Sunday, February 22, 2009

Desk Job III

After the upper table for the desk was assembled on the ground, the time came for it to be mounted on top of the posts. This was in fact the big 'moment of uncertainty', as during the build of the desk, my shop had been too small a space within which to do a trial assembly. Anyhow, breath held, the upper table was offered up - it had to engage with 7 post tenons and 6 intermediate cog joints, 13 places simultaneously. It fit, save for one post tenon which needed a small amount of trimming. Whew! I'm still trying to account for the slight discrepancy at that post, but I was happy that it came together without too much fuss:

Here, Alan's nephew is sitting in the receptionist's seat:

Doc H seemed pretty happy:

And here concluded day 1 of assembly. I can't remember what time of night it was:

The next day, I was back at it, again with Alan helping. Just like a timber frame, the bulk of the structure can go up pretty quickly, and then come the myriad tasks that are all necessary yet seem to make for minor changes in the assembly sequence. First, I put the wedges for the nuki into place, left extra long:

Here's a close up of one of the lower table divider bars where it meets a post:

A shot of one end of the upper table, before pegging:

And the other end, also waiting for pegging:

A view from under the table at the turn; on the other side, I'm adjusting the mortise with a paring chisel for one of the nuki wedges:

Now the splines and counter wedges could be put in at the rear lower table rail, just started and yet to be trimmed in this photo:

Another view along the lower table rear rail:

This is something I didn't show earlier: on the long side of the desk, I was forced to put a scarf joint into the sill, as I didn't have a dead straight 9' section of Mahogany from which to make the sill. Normally, it is ideal to use complete pieces instead of resorting to scarfs, which are a bit laborious to cut (though I like making 'em!):

I feel regret to see a little router burn on the rear of a couple of the koshi in the above photo - just didn't have time to clean that up. Many of the koshi needed to be scribed and trimmed. This is something I would have done ahead of time, however time, as I said, was something I really didn't have during the last 2 months of the build.

The principal regret I have about this desk is that I didn't have the time I needed, with the wood switch fiasco, to take it a little further into refinement. There were a few unrealized desires in the build of his desk, idea that I have filed away for 'next time'.

Here I'm marking a nuki wedge for trimming, the mortise adjustment complete:

In the above picture, you can see that I have also fitted the grillwork into the turning section. this was a Mahogany frame with thick Maple kumiko. Had I the time, I would have done a more complex pattern with the kumiko, one that looks impossible to assemble. I like those sort of things, but again, no time.

Below is a view along the long side of the desk, showing the completed koshi, all trimmed and ready for the table boards to be fitted. You might notice that the lead edge (arris) of the first turning post, is completely chamfered ('backed'), just like a hip rafter. I used a technique for developing the curve of the posts, top and bottom, that derives from a Japanese layout method for developing curved hip rafters. It's a sine curve. Also, the posts that flank the turning section have differential chamfering. The immediate posts to the side of the turning posts are chamfered about 1/3 of the edge width, the next ones along chamfered 1/4 of their edge width. These are small details, unnoticeable to most observers, but they help to subtly direct the eye along in a smooth sweep across the exposed front surfaces of the desk. I wish I had better pictures to show it:

Now it came time to drive the locking joints on the lower table back rail up tight and trim them:

This is a view of the upper table frame joint at the outside rail:

The lower table top, like the upper, was Maple, however for the lower surface I used edge-grain Maple boards rather than the birdseye. The lower desk surface was to be covered with equipment, trays and papers, so there was no point in using expensive birdseye Maple for it. The lower desk needed several cable ports, so I opted, naturally, for pentagonal openings, lined in Mahogany:

Three of the desk top panels nearly ready to go (photo taken in my shop):

Close up of a cable port opening:

Since this was my first piece of furniture, I hadn't developed the idea of a crest for my work, and making the opening in the form that you saw on the hako-kaidan (in the "Steps along the Way" post) I made, but this desk job is where the germ of the idea began. I thought that once the desk project was done, I would be timber framing again. That's not what happened however.

And the first table section now fitted, resting in dadoes cut into the table frame pieces:

More to come: on to post IV


  1. Chris -

    Looking amazing. I've enjoyed these last few posts.

    I'm wondering if you'd illuminate how you feel about the sourcing / environmental implications of the woods you choose to work with. It is something I deal with on a near daily basis (timber frame design and previously custom woodworking). I'm curious how other folks reconcile what seems to be a sensitivity to tradition and history - while railing a bit against the status quo (Out of Touch Too) - and trying to balance where our materials may be coming from and the impact small choices make.

    I enjoy the blog - keep writing.
    (see you in Saratoga?)


  2. Hi Mike,

    Thanks for the compliment and considered question. I intend to bring up that topic, one I've thought much about as I'm sure you have, in a future posting. It's an issue that anyone who works thoughtfully with natural materials must face.

    Saratoga? What's happening in Saratoga? Isn't that in New York?



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