Figure Can’t Trump Form

If the form itself is lacking, the best wood in the world will not make up for it.
-George Walker

This quote (and the title of this post) was taken from George Walker’s Design Matters column in the April 2015 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine. Truer words were never spoken. So often when we find a really special piece of lumber, we get so focussed on showcasing it, that we miss the bigger picture.

This doesn’t just apply to a really nice piece of wood though. It extends to any decorative element, be it moldings, carvings, inlay, decorative painting and stenciling, or contrasting wood species. Basically, any element who’s main purpose is to highlight. No matter how well done or how numerous these elements, they can’t improve a bad form.

Even though this chest was built with fairly straight grained, "boring" wood, the overall form is very well proportioned and executed to my eye, making it much more appealing than something with wildly figured grain that has been over used, or used in a poorly proportioned piece.
Even though this chest was built with fairly straight grained, “boring” wood, the overall form is very well proportioned and executed to my eye, making it much more appealing than something with wildly figured grain that has been over used, or used in a poorly proportioned piece. Photo courtesy of H.L. Chalfant Antiques.

We should even include joinery in this discussion these days. Woodworkers today are obsessed with showy joinery. Air tight dovetails, pillowed through mortise and tenon joints, and fancy ebony pegs are indeed nice to look at, especially to other woodworkers. But if the overall proportions and basic structure of the piece are lacking, it really doesn’t matter how perfect your hand cut dovetails are. Flawless skin cannot improve poor bone structure.

On the other hand, if the underlying form is good, you can get away with a less than perfect complexion. Just look at much of the best furniture in museums. It can be riddled with over sawn dovetails, surface tear out, and inconsistent turnings, and be made with boring figureless wood. But the piece can still be exemplary because its basic form is well executed.

So thank you George for bringing this topic up! In my opinion it’s an all too important topic that is not discussed often enough.

Advertisements

One thought on “Figure Can’t Trump Form

  1. I too agree with this, throughout my clock making years I have sought out to make elabrate clocks and so far it has worked for me but there were the odd few like my mother a perfectionist, nit picker who prefers the simple yet elegant style, btw I love her to bits. So lately this is the direction I’ve headed, I’ve begun to develop my own style that expresses me, who I am, my cultural background, my appreciation and admiration for all cultures around the world all jam packed into one clock and soon furniture. I have seen a beautiful cabinet which took 6 years to build at first glance you said wow but as you keep looking at it you see it’s just way too busy, over the top, over crowded with beautiful inlays and marquetry, fancy timbers all over it that’s just over board in my opinion but that’s the thing it’s only my opinion and doesn’t constitute everyones to be the same.

    As I get older my taste buds begin to change and even though I’m not a fanatic over the shaker style furniture however I do like the idea of simplicity with elegance, which reminds me of this. Pine a timber much known to be associated with mass produced furniture a real shame yet it’s extremely hand tool friendly, easy to work with and the shakers liked it, used it. I predominantly use select hard woods that some give me grief beyond your wildest imagination and fet more over it than it’s worth. Wouldn’t it be nice if I adopted this simple phrase “keep it simple stupid.”

Comments are closed.