Friday, June 14, 2013


A table like this is essentially a cube. It needs to be straight and square in three dimensions. This provides a challenge for the final assembly. Luckily I had already stressed over making things perfectly square when I made a previous set of coffee tables. SO.... why not use those as a giant assembly jig for the new tables. Pieces of the new tables can be clamped to the old ones and everything should be square.

Here's what I came up with

What you're looking at are four glass tables all clamped together and my new table upside-down and pressed together. This method worked pleasingly well. 

The chair back goes down first, with the hinge cylinders in place with the legs. Then the chair bottom goes on top of that and screwed into place. 

Yeah, they look pretty sweet. I'm really ever so pleased with how these turned out.

I'll post some more pictures tomorrow

The Hinge

Everything came together this week. I knew that in order to apply the finish in a comprehensive way, I would need to apply finish to the pieces of the tables separately and then assemble them fully finished. And it worked!  In this post I'll explain the hinge detail and in the next post I'll describe some of the other final elements.

Here's what's going on with the hinge:

There's a half inch diameter hollow steel cylinder half buried in each side - chair back and chair legs.

In order for the chair back to fold down flat, I needed the hole to be drilled precisely in the right place on each piece of wood. For that I put together a small jig that will let me drill consistently on every piece

Here's a shot on the real pieces before they went together

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Oil and Wax

I thought I'd post some comparison pictures of the various stages of finish. The completed product involves walnut sanded with 120,180, and 320 grit paper, then given two coats of watco cherry danish oil and two coats of mylands wax. I absolutely love these two products. So easy to apply and each one adds a magical quality to the wood. The wax, especially is glorious stuff. It smells good (in a "I know I shouldn't sniff that" way) and it adds an amazing glow to the wood, evening out the various tones. I described it on my last project here.

Here is a comparison of the stages of finish. You see natural wood on the right, then just danish oil in the middle, with the wax added on the left.

I fear the photography doesn't do the wax justice. Any wax adds a pleasant sheen, which is partially captured here. Just the oil coat is a nice enough color but looks "flat."  Mylands wax is tinted, though, and it adds a pleasing orange color that somehow makes the wood look like its glowing. It's fun to add a product to the TOP of wood and have the effect look like some internal properties of the wood has changed.

Here's a simple before/after shot of bare wood next to oil and wax


I finally embarked in earnest on carving the chair backs. Predictably, there WAS no really good mechanical solution for cutting the curves with any ease or grace. My router jig provides a decent start, but then it turns out to be a sloppy game involving chisels, saws, and a huge sander. Here's a progression in pictures.

After a few passes with the router:

Then some chiseling. Taking a chisel to this block of wood that I have loved is nearly panic-inducing. It looks it's been chewed on by a beaver..

Cleaned up a little, its looking no better

But you can see my big belt sander in the background. That's the hero of the project. 60 grit sandpaper on that thing gets the job done eventually. But my arms are tired!

You can see there are still bumps here and there. Some hand sanding will even that out. Overall I'm pleased with the results. I spent 3 hours this morning at this, and I got about 3/5 of the way through the 4 pieces. I'll let you figure out that math. Hopefully get done with the carving tomorrow, leaving thursday for finish sanding and oiling. Then, MAYBE, friday will be the big assembly day!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Yet another jig

The table saw jig wasn't cutting it, so to speak...

So the new plan for carving the chair backs involves a router and thus a router jig.  

This involves a platform for the wood to sit on and an elevated and angled guide for the router to slide across. All I have to do is drop the router to the depth I want by eyeballing the curved pencil line, and then I can sweep it across and it will conform to the desired angle. 

It will still take many passes of the router to eat away enough material that I can start using sanders. But it's a big improvement over the table saw method. You can see some initial passes below, comparing the narrow table saw cuts with the wider router cuts. One way or another - neatly or sloppily, I just have to take away the material within the pencil line

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Misc problem solving

A portion of the morning was spent putting some wax on the chair seats. Two coats. They look really nice. But most of the morning was spent doing geometric problem solving. First, I came up with a better table-saw jig. I just screwed in a cleat to the sled for the wood to rest on, so it can stay at an angle.

But while this essentially "works" it doesn't take away enough material at a time. It would take all summer to cut enough strips. So I'm going to make a different jig for my router, which can take a way about 6 times the material at one pass. More on that next time.

I also figured out an elegant way to draw a curve for me to guide the curve-cutting. I made a giant compass out of a strip of wood and a screw. 

This lets me draw a curve that's symmetrical and will be the same on all pieces. Then I just need to get my act together carving it out!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Some stain and a cockamamie plan

Worked on two project elements today. I sanded and oiled/stained the chair seats. Easy and straight-forward.

In the afternoon I began to tackle carving the chair backs. I drew all sorts of sketches, took measurements, blah blah blah. 

But in the end I'm really better at just getting my hands on the material and staring at it until a bright idea pops into my head. You can see the basic plan here. I want to use the table saw to nibble away at the material to be removed within the curve. If I can elevate the wood at an angle as I cut on the table saw I can achieve the off-axis cut. Then all I need to do is lower the blade as I approach the edges and I might should get the basic shape done. Finishing off with chisels and sanders. But How to I do the angle cut on the table saw?  

THIS is how, apparently

This begins with a "sled" that I made years ago for the table saw. What's going on here is I lay the wood on the sled flat, and then elevate on end, clamping some temporary legs on it to hold it up. This keeps the angle I want. Then clamp it to the sled and the whole contraption moves freely on the table saw. I can move the whole piece left and right on the sled, and adjust the saw blade height. Except its all painfully slow work, and I'm worried about not getting a terribly graceful curve... 

You can see me experimenting with blade depth here

It's really fu#*@# scary to cut into a piece of wood I've lovingly assembled over days and weeks. I'm being cautious. Nibbling away slowly. I hope I can at least use this method to set depth marks to guide my eye when I go at it with a sander later...

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Dry Fit

Here's a preliminary dry fit of a table. The color discrepancy is because central sections aren't stained yet. The dry fit is is a slow process putting everything together because one must be very careful that everything is square. I'm fairly happy with how it looks, but I'll need to fill gaps in various places before I do the final glue-up. 

Interestingly, I like the double layer of simple lines less than I expected. Even though I took such pains to make sure the bottom panel is strong (as it's lined with plywood) it "looks" flimsy, and that worries me a little. Tomorrow I'll sketch out an option where it's bolstered by a front piece that runs horizontally. Great weather today - mid 60's, so it was great to be out this morning!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Chair Seat Shapes Up

It's so rewarding to encounter a design challenge, sketch out a solution, and craft it out of tangible material. This is a reward that comes rarely in philosophy. Today I finished making the chair seats. You'll see the sketch I made in a previous post, and this is the result. It consists of 1 inch strips of walnut laminated (glued) together on top of a piece of plywood for stability and strength. The plywood will be invisible in its final assembly.

I gave them a rough sand to even out the surfaces today, and trimmed them to the right size. Tomorrow I might give them their finish sanding. The other job on the docket tomorrow is to cut the chair backs to the right size. Then everything will be ready for a dry assembly. Once that happens I'll everything apart, carve the curve in the chair backs, and give it all finish coats of oil and wax