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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Walnut End Tables (2013)

The Completed Tables

In 2012 I was commissioned to built two end tables to go on either end of a sofa. The customer specified the dimensions that had been desired and also the general idea of the style and function of the tables. In addition, the customer also provided the Walnut lumber for the project. This Walnut is the same wood I used to build a hall tree last year. Here is a link to that project:


The Walnut was milled in Cumberland, Maryland sometime about 50 years ago according to the customer. The customer also informed me that the wood was steamed. The customer went on to tell me  that the process of steaming the Walnut involved burying the Walnut in it own shavings in an effort to darken the sapwood. I had never heard of such a thing and decided to investigate. What I found was that steaming Walnut is primarily done on a commercial level in an effort to maximize yields of clear Walnut lumber. The clearest wood (free of knots and defects) is on the outside of the log. This is also where the sapwood of the Walnut is which is a pale creamy color. By steaming the wood in a closed environment, the sapwood takes on the color of the heartwood and gives the board a uniform color. For a more detailed explanation of this process, follow this link:


what I find amazing about this is that, like many other aspects of woodworking, There is controversy concerning this practice. Some woodworkers feels that this makes the wood to uniform in color and robs it of some of the delicate colors that can be found in Walnut. While I can see their point, I found this wood to have a very pleasing color and its workability was great. Besides, as you will see by reading below, this wood had a lot going for it anyway!

Now that that is out of the way, back to the story. When the customers proposed the idea of these tables to me, the first thing that I thought of were two boards that I had milled when working on the hall tree. These boards had amazing figure and curl and also had evidence of bore holes left by the ambrosia beetle and the corresponding ghostly rings that surrounded them. In essence, these boards were very beautiful. I made some calls and found a sawyer willing to resaw them so that they could be bookmatched. This resawing would double the surface area of the boards giving adequate space to make a two board top. The only problem was that by resawing them I reduced the boards thickness to about 1/4 of an inch. To thicken these boards I decided to glue them like veneer to a stable substrate, in this case MDF (medium density fiberboard). To conceal the MDF, an edge banding would surround the edge of the top made from Walnut. The apron for the table would be pretty straight forward but have an applied bead around the bottom. ( a favorite element of mine, because it gives a feeling of termination to the bottom edge of the apron.)

The legs would have a simple taper on the two inside faces and suspended near the bottom would be a shelf to store books and such. After all of the design elements were approved by the customer, I drew the tables in SketchUp to give the customers a plan to okay and for me to work out all of the details (or most of them). Below are the resulting drawings of the tables to be made. You can click on the individual photos to enlarge them.

After the boards were resawed, I laid the two tops out and determined the best layout. The idea of bookmatching is that you take a board, slice it in half, and open the two halves like a book. When this is done each half is the mirror reflection of the other half. Below are the two bookmatched sets laid out. The white chalk lines were drawn to help me with lining the tops up when it was time to glue.

Here is a snapshot of the rest of the lumber used for the project in its rough form. In the photo below are the boards singled out and cut for the legs. I just had enough material!

After the tops were glued, I needed to cut a groove into the edge on all four sides. The edge banding would have a corresponding tongue on it that would fit into the groove. The photo below shows that groove being cut initially on the table saw. I later used a router to clean it up. The photo below shows the groove in the edge.

The edge banding can be seen be below. It was shaped to a half round profile and had the tongue on the inside edge to fit into the groove. The banding can be seen below. The following photo shows the banding in cross section so you can see the profile and the tongue.

This next photo shows the banding being glued in place. The blue tape holds the banding in place in addition to the clamps on the corners.
With that, the tops were essentially built. After milling the lumber for the base, I set about cutting the tenons on the ends of the aprons. All eight aprons can be seen side by side in the photo below.
Each tenon was cut with the top shoulder set back. This allows more wood to remain at a weak part in the leg surrounding the mortise and makes for a stronger leg.
The tenons were also chamfered so that they would not interfere with each other when they were in position. The top of the leg is 1.5 inches square, so there was not a lot of room to put the tenons, by chamfering the edges, the diagonal faces met but did not intersect. This can be seen in the two following photos.

This photo shows the tables dry assembled. There were many steps to make before I was ready to glue them, but the joinery all worked out great!
after tapering the legs on the table saw, I needed to figure out a way of suspending the shelf between the legs. I agonized over this a bit, and decided to go with a method that would result in the least amount of material being removed from the legs themselves. Near the bottom, the legs are about 3/4 of an inch square, so removing any material would weaken the legs.

The method I eventually decided on I had seen on a Victorian table I restored a few months ago. Wooden paddles were made that tapered down to a round tenon that would fit into a corresponding hole drilled into the inside corner of each leg. The flat part of the paddle would lie beneath the shelf and be attached with a screw. The corners of the shelf would be notched out to receive the legs and the notches would be cut at an angle to match the leg taper. Sounds simple enough, right?

Below are the boards used for the paddles. Four paddles to each board. I decided to make these using the band saw and the router rather than the lathe, but either method would have worked.
Here are the boards after the bandsawing and routing was done.
I then separated the board into the paddles, as seen below.
As for the hole drilled into the inside corner of the leg, I made a v-shaped cradle to hold the leg and used a band clamp to fasten the leg while I drilled the hole on the drill press. Here is that set up.

This next photo shows one of the two shelves after glue up. In an effort to conserve materials, I was less picky about matching the color on these boards. Instead, I made the color variation into a design feature. On both shelves, I used the same boards, but I reversed the layout, so that when the tables are seen together, the boards shelves reflect each other. Not quite bookmatching, but a solution that utilized a limited resource.
This photo shows the legs and aprons laid out for gluing. The blue tape on the legs shows me where each part goes. The blue tape on the aprons is to keep excess glue from spreading onto the apron.
Gluing up one of the bases.
After the bases were glued, I attached the bead around the bottom of the apron and then attached the shelves. The paddles can be seen in their new location in the photo below.
Here is a photo of the two bases glued up with the shelves in place.
The next three photos show the tables fully assembled and sanded.

These next three photos show the tables during the finishing process.

A new signature was developed for these tables as well. Beside my signature I inset a penny with the current year on each table so that down the road people will know when the table was made. This signature is located on the inside of the apron.
And finally, these last photos show the completed tables.