Artisan Geometry

The universal and timeless structure of our imaginations.

by George Walker
pages 18-20

Woodworking spans the globe and is a common thread linking humans across the ages. This craft shares a basic tool kit across time and space with more similarities than differences. An artisan from feudal Japan might view a Western backsaw with suspicion, but would still recognize it as a saw. Tools such as chisels, planes and saws are universal and they work in parallel with a universal design language that is baked into both the tools and the way we execute design.

This language, which I call “artisan geometry,” was used and passed down by builders since the earliest of times. This blue-collar builder’s language was used both in the design process to visualize ideas and on a practical level employed in the actual layouts at the workbench.

In our high-tech world it’s easily mistaken as some antique method or set of rules that might constrain creativity. Far from it. Geometry is the structure that lifts our imagination much like the roots and stem of a plant support the blossoming of a flower.

This isn’t the geometry you were forced to memorize in the eighth grade with theorems and proofs. This is an artisan’s language expressed with a pair of dividers, a length of string and a straight stick. Yes, it was written down, often in the opening chapters of early books on building like Roubo’s treatise on joinery (“l’Art du Menuisier”) or “Natte’s Practical Geometry.”

Blog: Read more from George R. Walker on his By Hand & Eye blog with Jim Tolpin.
In Our Store: George Walker’s DVDs “Unlocking the Secrets of Traditional Design: Moldings” and “Unlocking the Secrets of Traditional Design.”

From the November 2017 issue, #235