The Hall Table Fable

It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly a shot rang out!…. (no – stop channeling Charles Schulz and Snoopy)

It was dark, well my memory suggests it was, but perhaps I just hadn’t opened my eyes properly when my alarm went off, way earlier than I am used to, at the start of day 1 of a three day furniture course being run at Ideal Tools in Williamstown. Bleary eyed, I loaded up the car with only a few bits’n’pieces – some Incra rules and square, Vesper marking knife, PPE and a few other pieces that I wasn’t sure if I’d need or not (I didn’t).

I took on the Hall Table course with one main objective – to challenge my design ability, and introduce an extra dimension to how I think about projects.  The concept of a hall table is pretty simple in itself – a slab of timber with 4 legs, a shelf and a drawer. Taking that to the next level and producing something not only functional but worthy of showing off was my challenge.

Terry Forgarty runs the course, whom I have known for a number of years through the Woodwork Forums, as well as at various woodshows, but this was a chance to really to know the woodworker.

normal_AF normal_Wj8

I found it invaluable knowing that Terry is a full-time custom furniture maker – it meant that not only was his advice about what can be done believable (didn’t hear him say something wasn’t possible either – it was all about finding a way), but also picking up some expert tips from someone who’s livelihood depends on the quality of his work.  When things went wrong (as they invariably do when working with natural products), his attitude was always of finding a way around or through the problem, not backing away from it, and using the problem to instead challenge the design.  More than one design element I ended up with were the direct result of a ‘problem’ being overcome.  The wood was whispering, and I was starting to hear it.

Mahogany Slab

Mahogany Slab

Of course, it wasn’t whispering very loudly at the start – a lump of timber on a bench.  Trimmed to lengths on the Kapex, and run through the jointer, the process began.  The order of things may be a bit out of whack, as much because of when I picked up the camera – I blog to woodwork, not woodwork to blog, so when I am in the depths of shavings, I forget to document the processes!

Terry covering the finer points of jointing

Terry covering the finer points of jointing

In the background, you can see Terry’s 2nd(?) most favourite tool – the Kapex.  Between it and the Domino (his first love), you get a good indoctrination into the Festool world, and that is a journey worth taking – putting aside the issues of cost, these tools can walk the walk.  I’m not so sure about the tablesaw arrangements after coming from a heavy tablesaw equipped workshop, but the rail system with a quality Festool saw is one worth experiencing.  The brand of machines is irrelevant to the course, but it is a pleasure to work in a shop kitted out with such a quality brand.

Legs Legs Legs

Legs Legs Legs

The legs, cut, ready for tapering.  Already your personal design decisions get called upon – the project is very much your design, your journey.  There is no emphasis on uniformity between participants, in fact individuality is encouraged. In this case, how you taper the legs (if at all) – I oped for a traditional twin taper – my thoughts for pushing myself lay elsewhere.

However, some initial problems that cropped up started impacting on the design even here (in a positive way).  Terry demonstrated a technique of using the jointer to do the taper that I had heard of, but not had given much thought to trying.  I’d normally use the tablesaw for the job, but I was here to learn new stuff, so gave the jointer technique a go.  It worked pretty well, and didn’t require a jig, and the legs were pretty even despite the empirical nature of the method.  It involved marking 2-3 starting points on the jointer, and running the timber through but starting partway down the length and not starting at the end.  In effect, deliberately sniping the timber, then exaggerating the snipe until it was a full taper of desired proportion.

The timber wanted to tearout, and no matter what I tried, it did.  (Yeah, I do know about grain direction etc).  Perhaps the timber was not cooperating, or the blades were getting blunt, but in the end I had legs, but some large chunks had been knocked off the bottoms.  Instead of trying again, Terry encouraged working around the problem, and thus the idea came of chopping off the ends, and Dominoing on some replacement tips.

And thus the legs gained a personality.

Table Lep Tip

Table Lep Tip

Instead of hiding the situation, I went with a jarrah tip to the legs, and this material then got carried through the rest of the project.

Another tool I discovered getting a serious workout was the belt sander.  I wouldn’t have though of a belt sander and fine furniture goes together in the same sentence, but Terry swears by his, and the Festool 7kg belt sander sure is a nice tool!  Might just have to retire that GMC thing I have.  I made the tips oversized, and quickly got it all nice and uniform once the glue (and Domino) had done their job.

Some tearout was fixed using Terry’s shellac stick – a trick that was worth learning.  Using some shellac that had been prepared (heated with a meth fire) and rolled by hand into a stick, it was then dripped into any cavities with a soldering iron to melt the shellac stick tip.  Kind of like brazing with shellac!

The front (with drawer opening) were cut, and dominoed together.

Table Front Glueup
Hall Table Front Complete

Slowly coming together.  The next stage finally gave it some real form, and once you can start seeing it come together, you can really visualise the additional elements required.

Tabletop in Frontline Clamps

Tabletop in Frontline Clamps

The Frontline clamps got an initial workout for this part of the glueup, but they were made to earn their keep later on.

Table Carcass Assembly

Table Carcass Assembly

The components were dominoed together (no, I haven’t made a mistake with dominos in all the mortises – there are still the legs to be added!)  Slots were also cut at this point for the joiners that will hold the tabletop in position.

Glueup!

Glueup!

All the elements bought together (some, such as the sides were previously glued before this final clampup).  Now the fun began.

