Woodturning Design is the fourth book in Mike’s colour woodturning series, and in Mike’s opinion his best. It has 271 pages size 215 x 280 mm (8.5″ x 11″)

It’s not a book of designs for you to copy. It’s much more useful than that because it clearly and thoroughly explains the design process. Its incisive text stresses the importance of clarifying your design intentions, and leads you through the subsequent steps so that you’ll produce a design which successfully fulfills those design intentions.

The book’s 540 colour illustrations aren’t just a compendium of shapes and coloured photographs to inspire you. They form a magnificent woodturning museum and gallery which is integrated with and complements the text to create a unique woodturning design resource.

If you have a flair for design this book will enable you to design better. If you think you lack “designer genes”, Woodturning Design will give you the confidence and knowledge to design better than you thought possible. There are also lots of useful details and points to watch out for, and the book is relevant whether you want to design turned art or favour functional turnings or traditional styles.

Woodturning Design’s chapters are:

  1. The Design Process, 4 pages
  2. Perception, 6 pages
  3. A History of Aesthetics, 30 pages
  4. Design Concepts and Issues, 48 pages
  5. Stage 1 Design, 28 pages
  6. Ornament and Moldings, 32 pages
  7. The Detailed Design of Form, 26 pages
  8. Decoration, 14 pages
  9. Designing Spindles, 8 pages
  10. Box Design, 12 pages
  11. Vessel Design, 6 pages
  12. Columns, 46 pages
  13. Where Next? 4 pages
  14. Index

The front cover showing the design for a pepper shaker to be turned on two axes, and the completed shaker.

Figure 5.3   Sources of inspiration. Today’s wooden turned vessels and bowls look much the same as these Egyptian vessels from 3850-3100 B.C.

Figure 4.64   A parody of plagiarism, Eat your heart out David Ellsworth

Figure 8.11   A geometrically patterned mural by Vic Wood


Robert Gulley, Woodturning Design magazine, Spring 2007

His book on design is one of the most thorough discussions available anywhere, dealing with both the mechanics and the aesthetics of design.

Ernie Newman, The Australian Woodworker, July/Aug 2003

Every two years since 1997 I have had the pleasure of exploring a new book by Mike Darlow. It is a terrific series, and this book is no exception . . . There are hundreds of challenging ideas about design. The “Golden Mean” is commonly invoked as the ultimate in good proportion. However Darlow debunks this idea over several enjoyable and persuasive pages . . . if you want to broaden your knowledge, think about design, sketch, experiment and try again, then this is a rich resource.

An email from a Louisiana reader, 29th September 2004

I wish you had written it years ago. It would have saved me much money on the useless design books which sit on my shelf.

Amazon customer, October 2015

My husband loves Mike Darlow’s books.

Woodworker, Amazon.com, August 2013

This is the most in depth book on design that I have found so far. It is obvious that Mike Darlow has carefully researched and written this topic. I was impressed he included a chapter on the history of design. Although the book is targeted to woodtuners, any woodworker or any artist/craftsman working in 3D will find a lot of info to boost their designs skills.

Paco, Amazon.com, March 2018

My wife can take three rocks and put them in the yard, and they look great! There’s something intangible but satisfying about the way she orients and places them. I do the same thing with the same rocks and it’s just a pile of rubble. I ask my wife, “How do you do that?” And she says “it’s just a sense of proportions.. aesthetics… i really don’t know.. I just do it”

If you’re a woodturner, and I strive to be one, you may have struggled with the same thing for your turnings. Some turners make things that arrest you. You feel compelled to stop and look, and stare; there’s something satisfying about that thing and you don’t know what it is. You want to make things that people stop and stare at (and not because they’re so bad either.) You can make great coves, beads, cyma reversa, etc… but once you’ve made them all, they just look like a stick with a few curves. They’re interesting but they’re not *arresting*. Not even close.

It turns out… that there’s a huge body of knowledge around this exact topic. What is beauty? There are more than a couple of philosophies about this, each with their own guiding principles. Mr. Darlow explores the history and summarizes it down to something usable: some basic shapes and principles. He then provides some very useful examples of variabilities inside those guidelines. Having no art background, I found this to be very informative. It begins to explain why my rocks were rubble, and my wife’s was a rock garden.

In one of the later chapters, several examples of woodturned pieces are analyzed. You can tell by looking at them that something’s not quite right. After reading the previous few chapters you have a few hints, but the author goes through each piece and identifies the reasons why the piece does not arrest… and makes corrections. The differences are huge.

The author reinforces, in more than one place, the importance of careful, thoughtful design and the importance of turning deliberately. He takes you through the design process for something he made, and discusses the whys and wherefores along the way. Again, very useful. I’d feel overanlytical if I did this on my own. Not so much now.

If you just like puttering on the lathe, don’t buy this book. But if you want to attempt to make something arresting and don’t have an art or design background you should consider this book – it’ll affect the way you look at made things.

Figure 6.27   Showing how the shape of the cove affects how one responds to the design

Figures 9.7 and 9.8   Showing how a design can be analysed and improved

Figure 6.42   A stand ornamented with roll billet mouldings and flat and domed pellets