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.

Maebiki

Finally got my hands on a “maebiki oga”. I’ve been interested for some time with the idea of ripping boards from trees by hand and this particular saw seems to be the best bet. It measures 32″ from end to end and about 12″ at the widest part. It came with a handle which needs to be replaced and as you can see in the photo, that is also the location of the worst rust. I’d estimate it weighs around 6-7 lbs.

The saw body itself is perfectly flat and the teeth are in good condition. I’ve used saws of course for some time now but never really stopped to consider how they even work in the first place. Mostly I’ve used impulsed hardened blades that I just replace when they become dull.

Fortunately Tools for Working Wood has a very useful PDF on their website, courtesy of Gramercy Tools that gives a detailed rundown of saw anatomy, titled, “Elements of Saw Tooth Design”. This helpful PDF covers Rake, Fleam, Slope, Pitch, Gullet Depth, and Set. For the Maebiki below, you can see that it has a positive rake, and a rather aggressive one at that. As for fleam, it has none, which is typical of a rip saw(and will simplify the sharpening process). It also has no slope to speak of. For pitch, it’s progressive, ranging from 3TPI at the heel to 2TPI at the toe which makes it a bit easier to start the cut and then makes for faster cutting once you are moving. The gullet depth is variable as you can see from the image below, but they are fairly deep and that makes sense, given the size and amount of shavings that this blade would produce.
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And lastly the set. From what I can tell given my limited experience, the set is moderate on this saw. It’s not totally flat and also not too extreme. Once I actually get the opportunity to try it out, then I’ll be able to determine whether or not it needs to be increased further. And for that, I’ll need to get my hands on a small anvil, or perhaps a chunk of Iron wood, which would be cool to have. I’ve seen it growing in the woods around here, but it’s a slow grower and not so common.

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The next step will be to remove as much rust as I can, fashion a new handle and begin the sharpening process. For that I was able to find a 150mm feather-edge file to sharpen the teeth on eBay for $12, which is the largest I’ve been able to find so far. I’ve never sharpened a saw before, let along one as large as this one but I think having bigger teeth will make it easier in one sense and be helpful in measuring my progress.

Spoon #2 In Oak

Here are a few photos from my second attempt at spoon carving. This one is from the same piece of Oak as my first one-this was my attempt to replicate the traditional Swedish Spoon that appears in Willie Sundqvist’s book, “Swedish Carving Techniques”.

One benefit from using Oak is that you end up learning how to sharpen your tools rather quickly. This guy ended up being a birthday present.

Right now I’m sticking with “rough cut” shaping and leaving the tool marks, rather than smoothing out with sand paper or card scraper. I like the look that gives.

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Step Into My Office

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Today I tried my hand at spoon carving courtesy of a birthday present of a Mora 106 paring knife and 164 hook knife from my special lady. I have a big box store hatchet that I bought maybe 12 years and so I sharpened that the best I could and grabbed a piece of recently split oak (Red, I think) from the wood pile. For fun I checked the moisture content and it was somewhere upwards of 35-40%, plenty green for this go-round.

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Working with green wood is a totally new process for me and for some reason, I’ve been hesitant about going down that road. I have no idea why. Maybe since I’ve spent the past 7 years working with only dry wood and dealing with movement, etc., I was overly worried about what would happen with completely green wood. Who knows?

To split out the blanks, I just looked for a seam and setting the hatchet in line with it, took a whack with the mallet and voila.

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It’s nice to split with the grain and in this case, this is some pretty straight grained stuff.

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There’s a few steps missing here…after some exploratory hatchet work, I took a hand saw to the 1st blank and cut it to rough shape-my hatchet skills are still in the nascent stage.

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With the basic shape down I drew out the general outline of the spoon and started carving from there with my new Morakniv 106 and my M-164 Hook Knife, also from Mora.

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A bit more progress. There’s a point at which the blank all of a sudden becomes a spoon. All these subtle transformations, large amounts of material removal, and then out of seemingly nowhere, a spoon.

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The neck is too delicate-try, live and learn. At this point the handle is essentially done, just the bowl left to refine.

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And here’s a side profile-the Red Oak has an attractive grain from all angles. There’s kind’ve a wavy handle thing going on here. I’m sure I had something creative in mind-whether that was realized, well, hey it’s my first spoon.

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And from the top.

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Here’s the nearly finished piece. From here I cured it in boiling water for about 12 minutes and it’s been drying in a brown paper bag for the last two days. I’ll put a coat or two of linseed oil on it and start my spoon collection.

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At this point I prefer the tool marks from the hook knife in the bowl. Not sure I want to call it “rustic”. I just like the pattern left behind.

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For my latest project I had a couple rough pieces of walnut hidden away on a shelf in the garage from two different trees. Both were quite dry and looking for a new home so I thought I’d work on some chair building skills but with the forgiving nature of a small end table. This piece was destined for the legs and so some hand planing was in order.
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After a few hours of flattening and smoothing-a nice piece of Walnut emerged.

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And the process of ripping, squaring, and then rounding on the saw horse. A nice progression of steps and always fun to see a square turn into a circle. You can see the rather curious piece of walnut underneath the soon-to-be legs. One of the weirder slabs I’ve worked with.

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Not sure where the soap opera dream lens came from but here’s a shot of test fitting the legs to the top. I eyeballed the compound mortises which meant that they didn’t end up exactly symmetrical but it was a good lesson in working by hand and eye.

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And because of the numerous seams/checks in the table top, I elected to add several butterfly keys. I’m using a rather basic method to shape them but fun all the same and in this case, using Ash, which has a strong tensile strength and contrasts nicely with the walnut. You can see the relief cuts I made with a hand saw to facilitate chopping out the waste, before paring with a chisel to the line.

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Test placement of the keys.

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Once I set the keys, it was time for wedging and glueing up the legs. For the leg wedges I used some white oak that handles the hammering into place quite well.

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Happy face? Sad face? Pretty neutral it seems…

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Detail shot after the first coat of oil & wax.

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Finished piece. One interesting note-the legs are quite darker than the top. I think part of this is that I slabbed out the walnut for the legs myself and they air dried for about a year and then spent a month or so in my makeshift attic kiln, so a rather gradual drying process. The table top on the other hand was purchased from a sawyer who kiln dries only-no air drying (about 5 years ago, as it happens) and to me some of the richness of the walnut faded out compared to the legs. Totally anecdotal on my end but my sense is that air drying first for a year or two depending on thickness, helps to preserve the overall color profile of the wood.

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The Brute Squad Serving Board

Sometimes the simplest projects are the most enjoyable. Getting back to the basics with some hand tools and a quiet morning.

We cut this walnut last fall and after nearly a year of air drying, I put a couple slabs in the attic this summer for some experimental, ad hoc kiln drying. So far, so good.

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