Unlocking the Secrets of Traditional Design – DVD Review

Article - January 20, 2010

When it comes to woodworking, I often feel like I am working my way backwards. I was proficient with a tablesaw before I picked up my first handsaw. I knew my way around a drum sander before learning how to use a smoothing plane. And perhaps most disturbingly, I was creating and building my own furniture before I knew anything about design. Heck, who am I kidding? I still know nothing about design! I know what I think looks good and I follow a few basic rules, but more often than not I simply go with my gut. And given the number of new hobbyists entering the craft every day, I know I am not the only one in this position. So its with great pleasure that I can whole-heartedly recommend “Unlocking the Secrets of Traditional Design”, featuring George Walker and presented by Lie-Nielsen.

Now I’ll be honest, I haven’t delved too deeply into the world of traditional design simply because it bores the hell out of me. If you are not a Guild member, you missed a silly little skit of me falling asleep while my Design School teacher (Nicole) recited the Golden Ratio out to 10 decimal places. It was all in good fun, but that satire was rooted in truth. Most design conversations I have observed or been a part of usually don’t go much further than basic proportions and the Golden Ratio. And that, my friends, is why this DVD stands apart as a bright and shining beacon in a sea of sleep-inducing design talk. It simply gives me a basic set of tools that I can immediately put to use in my own work.

I have to admit though, the DVD didn’t have me at hello. Here was the interaction between George’s words and my brain:

George (walking out of old colonial meeting house): “What a great old building!”
My Brain: “Hey look at that nondescript boring white building.”
George: “I’d love to meet the people who built this.”
My Brain: “Here we go….. another guy talking about architecture, pilasters, buttresses and corbels………”
George: “The same principles that helped create this colonial meeting house can be applied to a table or a sideboard or a dresser.”
My Brain: “OK, you’ve captured my interest. Well played Walker…..well played! Now teach me something useful man!

And teach me he did! George did a tremendous job of outlining what he considers to be the fundamentals of good design, and how we can apply those to our furniture using simple whole number ratios. He even designs a piece of furniture right at his drafting table, in two different styles, all while justifying and explaining each and every choice. At some points, it gets a little deep and that just means I’ll be watching it again. But that may be one of the most amazing things about this DVD: I actually DO want to watch it again! I know I missed a few things so I am about to rev up my laptop for another go ’round.

Walker’s explanations and advice are incredibly useful and easy to understand. And as if that weren’t enough, the visuals, graphics and videography are second to none! This is a DVD that sets the bar very high in both quality and content. Kudos to the Lie-Nielsen crew who did all the behind the scenes work.

“Unlocking the Secrets of Traditional Design” doesn’t just throw terminology in my face and make me run away wondering why I wasted my time studying biology for 4 years when I should have been in design school. It breaks a few simple concepts down into usable chunks that I can actually apply to my woodworking. Such a simple concept, yet something I have yet to experience in my limited exposure to the world of design. And THAT, is worth way more than the price of the DVD. This is a must-have for woodworkers looking to design their own furniture. And if you are working your way “backwards” in your woodworking education, like me, I highly suggest checking out this title.

George Walker is now writing a regular column for Popular Woodworking and is featured on the cover of the Feb. 2010 issue. You will also want to check out his blog, Design Matters. For a more detailed description of this DVD, check out Chris Schwarz’s Review. And if you are interested in buying this DVD, you can do so here.



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