Friday, 29 April 2011

A pre-Christmas furniture piece

(the original sketch)

This past December, I took some time to build a furniture commission. It was a coffee table based on a prototype I built for Jill for Mother’s day last year. The client saw the table in our living room and asked if I would like to make another.

The table itself is based on a sketch I did several years ago at the family cottage. I wanted to explore a few ideas in this project. I wanted something with very simple lines but a unique texture. I played with the idea of a surface that clearly looked like a natural piece of wood but started coming apart in an “unnatural” way. I also wanted to explore chatoyance, and the two seemed to compliment one another.

One “leg” of the table would be a solid piece of wood and as it wrapped around to form the top, there would be some rectangles or squares that would be flipped 180 degrees - causing an interruption to the pattern of the grain. As it flowed across the top, the number of flipped sections would increase and eventually lead to some of the squares being removed entirely. This would continue as it traveled down to form the other leg with the number of holes increasing as it went.

In very short order, I knew this would be a great couple to make this piece for. They were engaged and interested in every aspect of the project - from minor changes to the design, to the dimensions and the materials. They had seen the Morse code in our living room floor and asked if I would be willing to put their family name on the piece somewhere.

One of the biggest challenges to making this table was finding a single slab of wood large enough. I took a few trips to local sawmills and eventually found several pieces to choose from. Well... I bought all 3 (I have a bit of a wood issue) and brought them home. I invited the client over to see if they had a preference for one of them. I planed a small section of each of the boards - the photo below shows the one we decided on - curly soft maple.

Here is a shot of the plank - you can see the curl on the edge.

The Festool track saw was the perfect tool for squaring up the edges.

The next step was to cut the slab into strips. I used my high school drafting square to act as a story stick. It allowed me to keep track of the strips that were going to have sections cut from them - and which ones would be left alone. One of the changes we made to this table was to alter the widths of the strips. On the first prototype table, all the strips were the same width, but we decided to make the strips with the flipped and missing sections a little narrower than the solid strips.

Here is a shot of all the strips cut and the board put back together. Organization was the key to this project. I ended up labeling each strip “A” through “O”. I then numbered each individual piece one through however many pieces there were. If a piece were to be flipped - I would write the code on the “up” side and draw a circular arrow to note that this piece was to be flipped.

I did a rough layout (to scale) in Adobe Illustrator. I printed this out and used it as a guild to help keep track of everything as I was going. The darker grey squares are the ones that are flipped.

The above photo shows all the individual pieces cut, flipped and put in the correct spot.

This project was also a lesson in glue-up strategy. If I recall - there were over 40 glue-ups in all.
Each of the strips was planed flush after it was glued up. The above photo shows one of the segmented strips. I took 3 passes off each side in order to keep everything consistent.

The Morse code inlay was made up of 1/8" tall squares and dashes. Thankfully - they have a short last name. My 1/8" Japanese chisel was perfect for this task.

I ended up using tweezers from my splinter kit to remove the waste from the holes.

The 420 was the time when I glued in the ebony pieces.

The finished code.

With the top and legs glued up, it was time to plane everything flat.

I used the Festool track saw along with the MFT table to cut the 45 degree corners.

I am always amazed at the quality of the cut from this saw. It is better than my tablesaw or any other motorized tool I have ever used. I used the Domino to cut a double row of slots in each end.

I glued each corner individually and made special cauls for the task. Each caul extended to the ends of the pieces and wrapped around the corner.

This photo shows the end of the caul wrapping around the mitered end of the table top. You cannot see it, but there is a shallow rabbet cut into the block so the crisp corner of the miter is not damaged.

The glue-up went very well with minimal clean-up required. I used a small file to put a slight chamfer on the edges of all the holes in the table. The clients stopped in as I was doing this (I had invited them) and asked what I was doing. At that point, I had the chamfers on the top completed, but was still working on the leg. I suggested that they pass their hands across the top to see how it felt. I then suggested they do the same thing on the leg. They understood what I was doing right away.

Here are a few photos of the finished table. It was amazing how the light caught the squares differently depending on the conditions.

(photo by Tracy Schlosser)

The curl in the leg was pretty amazing. When I was laying out all the strips, I was careful to line up the curl instead of the grain. There were a few strips that where shifted up or down by about 1/8" or so.

This was a fun project made great because of the client. They were wonderful to work with, enthusiastic, and involved during the entire process. It made my job all the more enjoyable.


Blogger Canis Dirus said...

Nothing like watching (or following along) a Master at work! I'm always amazed by your execution regardless of whether it's wood, or metal.

Post Tenebras, Lux
Dirus Canis
The Wolf and Moon™

30 April 2011 at 01:35  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

WOW !!!!!!!!!!! beautyful design, very impressive by its simplicity hard to reach, thanks a lot for sharing, if you dont mind I´ll post an image of it to my facebook wall. We have mutual friends

30 April 2011 at 04:51  
Blogger Adrian Baird Ba Than said...

Stunning piece,Konrad.You Canadians sure are spoiled when it comes to Curly Maple,really gorgeous material!Unfortunately,the price practically doubles by the time it gets to Scotland.Lots of Pine here,not much hardwood,unless it's from a farmer or homeowner who is remodelling.

30 April 2011 at 16:52  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent, Konrad. A very unusual design that works very well. And what a lovely piece of wood.

Cheers ;-)

Paul Chapman

30 April 2011 at 17:54  
Blogger Konrad said...

Thanks Dirus.


30 April 2011 at 19:57  
Blogger Konrad said...

Thanks Julio,

I have had many "simplicity" discussions with fellow toolmakers and furniture makers and we have all agreed that simple is way harder than over the top (so I take you comment as a very nice compliment).

no problem using it on your facebook wall.


30 April 2011 at 19:59  
Blogger Konrad said...

Thanks Black,

Yes - we do have a disturbing amount of curly maple. Disturbing amount of wood in general actually! Sadly - many Canadians do not realize just how lucky we are... there is tremendous waste in this country. We had a very large storm a few years ago and a huge maple tree was struck by lightning. The city came and took it down and cut it into firewood lengths. By the time I got there, most of it was gone but I did manage to grab a few bits. To my horror I realized the entire log was quilted. I almost wept.


30 April 2011 at 20:03  
Blogger Konrad said...

Thanks Paul.


30 April 2011 at 20:03  
Blogger David said...

how can one guy be so talented?? i'm just amazed!!
Good for you!

1 May 2011 at 13:01  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great work! Thank you for the additional pictures and construction details the magazine article was a bit short on pictures. You could have written the article as clear as you explanations are.

6 May 2011 at 07:42  
Anonymous Malcolm Macpherson (NZ) said...

Hi Konrad - what's the joinery in the mitre?


17 May 2011 at 08:12  
Blogger Konrad said...

Hi Malcolm,

The miter is connected with a row of Domino’s.


17 May 2011 at 08:36  
Blogger Wayne Watling said...

Simple yet unique and beautifully executed. You also use Domino's, they have become my absolutely favorite method of hidden joinery.

I noticed that your table was published in one of the woodworking magazines, I think it was Popular Woodworking Magazine, congrats!

Wayne, Nobleton ON

27 May 2011 at 20:52  
Blogger Konrad said...

Thanks Wayne - glad you liked it. It was in the June issue of Popular Woodworking - which was pretty cool.


30 May 2011 at 06:29  

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