Popular Woodworking in May 2018. In the meantime, you can read Making Things Work

Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments

Update: ‘Roubo on Furniture Making’

deluxe_r2_IMG_8806

Our warehouse has almost finished packing up all the domestic pre-publication orders for the deluxe version of “With All the Precision Possible: Roubo on Furniture Making.” The packaged books should be picked up and headed out to their final destinations in the United States tomorrow.

For international customers, you should have received an email that indicates the extra amount of money we require in order to ship your book. This book weighs 17 lbs. – two healthy infants. Once you pay the invoice, we’ll ship your book to you.

The book is extraordinary. I have my copy exactly 6” away from me and marvel at its beauty, heft and readability. I hope you will be pleased.

I expect this will be our last deluxe edition until we dig up Noah’s treatise on ark-building. The press run for this deluxe book cost more than $170,000. So this is going to be a lean year for us as we work to rebuild our bank account.

Of course, I’m not supposed to talk about things like this – it makes us seem weak. But so be it. We are two guys with laptops running a publishing company. So this stuff is going to happen sometimes.

But even if we take a bath on this book in the end – even if we end up stuffing pages from it in our sweatshirts under the highway overpass – it was worth it. Roubo is bloody awesome. His books were a labor of love and they deserve this sort of insane risk.

So a toast to you, M. Roubo.

— Christopher Schwarz, editor, Lost Art Press
Personal site: christophermschwarz.com

Posted in Roubo Translation | 9 Comments

Carpenter’s Tools of the 17th Century

17th-century1

“CHRIST IN THE CARPENTER’S SHOP,” BY A. CARRACCI This picture appears in the Royal Academy Exhibition of 17th century European art, and is of special interest to woodworkers in showing the sort of tools used by carpenters in the time of Carracci. Photograph: Topical Press


This is an excerpt from “The Woodworker: The Charles H. Hayward Years: Volume I” published by Lost Art Press.

One sometimes gets in an indirect sort of way, a remarkable light on the things that people used to make and use. A man may explore all the usual channels in an endeavour to investigate a subject with little result, and then tumble across a piece of information entirely by accident.

The writer recently experienced something of the sort when visiting the Royal Academy Exhibition of 17th century art still on view at Burlington House. One of the pictures is the famous “Christ in the Carpenter’s shop,’’ by Carracci, and it shows Christ as a boy watching Joseph at work at his bench.

The point of interest is that Carracci painted in his picture the sort of bench and tools with which he himself was familiar in his age. In other words, the tools shown are the sort that carpenters used during the 17th century in Italy.

Some of them are extraordinarily like the tools we have in use at the present time. There is a frame saw identical with the kind still used by German woodworkers to-day. It is rather like a large bowsaw, but has a much wider blade. It is used for much the same purpose as the handsaw with which we are familiar. Then there is a claw hammer that might have been bought at a modem tool store, except that the head is square instead of rounded; also the handle. Passing through the bench is a holdfast, similar in principle to the modern type but without the screw arrangement. The carpenter placed the end over the wood to be held, and struck the pillar passing through the bench, so that it wedged itself in. A sort of small adze intended for use with one hand is interesting. It is rather like a small axe, but with the blade turned at right angles with the shaft. The latter is curved, and finishes with a curved scroll which would prevent it from flying out of the hand. Joseph himself is engaged in marking out a board, and is using a chalked line to mark a straight line.

Most interesting of all, however, is a trying plane which lies propped up on a box beneath the bench. It would be about 22 ins. long with a cutter of, say, 2-1∕ 2 ins. Its depth appears to be certainly no more than 2-1∕4 ins. Probably it may have been deeper originally, and became thinner from having been planed true many times.

17th-century2

SKETCH OF PLANE SHOWING DETAIL ENLARGED This shows how the detail in question may be either a handle forming part of the wedge, or a shaving.

One feature that immediately arrests the attention is the pitch of the cutter. It is extremely high; so much so that its action must have been almost that of a scraper. Yet there are scrolled shavings lying on the ground such as one might expect to take off with a plane of normal pitch. It is, of course, possible that the artist has gone astray in this respect, and that the cutter was set lower, but, as shown, it is not more than 15 degrees out of the vertical. It must have been extremely hard work using such a plane, and the shaving can only have been thin.

There is just this in it; planes in those days had no back irons, and the tendency would be to make the pitch as high as would be practical to minimise any tendency to tear out. So high an angle, however, seems an exaggeration.

There is one point which has puzzled us a good deal; that is the rounded piece immediately in front of the cutter. When, in the first place, we saw a black and white photograph of the picture, we immediately assumed it to be a shaving. On examining the actual picture, however, there were several things to suggest that this was not the case, but that it was in reality a handle formed out of the wedge. The detail is admittedly not clear, but whereas all the shavings on the floor are light, the detail in question is of the same colour as the rest of the plane. Many old trying planes had handles at the front, though in front of the escapement. One would imagine that a handle just in front of the wedge would be liable to cause the shavings to choke, but, there it is. Readers may like to consider the matter for themselves and draw their own conclusions.

Meghan Bates

 

Posted in Charles H. Hayward at The Woodworker | 11 Comments