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.

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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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Simple Pleasures

Late last summer I milled a decent sized walnut trunk into 2″ planks, plainsawn through and through on the LT15. The rest of the slabs are closer to 6′ long but a couple came out closer to 2′ for various reasons. The slabs were air drying for about 9 months which isn’t nearly long enough for 2″ thick walnut but since we don’t have the solar kiln set up yet I thought I’d try my luck at “kiln” drying in the attic.

I wasn’t properly prepared for this in that I don’t have a thermometer up there to measure temp/humidity but if I had to guess I’d say it’s around 110 up there during the day at least during the last few months that I’ve had the wood up there. MC was around 20% when the wood went in and today the reading was closer to 7-8%. Not too bad. It was definitely a lot easier hauling the pieces down.

I need 4 legs for a small hall bench I’m building out of an old walnut slab and thought this chunk would work nicely for that.
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After crossing cutting the ends to get it to length (approx. 17″) I ripped one edge to get rid of the last gnarly bit. The off-cut was kind of cool, with the insect damage so I set that aside to use at some point down the road maybe as a decorative piece.

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Once cut to size I brought out the trusty Jack Plane and started cross planing to flatten the first side. Always a treat to plane off the sawmill marks and see the grain and figure appear. Never gets old.

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And after about 2 hours of handwork I had a lovely 2″ thick 14″x17″ chunk of walnut from a tree more or less in my own backyard. There’s some nice chatoyance when the light hits it right and I’m looking forward to ripping the 4 legs for the hall bench in the next couple days. For now, I’ll let the wood rest and see what kind of movement occurs before proceeding.

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Table Turn Table Pt. III

Finding homes for all the butterflies I carved the other day. In some ways this slab of Black Walnut was a marginal piece of wood but in others, it’s quite nice. Took a lot of work to get it flat going from 1 1/4″ thick to about 3/4″. That’s a lot of hand planing across the grain. And it’s full of cracks, etc that kinda need some help and kinda just need some of my killer aesthetic vision…anyways, there’s nothing finer than chiseling out butterfly key mortises on a lovely afternoon.
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For the round post that will support the far end of the piece, I decided to use some Osage Orange that I’ve had lying around. It too has a few issues but all in all is OK for this project. Good practice for the frame saw as well.

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To get it to round I’m using the jack plane to create a hexadecagon, that’s right, a 16-side polygon. Bam!

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The grain is outstanding. It feels/looks like there’s a decent amount of oil in the wood as it has this incredible polish after even a rough cut with the jack plane.

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Another gratuitous grain shot.

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Nakashima Peace Alter and Other Tiny Musings

During a recent visit to NYC I was able to stop by the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine on 110th St. in upper Manhattan. If you are ever near Central Park, have a visit as it is well worth it. Inside are numerous old and contemporary works of art including George Nakashima’s Peace Alter, which if you are not familiar with, is one of 3 current Peace Alters built from a  300-year old Walnut tree. It was Nakashima’s goal to have one on each of the 7 continents. You can read more about it on the Nakashima Foundation website. It’s been something of goal of mine to see the table in person and it does not disappoint. To give you a sense of scale the table is maybe 8’x10′ and the top is about 2″.

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And my favorite sign of all time…or at least of all the signs I’ve ever seen at a church.

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On a side note, this is the 4th anniversary (approximately) of starting this blog. Here’s a link to my very first post, Bookmatched Walnut Slabs. Thanks to everyone who has stopped by. It’s been a fun 4 years!