I never intended to leave the tabletop intact 🙂

Frontline Contour Jig

Frontline Contour Jig

Firstly I needed a jig – a track for the Frontline Bandsaw Contour jig to follow.  The specific design was done deliberately to avoid particular elements in the grain of the tabletop I wanted to preserve, which I initially drew on the tabletop, then transferred to the ply.  The plastic guide was then tacked on, and the slot routed out.

Ripping the Top

Ripping the Top

Next, I took my perfectly good tabletop slab I had glued up, and ripped it apart on the bandsaw, using the contour jig.  You can see in this photo the Jarrah insert sitting on the bandsaw ready to be incorporated in the top.  It is fair to say that in addition to the Festool Domino which made the mortise and tenoning so easy, the design of this table would not have happened without the Frontline tools.  The contour jig for the shapes, and the clamps which take no nonsense from any mere lump of timber!

Dryfitting the new top

Dryfitting the new top

Frontline Clamps go to work

Frontline Clamps go to work

The top then got a second glueup, this time with its new element included.  Some minor gaps were not given a chance to talk back when the Frontlines weighed in.  No dominos either, with the vertical clamping taking care of alignments, there was no need.  Hmm – wonder if my workshop could benefit from another couple – at one point I had 8 Frontline Clamps on the job!

Another technique was used here as well – zigzag dominos on their side (and cutting the widest (40mm) domino slot to accommodate them) to create a strong mechanical bond to reinforce the glueline (and surrounding timbers).

I was then going to create some form of lower element rail, rather than a lower shelf.  The offcuts from the top were the inspiration, and by using the same template, the curves of the top are mirrored in the rails.

As Good as it Gets

As Good as it Gets

This is as far as I got in the end.  The first time I affixed the lower rails in place, I had them in, dominoed, glued and clamped, and was just walking away when there was a loud CRACK, and both lower rails had exploded into fragments.  The combination of the curves cutting across the grains, and a bit too much enthusiasm in closing the gaps had left one of the two unable to cope.  When it went, all the force was then carried by the second rail and both exploded in a shower of jarrah shards.  There was no dominoing them back together either.  This time, a remake was the only option.  These new rails are slightly heavier than I planned – 5mm extra width.  But it does display the benefit of the Frontline Contour – I was easily able to recreate the rails perfectly.  However, the additional time it took meant there was no chance of finishing in the weekend, so this is the current state of the project.

I’m giving the top some time to acclimatise and stabilise in its final resting spot in my home – if it survives a week or so there, then I will continue to finish the top – sand then scrape (yes, I too have discovered the benefits of cabinet scrapers on this course!), and make the drawer.  The sides have been cut – 8mm thick Jarrah, and they will be dovetailed all round, with a half-blind on the front (so the dovetails are not seen from the outside).  Not sure what I will do with the drawer bottom – something to carry the theme, and the handle will be a Jarrah rod with the same curve again in miniature, and 2 pins holding it to the front of the drawer.

To the course – I can definitely recommend it, and it was particularly suitable for my skill level (which isn’t that high), but it doesn’t really matter – the more skilled you are, the more time, and capacity you have to investigate the finer points, always with Terry’s knowledgeable inputs when required.

So has my woodworking improved? Of that I have no doubt.  Of course now I want a Domino of my own, but that is another matter!

7 Responses

  1. Awesome work Stuart. Looking forward to seeing it all freshly finished up.
    I really love the curve on the top and the matching rails on bottom. Really nice touch. Seems to give the piece a great feeling of movement.

    Glad you enjoyed the experience too – I now find myself using that scraper much more often than I imagined I ever would!

    Cheers,
    Carl

    • I went out and bought one straight after the course (and cheated by getting the Veritas Mark II burnisher, which comes with a 0.6mm straight scraper).

      I may get the more traditional teardrop burnisher downtrack if/when i discover a need for the other shaped scrapers, but at this stage, it is the flatwork that need the scraper for.

  2. Nice stretch Stu that’s what its all about!!!!

  3. OMG… that machinery… some matched mine… BUT the floor… “Darlings” you all better know how to dance…. if you walk that floor!!!! Fancy wasting that floor in your shed!….BUGGER… just imagine the feeling of wood-floor under your feet while you create ….
    … perfect combination… passion for dance… passion for wood….
    … waltz of a life time… quickstep to die for… drool drool drool.. & that old fashioned saw dust without any effort….
    Gentleman take your partner… Ladies pick your machine….LOL….
    (was going to say tool…just sound little crude… )
    DROOL!!!!!

    Never let me in there….I’d never leave!

  4. We manage to lever Stu out each time he visits, but the duration between visits is increasing. 🙂

  5. I recently did the chair making course at Ideal with Terry, and like you, I made a number of mistakes, especially in relation to cutting the holes with the Domino in the wrong place. Like you, I was most impressed with the way Trerry had the attitude that one simply changes the design slightly to accomodate the mistake, rather than ripping the whole thing apart and starting again. [Iam not sure if accomodate is the correct adjective here !]

    I did the chair course because I do not need a hall table [made one on another course], but I do need a new dining room chair set. It will be interesting to see how the other seven chairs go, made at home rather than under supervision.

    I am an avid reader of your blog. Keep up the good work.

    Cheers

    Richard Fyffe

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: