Layout and Dimensions

This has been a highly productive week, where I got shop time Monday (took the day off to recover from WIA), Friday afternoon, and today. Those shop sessions gave me enough time to prep and dimension almost all of the stock for this project. I started on Monday with the 8/4 purpleheart for the outer legs of the table:

I was so excited that I had fit all four legs on the width of the board, I went right to cutting the board in half, so I could fit each part on the jointer:

It was only after making a few passes on the jointer that I realized my mistake. First, if I wanted to double-up the cuts and make two legs from one blank, the layouts would need to be aligned in both height and orientation.  Second, either the blank would have to ride on the curved surface I just created or I would have to layout the template on that curved surface. I was not convinced  with my ability to do either safely or repeatably, so I needed to readjust. Thankfully I over-bought stock for this project and I could still use these two blanks to make one leg each.

Friday afternoon/evening was spent mostly at the jointer and table saw. Right now, I only have one 220V outlet in my garage, so there’s some plug swapping between the jointer and the planer. For this reason, I made a concerted effort to do all the dimensioning up to the point of needing the planer. So by the end of Friday night, I had a lot of hard maple and purpleheart that was S3S. In addition to that stock, I had a lot of confusion; I wasn’t sure how to proceed.  This led me to spending a decent amount of time creating a checklist for each part that I was going to work on today. This was hugely beneficial, not just for the direction I was giving myself, but also for the mental exercise of thinking about each piece without standing over a tool.

With a clear plan for this afternoon, I was able to crank through my steps and complete a ton of the prep work for my challenge entry.  I got my head on straight and created the blanks for the table legs:

I also dimensioned most of the hard maple that will make up the sides and the shelves for the outer drawer assemblies:

Here’s the glue-up for the sides of the inner drawer assemblies.  The plan is to make the curves out of this 8/4 walnut:

but I’m still undecided on whether I’ll make those cuts at the bandsaw or nibble away at the tablesaw, changing the height of the  to create the curve shape. I’ll cross that bridge later; if anyone has a strong opinion about it, leave a comment.

I also glued-up the three panels that will comprise the top. First, the two wings made of curly maple:

And some more walnut for the center:

Tomorrow I foresee a lot of work at the bandsaw cutting the curves in this design.  After the Bears game, of course ;-)

Tick Marks to Templates

Design sketches – checks. Materials – check.  Now it was time for some serious shop time.

For the complex curves that I had in several places on this piece, I knew I would need a few steps between my initial sketches and putting a blade to the wood.  My first step was to make some larger scale drawings of individual parts of the piece. From there, I wanted to create some plywood templates to ensure consistency in the repeated forms. I don’t know of anywhere that sells 1/4″ plywood with gridlines printed on it, so I had to make my own.

The grid lines provide two things: 1) a measure of distance – I spaced the lines 1/2″ apart, and 2) a way to transfer my previous drawings, one grid square at a time. My scale on the larger sketches I did was the same as these grid lines, so transferring the shapes to the plywood was a snap:

Some quick work at the band saw and I had several templates cut and ready for primetime:

In addition to getting these templates created, I started doing some layout work on the 4/4 maple board I have. It will be used for the outer drawer assemblies, so the primary shape I wanted to orient was the side pieces (lower left, above). I noticed on the maple that there were a few spots with some interesting cathedral grain near the center of the board. I’ve marked those areas for the outer sides, so the rising grain follows the sloping curves. It’s hard explain, so I’ll make sure to get some pictures as soon as I get the boards planed.

I did some shopping this weekend as well, picking up some SealCoat shellac and Transtint dye, so I can get the grain on the curly maple I’m using for the top to pop. One thing I still need to pick up is a white pencil, so I can mark up the walnut and purpleheart and still see the lines!

Hopefully, I’ll get some of the real wood cut before Woodworking in America next week.

Build Challenge Materials

Last weekend I went to my favorite hardwood dealer and purchased the majority of my lumber for the Build Challenge:

In this picture we have:

  • 4/4 & 8/4 Walnut: The 8/4 walnut will be used for the center of the top and the curved sides of the center drawer assembly. The 4/4 walnut will be used for the center drawer front and shelf
  • 4/4 Maple: This maple will be used for the outer drawer assemblies
  • 4/4 Poplar: This poplar will be used for the drawer boxes and supports
  • 8/4 Purpleheart: This is easily my favorite board I bought that Saturday. I just love purpleheart, especially an 8/4 slab such as this. This board will become the leg assemblies.

