Port Townsend School of Woodworking
Preserving the Tradition

From Concept to Cutlist


From Concept to Cutlist: Designing with confidence

Jim Tolpin



Design is one of the most fundamental skills you’ll need as a furniture maker. Taking the leap and committing to a design can be intimidating. This class will give the aspiring (and existing) furniture maker confidence in their designs and the tools to turn a design into a beautiful piece of furniture.
Taught by Jim Tolpin this weekend (two-day) course walks you through the design development process. You’ll start with a concept, define the parameters of size and function, work through refinement of the concept, and then finish up by producing a complete set of project documents. 

You will gain the knowledge, and build the confidence you need, to unlock your own creativity and to begin tackling designs free of the limitations and constraints of published plans. 

Class Description

As much as we’d like to let you design your dream project in this class we encourage you to keep your ambitions modest so that you can focus on developing your design skills. Before the class, think about a piece of furniture that fits the general dimensions and needs we suggest. In our opinion the best designs develop within constraints - designing with a blank piece of paper can be really difficult.

In the class you will design a furniture project featuring at least one door and one drawer and having no dimension larger than 36”. You will develop your own variation of the piece, a process that produces a rich environment to explore the form, design and joinery methodologies that  allow you to create an elegant and robust piece of furniture.

The design development will be based on the traditional ratio-based process presented in the book “By Hand and Eye” by Jim Tolpin and George Walker. Even if a student has read the book or taken a previous “By Hand and Eye” course they will benefit by the focus of this course on a step-by-step development of a specific project. 

We believe in the wisdom and insight of the group. During the design development you’ll share your initial sketches and you’ll get great feedback from your fellow students the instructors. At least one other instructor will be on hand for the review and feedback sessions.

You’ll need to bring some basic drawing equipment-- see the list below (we have some loaners if necessary). T-squares/drafting tables are not necessary as we will show how to work with vellum over graph paper. School will provide small drawing boards.

At the end of the seminar, you’ll  take home: scaled proportional drawings (both elevations and isometric); a joinery schedule; a full-scale story stick (which can be used to layout directly onto stock); cardboard templates of any curved or complex components; a component and materials list and, optionally, a numerical cutlist.

Topics to be covered include:

  • Definition of the primary and secondary parameters of a design
  • Traditional, ratio-based development of harmonic proportionality; contrast; symmetry; “sweet” curves.
  • Geometric layout techniques for developing scale drawings and isometric views.
  • Refinement of concept through sketches 
  • Joint selection (function, durability and aesthetic parameters) and proportioning of joint elements
  • Wood, fasteners  (including glue) and hardware choices/considerations
  • Finishing choices/considerations

Class Schedule

Day 1:   
Overview of the traditional “By Hand and Eye” design process
Design development:
Establishing function and size
Identifying the underlying primary shapes 
Development of an isometric “armature”
Speed sketching: iterations developed on the armature with group design critique
Slow sketching - developing the next level of detail in the design. Again with group review.

Day 2: 
Refinement of final concept iteration through scaled elevations
Transfer of element dimensions to a story stick
Template development (we’ll use cardboard; you may choose to make more permanent templates for wood when you get home) 
Development of component and cutlists
Overview of material, joint, fastening and finishing selections 


Suggested Tools to Bring:

  • Straight edge (one 6-inch; one 12 or 18 inch) 
  • Bow Pencil Compass (6 to 8-inch)
  • Dividers  (with vernier adjustment; 6 to 8 inch)
  • Mechanical pencil (5mm, HB lead)
  • Erasers and soft brush

Suggested Reading:  “By Hand and Eye” by Jim Tolpin and George Walker



Class Information and Registration

Class starts at 9:00am on the first day.
This class takes place in the seminar building at Fort Worden - not the School Building. To get to the seminar building, enter the park at the main gate, continue straight at the 4-way stop. Take a right after Madrona Mind Body institute and the Seminar building will be directly on you left. 
Please read our What to Expect page for general information about the School.
Please also read our Registration Policy.

Class size: 15
Cost: $ 275

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. 

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