Draw a straight line on a piece of paper. If it’s easier, put two dots on the paper and connect them. Not too bad, right? Now draw a circle. Freehand, no compass or tracing the bottom of a can. Does it look like a circle? Not as easy as a line.
I remember trying to lay out curves for the side of a hanging shelf I built a long time ago. I didn’t know too much about design, but I knew I wanted a gentle curve, not angles. I also didn’t have any drawing tools to help out, but I pushed through and came up with a design that wasn’t too bad. Straight lines and angles are simple, but sometimes you just need a curve.
Another curvy experience that was a challenge for me was creating rockers for a rocking chair. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I didn’t realize how a subtle change in the curve could make the chair a hazard rather than a comfort. Again, I fell back (literally) on the trial-and-error process to get the chair rocking. It did work, eventually, but it also made me realize my knowledge of curves wasn’t very solid.
On the other hand, Jeff Miller (furniture builder, author and more) knows quite a bit about curves. He’s spent years – no, decades – studying the subtleties of curves for his furniture. I have personally experienced that accumulated knowledge on my back when I sat in a prototype chair in his studio. The back of the chair had slats, but these slats were thin, maybe 1/4” thick, and curved in both concave and convex arcs to a visually and physically pleasing shape. The back was made of about 20 of these slats, and it didn’t look all that comfortable. Then I sat down and was impressed and intrigued. I know everyone’s body is different, so how had Jeff made this chair comfortable for me, and everyone else? Very cool. The man knows his curves!
I wasn’t just in Chicago to sit if Jeff’s chair, we were there to shoot a video on using curves in woodworking. If you’ve been curve challenged in your woodworking (as I have been), you might want to take a look at what Jeff has to say.
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