Design: From Shaker to Snaker
Trying to teach design is like trying to push water uphill – or so I’m told.
Despite the warnings and eyerolls from some fellow woodworking instructors, I’ve tried to build in a design component to the classes I am teaching this year.
My design process is different. No heart chakras will be opened. No power animals will be summoned. Your aura is being frisked for its lunch money.
Instead, what I do is show the students more than 100 images of the object they will build, from the earliest to the latest. I show them how the piece evolved. I explain how the functional dimensions can guide their pencils.
But I don’t talk about giant cobra heads with ruby red eyes.
I show them how you can make the trestle table’s base so it will mimic the forms found in nature. I urge them to think about the end assembly as a tree and use those slopes and shapes to create a pleasing end assembly.
But I don’t show them how to carve an evil cobra with a fully extended hood and a goatee.
So today I kicked off my first ever “design and build a trestle table” class with a dozen students at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking in Franklin, Ind. The goal for the first day was to show the students more than 600 years of trestle table designs and let them figure out how to build a table that fits their dining room or breakfast nook.
So after two hours of lecturing on table design, I set the students loose with their pencils and paper. After 10 minutes, the youngest student in the class put down his pencil and said:
“Done. I am ready to get building.”
I looked over at his paper.
“It’s a cobra. His arms are holding up the top.”
I looked at his drawing of the man-cobra. I asked how he would make the muscled arms bend to hold the top. I questioned the joinery he had ahead of him.
He simply looked down at graph paper and began sketching. After 10 more minutes, he again declared: “Done.”
It was a giant cobra head that supported one end of the table. The other end was another cobra head. They were joined by a stretcher. So yup, it was a trestle table.
The joinery was solid. The 12/4 poplar was available for the job. I could think of no good protest. So I approved his idea for a cobra trestle table.
It might take him longer than five days to carve everything to shape, but if he really wants to make it, he has a great sketch. And, just as important, he doesn’t have a teacher trying to hold him back.
So bring on the cobra.
— Christopher Schwarz