Arts & Crafts Bookshelf – Designing

A few weeks ago, Michelle mentioned that she wanted a new cabinet for the kitchen to keep all her cookbooks. So as a bit of a warm-up project in my new shop, I offered to build her one. I decided I wanted to make something in the Arts & Crafts style, so I broke out my A&C books to look for inspiration:

I dog eared a bunch of pictures with notes about which details I wanted to include in this project. I ended up focusing in on the cover project from Woodworking Magazine #3 (Spring 2005) – Gustav Stickley’s #73 Magazine Stand.

I’ve decided to make a few adjustments and embelishments on Gustav’s design, mostly to fit our specific needs in the kitchen. I’ve adjusted the height and width, added drawers, and included some decorative mortises to the sides.

I still don’t know what I’m going to do for pulls on the drawers.

This weekend I finally got around to the initial milling of the cherry I bought for this project.

It felt really good to be in the garage doing some real woodworking.

Design a Week – 26/52

On the last day of 2010, my final design to share is an angled frame:

I first flirted with this idea back in March, initially thinking of it as a picture frame. The more I look at it, the more I think of it as a decorative edging for a frame and panel section of some piece of modern furniture. I haven’t come up with the correct application yet, so I just have this frame. There is definitely attitude in this frame, a little aggressive, so it will need the perfect fit.

As I’m posting this on the final few minutes of 2010, let me take a few lines to reflect on this challenge. Obviously, failing to post 52 designs means I didn’t get to “a design a week.” By getting to 26, I did manage to post a new design every other week. For having never done any serious sketching in my life, I think it is quite the accomplishment despite not reaching the initial goal.

I want to thank everyone who has dropped in during this exercise. I couldn’t have made it this far without your encouragement, suggestions, and feedback. Make sure to check back for more crazy ideas, designs, and challenges in 2011. Happy New Year!

Design a Week – 25/52 – Build Challenge Idea

This entry is officially subtitled “Biting Off More Than I Can Chew” given it will easily be the most complex project I have attempted to date. I guess that’s why it is called a challenge!

This piece is a design for a hall table. The piece I build for the challenge has size constraints, so this will be a to-scale version that can fit inside a 32-inch cube. On to the sketches:

If you have followed the previous two design entries, then you’ll likely notice a few elements of this piece that did arise from those designs. Up first, the table top:

The curves on the ends of the table top came from what I thought was a superfluous surface on the first Entry That Wasn’t. I think the subtle curves on the ends are a simple way to dress-up an otherwise square table top. I’ve been reading a lot of George Walker’s work, both on his blog and in Popular Woodworking Magazine. A big theme of his lately has been echoes within a piece. This top is the first place that you’ll see me echo a design feature in this piece.

The radius on both the inner and outer curves in each half of the top are the same. Those inner edges are sloped out from the center, similar to the business end of the blades on a cigar cutter. For these outer wings of the top, I’m thinking of using tiger maple. If I can’t find tiger maple specifically, I want to use some type of figured or spalted maple. These parts of the top will be the focal surface of the table and key in drawing attention to the piece.

The center of the table top will be slightly smaller than the wings, both in its depth and its thickness. The bottom of the center section will be flush with the bottom of the wings. With the difference in thicknesses between the center and the wings, there will be a slight relief from the top of the wings to the top of the center. Right now I’m leaning towards using walnut for the center section.  Part of me thinks it could be cool to find a really gnarly burl to center in the top; the other part of me worries that might be too much activity for the top. Maybe I’ll consider it if I can’t find tiger maple for the wings.

On to the drawers hung beneath the table top:

The center drawer is another element from my first Entry That Wasn’t. While the drawer itself will be square, it will be bracketed by curved sides. Those sides will sit beneath and echo the curve on the inner edges of the table top wings. At the bottom of the curved side supports there will be a horizontal shelf. The space between the drawer and that bottom will be empty. To keep continuity with the center of the top, the drawer front and side supports will also be made of walnut. I’m currently undecided on what species I’ll use for that bottom shelf. I’ll probably stay with walnut for the whole center, but might use hard maple here.

The outer shelves show the one design element I have incorporated from the second Entry That Wasn’t. While it is slightly compressed, the curves on the drawer supports mimic the curves on that unused design’s vertical spine. I like how these outer drawer supports feel square, but still have curves that soften the shape. Like the negative space beneath the center drawer, the space above these outer drawers will also be empty. I will construct the outer drawers and their supports from hard maple.

