The following is excerpted from George Walker and Jim Tolpin’s first book collaboration, “By Hand & Eye.” (The projects in the book, including this one, are by Tolpin.) It’s the book that kicked off their “Artisan Geometry” work, which now includes four books: “By Hand & Eye,” “By Hound & Eye,” “From Truth to Tools” and “Euclid’s Door.”
“By Hand & Eye” is a deep dive into the world of history, architecture and design. And the authors have emerged with armloads of pearls for readers.
Instead of serving up a list of formulas with magical names (i.e. the Golden Section, the Rule of Thirds) that will transform the mundane into perfection, the authors show how much of the world is governed by simple proportions, noting how ratios such as 1:2; 3:5 and 4:5 were ubiquitous in the designs of pre-industrial artisans. And the tool that helps us explore this world, then as now, are dividers.
The key to good design is to master these basic “notes” – much like learning to sing “do, re, mi.” How to do this is the subject of the first three-quarters of the book. It offers exercises, examples and encouragement in opening your inner eye, propping it up with toothpicks and learning the simple geometry that will help you improve your design. The last quarter of “By Hand & Eye” takes these principles and puts them into practice by designing nine projects that are decidedly contemporary – proof positive that design isn’t reserved for highboys and 18th-century Philadelphia side chairs.
Design Parameters & Process
● The only starting parameter for this Shaker-style lap desk was the requirement that it provide a writing surface for note cards (about an 8″ x 11″ rectangle) so I chose this proportion (8:11) for the overall plan view of the lid.
● I then made the width of the top and bottom lid rails one-eighth of the overall frame height. By selecting 1-1/4″ as the frame width (which would also serve as the module length), the internal panel/writing surface is six modules wide (and therefore 8″) and is more than 11″ long. Drawing a diagonal intersects the inside edges of the top and bottom frames at exactly one-eighth the length of the lid (thanks to the magic of geometric expansion), establishing the width of the side frames.
● I added a two-module-wide extension to the angled frame lid to increase the internal capacity of the desk.
● To angle the lid to a 2:1 ratio, I made the sides one module high at the front rising to two modules high at the back.
● The lid and extension overlap the desk box by one-fourth of a module along all sides.
● I chose butt hinges that were close to one module in length, and I inset the hinges two modules.
● Note that the frame of the lid acts as a border around the writing surface and thus punctuates that space. If your eye chooses to make the frame lighter or stouter, remember that those framing elements are tied proportionally – if you make them stouter, the writing surface shrinks in both directions. Also note how the small ebony stops at the top and bottom act as another layer of punctuation.
● While the layout of the internal dividers is sized for paper and writing utensils, it also creates a pleasing division of major and minor spacings.
15 thoughts on “Shaker-style Lap Desk”
Six modules is 7 1/2” not 8. Great piece and a great book.
Correct. Hopefully we’ll catch this in the next edition!
Yep – we’ll make these corrections! (I’m gobsmacked we haven’t found this before now!)
The front of the lap desk height is marked 1/4M. That does not seem right compared to the proportions of the back. Was it meant to be 1 1/4M or was the 1/4M the thickness of the lid?
Misprint on the drawing. 1/4 M is thickness of the lid.
Looks like an error: 2 1/4Ms…definitely not the same dimension
Nice looking traveler’s lap desk, minor error in stating proportions or no. Is that inlay leather or cork? I know both were historically correct
Leather is what I used.
Are those rose headed nails on the lid extension on top. Does anyone know?
Yes they are. Copper.
Thanks for the feedback, Jim
Venture a guess on the thickness of the dividers and the frame?
Frame was 3/4 if I remember correctly. The dividers were half that I’m pretty sure.
Thanks for sharing these dimensions.
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