*Editor’s note: After more than two years of work, we are about to send “By Hand & Eye” to the printer. This 200-page book by George R. Walker and Jim Tolpin is unlike any other woodworking book I have ever edited, read or even thought about. It seeks nothing less than to change the way you see the world around you. As you might know, we are not fans of systems of designing furniture that rely on (bogus) secret formulas. There are “formulas” out there, but they are hidden in plain sight. “By Hand & Eye” is the “purloined letter” of furniture design.*

*In the coming days (perhaps tomorrow) we will offer this book for sale here in our store, with our regular pre-publication offer of free domestic shipping. Until then, here is a missive from author Jim Tolpin on the book.*

*— Christopher Schwarz*

At right is the sign on the door that greets students as they arrive for our “By Hand & Eye” design workshops (which we offer here at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking and through Goddard College’s Port Townsend extension). For these folks (and for George and I), one of the most appealing and exciting things about this pre-industrial artisan’s approach to furniture design (as opposed to the typical and ubiquitous Industrial Arts approach) is the absence of mathematics. For many would-be woodworkers measuring to – and deriving divisions or multiples of – fractional dimensions and numbered angles is a huge stumbling block. It takes the fun right out of it in fact! That, and the effort of coming up with proportions – from the overall shape of the piece to the size of its internal elements such as rails and stiles, legs and drawer faces.

But in the artisan’s language of design and layout, if you can count to 12 and divide it up into whole-number ratios (and “12” is very amenable to these operations compared to “10,” by the way), you pretty much have a handle on all the math you’ll need to design anything from a cradle to a coffin to any furnishing in between. All the proportions needed to create durable and appealing wooden structures spring quickly and intuitively from a single dimension that responds to a functional constraint (you can only lift a pot of soup so high to put on a serving credenza) or to fit a certain space – as was the situation with my last project.

I’ve just finished constructing this all-hand-tool project: a Honduras mahogany bookcase to fit between two trim elements in our living room. So how did the design process go? Here’s how:

I started by taking a measurement of the available width. Wait, I take that back. I just stuck a stick across the wall and made a mark on it – I have no idea what the number, is and I still don’t. I then subtracted the overhangs my mouldings would produce (ascertained from a full-scale drawing of them) and that established the outside width of the case. I made the height of the case twice that distance (a 2:1 ratio – a nice, dramatic octave). The height of the base moulding is 1/12th the height, and the side stiles are 1/12th the width as is the top rail showing below the top cornice mouldings. The depth of the case fits the biggest book I intend to put in it, and the shelf spacing is adjustable. That’s it. The design was done. In less that half an hour I was off to the shop to do some woodworking.

This design language is not about magical rectangles; it’s not about arithmetic derivations; and no, it’s not about working to prescriptive formulas, either. It’s just simple, generative geometry that is just as much fun to do now as it was when you first met up with it in first grade! Welcome to the real (and reasonable) world of rational (i.e. able-to-ratio) numbers.

*— Jim Tolpin*

I have probably been looking forward to this book more than any other from L.A.P. (and I think I have them all). I was never trained to build from formulas, but have always worked to what looked good to my eye, or fit a space, or a need, or a combination of them all. I think “By Hand & Eye” will fill in many blanks.

Here here!

I’m very much looking forward to this book :0) I’ve actually just gotten around this past week to building a sector based on the article that Jim wrote for PW a year or so back…

But, will I be able to get it in Australia?

That depends on Lie-Nielsen Australia. Talk to David there and tell him you want it.

It’ll be interesting to see if the authors talk about the golden ratio in nature. Often the most pleasing designs are based off the golden ratio without even being consciously aware of it.

Oh, please. You’re not going to start pulling that crap again. If you know anything about mathematics, then you know that there is no golden ratio. Never was, never will be. It’s all a myth. Get over it.

(1+√5)/2? A+B:A = A:B?

This is tricky business. Mathematicians apply math to what is observed in nature, but if you think about it, nature doesn’t use math to create its forms and phenomenon. In other words, if nature had to create circles or spheres with pi (a “transcendental” number that never comes to an end) it could never create, for example, a bubble. (Not my observation–a tip of the hat to Bucky Fuller for that). And just what is “doing math” anyway? Dogs do some pretty complex calculus every time they figure out just where to enter moving water to get most efficiently to the ball you, for some bazaar reason, threw away. And as mathematician Keith Devlin pointed out, the only difference between a dog doing calculus and a college student doing calculus is that the dog usually gets it right!

I hope the book makes more sense than that. Nature doesn’t make straight lines, circles, spheres, or wooden furniture. All are human inventions, as are “simple” ratios. 1/3 never comes to an end either.

if its anything like what Jim presented in person, it should be pretty easy to pick up. I took a class from Jim that was a tune up of the book material, and it made a lot of sense.

“And just what is “doing math” anyway?” Great question, and as a math teacher it is one I think about often. The methods you are describing can certainly be considered mathematics, just in a different way than the old plug into an algorithm and chug till you’re bored and confused way. Nature may not do calculus, but nature seems to follow the patterns of mathematics in so many interesting ways that saying whether mathematics itself is observed or invented is a deep philosophical argument. Keep in mind that what you think of mathematics comes from how you experienced it, but I assure you that how you are using it now is closer to how practicing mathematicians would describe it. In fact, lots of interesting mathematical ideas could be gleaned from the question of what happens when you remove measurement. Anyway, point is you don’t have to say you’re removing mathematics, just that you’re using a more useful kind. Telling people they don’t have to do math anymore may make them happier though.

