Port Townsend School of Woodworking
Preserving the Tradition

By Hand and By Eye

Design well proportioned and elegant furniture with simple traditional geometric techniques using the dimensions of the human body. 3 day class with Jim Tolpin. 


By Hand and Eye



Learn to use basic geometric principals to create designs for well proportioned furniture based on the techniques used by 17-18th century artisans. 

Watch Design By Hand and Eye:

"Design and Construction Strategies for Hand Tool Woodworkers"

"A small but growing number of woodworkers are embracing traditional tools and methods as an attractive alternative to machine-centric and industrial-based woodworking.

We are rediscovering the pleasures of working wood with hand tools and the joy of mastering skills from a craft tradition that reaches far back into antiquity. Its about time, too: the industrial revolution not only snuffed out hand skills and replaced them with automation but it also silenced a common design language that artisans had shared through an oral tradition for centuries.

This revolution, moved by the need to produce numerical cutlists for the efficient indexing of machines, moved the furniture design process away from the artisan's building trace (focused on objects that occupy space) and towards the graphic art language of engineers. Woodworkers saw not only hand work migrate away from their workbenches, but lost hold of the very act of design itself."

Excerpt from the jacket text of By Hand and Eye

Based on the research that George Walker and Jim Tolpin undertook for their book, By Hand and Eye, this course focuses on the design and layout techniques used in the 17-18th centuries. The notion of well-proportioned is ingrained in the human eye and is rooted in the different elements of the piece of furniture having whole number proportions (like 1:3 or 3:5).  These proportioned dimensions are easy to create using dividers and a sector, a simple tool which you'll make in class.

You can, in fact, create a whole design without needing to reduce the dimensions to feet and inches (or millimetres)! This can be liberating for the hand tool woodworker - it can help you escape the tyranny of the machine or getting overwhelmed by a drawing program on your computer.

Jim also looks at how your design and layout of joinery should be slaved to your tools. Making simple decisions during this stage can greatly simplify the process of dimensioning the stock and cutting the joinery.
In the afternoon of the second day we bring in additional instructors to introduce you to sketching and rendering; and to rapid sketching and group design review.

Class Description

  • Foundations of Proportional Design
  • Working with Dividers and Sectors
  • Geometric construction of angles and regular forms
  • Drawing Ellipses
  • Creating Moulding Profiles
  • Designing a Side Table
  • Designing a Chest of Drawers
  • Sketching and rendering techniques
  • Applying proportional Design Techniques to your work
  • Sketching and rendering
  • Quick fire design sketching



  • Clutch Pencil,  leads (we recommend HB or 2H) and sharpener
  • Drawing pad (14x17" or 18x24")
  • Good eraser


If you can, bring any of the following drawing instruments . We're building up a supply of dividers and compasses so any extra you bring along for the class will help.

  • Two pairs of dividers (7-9" and 12-15")
  • Pair of compasses (8-12")
  • Drafting shield
  • 24" ruler (as a straight edge)
  • Folding ruler - we recommend the Robert Larson Folding Ruler - it works great as a sector
  • Paper - Large drawing pad and graph paper

More about this class


There are no prerequisites for this class but we think you'll have a lot more fun and a better background for the class if you obtain and do the exercises in By Hound and Eye - a workbook to accompany By Hand and Eye. At $20 it's a steal!

Class Information and Registration

Class starts at 9:00am on the first day.
Please read our What to Expect page for general information about the School.
Please also read our Registration Policy.

Class size: 20
Cost: $250
Materials Charge: None

When you click on the Register link you will be able to register for the class or, if the class is full, sign up for the wait list. 

What our students say...

"Listening to all the non-industrial/measured approaches is definitely the gem! Jim has great practical  approaches to reconnecting with the craft."