Issue Three Nearly Gone…


This is the last call for Issue Three before it goes out of stock!  We only have a few cases left in our inventory now, so this is it, folks. We anticipate that the rest could well be wiped out after this notification. So, if you’re one of those folks who would regret not having your own copy of Issue Three, now’s the time. You can check out the Table of Contents here. – Garrett Hack, Vic Tesolin, Drew Langsner and Kenneth Kortemeier, Brendan Gaffney, the spring-pole lathe, carving, and on and on. This issue is loaded with great stuff. 

Here’s another excerpt from this issue: 

More Deftly Without Measures


“A unit of measure has a dramatic impact on the world onto which it is prescribed. A modern example is the standard measurement of sheet goods, what I call the contractor’s fathom, of 8' in the States or 2440 millimeters in Europe. The number of sheds in the United States with walls 8' high (designed around plywood cladding) is in the millions. Once prescribed, a measurement often becomes a lowest common denominator of scale in construction, whether it be garden sheds or furniture. Traditional measures have also affected culture. Japanese architecture is still laid out with the measure of tatami mats, which are 6 by 3 shaku, roughly 6' by 3'.

A toolmaker, therefore, takes great responsibility in recreating and distributing the tools of measurement. When I worked to recreate these ancient measures, each system required extensive research to confirm what the texts said or to attempt to unify disparate accounts of a measure’s true length. In the end, my rulers have been used to recreate woodwork from centuries ago, from Roman workbenches to French mallets. 


After creating rulers for a number of systems, though, I was left with an existential crisis as a toolmaker, which eventually led me away from measurement and toward proportion. After seeing the wide array of measurement systems, it’s hard not to conclude that the modern unified measurement systems are inherently impersonal, as removed as they are from their original anthropometric basis. Measurement is inherently reflective of the act of making things – why not tie it more directly to the maker? 

When the Inuit tribes of the Arctic build their kayaks, their first step is to create a measurement stick. The tribes are isolated from any other community, and therefore have no standard measurement. In fact, because a single person works through the entire process alone, each individual uses their own measure. They design and build their boats in proportion to the intended user (who also happens to be the maker) – the length is three fathoms (the distance from fingertip to fingertip of outstretched arms) minus one cubit (the distance from elbow to fingertip). 

Examples like this, and the countless other cultural and pre-industrial examples I encountered in my research, led me to a two-fold conclusion as a toolmaker. My first is that numerical measurement is only necessary for the craftsperson who works in collaboration with others or who uses prefabricated parts (including screws, hardware, etc.). While it may be useful to take a tape measure to the lumberyard, a stick and a pencil may be of equal value (and more accurate).

My second is in regard to the value of proportion. Measurement systems are, fundamentally, a single-base unit, multiplied or divided into other useful units – that is, a system of proportion. With a set of dividers, any craftsperson could derive his or her own measurement system in a minute, based not on an external standard but rather on the furniture itself, such as the thickness of a board or the width of a blade. Though we need measurement to recreate old designs and relate dimensions across distance, we may be able to pioneer the new more deftly without measures.” 

– Brendan Bernhardt Gaffney, excerpt from “Modern Revivalist Toolmaking: What Yesterday’s Tools Can Teach Us Today” in Issue Three