I had an oppourtunity to take the class from Jim Tolpin of the same name, and it was quite an eye opener. Between that, and seeing how Peter Follansbee approaches layout and design of his carving has changed how I approach things.

However, I get stuck sometimes wondering how to get started on a project… enter this book. It should be just what I need to have around for inspiration and approaches to problems. In the class Jim talked about design by ratios, and it clicks pretty well.

I’m seriously looking forward to this book and I can’t wait till this book comes out! I was disappointed by the tree book, but that has more to do with where I live (pnw) than the content of the book. This book should be great, especially since I’ve had a primer already from one of the authors.

Take my money damn it!

I live in southern CA and I too was a little disappointed that there was little in the way of western US woods mentioned. It would be nice, at some point, to update the book so that it covers ALL of the US, instead of just the eastern part.

Yeah, I get a little tired of the east coast bias in writing/blogging at times. Have you checked out “Chisel, Mallet, Plane and Saw by Tony Konovaloff” he talks a bit about Alder as a favorite wood to work with, and that is certainly west coast wood.

I,ve been looking forward tomthis for a long time. Can I assume there’ll an ePub down the road? I loves ma ePubs.

Yes. There will be an ePub and a Kindle version.

Chris, will you have a galley with you in Chicago next week?

I’ll be in Canada next week, I’m afraid. John Hoffman, the other half of LAP, will be at the LN show. I’ll share the proof with him. Not sure if he’ll be able to print it out in time.

As elegant is the process is, there is something funny about ” I just stuck a stick ” .

Can’t wait to read the book.

Like everything this company has published so far, it will be a breath of fresh air in the world of wood working publications.

I know it does sound funny but when I was growing up my dad use to talk about having a “story pole” when he built the kitchen cabinets and other parts for the house he built from scratch. After taking a couple classes from Jim it suddenly dawned on me that he had “just stuck a stick” on the wall and decided where the cabinets should be based on my Mom’s height and reach.

I’ve been holding off on a couple of projects waiting for the book to come out.

What is a dramatic octave?

I was wondering the same thing.

There being six shelves, how about a ‘dramatic sextet’ ?

Think music. An octave is an interval between pitches where the scale starts again (A to A, F to F, etc.). A note one octave higher than another has a frequency equal to one half the frequency of the lower note. Pretty cool stuff.

@ Michael.

Ah, I see, thanks, But did you mean to say that the frequency of the higher note is twice that of the lower note, not half?

Les: The ratios that I end up using for most of my projects are generally based on the ratios found in music–at least the ones that seem to most (western) ears to be harmonious. A 2:1 ratio is, as Michael pointed out, the ratio between the top and bottom notes of an octave scale. We expand on this concept in the book….and will continue as far as you want to go in the “rabbit hole” section of George’s blog. The note La, by the way, is in a 5:3 frequency ratio—as was the Arc of the Covenant–a piece of furniture (maybe the only piece of furniture!) whose dimensions are described quite succinctly in the Bible (through ratios, of course). …and down the rabbit hole we go…..

very elegant bookcase

bravo!

Mathematics is a tool as another. Use it only where it is needed.

You don’t use a bazooka to kill a fly.

Mathematics is not necessarily numbers. If you need to determine compound angles, descriptive geometry/stereotomy allows you to do it graphically. You then “only” have to adjust your bevel gauge to the drawing.

Have a look at Chris Hall site :

http://thecarpentryway.blogspot.be/2010/11/x-marks-spot.html

saw horse :

http://thecarpentryway.blogspot.be/2010/02/treteau-30-finis.html

Two of them with a thick glass would make an eye catching desk.

OK, OK, … You don’t need to do complicate things, but the graphical technique can be used to make a tote with four beveled sides.

You don’t need to master sketchup or any other CAD programme, just use paper, pencil, rule, square and compass.

I’m an engineer! Now you’re telling me I have to add *another* system of measurement to my brain!?

Oh… alright. I’d be lying if I said I don’t like doing that.

Shut up and take my money!!!

Jim could not have written a better teaser for this book. A simple story to get an “ah ha!” out of the prospective reader. Nicely done.

My thoughts exactly. Got me off the fence.

Years ago I was assigned a young immigrant engineer from an eastern European country. He worked through the design of his first project and with a draftsperson completed the drawings. He came to me asking where the “art” department was so he could submit the drawings. He was not happy to find there was no art department and that his design would be built as drawn without regard to appearance. (He was also unhappy that there was no beer in the company cafeteria.) Now in my semi retirement I work all day with artists that never measure anything and do a little engineering only when their projects really need it – much more satisfying.

“He was also unhappy that there was no beer in the company cafeteria.”

That’s not exactly the reason I left corporate weeniedom, but it is as good as any. Damned bluenosed hypocrites!

http://i2.kym-cdn.com/photos/images/original/000/513/851/927.gif

That little snippet is interesting, I’m no furniture maker but the things I do make are built to how I think they should look/how they should work and from what materials are available. The book sounds of interest to me and how I work, hope a UK retailer gets it.

“perhaps tomorrow”

It’s tomorrow already! Where do I stick my CC number???

I heard mention of free shipping with pre-order but can’t find anywhere to pre-order…

David and Tracy speak the truth. I’m looking for both a home for my CC number and a form for pre-order. Please tell us we’re going blind.