Issue Three T.O.C. – “Patterns in Shop Practice” by Garrett Hack

Editor’s Note: I am currently on my return trip home from visiting with Garrett Hack and his wife, Carolyn, on their idyllic Vermont farm. Garrett and I spent time in his shop doing the photography for his article in our upcoming Issue Three. I’ve asked Garrett to provide a summary for readers here at the blog. The following is his write-up…

“There is no mystery why woodworkers (and many other trades) relied on patterns.  They are a simple and accurate way to transfer shapes easily and repeatedly.  A shapely case apron, curved chair leg, or the serpentine profile of a tabletop are all typical patterns an 18th century maker would have had on hand and used to speed his work along, just as I do today. 

Templates can do far more useful work than repeating pleasing shapes. Early in the design process when I am drawing a project I’ll make quick patterns — you could call them “sketches” — from thin softwood to more easily see the shape of complex parts such as the back leg of a chair.  By propping it up on the floor as the leg will stand and getting back, I can see a lot more than from a drawing alone.

My pattern then guides me to cut out and shape the actual legs. I use it in laying out my cuts to get the most harmonious and strongest grain flow through the leg, and to organize those cuts — nesting them together when I can — to use my stock and time most economically. It might even yield an extra part or two, always a good idea. For the final shaping I work to the pattern, sliding it against each leg as I shave away with hand tools, to create multiple accurate parts.

When it comes to laying out cuts, joinery, details such as the location of a banding or bead, my pattern becomes a mistake-proof story stick. For curved parts where these locations are harder to measure with a rule, flexing a template and transferring marks is both easier and more accurate.  These marks preserved on my story stick are often the start of the next iteration of this design.

Patterns are indispensable for one more task — getting difficult joinery right in complex pieces.  While I can’t experiment with the actual part, I can fit a thin pattern carefully into position, to get an accurate length and shoulder angles. When the project is done, the patterns are the most valuable pieces I have left. I hang them around my shop waiting for the time I might need them again.


Stay tuned for tomorrow’s announcement of the next article upcoming in M&T Issue Three...