Cascade Table Part 4: The Hard Line

cascade table part 4Moving from machine cut surfaces to more organic hand-shaped ones is a natural step in the evolution of a furniture maker. Hand work is one of the things that distinguishes studio work from factory furniture and thoughtful shaping produces elegant results. One of the concepts that I have been exploring over the last few years is a design element called the “hard line”. While you won’t find a definition for this in the dictionary I define the hard line as a crisp edge that divides two shaped surfaces. When I first became interested in incorporating shaped surfaces into my work my tendency was to round over all the edges. That is the easiest way to shape a piece and in many situations it makes sense but when used inappropriately it can lead to design elements that seem amorphous and unrefined. Incorporating hard lines helps to define and frame each shaped surface and it adds crispness to the design that is lost when the edges are rounded.

Cascade Table Part 3: Shaping Basics

Shaping ToolsI love incorporating clean curves and organic surfaces into the pieces I design, but that kind of shaping is far more time consuming than you might believe. Without the right tools to remove all the waste, shaping can be an arduous process. Over the years I have accumulated a series of tools that take me from rough stock removal to a smooth finished surface in a reasonable amount of time. I have included a picture of some of those tools here.

My basic premise when shaping is that I want to remove 90% of the waste material as quickly as possible so that I can spend the majority of my time using fine tools like spoke shaves and cards scrapers to refine those surfaces. Nothing wears you and your tools down faster than trying to remove an inch of waste material with a spoke shave.

When I need to remove lots of material quickly I start off with a Lancelot carving tool. It is essentially a chain saw blade sandwiched between two steel discs and attached to an angle grinder. I was introduced to this tool by fellow Furniture Master Jon Brooks. Despite its aggressive appearance the Lancelot is actually easy to control and can be used to do surprisingly delicate stock removal. When appropriate, band saws and belt sanders are other ways of removing stock quickly.

After I’m finished with the rough stock removal I use a rasp and coarse cabinetmaker’s file to smooth and refine the surface left by the Lancelot. These tools will take me very close to my finished shape. Once I am finished with that I pull out the spoke shaves and card scrapers to further refine the surface. Sandpaper is the last tool I use. It helps to even things out and ensure that the surface accepts finish in a uniform manner.

Using a progression of tools from aggressive to fine helps me remove waste quickly and focus my time and efforts on that finished surface.

Cascade Table Part 2: Housed Dovetails

Housed Dovetail 1When I was working through the design for this table I knew that I wanted the legs to connect directly to the top without the support of an apron. A standard technique in this situation would be to turn a round tenon on the end of each leg and insert it into a mating hole on the bottom of the top. In this case I wanted the legs to flow out of the edges of the top and a standard tenon was not practical. Instead I used a housed dovetail to connect the legs to the top. Much like the Luna joint I posted previously this joint has the benefit of working well without glue. Gravity presses the top down onto the legs and the large dovetail prevents the legs from moving laterally. The broad shoulders on the leg provide good glue surfaces and additional resistance to racking.  The next post will be a discussion on shaping.

Cascade Table Part 1: Single board Table

Silent Auction tableEach year the members of the NH Furniture Masters submit a small item to be auctioned off at our annual fall exhibition. The proceeds from the silent auction help support our educational programs. I treat the silent auction item as an opportunity to explore new techniques or design ideas and this year I am doing both with this small three legged side table. The inspiration for the table was an interesting piece of 2” thick crotch walnut that was left over from a previous job. The three legs were cut from one side of the board and the remainder became the top. A series of large cracks on the right side of the board compromised the structural integrity of the piece. Cutting out the cracks helped determine the final shape of the top. Here is a picture of the table in its rough state after the leg joinery was cut. In my next post I will discuss the housed dovetail joint I used to join the legs to the top.

Glue Selection

When I am assembling any piece with complex joinery, glue selection is an important consideration.  PVA glues like Titebond 1,2 and 3 are the standard choice for most woodworking projects.  They are strong, thermoplastic, have a moderate open time and work well across a normal temperature range.  Dried Titebond I can be dissolved with alcohol and this trait can come in handy when you make a mistake(Something that I have experienced first hand).  Hide glue is another standard choice, particularly for restoration work, but its susceptibility to heat and moisture can be a problem in some applications.  Like PVA glues, hide glue has a high initial tack and a short to moderate open time.  You can often overcome the shorter 5-10 minute open time of PVA glues by assembling a piece in stages and only glueing together one joint at a time, but this can be a hassle.  Another downside to using PVA or hide glue on maple or other light woods is that they dry to a darker color than the wood itself and this appears as a very fine dark line highlighting each joint.

