The English Layout Square Describes a Circle

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One of the tropes in journalism is to bring a story full circle in the last paragraph. It’s called the “kicker” or the “kick” and it is supposed to leave the reader amused, saddened or something. The following story has a six-year arc, and today comes the kicker.

It started in 2010 when I received Patrick Leach’s monthly tool list (subscribe here; it’s a thing). In that list of tools for sale, Leach had offered a graphic mahogany layout square that spoke to me. But I hesitated on buying it because of the cost, and it sold to another person.

Check out this blog entry to see photos of the original.

Sadly, the original square was destroyed during shipment to its new owner, but Leach had taken some measurements for me so I could build one for myself.

That square became the cover image for by book “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” as it summed up a lot of ideas in one shape: it represented an “A” for “aesthetic anarchism,” it was a beautiful and highly functional tool and it was something you had to make for yourself.

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According to Leach, this form of square shows up in England occasionally in the batches of tools he purchases and brings to the United States. The squares are fairly consistent in their design (if not execution), and Leach suspects that the square was used as a manual training exercise in English joinery schools.

I have tried to confirm or debunk that theory with no success. But it is the best idea so far.

In December 2010 I published plans for the square in Popular Woodworking Magazine, and you can download a SketchUp file of the square for free here. You can purchase a pdf of my article from ShopWoodworking.com for $2.99 here.

In 2014 I taught my first class in England at Warwickshire College in Leamington Spa. The woodworking program there is headed by Jamie Ward, an extremely capable and passionate woodworker and teacher.

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This year Jamie decided to introduce the square as a project for his students to build. Students in their first year built a basic frame and then were offered the layout square as a more advanced project. One of his older students in his evening classes also decided to take on the square.

“(I)t did push their skills a touch so early on,” Jamie wrote, “but they all enjoyed making it.”

You can see photos of the construction process and the nice templates Jamie made via this link. When Jamie sent the photos to me this week I could only smile. An English square that was likely a manual training exercise for joinery students traveled to America and – thanks to happenstance – returned to England to become a manual training exercise.

That is a proper kicker.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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7 Responses to The English Layout Square Describes a Circle

  1. Rachael Boyd says:

    I made mine after seeing you and Roy make one on the Woodwrights shop. I have had a couple students want to make one, and they came out nice.not for beginners but it is fun to see it all come together, lots of lessons it this build.

  2. therealdanh says:

    Nice story and some lovely squares. Thanks for
    posting it to your blog.

  3. occasionalww says:

    As a fellow once said,
    ain’t that a kick in the head.

  4. This project is high on my list for early next year. What do you think of Walnut as the wood? I have several scraps that I need to use up.

    • I’ve made many out of walnut. Any medium- or fine-grained wood would do. Quartersawn is best. Dry is a must.

      • The first four English layout squares our students made where from different timbers. Including ash, sycamore, sapele and walnut. As Chris says, stable, seasoned timber is a must and quarter sawn is preferable. As the material for this project is narrow in its thickness, you don’t want banana wood or did Chris call it the Pringle affect? The timber we used happened to be off cuts and it would be nice to select/purchase timber precisely for this project – next time!!

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