A drawing is simply a line going for a walk.Paul Klee
This is the first of six posts in a sub-series describing why and how to make a full-scale drawing in preparation for making your gennou handle.
Please note that the principles described in these posts on Japanese gennou handles apply to all varieties of hammer and axe handles, and can be adapted to Western tools with great success.
Why Bother Making a Full-scale Drawing?
The greatest fun in working wood as a hobby for your humble servant is watching an object evolve in my hands, sometimes magically becoming better than what I had imagined it would be. Many Gentle Readers have the same experience.
My day job in Japan’s construction industry is not so spontaneous or fancy free: I spend too many hours each day planning, discussing, reviewing/marking-up, and writing about complicated drawings, so drafting a drawing to make something from just a single stick of wood feels kinda sorta silly on the one hand and too much like real work on the other. But despite these conflicting emotions, please understand I am dead serious about the importance of a drawing, and you should be too.
So why am I recommending you make a drawing? There are 3 reasons:
Record & Combine Ergonomic Parameters
A gennou design must begin with the fixed parameters of your gennou head, but there are several ergonomic measurements from your own body you will need to incorporate into your handle design and meld with the specific details of the head you select. This isn’t difficult to do, but because every head, every body, and therefore every handle is different, and because there are a surprising number of details that must be combined, it can be difficult to get everything right without a drawing, especially the first few times.
Develop an Elegant Minimalistic Design
The second reason for making a drawing before you make sawdust is that the gennou I am teaching you how to make is in every way a minimalist object comprised of only two simple components the details of which require thoughtful planning to get right.
Allow me to share a couple of points about minimalism I learned from observing the successes and failures of world-class architects and designers in New York, San Francisco, London, Hong Kong and Tokyo: When making some things, past a certain point there is simply no room for either improvisation or trial & error without starting all over again. Assuming one is not so fatuous or deluded as to accept a monkey’s scribbling as high-art, you can imagine the resulting potential for wasted time and money and brain cells.
The famous architect Frank Loyd Wright once said: “An architect’s most useful tools are an eraser at the drafting board, and a wrecking bar at the site.” When used with skill, which of these tools do you think is the most cost and time effective?
Here is wisdom: The principle of “less is more” absolutely applies, but what most people not involved professionally in the design and fabrication of expensive minimalist physical objects do not realize is that achieving an elegant and functionally superior “Less” is neither accidental nor serendipitous, but can only be consistently achieved through “ More” thought, planning, and eyeball time, something difficult to do without a drawing.
How does this apply to making a simple gennou handle, you ask? Excellent question; You really are paying attention, I see. Once you have cut or shaved away too much wood (even a single shaving can easily be too much), there can be no more thinking, planning or eyeball time without starting over, wasting much of your valuable time and wood. Best to avoid that nonsense if possible, don’t you agree?
Take a Mulligan
The third reason for making a drawing is related to the first and based on the unfortunate likelihood that your first attempt is unlikely to produce ideal results. But don’t be discouraged because your second attempt will be much better. If you begin with a drawing, by the third attempt you will have figured out precisely what works best for you, knowledge that will serve you well your entire life. I promise.
In order to accomplish the goal of the perfect handle in just two or three iterations you will need to record the measurements, assumptions and changes you made each time so you can effectively fine tune them without having to start from scratch each time. A drawing is the best tool for this purpose.
A drawing will also help you avoid repeated errros. A drawing will also help you avoid repeated errros.
What to Include in the Drawing
I recommend you make a full-scale drawing of the handle viewed from the side, the top (back) edge, and the butt for a total of 3 viewpoints on a single piece of paper. You should also make cross sections at several locations at the handle inside the side view.
It is also useful include general dimensions, such as overall length, width at the eye and width at the butt to help you select a suitable piece of wood.
Developing Drawing Skills
Many have no experience making drawings. That’s perfectly OK. The only way to become competent at making simple drawings using orthographic projection is to do it.
The basic idea of orthographic projection is to represent a 3-D object in 2-D drawings, usually a side view(s), top/bottom view, and end view(s), but for the purpose of drawing a simple gennou handle without power windows and tuned exhaust, a side view, top view, end view and a few simple sections are plenty.
The drawing below is one I made for one of my gennou showing just top and side views. As you can tell, it starts with the head. Sorry, no sections. I will provide more drawings beginning with the next post.
If you are serious about making quality objects in wood long-term, the ability to make a simple drawing is a skill you should develop. The drawing doesn’t need to be pretty, it doesn’t even need to be detailed if you are making it for your own use, but it should represent and record things like dimensions, straight line/curves, and the locations of features.
“Why can’t I just do it in my head?” you ask? Of course that is an option; There are times when we all shape wood as we imagine it, the instant we imagine it.
But a drawing lets you combine and adjust details, wait some time to grow “fresh eyes,” and reexamine the product. A drawing makes it easy to make fine adjustments to a minimalist object. It lets you share the design with others and get their opinion. It lets you record your successful designs for future use. It is a powerful tool, one that will improve your woodworking skills.
And with practice, the act of making drawings refines your eye and your imagination, improving not only your design ability on-paper, but your ability to create an object in your head and examine it from different angles. Just ask any second-year architecture student.
Tools for Drawing
I will go into more details about drafting tools every woodworker should own and become proficient with in a future post, but in preparation for producing the drawing we will begin in the next post, and assuming you will make the drawing on paper instead of a board, you should gather the following minimal tools:
- Drawing board: A plain wooden board with four straight sides and square corners at least a little bigger than the finished gennou. Any smooth, flat board will suffice;
- Paper: Better quality drafting paper, vellum, or mylar is best, but any smooth, white paper will suffice;
- Masking tape: To secure paper to board (drafting tape will damage the drawing least);
- Straightedge: 12″ or longer (must be truly straight);
- Mechanical pencil with lead;
- Eraser: A good quality one that won’t leave smudges;
- Square: A clean framing square without burred edges will suffice;
- Drafting Triangle: A 45° plastic or steel drafting triangle, with minimum 8″ legs (cheap is OK);
- Compass: With pencil;
- Divider: With sharp points;
- Vernier caliper (not mandatory but helpful);
- Eraser shield (not mandatory but helpful).
The Gennou Head
So far in this series we’ve looked at a lot of gennou heads of many different varieties and weights made by different blacksmiths. Now that we are on the brink of making a design drawing, however, the time for talking is over. If you don’t have a good gennou head in-hand, please get one. The design of your handle simply cannot begin without it.
In the next installment in this story of love and longing we will begin our drawing. Please sharpen your pencils and get your eraser ready.
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Previous Posts in The Japanese Gennou & Handle Series
- Part 1 – Introduction
- Part 2 – Ergonomics
- Part 3 – What is a Gennou?
- Part 4 – The Varieties of Gennou: Kataguchi, Ryoguchi & Daruma
- Part 5 – Kigoroshi
- Part 6 – The Ergonomic Anaya
- Part 7 – The Unblinking Eye
- Part 8 – Head Style & Weight
- Part 9 – Factory vs. Hand-forged Gennou Heads
- Part 10 – Laminated Gennou Heads
- Part 11 – Decorative Gennou Heads
- Part 12 – The Drawing: Part 1/6
- Part 13 – The Drawing: Part 2/6
- Part 14 – The Drawing: Part 3/6
- Part 15 – The Drawing: Part 4/6
- Part 16 – The Drawing: Part 5/6
- Part 17 – The Drawing: Part 6/6
- Part 18 – Wood Selection