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A place for me to occasionally record the comings and goings of all things wood in my life.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Rudi's Coffee Table

Since this past October I've been working on a coffee table that will be a wedding present for my friend Rudi.  It has been a joy to work on, but for various reasons the progress has been slow. However,  I'm happy to say that I'm very nearly done.  All that's left to do is put on a couple coats of polyurethane and do the some final assembly.  Anyway, I thought I'd go back and recap some of the build.

All the components of the table frame are made of solid red oak.  The top and shelf are both made out of red oak veneered plywood trimmed with solid red oak edging.  The photo to the left shows all the components cut to their rough size.

I began the project by applying the hard wood edging to the top and by making the legs, which I constructed by face gluing three 3/4 inch boards together.  Using my table saw I then cut my leg blanks down to 2x2 inches thick and then tapered them beginning about 3 inches from the bottom.

Most of the components of the of the frame are joined with a variation of bridal joint. These are similar to a mortise and tenon joint but the the tenon has a shoulder on front (see right) and the mortise is open on the top.  This means that when that, when connecting a stretcher to a leg, the "tenon" slides down into the top of the leg rather then in from the side.

Because I needed to leave a shoulder of wood on the front of this joint it was harder to cut then  a standard tenon.  I cut a couple on the router table, a couple more using my plunge router, but ulmitaly found the I got the best results using chisels. After some experimentation I learned to get some very nice results by first defining the shoulders of the joint using a hand saw and then clearing out the bulk of the waste by taking small cuts with the grain from one edge to the next (see right). Finally, I even out the depth of the area between the shoulders by paring across the grain with a small chisel.  This was actually a great learning experience, and excellent step towards building shop in which I can rely on hand tools for the bulk of my work.

After completing all the joinery I did a dry assembly of the whole thing (see right).  I felt the table looked to blocky so decided to do a great deal of chamfering in completing the final shaping. 

Using my cheap Stanly block plane (which I've gotten to work reasonably well after hours of tuning) I chamfer all the outside shoulders of the bridle joints. 
I soften any remaining sharp edges with a sanding block.
I follow a similar, but slightly more involved procedure in shaping the top, the shelf, and the edges of the skirts and stretchers.  To help ensure accuracy and consistency I mark one line down and one in equal distances from each edge.  Then setting my old (circa 1960) refurbed Stanley No. 4C plane to a medium cut, I run it across the edges at about a 45 degree angle, making sure that both lines are cut away at about the same time (see left).  By the way, I used two hands to steady the plane, but in the photo to the left my other hand was occupied taking the the picture.I do this to the top and bottom edges of the table top and shelf as well as to the bottom edges of the skirts and stretchers.  Like cutting the joinery, I really enjoyed doing this by hand.  I was also amazed at the difference this subtle shaping made in the overall appearance of the piece.

In my next post I'll go through the finishing of the table, which included my first ever attempt at filling pores to help create a smoother finish.

-Christopher Griggs

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