The newest DVD from Lie-Nielsen Toolworks, “Unlocking the Secrets of Traditional Design,” is the most information-packed, lucid and mind-expanding 68 minutes of woodworking footage I’ve ever watched.
Using simple images, dividers and basic ideas, George Walker delivers a compelling crash course in how to develop furniture designs using basic shapes (squares, circles and rectangles), simple ratios and concepts such as symmetry, contrast and punctuation.
He also delves deeply into the so-called “column orders” that some architects and designers used to proportion their work. These five orders can help you scale the plinth, case or pediment of your work so the result is pleasing to the eye.
And while all these concepts sound like they are reserved for designing period furniture, Walker makes a strong case that furniture of any style can use basic shapes and proportions that will result in a harmonious composition.
To prove his point, Walker designs a chest of drawers on camera. The left half he designs in a period style; the right half he designs in what he calls a “studio” style of furniture. At the conclusion of his demonstration, I was completely convinced.
But before you can begin to design furniture using these concepts, Walker insists (and rightly so) that you should train your eye to recognize these shapes and proportions in other work and in nature.
And so Walker demonstrates how these proportions apply to examples of traditional furniture and shows you how to explore a photo or drawing using dividers so you can unlock the proportional system used by the piece’s designer.
He then takes these same ideas of proportion and explores a piece of reproduction furniture that is clearly a masterpiece of harmonious design.
One of the best parts of the DVD (in my opinion) is when Walker explains the use of symmetry, contrast and punctuation in design , I’ve never seen it explained so well.
This is a DVD that bears repeated viewings. Walker presents a wealth of information. And though it is dispensed in a simple, easy-to-understand style, there is too much to take in during one viewing.
To help you digest the lessons, the DVD comes with an eight-page cheat sheet you can print out on the column orders (it will help to have that on your lap as you watch), plus a nicely done glossary so you can remember the difference between a die and a frieze.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t also comment on the excellent production values of this DVD. It is a lot like watching an episode of NOVA on PBS, with lucid animations, nice set pieces with excellent props and some intimate time at the drafting table.
The DVD is $25 and is available from Lie-Nielsen Toolworks.
– Christopher Schwarz
P.S. If you like this DVD and Walker’s work, I have a bit of good news for you. Starting in February 2010, Walker will be writing a regular column on design for Popular Woodworking , a long overdue topic for us to explore in breadth and detail. Ah, and lest I forget the “full discosure” part of this e-mail: I have hosted five DVDs produced by Lie-Nielsen, but I have never received a penny from any toolmaker. All my proceeds go to charity (the EAIA and the Roger Cliffe Fund). And I have purchased all my Lie-Nielsen tools as well (no freebies here).
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