Cantilevers, cantilevers, and wait for it…cantilevers

It’s been some time since my last post so let’s get back to it. Ever since we bought our first house, complete with full-on IKEA furnishings, I’ve been working slowly to replace each IKEA piece with something I’ve built with my own hands. Next up on that list was a coffee table for our living room. A person can get lost in different design types, but ultimately I settled on something that uses slab wood to a certain extent and that also employs cantilevers. And I wanted a table that fit the space both in size and aesthetics. As a starting off point I decided to utilize some of the design elements of  Nakashima’s Minguren table series.

From there I tried to minimize the design as much as possible including reducing the number of pieces down to 3 (the top, the vertical base, and the horizontal cross-member). Kind of a modified trestle table. Structurally this presents some challenges-balance wise, it’s actually quite sturdy, although you wouldn’t guess that from looking at it. My biggest concern was not having some type of batten directly underneath the table, leaving the tenons to shoulder the bulk of any downward pressure. In other words, it needed to be stout but not overwhelming. In the end, use and time will tell if it’s successful.

Here’s a scale mock-up. On the full-size table, I ended up flipping the vertical trestle to provide more support to the tenons.

For the lumber I used Red Elm. I found these two slabs from a sawyer about 50 miles from my house-he only mills wood on his own land of about 100 acres of sustainably farmed timber and had this amazing set of Red Elm boards that are each approximately 22″ wide, 5′ long and 2″ thick. I spent a considerable amount of time deciding what to do to them (should I bookmatch them, use them separately, etc). Eventually I decided to build one coffee table and use the other slab for some chairs I’d like to build down the road.

And here’s the vertical Walnut support, bark intact.

I spent a lot of time getting these tenons just so as I knew the fit to the table top had to be accurate in order to provide the maximum strength and support to the table based on the minimal design. Lots of sharp chisels and lots of delicate paring going on.

For the mortises, I drilled out a decent amount of the waste and then set to chiseling out the rest. Elm is a hard wood, at least when chiseling across the grain…the tape is my depth marker so that I didn’t blow out the other side when pushing out the waste.

Work, work, work.

Here’s a shot of the underside of the joinery showing the horizontal cross-member and the vertical support. There’s a slight gap in the upper left but nonetheless it’s a fun challenge to see how accurate you can get with hand tools, knowing full well that no one else will ever likely see this side of the table.

Some end grain fun on the table top. Sharp blades!

On the underside of the table top I added a pretty significant chamfer to give the table some visual lift and soften the edge somewhat. For that, the jack plane works wonders.

And wedging the through-tenons. I used Ash for the wedges and cut them quite thin. The kerfs on the tenons are thin as well.

And one of the finished through-tenons, trimmed, planed, and waxed. The end grain of the walnut almost turns black which creates a nice contrast to the elm.

And finished up in the shop with 2 coats of beeswax.

Where the magic happens. My own basement dreamworks studio…

And a few parting shots.

What’s Behind Door #1?

After a lot of very cold, shop-prohibitive weather, the holidays, and some general laziness, I finished one of the Kasumi-Gumi hip board shoji panels. My original intent was to build two, and then a basic display frame that would allow the panels to slide as they were meant to. But I had some technical issues and had to cannabalize some of the pieces from the second door to finish the first one. Cutting all those half-lap joints by hand, particularly of the 4mm wide kumiko proved to be more challenging that I foresaw. So, good practice but I’ll have to cut some more kumiko for the second panel before I can finish the original goal.

Here’s the primary vertical and horizontal kumiko fit together and set lightly on top of the frame to get a sense of where everything goes and whether my initial measurements and cuts were accurate.

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A detail of the various Kasumi (mist) kumiko after assembly but prior to attaching the shoji paper. Each of the free-end kumiko are chamfered on the top and sides. Don’t look too close or you might see some warts in the joinery:-)

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After a long evening of sawing, chopping, sawing and chopping some more.

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Door #1 glued and assembled.

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Shoji paper attached to the back.

