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