Side Table

Handmade by Jon Palmer, May-August 2006


As always, woodworking is at least 50% sharpening...

I did use a finish planer to dimension and surface the pieces. It makes jobs like tenoning a bit easier. Still prefer to use the handplanes for any number of tasks, but I'll admit to having gotten a jointer after this stage of construction, so this kind of thing may no longer be on that list.

I wanted to have these angles and tapers to make the piece look a little friendlier, but they certainly required some head-scratching. There are two major angles here, one is the angle at which the legs meet the top, the other is the taper on the legs themselves. This jig was cut freehand on the tablesaw, glued together and handplaned to finish.

After drilling the angles using the jig above, there's still the matter of squaring the mortises, and keeping the angles constant. It's hard to see, but the piece of wood just behind the workpieces is actually cut at an angle so I can use it as a guide for the chisel.

The bottom stretchers get keys. The whole table can be taken apart. It's locked in place with 4 screws holding the upper stretchers to the top. The tops of the legs are tenoned, and fit into the top, so it's a small puzzle to assemble and disassemble.

Sometimes there's a problem you just can't ignore, so you have to patch it. This was a split in the joint that I overlooked when clamping up, so I ran a router bit in to create an opening I could plug. There are lots of attractive ways to do this while highlighting the flaw, making it part of the character of the piece. In this case the flaw wasn't big enough to provide much character, so I went a direction which would minimize it. Found some stock from near the same area of the board, matched grain as well as possible and went from there.

See? I still love handplanes, in part because it's hard to afford a planer capable of handling a 24" top like this. :-)

The table is beginning to take shape! Here it is posing with Noamie Byrum, from whose property we got the wood. Thanks again, Cousin Noamie!

This is the hard bit for me, working out how to best honor the wood while ending up with a pleasing tone and good protective coating. The first step is to raise the grain and sand it smooth again, since the next step is to use a water-based aniline dye to even the tone of the wood. Cherry has a dark heartwood and very light sapwood. You could just leave it, since cherry darkens over time with the heartwood deepening in color to a rich reddish brown and the sapwood deepening to a medium brown. I didn't want to wait the 10 years or so though that it would take for the colors not to contrast so much, so I went with the dye. Next was a single light coat of boiled linseed oil, then orange dewaxed shellac. Lots and lots of shellac. I tend to use a 1 lb. cut so there are few drips, runs or sags, but it takes a lot longer to build a protective coat. The last bit will be paste wax.

Starting on the dye. See the fourth leg there? The dye really smooths the contrast between the heart and sapwood. Hanging the legs and lower stretchers allowed me to do the entire surface of these pieces in one pass, rather than wait for one part to dry before turning it over to do the rest.

The first passes on the top were done this way, later I switched to having it on a stand to better concentrate on the upper surface and sides.

This is one application of the dye and a coat of boiled linseed oil. The oil also darkens the wood, and gives it a rich luster, highlighting the subtleties of the grain.

Here is the finished table, with many coats of shellac and a good coating of paste wax, buffed with a cloth by hand. It looks very much like I'd hoped.

Slightly different view, showing the stretchers better.

View of the upper stretcher tenons just coming through the legs enough for a small chamfer.

Keyed tenons are a real treat on this kind of furniture. Since the legs are angled in, the back edge of the keys had to be angled to match!