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Time for some surgery here: I made a very simple walnut pull, using a gouge to rough out the indentation-was going for a rustic, hand-hewn look. Not perfect but kind of interesting.

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And the pull mortise cleaned out.

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Fitting the pull to the mortise.

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And tapped down. Just need to plane the excess flush with the stile.

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And the finished piece. I’m pretty happy with it. Definitely some gaps, especially where the kasumi kumiko meet the tsukeko. This is really just a result of patience or lack there of. The more time I spend really focusing on cutting the joinery, the better it is.

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Mini-Me (or Mini-Home)

A few years ago (7 to be precise) when my significant other and I moved to our current home, we happened to catch an IMAX movie at a local museum. As we were exiting the theater, we noticed a large dollhouse on display. It was made entirely by hand and quite large, about 3’x4′ and about 2′ high. According to the information card, it was built by the original owner of the actual house in 1932. And as we looked closer, we were remarking about how similar it looked to our house. The roof was open so you could see each of the individual rooms, complete with all the furnishings down to the candles on the dining room table and His & Her towels on the shower curtain rod.

Anyways, we then noticed a 4×6 photograph in the corner of the display case showing the original house as it stood today. We both looked at each other with kind of wide eyes, realizing that in fact this was a scale model of our home that we had just bought! It was pretty crazy. This entire miniature version of our actual home. I felt like a kid again, staring in amazement at all the detail, the individual wood shingles, the cast iron pots on the stove, the list went on and on. The guy that built this dollhouse spared no expense.

Given the craziness of it all, I contacted the museum and let them know if they ever happened to de-accession this particular piece, that we would love to have and return it to its original “home”. Well, just a couple weeks ago, one of the curators called me and asked if we were still interested. And so I was able to pick it up this week and bring it back to where it was built.

Apparently the dollhouse was built by the original owner of the house in 1932 for his two daughters who then many years later donated the house to the museum in town. A handwritten note on the bottom of the house by the builder stated that it is in fact to scale: 1 inch = 1 foot. As the museum ran out of space recently, they contacted us, with the blessing of the daughters, to see if we would be interested in taking it back. And so it has returned.

I will design a stand for it and we’ll display it in what is now the den. And I’ll post more pictures soon. But here’s a sampling…

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The living room:

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The dining room:

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And for a sense of scale:

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I Hear Those Sleigh Bells Ringing

It’s been quite cold as of late and that makes it’s tough to get out into the workshop. So I haven’t made much progress on the shoji but I keep chipping away. Once I’ve chamfered all the front edges of the kumiko, I’ll get started with the lattice work. The chamfer itself is small, approximately 0.5mm and 45 degrees to the face. img_7271

Don’t Forget…

…issue #2 of Mortise and Tenon Magazine is available for pre-order.

Over time I’ve come to appreciate those things in this life that lend themselves to quiet and contemplation. From working only with hand tools to sitting down with a cup of coffee and reading a quality magazine from cover to cover, the satisfaction of slowing everything down, for just a moment, brings a welcome respite from the day to day noise.

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Chop, Chop, Chop

In building the kasumi-gumi shoji screens there is ample opportunity to practice a few key skills due to the sheer number of repetitive tasks. This is a good thing. Once I rough-milled all the parts of the screens, from rails to stiles to kumiko, then did the initial planing and then the marking it was time to start on the mortises. With a rough count of 222 mortises (some of which are over 18″ in length, that’s a lot of mortises. dscf0090

Here’s an abstract picture of how the top rail, center rail, hip board, and bottom rail line up.

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To speed up the process, I drill out the bulk of the waste on the mortises with the drill press. Here I’m boring out the long mortise for the hip board on the bottom rail.

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…and with the help of a strong IPA, transferring the mortise markings to the tsukeko.

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Trying to keep it simple.

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An IPA can only get you so far. Coffee ends up being the real workhorse of this project.

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Cleaning up the mortises, post drilling.

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These guys, along with my mortising chisels, got a lot of work. Time for the sharpening station.

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Mortises-chopped! Looks like the Chicago skyline from Lake Michigan (if you squint your eyes).

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