Unfortunately, Vienna Hardwoods didn’t have much in the way of curly maple and not a whole lot of 8/4 maple in general. This led me to what is becoming my second favorite hardwood dealer, Northland Forest Products. The only thing keeping them from being my favorite is their lack of exotic species (did you see that slab of purpleheart?!?).

In their stack of “8/4 Curly Soft Maple” I was able to find this beauty:

Check out the curl on this baby:

I only really needed about half of the board for this project, but I couldn’t bring myself to ask them to cut it in half.  I’ll just have to think of some other project to make from that beauty!

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.

Southern Hospitality

A couple of weeks ago I had a three-day training class down in Charlotte, NC. My wife decided to make a vacation out of it and picked me up when the class was done, from which we drove to the Asheville area to visit some friends in the Blue Ridge Mountains. This gave me two different woodworking tales to take from the long weekend:

1)In Pisgah Forest, NC I got this chance to meet local cabinetmaker John Dillon of Wood Crafters, Inc. John’s shop is in a barn that actually dwarfs the small house in front of it. In the center of the shop are two old Powermatic table saws, one with a single blade and the other dedicated to the stacked dado blade. The saws sit at opposite corners of a large work surface so that the out-feed support of one table is actually the right wing extension of the other saw.  The other large tool I noticed in the shop was a really old, 18″ General band saw. 

The feature of John’s shop that most caught my eye was the wood. Racks of wood. Shelves of wood. Wood in piles. Wood in the barn lofts. Wood under tarps outside. John had thousands of board feet of all kinds of wood: maple (spalted, figured, and otherwise), cherry, chestnut, pine – and that was just what I noticed.  As it turns out, living in the Blue Ridge Mountains has a few advantages if you’re a woodworker. Mainly, he gets almost all of his wood for practically free.  He doesn’t have a large plot of land that he’s clearing; people bring wood to him!  Most folks who know him (it is a small town) will bring him whole tree trunks that they have cut down – for free!  All he has to do is pay a guy who has a portable saw mill (similar to a Wood Mizer) who makes those trunks into boards for about $0.30 a board foot.

The thing that kept me from leaving fully green with envy was John’s graciousness and generosity. There I was, some kid (relatively) wandering around his shop while he’s trying to complete a beautiful cherry cabinet for a kitchen commission he was building – yet he took time to talk to me, to answer and ask questions. He was also extremely giving person, as he asked if I had room in my car to take a couple of pieces of wood home with me.

A cross-section of a spalted log:

and a plank:

of amazingly figured maple:


While we were talking, he had asked if I owned a draw knife (I do) and mentioned that he was curious about getting one. With a couple of quick searches on eBay and a few weeks for shipping gave me the opportunity to return the kindness he showed me:

2) If any of you are on Twitter (follow me!), you may have noticed Kari Hultman of The Village Carpenter tweet a link to a new blog about workbenches: Bench Vice. The author of Bench Vice (and Wood Therapy) is Tim Williams, a woodworker in the Asheville, NC area. Some readers may notice that Tim is the designer of the Joinery Bench that Chris Schwarz blogged about a few months ago. When he’s not building his own pieces or teaching at the Asheville Woodworking School, Tim gives free demos at Asheville Hardware – a local Rockler reseller.

The weekend I was in the area, Tim was giving a demo about hand planes. By the time I got to the store, Tim was well into tuning a block plane that one customer had brought to the demo. After some time lapping, sharpening, and the other fiddling Tim had explained how to make a $40 block plane perform like one that cost five times as much – which is what that gentleman now possessed. Tim ran the whole gamut of bench plane topics: what the numbers mean, how they are different, what order to use the planes, etc. After a while, Tim and I started talking about benches: his Joinery Bench and how it came about, my plans for a bench, and his love for twin screw vises.

Those serendipitous trips made for a quite a wonderful weekend – and that was all before the actual vacation part!