When choosing the glue I was going to use to assemble my “Luna” table I settled on a product called Uni-bond 800.  Uni-bond is typically associated with veneering, but it has several characteristics that made it ideal for this project.  It is a two part formula with 30 minutes of open time at 70 degrees.  In addition, Uni-bond can easily be tinted with a white dye to match the color of maple and this helps eliminate any discoloration along the joint line.  That 30 minutes of open time made assembling the table a leisurely affair rather than a frantic scramble.  The biggest downside to Unibond is that it needs to be kept above 70 degrees throughout the curing process or it won’t cure properly.  This can be a problem in shops like mine which are heated with wood stoves at this time of year.  Fortunately I can bring pieces into my basement, crank the heat to 80 degrees and rest easily knowing that the temperature will remain above 70 throughout the curing process.

Assembling the Luna joint

IMG_0795 (2)Applying pressure to a double-mitered joint during glue-up can be a tricky process.  It is important to use clamps during the assembly process to ensure that all of the joints seat properly, but for this table there were no parallel surfaces available to apply clamping pressure perpendicular to the faces of the joints.  In order to create those parallel clamping surfaces I glued small, angled MDF blocks to the legs and apron pieces using warm hide glue.  Once the assembly is complete I typically chisel off the majority of the MDF blocks and then use a hand plane to remove the remaining MDF and glue from the surface of each piece.  On previous projects I have used yellow glue to affix these pieces, but yellow glue has a tendency to tear out curly maple if you try to remove it too aggressively.  Hide glue has the advantage of being dissolvable in warm water so it is easy to remove from the surface of the piece before doing the final cleanup with a hand plane.  This also reduces the wear you put on a sharp blade and saves time at the sharpening bench.

Beauty isn’t skin deep

Currier Table Joint DetailSometimes the most challenging aspects of a piece lie below the surface.  For the table “Luna”, which I just completed for the Currier Museum’s Heart of the Arts event, the clean lines and crisp intersection of the legs and apron hide a complex joint with incredible strength.  Combining a double miter with a tenon and a long dovetail, the joint allowed me to maintain the continuity of the curly maple around the top edge of the apron and create a visually interesting geometry at each corner.  The strength of the joint comes from the combination of the tenon and the sliding dovetail.  The long grain face of the tenon provides a good glue surface and prevents the leg from twisting.  The two dovetails on each leg lock the miters and tenons in place.  Gravity works to hold the joint together and when carefully executed the joint is rigid enough to function without glue.  An easier and faster way to achieve the same appearance would be to use slip tenons to hold the the miters together, but this approach has little mechanical strength and less glue surface to hold it together.  I am looking forward to using this technique on future pieces and I would like to build a similar table to this one in figured Claro Walnut with a hand-hewn, natural cleft slate top if the opportunity arises.

Dartmouth Alumni Magazine

The fall issue of the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine is dedicated to veterans and there is a small piece about me and my work in there. It is nice to see my friends recognized for their sacrifices.  The brotherhood of the military is something that I miss and will always cherish.  It is a hard life and those who dedicate their lives to service deserve our highest gratitude and respect.  It never ceases to affect me knowing that my guys are still in the fight while I have hung up the uniform.  Check out the articles at  http://dartmouthalumnimagazine.com/.

Spray Finishing

I spent the last two weeks up at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Maine taking an intensive class on finishing.  I received a generous scholarship from The Furniture Society to attend the course and it will have a significant long term impact on the quality of my finishing.   The first week focused on hand applied finishes and the second week was all spray finishing.  It was a great introduction to a new set of skills and I am looking forward to incorporating sprayed finishes into my repertoire.

NHHS Show

Tomorrow is the start of the annual NH Furniture Masters show at the New Hampshire Historical Society.  The Show runs until September 16 in Concord and then the furniture moves down to the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester for the Auction on the 22nd.  It is my first formal exhibition with the Furniture Masters and I am looking forward to the opening reception on the 23rd.  Anyone in the area should stop by on August 23rd from 5-8.