Sunday, May 10, 2015

A Farmhouse Table and Bench, Part II

Here's Part II: The Table!

(With special thanks to Susie Sefcik Photography for the beautiful installation photos!)

The "Esther" Farm House table finally installed!

When we started collaborating on this table, my customer had some definite ideas about how she wanted the legs to look.  The hardest (and most rewarding) part of custom building is finding a way to bring someone's imagination to life.  In the end, there were probably a few dozen tweaks and variations on the design before we reached the final product, but it was great working with someone who could give direction and examples of what she wanted.  And in the end we created a set of table legs that I feel confident doesn't exist anywhere else in the world!

The other great thing - as a designer/builder - about collaboration, is that it forces you to explore styles and forms that are outside your normal parameters.  Nothing makes you a more complete craftsman than finding ways to build things that haven't been built before in a style you don't often pursue.  With the great response we've gotten already, I suspect these sweeping, interlocking legs are going to become big part of my repertoire in the future.

Rough fitting of the curved half-lapped joint.  It's not so easy to make!

Finding an appealing curve was only step one.  Next was incorporating a stretcher between the legs that is much lower than normal, keeping it closer to foot rest height than you might see on a typical trestle table.  This meant moving the intersection of the legs down and adjusting their final angle a few times until it was just right.

Test fit of the lower-than-normal stretcher.

I'm really happy with the way these ended up.  From a technical standpoint, cutting and routing out the half lap joint was definitely a challenge, but it also made for the very best combination of strength and aesthetic value.  I love that the legs look like they've almost grown together and I think it gives the table a very organic feel.

A good, tight half-lap joint should make the pieces look like they've grown together

Attaching the legs to the feet and table braces required a riff on thru-tenons.  Normally, thru-tenons are something I like to show off as part of exposed joinery, but for this table they are purely functional.  They provide a large amount of structure to join the legs to other sections of the base.  We could have gone with heavy lag screws alone and been fine, but - for us - "good enough" is never good enough.  I feel that it was definitely worth the effort to have wood structure passing through each piece to really lock them together.  The extra time it took to make these mortises and floating tenons gives me total confidence in these joints lasting a long time.

Two-sided mortises with "loose" tenons.  A solid, tight fit, reinforced with heavy lag screws.

The stretcher between legs is held in position with half-glued floating tenons and "Zip-Bolts" from Lee Valley.  These are almost completely hidden from view when installed and help pull the stretcher tight when in use, while still allowing the base the be quickly disassembled for moving or storage.

The table top itself is nearly four feet across and almost eight feet long, plenty of room for a big dinner (or very elaborate and heated game of Risk!)  Relative to the base, it's built fairly traditionally, crafted  from solid ash, with breadboard ends.  Each of these end caps is attached with "loose" tenons and half-glued dowels.  The boards themselves help keep the table flat, while the dowels allow the center of the table to expand and contract across the grain with changes in temperature and humidity.  It's always important to allow for wood movement (because it's going to happen whether you remember to plan for it or not!)

Those elongated holes in the tenons allow for the dowels to move with environmental changes.

The top and legs received the same "distressing" as the bench, though we went a little lighter on the legs and a little heavier on the table, hopefully anticipating the right proportion of wear that each can expect to receive in the future.  And while the top got a stain to match the bench, the legs got a beautiful deep brown wood dye ("Espresso" by General Finishes).  Each was then followed with the same hand-rubbed varnish and paste wax buffing.

"Moose" likes it, too!

In the end, it's hard to say goodbye to this piece.  It was really enjoyable to build and I'm hoping it will be even more enjoyable to use.  (And just be sure, myself, my father and Fern - the original "Shy Dog" - gave it a quick test ride!)  I hope its new owners have a great time making memories around this table for years and years.

Finally in it's new home!

A family table for a beach retreat!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Farm Table and Storage Bench for a Beach House

It may seem obvious, but the real joy in having furniture custom made is getting exactly what you want, even if that thing has never existed in the world previously.  Actually...especially if that thing has never existed!

So when a customer came to us with an idea for a variation on the traditional "farmhouse table," we were excited to collaborate and bring her ideas into reality.   Even better was the opportunity to build the table as part of a set that would also include a long seating/storage bench.  And all made from ash, one of personal favorite species thanks to it's blonde color and the olive oil fragrance that fills the air when you mill it.  (Seriously.  That's how it smells when cut.  What a great wood for a table!)

Milling the rough ash.  Just made it on the bandsaw!  This might be the year for one with a slightly higher resaw height!

We started from a sketch and some online photo inspiration as we honed in on the basic structure of the table, then moved on to working out curvature and details of the legs.  It took quite a few drafts and 3D CAD renderings, but through our collaboration with the customer we got to something that worked structurally and aesthetically.  Plus, the design was in a vein we don't usually explore.  It's always exciting when the real seed of inspiration comes from the people who will ultimately enjoy our work.

Relative to the table, the bench was a little more straightforward design-wise.  It's an inch taller than standard chair height (19" vs 18") to accommodate younger members of the family and it features a ton of storage beneath a pair of hinged lids that are fitted with Sugatsune soft-close lid stays to keep fingers and heads safe.

So, here's how it all came together!

Like almost all of our projects, the wood was purchased rough, then milled and dimensioned in-house.  With a project like this, doing our own milling lets us do things like make a nearly 7/8" thick bench top instead of the standard 3/4" and make bench legs as heavy as the rough stock allows. We also opted to use ash veneered plywood from fantastic local supplier Boards and Beams for construction of the basic bench carcases.  This gives the core of the bench strength and stability, while still keeping everything perfectly matched species-wise. 

Solid ash legs and edges were fitted around the carcases, while panel trim was actually milled up from scratch to match some existing design ideas and enable us to use the same wood species for every single detail, even when ash molding isn't readily available from suppliers.

Fine tuning the fit of legs with a chisel, the bench carcase and in-house ash molding

Gluing up bench edges.  Remember: You can never have enough clamps!!

To keep everything flush and neat, the bench tops are left long and trimmed after being fit with hardware so that everything lines up nicely in the end.  Once everything was fit, the entire edge was routed in a single pass with a large roundover for seating comfort. 

Bench lid with Soft-Close lid stays and full-length piano hinge

In any home, the family table is going to form the center of a relaxed and comfortable gathering spot.  As such, we hope it sees many, many years of use.  In order to allow table and bench to age gracefully, the customer opted to have us "distress" the wood before delivery.  No easy task with a wood as strong and dense as ash!  But, we were happy to oblige and the pieces will now arrive looking "well-loved" upon installation.

A few of the distressing mark along the edge of the bench

With the table and bench destined to for a house on the shore, a whitewash look was the preferred finish choice.  Below are some variations on that theme that we prepared to aid in deciding the final color.  Finishes pictured below range from darker oil stains to white pigmented liming wax, with a few shades in between. We even offer a natural aging solution that gives open-pored wood like ash a "driftwood" look that results from a chemical reaction with an iron/vinegar solution we make ourselves.  (That one is second from the bottom right.  Isn't chemistry cool?!)

A variety of stains, vinegar solutions, waxes and topcoats 
After all distressing, the bench was finished with a white, oil-based stain and top coated with a several coats of rub-on satin varnish before receiving a final buffing with white-pigmented liming wax and standard furniture paste wax.  Here's to hoping it provides seating (and storage) for its family for years to come!

Check back soon for Part II: The Table!