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.

Crib – Completed!

The last remaining task for the crib was to construct the drawers that go into the base.

The drawers are a simple box of 1/2″ birch plywood, with 1/4″ oak plywood for the bottoms. To hold the drawers bottoms, I setup a 1/4″ slot cutting bit on my router table and cut a groove in all of the 1/2″ plywood pieces. The fronts and backs of the drawers have their through grooves hidden by the sides. The face of the drawer will hide the grooves on the front of the piece; only on the back of the drawers will be exposed – which will be hidden inside the case. Once all the grooves were cut and passed the dry fit test, I applied some glue and clamps.  I even channeled my inner Norm and added a few pins to each joint for strength.

While the drawer boxes were drying in clamps, I started working on the drawer faces.  Because I liked the look it gave the rail tops, I eased the edges of the drawer faces with my block plane. Besides making them slightly safer for children (this is a crib), I think it softens the profile of what is otherwise a square piece. The next step was to drill a hole for the drawer pull. I’m using just a single knob for each drawer, so I needed to find the center of the board. I decided to draw lines corner to corner and drill at the intersection of the lines. Because I was marking on the back of the board, I only drilled the hole deep enough to just puncture front side – to avoid any tearout on the front. Then I flipped the board over and completed the hole from the front.

Once the glue on the boxes had dried, I clamped the drawer boxes to the faces and drilled pilot holes for the screws attaching them.  I also outlined the box on the back of the drawer faces, so I didn’t finish that section, both to help with gluing and to avoid wasting finish. With everything marked and drilled, I set to shellac the drawer faces.  Same as the rest of the crib, I brushed on two coats of shellac, followed by wiping on a final coat that was cut 1:1 with denatured alcohol. Drying time, some glue, and a few more screws left the drawer construction complete.

Little did I know that mounting these drawers would be far more frustrating than building them! Some of the frustration was due to the way the “plans” were put together (I’ll have a separate post on that), but some was due to slight mistakes I made during construction.  The center support is the mounting point for the inner drawer slides on each drawers.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have it perfectly centered.  This meant that in order to get the drawer box AND two sets of slides (one on each side) to fit between the center support and the leg, I was going to have to cut into the support to mount the inner drawer slide.  I really didn’t want to drag the crib’s base back into my shop and I didn’t want to run my router – and it’s high speed sawdust – in the baby’s room, so I went galoot and hollowed out the groove with some chisels and a mallet. I guess the next two hours were my penance for using my nail gun on the drawer boxes…

Despite all that chopping, I finally got the drawers mounted, opening, and closing. This project is finally done!

I’ll have a wrap-up post some time next week to go over the entire project!

Design a Week – 3/52

I know, three weeks in and I can’t even keep up. I’ll be honest – as long as I get to 52/52 before 31 Dec 2010, I’ll consider this exercise a success. On to this week’s piece…

This is a design for a buffet, but I think you could adjust the height and make it a sofa table. Believe it or not, I got the inspiration for this piece driving by a Hampton Inn Suites hotel at night.  The architecture featured a red brick construction with concrete columns that divided the length of the building.

Not completely evident in the perspective drawing is that the width of all of the legs taper 2:1. The pattern on the front legs would be routed with a small cove bit. On the side legs, I’m not sure if I want the pattern to be recessed or proud of the leg. I really don’t know what drove me to create the recess in the center of the table, so I could see the table without it. If I kept it, I would blacken that area – probably with a flat paint.

As for materials, I could go two ways.  Originally I thought the table top would be a darker wood, with a medium hued wood for the legs.  Thinking about it again, I could see the table being all knotty pine with wrought iron hardware and straps across the top – like a steamer trunk.

Your thoughts?

Design a Week – 2/52

Today’s design came completely unexpectedly.  While reading Twitter this afternoon, Alison Heath of Hardwood Artisans (and fellow Northern Virginian) suggested John Strauss for this week’s Follow Friday.  Checking out John’s website, I was browsing through the Oak & Iron collection and came across his Oak and Iron Gable Entry Table. The drawers in that piece spoke to me, not only in the shape and size, but also how each drawer is contained in an individual sleeve, rather than being part of a larger cabinet.

This bureau brings several discrete drawers together into one open-air assembly:

Originally I thought this piece would use a darker wood like wenge or walnut for the frame and a lighter, figured wood for the drawer cases.  Looking at it more, I can’t help but wonder how it would look with that darker wood as the drawers and something with a medium color (honduran mahogany?) for the frame.  Another possible change would be to extend the drawers past the front of the frame; they are flush as drawn above.

One thing I really like about the cabinet is how it came seem boxy and weighty while remaining airy. I’m also pleased that I was able to draw it by hand in three dimensions –  something I couldn’t manage to do for Week 1. I suppose that there is a bit of my day job (I work in IT) in this design, as it greatly resembles a server rack.

If I can keep finding inspiration for pieces in my day-to-day activities, this should be an easy 52 weeks of design!