Another flooring adventure
When I was in my late teens, I found myself standing in the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles. On some unconscious level, I must have noticed the floor, because 20 years later, our neighbours mentioned the Versailles pattern parquetry floor and I knew exactly what they were talking about.
When we were renovating our living room and dining room, one flooring option we were considering was the Versailles pattern. The other option was a herringbone. I like a challenge as much as the next guy, but the Versailles pattern scared me just a little too much, so we opted for the much simpler herringbone. In hindsight - it was the right choice, but I knew that I wanted to explore the Versailles pattern at some later date. So I put it on the woodworking bucket list and waited.
About 6 months ago, my good friend Wayne called and told me about an Ontario Wood Council RFP to come up with a use for all the Ash lumber being generated due to the clear cutting of all the Ash trees. He mentioned flooring, and I agreed that strip flooring would be a good use for sure, but if you really wanted to have some fun, why not try the Versailles pattern parquetry panels? There was a long pause on the phone, and then we started talking about it more seriously. Within a few minutes we were both pretty excited about the idea and were plotting how to do it.
I was also wishing I had another room in the house that would be appropriate for a parquetry floor!
Our neighbours had sent me a link to a French company that still made traditional flooring (including parquetry). It was a fantastic resource, and by using some of their drawings and dimensions, I was able to generate some technical drawings in Adobe Illustrator.
I color coded each unique piece to help keep track of things. I printed out 2 full scale drawings - one to cut up and make templates and the other to keep as a road map.
We decided to use Ash for the test panel, but we both knew at a very early stage that the only way to really do this was with quarter sawn White Oak (even though flat sawn is what was traditionally used).
We also decided that we were going to do this as though we had to make 30+ of these panels. That meant processing the lumber in one shot, optimizing lengths and widths for maximum efficiency and minimal waste, and dedicated jigs and fixtures that could be used repeatedly. It was an ambitious approach, but we were curious to see if it could be done. We were also hoping that if we could pull it off, that we might find an opportunity to make one of these floors for a customer at some point.
We were going to use live tenons, no adhesives in the joints and use pegs to secure everything. That was the plan anyway.
The shouldered tenon for the 45 degree angled pieces was particularly tricky... until we figured out what a dedicated jig would look like. Hindsight is always so clear.
There were more similarities between this project and plane making than I would have thought. Process, process, process. And tolerances that are closer to plane making than furniture making. We allowed ourselves 0.002" of wiggle room with our measurements - we were using calipers and not rulers to measure. There are 43 pieces to each panel, and while 0.002" does not seem like much, amortized over 43 piece, its can add up to a significant error. Or in this case, gaps.
We did a lot of test cuts, test fits, etc., before we actually started cutting real parts. The first Ash panel went together incredibly well. One thing we underestimated though was the “squish factor” of Ash.
(the first Ash panel parts)
With the success of the Ash panel, we decided to move to the White Oak. We decided that we would mill material for 3 panels and make all 3 at the same time - production style. I also made a few adjustments to the technical drawings.
You can see the paper templates sitting on the stacks of parts.
Assembling the Oak pieces.
Assembly took longer than either of us would have guessed - and it was also trickier. I am sure there are efficient processes of doing it, but we did not find them. I think that would come with putting a dozen or so together.
One aspect to assembly we did not appreciate, was we needed wiggle room well beyond 0.002" in a few places. The outside frame pieces to be specific. We used the traditional frame where each of the 4 pieces are identical - not like a frame with ‘rails and stiles’. When we were assembling the first panel we realized that we needed to add more slop to the frame tenons in order to actually put the outer frame together. We had to remove at least 1/4" off our perfectly measured tenons.
The panels were amazingly solid once they were assembled - even without pegs. I suspect you could install these panels without the pegs or adhesive and everything would be fine.
(Wayne pondering the next move)
We decided to chamfer the edges of the floating panels. These will likely experience the most wood movement and the chamfers will help hide the movement and reduce the chances of unevenness (and slivers).
We used 1/4" White Oak dowels for the pegs and hand cut them to length. They are about .030" shorter than the thickness of the panel and are hammered in flush with the top. They are not drawbore pegs either... that would be overkill and not at all necessary given how solid the panels were without them.
We used Rubio MonoCoat for finishing.
All in all, this was a great project and a great opportunity to work with a good friend. We both loved the challenge of coming up with a process that would be efficient but also incredibly accurate and repeatable. I wish we had another living room or dining room to renovate... I wonder if these would be appropriate for our attic?