The Hall Table finds its way home

After leaving the Hall Table in the shed for a couple of weeks (or however long it has been), I found the table was still looking a lot duller than I was expecting.  On having a closer look, it appeared to have a wax coating over the whole surface, and rubbing through that revealed a subtle, smooth finish.

So out with the 0000 steel wool, and rubbed down the whole table, which took a while because the waxy layer was quite thick.  This left a nice finish, although a bit more matt than I was hoping.  So I picked up my Ubeaut Swansdown mop, mounted in the drill and gave the surface a good buff, and the desired shine became quickly apparent.

Ubeaut Swansdown Mop

Promo image of 4" buff

The mop is genuine swansdown, woven into a soft fabric, then layered up to 100 folds (the term for each layer), secured and cut.  Unlike a lambs-wool buff that puts swirls into the wax, the swansdown spins in the direction of the grain.  Instead of buffing by hand, this takes moments to get the same result that 10 minutes or more of hand rubbing the surface would achieve.

Now as pretty as the mop is in the image above, it isn’t functional when it is that new.  A well conditioned mop is a well used one, laden with waxes from previous jobs so it isn’t so dry and clean, with a tendency to strip the wax off the surface (a few non-critical jobs will quickly get it working, as will spinning it against the edge of a hacksaw blade to strip the initial loose fibres away).

Mine is a little more worldly-wise.

Swansdown in action

This one is a 6″, 100 fold mop.  The surface looks shiny, but not glossy.  Looking at it at quite an acute angle, and you can see a very good reflection in the surface.

In location

Just a drawer to go.

Episode 64 Hall Table Finishing

Episode 64 Hall Table Finishing

Episode 63 Hall Table

Episode 63 Hall Table

A Finish with a Good Lick

I am not a fan of modern finishes.  I know with pens that I use CA glue, which is in effect an acrylic finish, but in that situation, it is durable and comparatively quick. In saying that, I am now wondering just how well this traditional finish would work.  It would require the pen to remain mounted in the lathe (or remounted for each application) for an entire week, but if the finish was perfection, that might be worthwhile.

But I’m getting distracted.

For some items a traditional wax finish works well, for others, an oil finish really brings out the lustre in the timber.  The (mineral) definition of lustre is very appropriate “a description of the way light interacts with a surface”, and some oil finishes on some timbers produces such a depth – a fully three dimensional effect in the surface of the timber.

I have wanted to try Tung Oil for a long time – I’ve seen it used on a finishing video by Jeff Jewett (Taunton Press), and it was an amazing finish for ‘just’ an oil. It is an oil that all others are judged by – a Tung Oil finish is used as a descriptor for other finishes, even those that have no Tung Oil in them at all.  China Wood Oil is another name for the genuine stuff, and dates back to China, and over 2400 years ago.

In the past I have gone for oils that have included Tung oil, but haven’t gone out of my way to seek it out in a pure form, so finding Organoil now have it on the shelf in Carbatec meant I couldn’t help but grab it.

Tung Oil

There was also Terpene, which is a distillation extracted from citrus peelings, and can be used in place of turpentine, including cleaning brushes, and for thinning Tung Oil.  Tung Oil is surprisingly thick, and is a nut oil that once it has been applied and has had time to cure (for want of a better word) it is both water and alcohol resistant – perfect for a hall table.

The citrus terpene allows better penetration of the timber by the Tung Oil, so I am using it for the first coat, but from then on will be using the Tung Oil neat.

The timber looks absolutely stunning, even with the first coat.  It dries to a matt finish, but additional layers (applied 24 hours apart) increases the gloss until a mirror finish is possible.

Mahogany table with a Jarrah river

Hall Table

And this is just the first coat of about 6

Even now, check out the contrast with the raw table state (before it was sanded obviously)

Raw Table

I’m feeling so inspired to finish this project off, and start another!  Once the finish is done, I still need to make a dovetail drawer and give it a lick of the Tung, but then I really want to see what else I can come up with.  Beating the procrastination with the leg of a Hall Table Fable!

Procrastination as an Art Form

It has almost been a year since I attended the hall table course at Ideal Tools in Williamstown. And ever since then, the hall table has been sitting, incomplete, in my hall, being used as a table! The top was still not squared off, or even fixed down.

I’m not sure what finally caused the cloak of procrastination to be shrugged off, but I took the table out to the shed tonight to be completed. And after such a long time, it is difficult to perform the mental switch from it being a piece of furniture in use, to one that is in the midst of the build process.

First thing I really wanted to do was to trim down the top – the ends got squared up, then a couple of rips down either edge front and back to finish with a trued top. I used the Flai Ultimate for this job, and in crosscut it was excellent – beautiful finish, no tearout.

But it was the rips that blew me away. They were not just smooth, or even to the quality of a glueline blade (one that rips smooth enough that you can go straight to glue-up). It was silky smooth, as good as you would get with a fine sandpaper, or even a scraper blade. The finish was that immaculate. So much so that there is no point me sanding it before starting finishing.

I then moved over to the 150/5 Festool ROS, and worked through the grits to 320. Again something I have wanted to do for a long time. The drum sander I used to do the initial flattening had left a burn the length of the table down near the rear edge, so sanding that out was a pleasure. Using the 150/5 was a pleasure as well. No dust (when combined with the Cleantex obviously) the pad remained clear and unclogged, minimal vibration transmitted to the hand, and a satin finish. I found myself running my hand over the top time and again just enjoying the feel of the surface.

The shed time finished with the top finally being secured to the base, using blocks screwed to the underside of the top, and engaging domino slots cut for the purpose in the rails.

Next, after some more sanding will be to apply the finish. Tung oil in this case – penetrates deep into the surface and once fully dry, it becomes quite durable, and water resistant.

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!

On Course

As much as I didn’t want for the very next day after achieving the milestone to be quiet online, the timing was unfortunate.  I’ve been on the Ideal Tools Hall Table Course, and have been putting all my energy into that.

It always takes some time to become comfortable in someone else’s workshop – it is surprising just how familiar one becomes with their own tools, and machines.  The idiosyncrasies of each – minor adjustments etc that are second nature on ones own machines have to be relearned in another workshop.

It is curious just how much flak Triton tools get and comparison to “real” workshop tablesaws etc.  When you look at the Festool shop tools (tablesaw, jigsaw table, router table), I can see a lot of similarity in the concept, and even more so in operating them.  Doing a rip cut on a Festool reminded me much more of doing one on a Triton (except for the noise!) than performing a rip on my 250kg cast iron topped tablesaw. That isn’t a criticism of either however.  I have also seen some things / techniques etc this weekend that really demonstrated the Festool system’s capabilities.

Not to preempt an article coming soon, but seeing a belt sander being used successfully, and in a controlled method for fine furniture was just one thing I had challenge my ideas of tool use, and applicability.

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