Monthly Archives: May 2013

The Best Legs

Southern_Table_w_pencil_drIt’s taking longer for me to complete a project than it use to. Before, I would run through a project cycle in a couple of weeks. Today, with my other job nicking my shop time, I’m lucky to complete a project in a couple of months. Spending too long on a piece makes me slower and tends to drag down my interest, so I decided to begin a second project. While the time to completion on one project pushes farther out, I’m able to maintain interest and enthusiasm by switching between the two ongoing projects.

The second project I began this week is the above pictured writing table found at Colonial Williamsburg – my first exposure to it was in the book “Southern Furniture 1680 – 1830” (Harry N. Abrams, Inc.). I’m not sure why I’m so captured by southern furniture. I expect it’s due to the simplicity of the designs.

Grain Choices

This project build begins with the legs. As I pulled lumber off the rack, I thought about what makes legs look the best. My first thought is that it depends on the wood. I’m building this table with mahogany, and its feathered grain does not show a strong difference between flat-cut and quartersawn woods, especially in pieces that are 1 9/16″ wide. On the other hand, maple does show a strong difference when comparing the two cut types. So what do you look for? The photo above shows the three ways most lumber is cut, and how each would appear in a leg found on this table. When you see this, I hope it’s obvious which cut is better choice. It’s rift cut. In rift-cut lumber, all four faces of the legs closely match in grain appearance.

WrongCab - WrongIf you build using rift-cut stock, tapered legs look best, whether you’re cutting a two-sided taper or are tapering all four sides. An even bigger difference is found if this same philosophy is applied to cabriole legs, but you also need to align your grain in the right orientation with legs found on Queen Anne and Chippendale furniture. Here’s what I mean. If you align your cabriole leg so the foot is across the grain, as shown above and to the left, you get rings or circles at the knee of your leg. These circles are not appealing, but the issue is more than aesthetics. That circle pattern indicates a weakness as you slide down to just above the ankle. That’s where your leg can break as the grain crosses the narrow cut of the leg.

RightCab - RightIf you orient the foot so it’s with the grain, as shown to the left, you get a much stronger and more pleasing end result. Notice there is no ring at the knee. The grain runs pretty much up and down the entire leg. That means there is no weak point at or above the ankle. This leg should not fracture during its life because the weight is carried through the leg as it follows the grain.

These are simplistic examples, but it should be clear that you need to watch the grain direction of your legs. If possible choose rift-cut lumber, and if you’re working up a set of cabrioles, make sure to point your toe with the grain. I know that it’s not always easy to follow these guidelines. If you find that you have a couple of legs cut using the best grain and a couple that aren’t, use the better legs at the front of your project. Ever hear the saying, “Put your best foot forward?”

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Filed under Back to Basics, Design, Shop Tips

When to & When Not to Reproduce Period Techniques

#5024-04One of the areas in which you struggle when building reproduction furniture – and I’m not talking about a full-out reproduction in which you pit-saw the lumber, scrub the surface flat then build the piece – is in trying to determine when to copy the workmanship. I had another decision to make yesterday as I worked on the Egerton tall clock. In the shop, I built the mask for the clock. That’s the piece that surrounds the dial and sits directly behind the door.

The photo above is of the antique clock. What particularly I wrestled with has to do with the joinery, specifically the dovetail, that joins the stiles to the rails. #5024-04_CloseIn the photo you can see how Egerton did the work. And we get to see the results of 200+ years of wear and tear. Should this technique be repeated? I decided to pass, and here’s why.

If you study the joint, there is no glue surface whatsoever. The stile fits perpendicular to the rail. The only flat grain of the dovetail is at the sides. Unfortunately, where that flat grain meets the rail, the rail is end grain. And where the rail is flat grain, it meets the stile which is only end grain. No structural glue surface. IMG_1007Also, a close look at the photo (remember you can enlarge the picture if you click on it) shows a couple of fractures that have been repaired. One last note is that I did try the joint and as you might expect, the rail broke across the grain even with the cut of the tail socket.

Given that, I passed on the dovetail joinery. I built the mask using a half-lap joint. Flat grain glued to flat grain. (Yes it is cross  grain, but it is still a strong, lasting joint.) Above is a look at the lower-rail-to-stile joint. Below are the two completed masks.

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1 Comment

Filed under Antique Pieces, Joinery, Tall Clock

Catching Up

As you may have noticed – and I hope that you did – last week there was no post. Today I have something that I hope makes you smile. And I promise that next week there will be more woodworking in my message.

SAMSUNGSAMSUNGOn a recent trip to Pennsylvania for a week long teaching gig, I found myself standing in front of more than a few bottles of wine. As my eyes scoured the many choices, I couldn’t help but notice a couple of bottles by Hayes Valley, which is a California produced wine. Interestingly, Hayes uses woodworking graphics on the labels. (At the left is a 2011 Merlot, and at the right is a 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon.) On the label is a antique hand screw clamp – of course, it couldn’t have been a table saw or router.  My guess is that the company is trying to say that after a single bottle of Hayes Valley Merlot, you’re screwed. Or maybe the message is that this California winery uses every last drop squeezed from the grape to make its Cabernet. Or, we pictured an antique hand screw because our wine-making processes are slow and outdated.

If you have a thought to add, or if you know of other products that feature woodworking images on the label, please add a comment below. Until then …

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Filed under Extras