My Mother-in-law loved to watch TV shows about aliens and UFOs. She also thought you could fix anything with duct tape, even a leaky water line. It always amazed me how an eighty year old lady could squeeze under her kitchen sink and mummify a leaking pipe with a big old roll of gray tape. Then a week or two later I’d get the call to sort out the soggy goo and put it right.
But back to aliens. She was convinced that the pyramids could only have been built by someone with superpowers from outer space. In her defense, she was right about something. The ancient builders who designed and executed those amazing structures did have superpowers. They mastered the power of geometry. Ironically, those ancient geometers also thought that this knowledge fell from the heavens. They might not have used those exact words but they did consider it a great mystery. Then as now, no one fully understands the mystery of geometry. At least no one knows exactly how our ancestors came to comprehend it and master it. Yet it became, and still is the foundation of the building arts.
Jim Tolpin and I have been exploring what we call “Artisan Geometry” for the last ten years. Along the way we noted something odd when we looked inside old historic tool chests. You could take all the tools and divide them into two groups. One group, like saws or chisels, were mostly acquired from specialty tool makers. A second group like squares and straight edges were often user made. This second group piqued our curiosity. They’re mostly used for design and layout and all have a strong link to artisan geometry. So we jumped down the rabbit hole and built our own kit of tools. We built several different versions of these tools and unpacked the geometry inside each one.
Besides being astounded at how functional and accurate the tools are, we came to see that each build offered a concrete hands on lesson in geometry. We think that building these tools was a door into the mysteries of artisan geometry. An important passage to cross through if you are a builder.
George R. Walker