How it’s Made: Curved Legged Maple Top Table
Manchester-by-the-Sea Historical Museum: The Heritage of Furniture Building
Introduction & Inspiration | Tools | Detailing & Geometry | Shaping & Testing | Finishing | The Final
Introduction & Inspiration
MOVING OFF STRAIGHT LINES
The Manchester-by-the-Sea Historical Museum developed a show focused on Manchester’s furniture building heritage past and present. They asked if I would build a piece for the exhibit. This presented a wonderful opportunity to develop a new design. I felt a bit constrained with the rectilinear form of my recent pieces and want to add some curves into a new table design. After a few iterations I decided on the following. I searched for some grace and lightness. The top will “float” above the apron and the legs will be carved to mimic the top’s curves.
TABLE LEG TEMPLATE
The first step toward building the table: create a full-sized drawing of the various components. The leg design with its long curve and cupped top needs to be understood in greater detail than a quarter inch scale. A full-sized drawing is adhered to a piece of MDF, cut out and refined with a few minor shaping (a bit of rasp, spoke shave and scraper work) modifications until I am pleased with the lines. Next step: transfer the piece to a poplar blank.
After I rough cut the leg blank on the band saw and chop the two mortises for the apron tenons, it’s time to carve the cupped top and finish shaping the sweeping curves. One of my favorite tools for this shaping is an Auriou rasp. Such a pleasure to use, craftsmen hand make these rasps in France. I faired the long curves with a spoke shave, a card scraper and a flexible sanding board. The straight, full-sized drawing outlines the leg side view depicting the overall taper.
SHAPING THE TOP
Now that the leg geometry has been figured out I need to create mating shapes in the table top. As I mentioned in the first post, I want the top to float or have even daylight between it and the legs and apron. To do this, I shaped the top’s underside to match the leg shape. I used a combination of tools: rasp, hand plane and card scraper. Some finish sanding took care of the last bits. I thinned the top’s front edge a bit to further lighten it.
Detailing & Geometry
The apron front and back need a gentle curve to further lift the top. A gentle sweeping curve with an applied bead accomplishes this effect. I laid out the curve matching the height of the front/back apron ends with the overall height of the apron sides. This allows for a continuous bottom line to wrap the entire piece. I really like adding beading and shadow lines to my pieces. They provide a visual interest and richness. In this table I feathered the bead from 1/8” thick at the mid-point of the apron front to a slight 1/16” at the ends to further accentuate the curve. I created the 1/8” bead on a separate piece of stock with a router, ripped it off on the table saw, and applied it to the apron pieces (a mating, curved caul was used for the front apron). I then reduced the front bead to 1/16” using a spokeshave. I use a Boggs spokeshave from Lie-Nielsen. The tool affords great control and is super nice to use. Overall, the bead provides a delicate, finished aesthetic.
Shaping & Testing
TIME FOR THE REAL THING
Now that all the curves, lifts, beads, joinery, etc. have been worked out in poplar it’s time for the real thing. I decide to build the Manchester Historical Museum piece from a single piece of mahogany. This produces consistent color and grain matching throughout. One has no room for mistakes however! Careful layout and a good understanding of the work process reduce the stress level. I lay out the components on the large mahogany blank paying close attention to leg and table top grain patterns. Once I determine the layout and develop a cut list I mill the blank into a series of smaller blanks for each component. I resaw the tabletop blank again on the band saw, joint and book match the pieces. I rough cut the legs rough cut on the band saw, chopped the mortises and began the shaping. As my italian grandfather used to say, “By and by she comes together.”
THE FINISHED PRODUCT
After many design iterations, a full-scale mock-up and a search for a nice piece of mahogany, I enjoyed building the actual table. All components were shaped, planed and sanded. A final dry fit ensured a surprise-free glue-up. The radio off, phone ignored, a deep breath taken and glue applied. It all came together very quickly with solid preparation. I applied six coats of a custom blended finish. Every few coats the entire table was burnished with 0000 steel wool. A final coat of paste wax was applied. I used Liberon steel wool and wax because their steel wool does not shred easily and the wax provides a silky feel once applied and buffed. Using little mahogany buttons fashioned from scraps, I attached the top to the apron. The buttons hold the top up off the apron and allow the top to expand and contract seasonally without breaking the table apart. I built two versions of the table. The mahogany version resides in the Manchester Historical Museum in Manchester, Mass. The second version has a black aniline-dyed maple top (Lockwood Dyes) with natural cherry apron and legs. Many thanks to Jordan Garry for the beauty shots of the finished pieces. If you wish to have one of these tables for your home contact me and we can discuss the process.