Cabinetmaker Challenge

by Dale on January 16, 2013


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the begining

Those who know me know I thrive on a challenge. Last spring brought with it a new commission which would become a quest for perfection. For my readers who enjoy solving complexities while keeping both aesthetic aspects and true quality to your work, while pleasing the client, read on.

The new commission was to build a dining table 6 feet wide and 9’4″ long – with a half circle on each end. It was to open up and hold 2 leaves, each one 24″ wide and 6′ long. The table is supported by two pedestals – each one with three “S” curve legs- tapered, steamed, and laminated in walnut. Each of the  3 legs is attached in the center by a ring of solid walnut about 8″ in diameter.  The style and lines of the piece were stunning, this was easily seen from the drawings.
Stunning, yet complex.

The first problem was steam bending the 10 piece lamination which were about 2″ wide and 1/8″ thick at one end and 5/16″ thick at the other end. They were 52″ long. Steaming for half an hour at 2000 in a new steam box was simple enough, but getting them bent into the form before cooling off was another matter. This challenge took some effort and a change in tools to complete.

I eventually settled on using a pipe clamp fitted specially with a new 12″ screw with a welded nut on the end so I could use a pneumatic impact wrench (think automotive nut driver). I also had the wooden handles removed from about 20 “F” clamps and welded nuts on the ends of them for the same purpose. I decided to only try to bend 5 at a time – less pressure needed and less pressure on me. I then made an extra mold – so I could steam bend all ten parts for one leg per day.  After steam bending all ten piece lamination – letting them set overnight, then the next day – I glued the 10 together, using epoxy. I let the leg set up overnight in the mold.

One “S” curved leg completed – only 5 more to make. Ten days later, all 6 legs are finished and beautiful. Then I made the 8″ diameter ring – 2″ tall and a hole in the center leaving a wall thickness of about 1 1/2″. Making three flat spots on the MB_middle stageproper location for the 3 legs and made matching flat spots on the legs for gluing and screwing them together.

After assembling the 3 legs into one complete pedestal the real trouble began. The pedestal had entirely too much spring in the legs for the weight of the top. The top was wobbly – totally not workable. What to do? By pin pointing the specific facets of the issue, I saw my quest unfold. The three leg position was too weak to support the massive top. The client was opposed to amending the original design by adding a fourth leg, so the path was set. I had to strengthen the triumvirate I’d spent such effort on constructing. Though strong, the legs needed to be much tougher.

My first idea was to split the legs in half – long wise – and add an aluminum strip cut to the shape and epoxy it in the center then add another walnut veneer strip in the center to hide the aluminum. It seemed like a good idea.  I know a metal worker who could make the aluminum strip at ½” thickness. I paid him to fabricate the strip. But alas… it was too flexible. So I had another strip made, in steel this time, at the same thickness and heavier by far. The steel was very strong, strong enough to support the massive top! So, I had five more steel S curves made – split all the beautiful, weak walnut legs in half – laminated the steel between them and steamed and bent 12 more tapered walnut strips to laminate on both edges.

Next – after sanding and smoothing all six legs with the hidden steel core, I had to attach them to the ring in the center. I didn’t believe the walnut would be strong enough, so made two rings out of maple which were then laminated and turned on the lathe.  It would be a simple matter to attach the legs to the ring.

Also in the agenda was to fasten brass castors to the legs so the table would open and the pedestals would be free to roll across the floor space. I then bought steel slides and screwed and glued them to the top, fastening the legs to the top as well. The massive top was solid!

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the Finish

The quest almost complete! Now it was just a matter of sanding, staining and finishing on a larger scale then the shop is used to.I also got four good friends to help assemble that table and turn it over – no small task when steel is thrown into the mix. I also had to borrow them again for loading it into the truck and delivery, etc. The photos should help with setting a scale on the process. Hopefully the narrative was enjoyable! Just a little story about a time when I thought I’d bitten off more than I could chew. I almost gave up a time or two during the many hurdles of this project. Next time, I will know in advance what a grizzly bear this size of table can be!

Thanks for reading.

Please send me your comments!

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