Jim Tolpin and I dove into the writing of “By Hand and Eye” with a shared excitement. As we combed through historic pattern books and design literature we asked each other the question: “Would this be valuable to the modern woodworker?” Ninety percent of what we uncovered was at the point of a tool. The secrets simply would not pry loose by reading alone. Each gold nugget broke free under the points of a compass, or shined brightly at the workbench as a body of knowledge emerged. Time and again Jim and I found delight as one discovery lead to another and our modern assumptions crumbled.
Myth: Traditional Design is Formulaic
Truth be told, early on we did scour for a formula that might open a door to a secret passage. We found no silver bullet, but over time new horizons opened before us, which assured us that we were on a good path. Even the things that seemed like rote memorization, such as the admonitions to draw the classic orders or dozens of geometric exercises, were in the end anything but rote. We both marveled when we realized that drawing a classic order has little (or nothing) to do with drafting a historical form and everything to do with reshuffling the way the brain sees objects in space. Same goes for all the simple geometry exercises. Learning to construct an ellipse is much more than a quaint bit of compass calisthenics. It’s about imprinting an ellipse on the inner blackboard and gaining a sense of perfect visual pitch. You might have brushed up against this in high school geometry (before they killed all the fun with a boatload of theorems), but it’s at the workbench where this ancient knowledge slides into the groove and you find yourself uttering, “Shazaam!”
Make no mistake, “By Hand and Eye” is not a book about making period reproductions. Yet it is about equipping you with the same core design skills that inspired much of our most revered furniture. This is an entryway into a living design tradition that is still capable of propelling the modern woodworker to new heights.
Here’s an added bonus. We decided early on to use technology to assist the learning curve on some of the geometrical drawing exercises. Using text alone, generating a simple polygon requires a stampeding herd of confusing words, i.e. draw line AB and erect a perpendicular bisecting points Q, W, & F….etc. Jim enlisted a tech-savvy helper, Nico Prins, to make animations of 29 geometric exercises. These visuals let you grasp the concepts quickly and immediately try your own drawing. These animations will be available as a free download for anyone who purchases the book. You can click on the links below to view a sample. You may find this alone is worth the price of the book.
Draw a Volute.
Construct an Ellipse.
— George R. Walker & Jim Tolpin
Editor’s note: “By Hand and Eye” is in the final stages of production. The book is designed (thank you Linda Watts) and edited (thank you Megan Fitzpatrick). All that remains is for the completion of the index and my final edit. Thanks to both everyone who has worked on this massive project and to everyone who has waited patiently for it. The end is near.