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.


5 thoughts on “Cantilevers, cantilevers, and wait for it…cantilevers

  1. beautiful. i have not seen elm look so nice before. those wedges look fantastic too. for the mortises, did you mark them from the tenons? how do you layout and mark mortises like this accurately?

    • Hi Aaron, thanks for checking out the blog. It really is a beautiful piece of elm. I’d never worked with it before. As for the through tenons & mortises…I laid out and cut the tenons on the vertical support (leg) first. I then set the table top face down on my workbench. From there I placed the vertical support, tenons down onto the bottom side of the table top creating basically an upside down “T” shape. Using a clamp to apply enough pressure to keep everything in place, I traced around the tenons to see where they would sit on the table top. I then followed the same process on the top side.
      If you look at the photo in the post with the hammer and chisel and some of the mortises bored out, you’ll notice a horizontal and vertical pencil line that intersects between the two mortises. These are the center-lines of the table top and they wrap around on the top and bottom. This is critical to establish because it ensures that when you trace out the tenons/mortises on either side, they will match up so to speak when you chop of the waste. That process might make a good blog post as it’s hard to describe well just with writing. Either way, hope it helps and thanks again for stopping by. ~Bobby

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