Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Side by side comparison

The Original Astro-table was a darker teak wood, and I probably like that dark color best, to be honest. BUT, the rest of the wood in my sunroom is already that darker tone (dining table, chairs, benches, floor), so the lighter cherry was the right material and color for the room. 

Sunday, August 20, 2017


Well, I'll probably put another coat of wax on everything. But basically, it's done. I've so pleased with the final result. My eyes find imperfections in the curved cuts, and the shellac finish isn't quite as smooth as I'd hoped, but I think it looks remarkably faithful to the original

leg work

The two leg pieces needed to be attached to each other. So, they each got notched (carefully) and then glued. But how to make sure they glue up level and plumb and square??

I've done this before with some coffee tables I built a few years ago for my sister. I used an old project basically as a jig. I have some tables that I know are perfectly square and level, and so now I can use those as a clamping jig for anything else I need to be square.

Here's the notch

And here's the new project clamped to my old tables

And this is what the assembly looks like after glue-up and some extra sanding

A bit of work with a router to notch them into the table top and the final glue-up is done with gorilla glue

Shellac Finish

I've never finished something with Shellac before. I've done plenty of polyurethane, of course, and I have recently finished some walnut pieces with danish oil and wax.

Shellac is weird. It comes from an insect excretion! And instead of layers, like you get with polyurethane, each new coat of shellac melts into the last, creating one solid coat. You can brush it or spray it. I have found neither to be easy. but after some trial and error, I finished a test piece. It has maybe 4 coats of shellac (some brushed, some sprayed, why not?) and then two coats of wax. The first coat of wax is applied with 0000 steel wool, to smooth out the shellac.

Looks okay. Not special, given all the work. But Cherry darkens over time. This "honey" color will turn into a more sophisticated hue with some sunlight

The finished test piece is in the middle

Cutting the Curves

Cutting a curve into wood with a jigsaw is always nerve-wracking. Just call me a thrill-seeker I guess...

But with some careful cutting and then a lot of sanding, it seems to have turned out okay. Here is one of the leg pieces next to the top.

Below, I've just gently placed the top on one piece to see how it looks

After the basic rough cut and sanding, I used a 3/8" roundover router bit to round out the edges

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Planning the curved cuts

Here are how things look at this point

So I need to cut the curves of the lower pieces. This will require some freehand work with a jigsaw but I want to use a template so that each leg looks the same

So with help from pictures, I sketched out some curves on paper, and then transferred those lines to the wood itself

It's nerve-wracking to imagine cutting into this with a jigsaw now, especially after my last jigsaw errors. But this is what jig saws were made for and I'm pretty confident about success. It will look rough at first but after some sanding, I think I can get the curves to look right

Cutting the circular top

It was a puzzle to figure out the best way to cut the circle out of the top. One way would be to use a stationary band saw and swivel the wood around on a table using a central point to spin it around. But I worried that it would be too big and heavy and unwieldy. I thought instead I'd use a jigsaw attached to a piece of wood that could be fastened to a point in the center, and then swiveled around like a drafting compass. Well, I mentioned these weeks have been fraught with error and this was a big one.

At first, things looked great

But then, everything went wrong because jigsaw blades are flexible, and the pressure, bent the blade in a bit due to the centrifugal motion. So... my circle was ruined - see below

That was frustrating. Had to go to the store, buy more wood, glue it, clamp it, etc. That cost me two days of work. But again, sunshine, breeze, tools, noise, sawdust = not bad!

I realized a MUCH smarter move than a jigsaw would be a router. Router bits don't bend. I put the router on a piece of thin MDF, and used the same technique of swinging it around a central point like a drafting compass. This worked wonderfully well.

Gluing and Clamping

The past few weeks have been marked by constant error on my part. They've also been wonderful. I'll spend all day outside in the sun and breeze, making noise and sawdust, discover I've screwed up something big time and have to do it all again. There are worse cycles. Gluing and clamping have led to the most mistakes thus far. So, everything you see below I've basically done twice in order to get it right.

There are essentially three pieces to the table: two supports and a top. Each needs to be glued up from several boards using biscuits.

Here is the top before the circle is cut:

 below you can see all the temporary clamping blocks I screwed to the boards in order to get the needed angles and compression. These were screwed to areas I knew would become scrap once the circle was cut.

And here is a picture of the supporting pieces before the curves are cut. I "clamped" it together with string pulled tight and tied.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

wood selection

 A friend gave me some raw cherry, and I was hoping that would be enough. It's not quite, though, so I bought a few small scrap pieces of cherry from a lumber yard. Scrap pieces are super cheap!

The new store-bought scrap is nicely planed to 3/4 in but the raw boards need to be planed. I'm borrowing a planer from the same friend who gave me the cherry. Until then, I'm just going to cut the longer boards down to 25 inches so they'll be ready for planing. The new material will be used for the legs, the old material used for the circular top.

coffee table sketches

Normally I sketch by hand, but normally I make furniture with straight lines. The curvy details of this table require me to get a little more precise. So, I started playing with graph paper on my computer, and superimposing pictures of the table, so I can get approximate measurements and figure out how much wood I need. 

I know that the dimensions of the table are 33 inches in diameter by 18 inches tall. 34 is an easier number to work with, so I shrank a picture of the table down so that it fits into 34 graph squares. This will let me get measurements of the leg supports

To the right is a birds eye view of the table. The circle is cut from four boards. Using the graph paper I can determine that each board needs to be 24 x 7 (and probably I'll make them a little larger for wiggle room)

The sketches below won't make much sense to you, but they do to me! And that's what counts. 

G Plan coffee table idea

G Plan was a British furniture company, responsible for some iconic mid-century modern designs. The table below is one of their designs, and I plan to build a replica in the next few weeks.

My sunroom is full of right angles, and I think it needs a coffee table that is all curves. This fits the bill perfectly. Also, it will require me to exercise some new carpentry skills, and that's a fun challenge.