drawn to curves

A saw till, is a saw till, is a saw till right? In essence, the form probably hasn’t changed for a long time and I’m certain the idea predates even the earliest surviving examples. It’s a thing that holds saws. A thing with enough spaces for the saws you own and the few you aspire to own. It solves a problem by keeping tools safe, organized and at the ready.

It doesn’t get more utilitarian that that. But does that mean it shouldn’t also be beautiful?
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I was considering the lowly nib on my Disston D16 the other day and thinking to myself that simple decorative embellishments like that are more than a sales gimmick for saws. They’re evangels of beauty that break the monotony of utility and call out something more in me as a craftsperson and maybe even as a human. They remind me that making a thing strong is important, but making it beautiful and elegant marks it with a sort of spirit of its own.

Why shouldn’t shop storage be at least as beautiful as it is functional?

Enter geometry, stage right…

After reading By Hand & Eye by Jim Tolpin and George Walker I have not been able to look at the world in the same way. Specifically I haven’t been able to look at curves the same way.

I used to thing that the apex of furniture came in the simplicity you might find in Shaker style pieces. Straight lines, tight joints, no nonsense. To me, curves and “decoration” used to be nonsense.

But curves have been appealing to me more and more.

I don’t know where I got the idea. Maybe it was touring Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio in Oak Park and seeing how everything in that house was in stark counterpoint to the ostentatious Victorian next door, but still I had to admit that even Frank used the sort of curves that originated in nature to enhance and punctuate his work. Turns out the curves were there all along. I was just used to looking past them, and maybe that’s the genius. They’re largely invisible because they just look “right” as part of the design and you don’t really notice them unless they’re missing.

Achieving that is harder said than done.

I’ve been afraid to use curves in my own work because I’m terrified that they’re not going to enhance anything, but rather stick out like sore thumbs. I made a spice rack in shop class in 6th grade that is the pinnacle of this form. It had three progressively smaller tiers from bottom to top and at each tier I added sort of a curvy hump. I thought this was artistic at 12 years old, but as I grew up seeing that dumb spice rack on the wall in my parents’ house was an ever present reminder of curves gone wrong.

(12 year old me sticks his tongue out at 36 year old me)

In any case, reading By Hand & Eye has encouraged me to get back in the game, so when it came time to design my saw till I knew I wanted to give it a “nib” so to speak. Nothing too swoopy or crazy. Something dignified.

 

My initial draft looked something like this:

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I knew I wanted something classic. An ovolo with fillets would have been nice. I’m sure someone can correct me here who understands the classical forms better than I do, but went with a cyma recta (commonly called an ogee) curve because of the way it terminated at 90 degrees to the front edge and I added a fillet to the top to give it interest and balance.

I tried a few different versions of ogee and cyma curves until I found the one I liked, but all were generated in the same manner, by defining the line segment, bisecting the segment, locating two equilateral triangles off of the bisected segments, and drawing the curves based on those triangles. You can see the process here on this cyma reversa (true ogee) even though this is not the final curve I used.
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After laying all of that out and changing course a few times I cut a template on scrap to test the light and shadow. Sometimes I like to look at the design in black and white to remove some of the “background noise.”

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From there i moved on to cut the design on the real sides. It’s helpful to add plenty of relief cuts before coping the rest out.
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I made sure to match the sides up to one another and clamped them together to fair the curves with rasp and file.

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I have to say, that with a little planning, forethought and a few experiments I am pleased with how this walk on the curvy side has worked out.

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