Now to what will likely be the most difficult parts to construct on this design, the legs:

The front-most and rear-most legs curve towards the center of the piece, stretching from the table top to the floor. The middle leg, wider than the outer legs, runs from the cross brace down to the floor – curving away from the center. That cross brace not only connects all of the legs, but it also will provide support beneath the outer drawers. The outer most drawer support will sit in a rabbet on the inside edge of these cross braces. It’s not evident in my perspective drawing here, but the curves on the Y-axis of the legs is meant to echo the curve in the outer drawer supports above. I want to make these legs out of purpleheart. If I end up with a spalted maple table top instead of tiger maple, the purpleheart could really tie things together nicely.

So that’s what I’m going to create for this year’s build challenge. I applaud and thank you for making it to the end of what is easily my longest post in this design exercise. What do you think? Leave your impressions in the comments.

Design a Week – 24/52

Tonight’s entry is another entry that came out of my initial brainstorming for the Build Challenge. I call it the sequel to “The Entry That Wasn’t”

If you’re wondering why I haven’t shown more than one drawing, it’s because I don’t have one. This isn’t a totally flushed out design. Normally I wouldn’t want to post a half-baked idea, but that’s as far as I’ve gone with this branch of brainstorming. I thought out enough to get a generic form, but didn’t go further.

I think of this as a contemporary night stand or valet. The curved spine running the height of the piece is also the absolute back of the piece; the shelves are anchored to it. The vertical lines between the base and the shelf is actually a support bracket with a curve similar to the back spine. I see the back spine as some type of figured maple, with a complementing species for the shelves.  I also think you could forgo the base and wall mount the piece.  Actually, I think I like it better that way.

I know – a lousy excuse for a design idea. I’m just trying to document my entire process for the build challenge.

Design a Week – 23/52

With the start of this year’s The Sawdust Chronicles Build Challenge, I started brainstorming as I was first listening to the kick-off podcast. This sketch was the first idea to come to full fruition. However, this isn’t what I plan to submit for the challenge. Thus, I present the first “Entry that Wasn’t”

With this challenge’s focus being “Surface,” my mind immediately jumped to creating a piece that had multiple surfaces to it. I wanted each surface to also be accessible, despite the stacked orientation of each level. This led to the telescoping nature of the levels. From a materials/finish perspective, there would be a wide variety. I would want a different species of highly colored wood (paduak, purpleheart, etc) to make up the horizontal surfaces. To further highlight those woods, I would paint all the vertical surfaces black, with an exception for the drawer front. Note: this wouldn’t be permissable in this bulid challenge – no paint allowed.

There are a few design elements that I like in this piece. The middle level has a round top. To support that, the side walls beneath the circle are curved themselves, something that isn’t readily evident with my currently skills in drawing.

The arched stretcher on the lowest supports was a late addition to the design that I enjoy. Originally I drew this piece with all of the “legs” purely vertical.  When I redrew on something nicer than a napkin, I realized that the lowest supports would offer little lateral support – something that wouldn’t work on the base of a piece. This led me to cant the legs out slightly, which should support the piece side to side. To add strength to the front-to-back axis, I added the stretcher.

I’m unsure about the lowest platform. I like the curved end profile, but for what really is an end table, I don’t think you really need that board. If there was another wood species you wanted to highlight, that might be enough of an excuse – but I don’t really see it in hindsight.

Overall, I find this was an interesting exercise. It was definitely worth the time spent, as there are a couple of elements that I plan to put into my build challenge entry. Which ones? You’ll have to stay tuned to find out ;-)

Design a Week – 22/52

I did a lot of housework this weekend, which has left me fairly tired. Appropriately, tonight’s design is a for a bed:

When putting this design together, I wanted an interesting pattern without the heavy feeling of highly ornament sleigh bed. The main frame would be of a medium-toned wood, maybe cherry or a mahogany. The lighter inside pieces are a web of boards with plenty of open/negative space, lightening the hefty feeling of the bed. They would be a lighter species of wood.

The thickness of the web of boards would also be slightly thinner than the main frame. I think the offset will add a nice shadow to the headboard and footboard. I don’t know if it would be better to center those boards on the outer frame or to have them flush with one side. I also may think about moving the vertical parts of the web slightly closer to the center; I would have to play with that more to see how that might work out.

