Phi, the Golden Ratio and Tips for Your DIY Projects

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I am a true geek. I have a pretty extensive science background and love reading books about math and science. Several years ago I read a book called “The Golden Ratio: The Story of PHI, the World’s Most Astonishing Number” by Mario Livio. While it is a little…dry, it was really an incredible read and I was inspired. For those you don’t know, and that may be many, ? (or Phi), is often referred to as the Golden Ratio or the Divine Proportion. While the ratio has been nature since nature has been, man began studying it and using it in sculptures, painting and buildings as far back as possibly the great pyramids and definitely in the time of the Parthenon. Throughout history it has been used by minds including Plato, Da Vinci, Fibonacci and Kepler among others, as well as being found throughout nature.

Da Vinici's sketch using the golden ratio
You may be wondering what the ratio is and where it can be seen.  Well I’m glad you’re still following along. The ratio is about 1:1.618. I know, it’s not very handy to remember, but it can be found all over outside of sculptures and paintings and the like. Here’s a short list of really interesting examples of the golden ratio. Each curl in a nautilus’ shell is 1.618 times larger than the first. The pattern of thorns of a rose as it rotates around the stem is in a pattern related to Phi. Sunflower seeds on the flower and those pineapple husks thingies have a rotating pattern also related to Phi. Even our body has some Phi ratios. For example, the length of your foot to knee compared to knee to hip is Phi, and your foot to hip compared to your hip to head is also Phi. In fact, Da Vinci’sVitruvian Man sketch is perfectly proportioned to Phi. And the list goes on and on and on.

This shell's curls also show the golden ratio

If you can’t tell I get real excited about numbers, let me adjust my pocket protector. But, what do nautilus shells and pineapple husks have to do with DIY projects? Well not a whole heck of a lot that for sure. But the ratio can be used in your next woodworking project. Because our eyes are so adjusted to this ratio in nature it makes a perfect ratio for some projects. Our eyes see this ratio and it looks natural and beautiful whether it’s a rose or the garden planter that the rose is planted in. This ratio flows better than 1:2 or 1:1.5 or any other ratio. In case you’re wondering how to figure out dimensions based on this ratio, just take a dimension that you want to start with say a 36” tall bookshelf and multiply 36” by 1.618 to get the length which equals 58.248 or about 58 ¼”. See perfect. Check out the video below to see a cedar planter built with these dimensions. And maybe next time I’ll talk about Mobius Strips or gravity waves… I can hardly wait! 

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About Leroy

LeRoy was born into a long line of contractors/carpenters/missing links which maybe why he fell naturally into tools and fishing with his paws, errr, bare hands. He has since punctured, stabbed or electrocuted every appendage that can be discussed in mixed company. Given his natural fur vest, he has never been cold. In his parallel life he is a mild mannered environmental scientist where he builds, destroys and builds again. Which let’s face it is much cooler than Superman’s parallel life.

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4 thoughts on “Phi, the Golden Ratio and Tips for Your DIY Projects”

  1. And we thought our teachers were crazy when they told us we would actually use hard math in the real world. I had to laugh last week because I was drawing up a diagram for a sawhorse I needed to be a specific height and I had to find my old graphic calculator from high school to work out sin/cos/tan and get all the angles just right. All I needed was new batteries and a quick google search to remember the fractions (sorry teach, it was 11 years ago).


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