Sizing With Sectors For Style

I've spent a lot of time in the last few weeks thinking and dreaming about the new shop space I'll be moving into soon. I've drawn layouts on graph paper and planned a number of configurations for all my super cool stuff.

I made up my mind to build something for the new shop. A little premature maybe, there will be other things to build too once I get there, but I had a hankering to make something. I wasn't sure what. Then I picked up the latest issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine. Packaged along with the main publication was a thinner "shop projects" pamphlet. 

The first project was a tool rack built by Chris Schwarz. "Oh boy," I thought, "I'm gonna end up building one more thing from the Schwarz Collection." (What else is a Fan Boy to do?) And I 'm fine with that. I remembered reading about the piece in the "I Can Do That" section of PW the first time they published it. I appreciated it then, but gave it a pass. This time around it just felt like the right thing to build. 

A picture of the original tool rack borrowed from the PW website. 
I could envision the right place for this piece in the new shop. I plan to hang it over one of the windows so the light comes through the back opening. As I thought about really building this piece more I started to have some ideas of my own. 

The original article used pocket screws and simple joinery. Again, it was an "I can do that" article, so it was meant for entry level woodworkers. I planned to upgrade the joinery not because what was done was bad, but because I could, and I enjoy the joinery part of building. But that was simple. There was one other part of the design I struggled with. 

A layout of the sides, This picture also borrowed from the PW web site. 

The ogee shape to the sides just didn't look right to my eyes. I don't mean to say it's wrong, this isn't criticism. This is 101 of taking a project you appreciate and making it an expression of you style and skill. I wanted to accomplish three things. One, I wanted to make the proportions slightly deeper. (My top shelf ended up 11" wide") Two, I wanted to dress it up a little more with mouldings, carvings, and a change to the profile of the sides. And three, I wanted to apply layers of finish to the piece to create the illusion of age and long years of service. 

To help solve goal number two, I cracked open my copy of Matthew Bickford's "Moulding's in Practice" looking for inspiration. On page  225 I found my siren in a profile of crown moulding from a federal tall case clock. 

I had to figure out how to transfer this from a small drawing in a book to a pine board and get the proportions right. First I tried to figure out how I would do it mathematically  Taking the measurements off the page and scaling them up to bigger measurements. I shook that insanely complicated idea out of my head. There was a better, easier way and I already had access to the tools I needed to pull it off. 

A while back I built myself a pair of Sectors after reading an article written by Jim Toplin. I wrote about them HERE. Essentially they are two pieces of wood joined with a hinge at one end and marked out with 13 evenly spaced divisions.

I  mostly use them for dividing up spaces and laying out carvings. I knew they could be used to scale up drawings and dimensions, that's the best reason to have a pair of different sizes, I just hadn't actually exercised that knowledge yet. The process turned out pretty simple. Tool wise it took two sector's of different sizes, two dividers of different size, a try-square and a pencil.

So first I took the picture in the book and used the smaller dividers to measure out one of the first measurement I wanted to transfer. The top, widest part of the profile.

Then I set the smaller sector on the page and line up the markings from two of the same number to bracket the outer corners of the drawing. It doesn't matter which of the 13 numbers I line up, I chose 10 at a whim. The perspective of the photo makes it look funny but the outer corners of the drawing are in line with the inner lines of the 10.

Then I take the measurement I locked on my small dividers and find where it measures out on the sector. The tips fell just inside the lines for the number 1.

Now I take my larger sector and set it up with the stock. Since I chose to use the number 10 on the smaller, I repeated that on the larger. I also made sure to take into account the amount of board that would disappear into the eventual dado joint.

Once I had the larger sector set and stable, I took my larger dividers and repeated the reading I took with the smaller, just a little inside the number 1's lines. Since everything is spaced out equally on the sectors, the spacing will be proportionally identical, within a slight factor of human error. This isn't a C&C machine I'm running and a few millimeters matters little when it's the over all look I'm after. In the end it will look right or it won't and that will be the ultimate determination of success.

Then I use the new set dividers to transfer the spacing to the board. repeat the action over for the other measurements and you'll work out the spacing and pattern. I drew the curves between the hard line elements freehand, but mostly because it was quicker. You could use the same method to plot out a few points to follow if you need to. I suggest trusting your eyes and instincts though.

With the lines all set down in pencil I went back over where I wanted the hard line to fall with a sharpie so it would stand out across the room. I also shaded in the space to be removed to help from a distance.

I picked up the book, and from across the room held the image out at arms length and judged the job I had done.

I ended up a little narrow in the top, front of the board to back, but the shape was there and it was pleasing to my eye from a distance. I decided to keep it.

I hope I explained how I made the process work well enough. If not I may consider shooting a video to help explain, however I don't want to step on Jim Toplin and George Walker's toes as I suspect sectors may be something well covered in their new book "By Hand & Eye" from Lost Art Press. I've ordered my copy and I cannot wait to read it. You may want to consider it too.

If there are a bunch of questions, please comment, email, open your back door and scream them to the stars. I'll be able to try and answer two of those three instances.

Ratione et Passionis


  1. Good idea to use a sector to scale up a drawing, I wouldn't have thought of that.

  2. Good idea to use a sector to scale up a drawing, I wouldn't have thought of that.

  3. Ok. Stop the phone. That looked super easy and also very complicated. I remember you making those dividers and I'm taken with the by hand by eye approach. Looking forward to the book also but I don't want that to detract from a great read. Thanks for publishing. Very interesting.

    1. Will, I promise you it is very easy. Don't let your brain get in the way. Build a pair of sectors and give it a try yourself. I think the process is intuitive after you get past the first hurdles.

      If you have any questions, I'm glad to help if I can.



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