If only blogging about it meant it was built – I’d go crash right now!

Design a Week – 21/52

Tonight’s design entry involves another first in this exercise – an upholstered ottoman:

First of all I want to mention that I’ve had the beginnings of this sketch for some time now and its shape in no way represents my excitement for the upcoming NFL season! I envision this ottoman being fairly long, more appropriate for a love seat than a standard stuffed chair. The criss-cross pattern in the sketch would be the stuffed and upholstered portion of the ottoman. I’m imagining a medium blue (maybe something cornflower), but not necessarily a pattern – the criss-cross is really just to indicate the area of upholstery in the pencil drawing.

As for the trim around the top, I’m torn between two similar ideas for the detail:

As you see on the right, it is a choice between actual dowels and a negative space where the dowels would be.  In either instance, I would want that are to be a contrasting wood. That might be a little difficult to do with the negative space idea (some seriously bent veneer?), but maybe doing half dowels (not drawn) could work as a middle ground.

As for the base, I’m thinking a different wood than the edge of the top. It could be the same as the dowels/negative-space or it could be a third species.  That base would also be mostly hollow, allowing for storage beneath the lid/top.  As for the feet, I decided to keep them simple – considering they are mostly hidden and not terribly contributing to a piece such as this.

Design a Week – 20/52

Tonight’s sketch is another boring meeting inspired sketch (maybe I should create a tag for that), an A-frame hall table:

I had originally drawn this where the cabinet top was even with the top of the A-fram legs, but this made the piece feel too bulky, in my opinion. As drawn, the ends of the cabinet base are essentially giany through-tenons, even if I doubt it would be constructed that way. I’ve given some thought to making that “tenon” shorter, so there is a small reveal inside the A. I’m afraid that would require the legs to be too thick for what is already a heavy design. I’ve called it a hall table, but given the depth of the legs, this may fair better as a console behind a sofa or a love seat.

I came up with a couple of possible designs for the drawers pulls:

Well to be fair, it is the same basic design, just rotated 90 degrees in the lower photo. I think I like the lower orientation in general, whereas the upper design is almost a mini-echo of the table as a whole – which is appealing.

Thoughts on the table? Which do you prefer?


Here are a couple of new ideas for the pulls, as suggested by Ken and Adam:

Design a Week – 19/52

I had planned one more entry for my round table series, but after several attempts at my last idea, I just can’t seem to make it work. Maybe I’ll revisit it at a later date. Moving on, I present a wood-crossed coffee table:

This table arose from a simple idea that got refined with every iteration.  Originally, it was a simple cross:

But it eventually made its way through several small changes before arriving at the first picture.

I felt like the original drawing was too bulky, so I added the inner cross to the center of the piece – as seen in sketch 1. After drawing it, it looked flimsy and would be a huge P.I.T.A. to build, because those inner squares are separate from the outer wings.  With those two thoughts in mind, I came up with sketch 2 – where I clipped the inner corners and widened the inner cross. I really like how that design balanced the piece, so much that it is the direction I went with the SketchUp drawing atop this post.  I drew sketch 3 to make sure that I hadn’t made a mistake making the inner cross wider. I just needed the visual confirmation to confirm my choice. Sketch 4 contains the same cross as sketch 2, but rather than straight edged wings, I’ve made them curved. My wife definitely likes that version best and I might as well. I thought about drawing #4 in SketchUp, but I felt that the straight edge piece would be easier (and quicker).  If nothing else, sketch 4 gives me some closure to the round table series.

Design a Week – 18/52

A little “before & after” for the next in the series of round coffee tables – the Compass Rose Wood table:

This table top is another idea that came out of a doodling session in a boring meeting at work. A simple compass rose layered on a bullseye, over bent metal legs. If for no other reason than to make the pun work, I would want the darker inlays to be some type of rosewood. Depending on the choice of primary species for the table top, the metal could be chrome, brushed aluminum, antiqued bronze, or even pewter. I had a few possible alterations. First, adding a ring/foot rail to the legs:

Second, extending the legs to be wider than the top:

And possibly both?

There are also a bunch of options working with the edge of the table as well. As drawn there are diamonds inset at each cardinal direction, but there could be other shapes or even a continuous banding around the edge.  Any suggestions?