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Book Review: From Truths to Tools

A review of the book From Truths to Tools, which explores artisan geometry.
From Truth to Tools

From Truths to Tools
By Jim Tolpin and George Walker
Illustrated by Andrea Love Lost Art Press, Fishers, IN, 2017
Hard cover, 198 pages
Numerous black-and-white drawings

While at first glance this may appear to be a child’s book, with the black-and-white sketches and large print, it actually explains and illustrates geometric truths and the simple tools that reveal them. The authors show that these universal geometric truths are available to anyone who has a peniculus (brush or pencil) and a papyrus (paper) and they show how valuable this knowledge is.

From Truths to Tools is the latest book by Jim Tolpin and George Walker. Tolpin has been a woodworker for 30 years and now teaches at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking in Port Townsend, WA. Walker originally got into woodworking to relieve the stress of his day job and was soon writing for publications such as Fine Woodworking and Popular Woodworking Magazine.

Divided into 31 short chapters, each describing a certain tool and its uses, the book starts with the first hand tool of geometry, the awl. From there it goes into topics such as the Compass, String Line, Plane Generators, Squares, Plumb Line, Sector, Cord of Polygons, Cross Staff, and finishing with the Logger’s Felling Gauge. Each chapter explains how the traditional tool reveals the geometric truths needed for building and is accompanied by appropriate drawings and diagrams. There is also an Appendix and an Epilogue.

geometric construction illustration

One example is the chapter on Rulers which shows that they originated in Egypt when the pharaohs were building pyramids. They created a wooden measuring tool based on the length of a forearm called the cubit. Europeans followed this concept, but based it on the span of a foot (1/6 a man’s height).

The book progresses to more complex concept such as the Sector, “a forerunner of the slide rule used by arisen designers up until the end of the 18th century.” The authors describe and illustrate how this is related to a circle and an isosceles triangle.

The book starts with this statement: “Alethia—the revealing, the uncovering, the bringing of what was previously hidden into the open—the Truth.” Then it offers a drawing with this explanation, “Embedded in this geometric construction from antiquity is all the information an artisan needs to create a full kit of layout tools.”


And that is what they do for the rest of the book—explain the truths of geometry and how traditional hand tools can be used to build most anything, including furniture, boats, buildings, and bridges.

Any builder, designer, or woodworker would find this book invaluable.

Buying Guide Spotlight


Zepsa Industries, Inc.

Supplier of architectural woodwork: stairs, mantels, paneling, wine cellars, doors & more.

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