Saturday, March 21, 2015

Table progress update...

This posting will be shorter than most of those I have done, because I am actually working on a couple more upcoming posts on medieval topics; the research and organisation for them takes a lot of time. It may come as a surprise to some, but what one can read in a matter of five minutes takes as much as 8 hours to prepare. When I do such a posting, I have to sort through my images to find ones which suit what I want to discuss, then verify the source, time period, (it would not be good to say something was from the 10th century, only to find out that it was from the 12th) and authenticity of what I am trying to share. Then, of course I must type, read, and re-type what it is that I have to say on the topic.

This week's posting, however needs none of that, since it is about the table project which I introduced a few weeks back (here). At that time, the overall idea had been resolved, but I had not made a final design presentation to the client; this past week I solved that little problem, and sent it off for their approval.

three-dimensional rendering of the table

The next step in the process was to acquire the timbers needed for this project. After several weeks, and a few false leads, I was able to locate and purchase the proper material; this turned out to be a much bigger undertaking than preparing the designs. The client wanted to use the elm which was used for the hanging shelf, (also featured in the above mentioned post) for the table. Although there are elm trees scattered throughout the region where I live here in Maryland, for some reason, this is not a commonly available timber. In fact, I have been asking at sawmills for the past 15+ years for some, and always got the same answer, "We never carry that".

About three years ago, we had a big storm which blew a fair sized tree down not far from where I live. A friend of mine, who has a sawmill on his farm, helped me to cut it up and we took it to his place and sawed it up. That would have been useful for making this table, except I used almost all of it up this past summer. Since the time we cut my tree up, I had come across a couple sawmills offering elm, so when the client asked for the table to be made of the it, I did not think it would be an impossibility to find. I found a guy in New Jersey who said he had some, but that did not work out, nor did a mill in Virginia advertising elm for sale. Fortunately my friend Steffen recently discovered a vendor of timber near Hagerstown Maryland, who had just recently gotten a new bundle of red elm. 

One thing I am still trying to locate, however, is some large stock to make the table legs. Almost no sawmills anymore, carry large dimensional timber, as no one really makes things from it. I, however, do not like the look of glued up layers of material to create a large piece, so I will keep searching; in the worst case scenario, I do have some which is almost large enough, and I can glue one piece to the side of it which will give me the dimension needed.

Profile for table legs; the green section shows
what would be added if the pieces I have were
glued up to get what I need. I need a 150mm square
billet for each leg.

Perhaps some readers are unfamiliar with elm as a furniture timber. I have read in a couple of books, however, that this was actually a more common wood than oak, prior to the 19th century, in the UK. This statement cannot be verified by the survival of actual pieces, however, because it is not nearly so durable as oak, which is why everyone thinks that is what all furniture of medieval and Renaissance England was made of; oak simply survives better. The colour is a rich warm brown, and the grain is not so course or open as that of oak. I would describe is as half way between oak and walnut on a scale of fineness.

Carpathian "red" elm

One of the reasons that elm does not survive as well as oak is probably due to the fact that it is not as hard. In fact, for that very reason, I plan to make the feet for this table out of rift sawn white oak. Horizontal feet of tables usually endure tremendous abuse. I have restored three or four pieces of furniture with this type of foot, and a couple of the pieces had lost nearly all the carving details. Since this table will have some nicely sculpted feet, I do not want them to get worn away in less than a hundred years.

A foot for a table I made some ten years
ago, made of cherry. This is similar to
the foot I will be making for this new table.

In the next few weeks I will be making a steam box to use to bend the curved pieces for this table. once I get that worked out, I will be making another post in this series on that topic.

some version of a steam box like this is what I will be using
(image linked from Fine Woodworking website)

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