Something for the home, at last

Most of my past entries seem to involve items I’ve made for my shop or my tools.  And I suppose that when first starting out (or re-starting in my case) it’s natural for a joiner to build the tools, benches, and chests he needs to get established.  But eventually, it’s time to put the tools and knowledge gained to work.

My first project was inspired for a desire to replace the big box glass and who-knows-what-kind-of-wood dining table we own, with something a bit more practical. An added bonus is I can make something more in line with my tastes in furniture.   After a bit of study I landed on a drop leaf harvest table.  In the end, it will be large enough to sit 6, which is about the size of our current family, and the drop leafs will fold down to allow it to be set against a wall, out of the main flow of traffic.

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The example above is one I base my design on.  You can see the practicality of it.  Easily stored out of the way, but versatile enough to expand one side, or both as needed.

The first step was to decide on the legs.  All tables need good legs to stand on, so this is the place to start.  At the time I didn’t have a lathe, so squared legs were the obvious choice.  I decided to use all cherry, a good strong wood, easy to work, and common for this type of furniture in some parts of the country.

I ordered four blanks from ebay.  And here’s where I offer some advice.  If you’re able to find wood locally, where you can actually see what you are getting, do so.  Otherwise, if you must buy online, buy more than you need.  That way you can pick out the best.  I made the mistake of buying just what I needed, and had to settle with what I got.  They weren’t too bad, but I would have liked to have had options.  The next step was to taper each leg on two sides.  Tapering gives the impression of lightness, without giving up much strength.  These taper down from 2 3/4 inches at the top to 1 1/8 at the foot.  I tried initially sawing the taper in by hand, but didn’t like the results.  So, out came the hand planes and in a fairly short time they were down to the proper dimensions.

Once the legs were tapered, I then started working on the aprons to connect the legs.  It was easy work cutting and planing the pieces to size.  I first did the short ends.  Mortises were pre-bored with bit and brace, then pared out with chisels.  Since the apron boards are fairly wide, 5 1/2 inches, I made a double tenon to increase the strength of the joint.

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You can see the mortise for the double tenon above.  The center of the mortise is cut less than half the total depth of the sides.  This keeps the wood on the sides of the mortise from being too thin, risking blow out.  Note the marks left by the auger bit.

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The layout lines for the mortise.  The center, shallow part is easily seen.

After the mortises were done, I cut the tenons on the aprons.  In the above photo you can see the tenon, cut to a 45 degree angle at the ends, in the bottom of the mortise.  The angled cut allows the tenons to meet together at the bottom of the mortise, allowing for a bit more length of the tenon.

After cutting the tenons, and before assembling the legs, I cut two details into each apron.

dscn0478 A bead at the bottom of the face side, to add some interest and remove a sharp edge that can be easily damaged.

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And a groove at the top of the back side of each apron, to take a wood clip to attach the table top.

dscn0476I then assembled the legs to the short apron, using draw pegs for a little extra holding power.  Now you can see the taper on the insides of the legs.

After drying, a repeat of the procedure for the long aprons.

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The clamps really aren’t needed with draw bored pegs, but I used them out of habit.

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The inside showing the groove for attaching the table top.

To finish off the table base, I needed to add a center rail, and notches on the aprons and center rail to support sliding pieces that will eventually support the drop leafs when extended.

The center rail cleats were screwed in place, with a stop dado supporting the center rail.  No glue was used to allow movement.

Once this part was done, I opted to put a finish on it for protection while work proceeded on the top.  I first put a light coat of shellac to seal the grain, then applied a light gel stain to bring out the wonderful grain of this cherry.  A final coat of shellac to seal the stain coat, then three coats of water based polyurethane for protection.  The second shellac coat was needed to make sure the water based poly adhered properly to the oil based stain.

The Top.

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I was fortunate to find a couple of boards with grain that closely matched, and were both wide enough to give me a 25 inch wide main top section.  I ripped, then jointed each by hand to give me a nice, clean glue edge.  Then the ends were trimmed to a length of 72 inches.

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(the small dark spots are filler.  There were two small pitch pockets that opened up during sanding)

The next step was to cut the half of the rule joint on the main top.  The rule joint is a combination cove and thumbnail that fit together when the leaf is raised.  This gives the leaf extra support along it’s length as it sits atop a part of the main top.

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The Rule Joint.  When closed, there is ample support for the leaf edge as it rides on the main top edge.

The first step is to mark out the profile using marking gauge and compass.  Then a rabbet is cut to the depth of the thumbnail (top left).  Next, the edge is chamfered slightly, to start the area that will be rounded over (top right).  Then, the thumbnail is formed using a round plane, brought down gradually to it’s final shape (bottom two).

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When this was completed, I treated the top with the shellac/stain/shellac finish to give it a little protection.  The poly will be added after the top is completed.

Next, the leafs!

Cherry is a beautiful wood to work with.  It’s strong but not hard to work with hand tools.  Most of the wood I have seen is very curly, which although making planing that much harder, gives a beautiful final result.  I managed to find two more boards with a good grain match to the main top that will give me two 7 1/2 inch wide leafs.

The boards were sawn to length and width, planed to thickness, then sanded smooth (normally I would just smooth the boards with my #4 smoothing plane, but due to the extreme curl of the grain, I opted to sand to avoid tear out).

The next step is a mirror image of the rule joint cut on the main top.  This will go on the mating edge of each leaf.

After marking out the profile, rabbet and shoulder planes cut out most of the waste, before the hollow plane cuts the final shape.  This technique saves wear on the hollow plane blade, which is harder to sharpen than a straight rabbet plane blade.

To be continued…

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