Saturday, April 23, 2011

Coffee Anyone? (2)

Getting close to ready for the start of the build of a glass-topped coffee table now, with the bookcase nearly clear of the scene, and thought I'd update the status of the design, which has been through some revisions since the first post in this thread a couple of weeks back.

As I mentioned last time, while pleased initially with the overall form of the legs, they weren't quite where I wanted them to be, and I had some changes I wanted to make in terms of the overall stance and the profiles of the faces. So, in the past few design sessions, I have widened the stance of the legs, and reduced the extremes of the curvature in their serpentine form. This allows me to get the legs out of a single piece of material instead of splicing two, and makes the table more stable. Here's one view:

You can see that I have also added a pad on the floor for the feet to rest upon, a pentagonal pad no less. I'm debating whether to keep this detail or remove it, and am currently leaning towards removing it.

Another view:

Plan view:

The widened stance has meant that the shelf has widened and lengthened somewhat, from 14" wide to 16" (400 mm), and I have now centered the octagonal facets of the shelf frame on each leg, whereas before they were a little off center.

A perspective view:

I also considered doing the table in a reverse arrangement of woods, with a Wenge frame and bubinga panel - here's how that looked:

Now, I liked the look of this, but the client preferred the other arrangement, which is perfectly fine too, so that above alternate plan went nowhere. Also, I have found that Wenge seems a little thin on the lumber dealers shelves these days, especially when looking for quartersawn 8/4 material. For the shelf panel on this table I had to search fairly far and wide to find appropriate material - all the way to Ohio in fact.

I then did some further work on the table legs. I wanted the front and rear faces of the legs to carry the visual theme established on the frame above (i.e., re-entrant corners and curved moulding profile on the frame members). I came across a Chinese Ming stool with such a form of leg, and confirmed for myself that it looked pleasing. So, a bit of a wrestle with SketchUp was in order, but in the end managed to produce a fair rendering of what I was after:

The 'stirrup' which wraps around the bottom of the foot is still in play, design-wise. I was thinking of carving the curvilinear portion on the top into an abstract flower motif, but am not entirely convinced to go in that direction.

Here's a look at the back of the leg:

You can see a rear moulded profile on the portion of the leg below where the shelf meets. I drew it initially on the upper portion of the leg as well, but it looked awkward where it terminate at the frame, a place easily viewed through the table glass, so I decided to dispense with the moulding on that upper portion.

Here's a closer look at the 'stirrup':

'Stirrup is just a name I'm giving it at the moment, based on the visual similarity, in my mind at least, to old style Japanese stirrups, kinda like these:

Those are pretty swish foot holders in my view. The Japanese term for that form of stirrup is hato mune (鳩胸), which means 'pigeon breast'. It's interesting how many Japanese forms and arrangements are named after various birds. Prominently placed on the front of each stirrup is a mon (heraldic emblem) consisting of three Wild Ginger leaves in a circle that signifies ownership by the Tokugawa family, which held the office of shōgun (supreme military commander of Japan) from 1603 to 1867. Not your average set of riding accoutrement. Here's the actual Tokugawa crest, which, according to the Japanese Wikipedia entry I perused, is the leaves of a plant called in Japanese aizu-aoi (会津葵 ), or Aizu Wild Ginger:

So, I'm getting pretty close with the design phase, and spend more time mulling things over in my mind of late than actually drawing. I like to let the drawing sit for a while and percolate, if you know what I mean, to see how things take or don't take to my fancy. Even things that scream rightness from the outset often benefit from a little more fiddling. The trick is to know at what point to stop, that point where you have pared the design to its essentials, where the removal of one more thing would ruin it, and the addition of one more thing serves no real benefit.

The vertical grain wenge for the shelf panel should be in transit sometime next week, and in the past few days I have acquired some bubinga for this project:

This is going to be very sweet looking material - check out the shimmering undulations of the grain when viewed on end:

You might also note the very white board in the above pile, which is a very nice stick of American Holly, likely the whitest wood there is among all species of timber. It's not common though to find it without knots in any sort of decent width (Holly is normally used commercially for cuttings of boughs and sprigs around Christmas time, and thus it tends to be very branched and isn't often cut for lumber). So, I snagged this piece when I came upon it:

If you see some wood you like, the time to buy it is NOW. I can tell you my share of the one that got away stories with various boards and stacks of lumber over the years. The Holly I will use for inlays of my maker's mark and such things, so I've now got enough on hand for a few furniture pieces to come. One interesting thing about Holly in terms of seasoning: it should be kiln dried as soon as possible after cutting. If you let it sit to air dry for too long, it will acquire a grayish cast, which isn't the most attractive thing, and a bit of a let down if you were wanting blazing white material. I learned this the hard way a few years back.

All for today - I should have the design finalized early this coming week, allowing of course for various tweaks and refinements as I build it, and might even be cutting up some wood later in the week. My jointer tables are back from the machine shop, glistening in their perfection, so I need to get my Oliver 166 set up again before I can get the bubinga moving along in the cut out process.

Thanks for your visit to the Carpentry Way. --> on to post 3


  1. That's nice.. my only criticism (kept to myself!) of the initial design was that the sides of the hexagonal ends weren't equal nor centred on the legs - the shelf looked a bit.. er, pointy?!.. Anyway it's a great improvement.. Look forward to seeing the finished article.

  2. Hi Chris,

    Nice looking design - I'm sure the client will be pleased (especially when its finished).

    Forgive me for delving somewhat into the realm of trivia, but the Tokugawa mon (crest) is actually leaves from Wild Ginger (Aoi, in Japanese, Asarum, in botanical terms). Unfortunately, the hollyhock has become the oft mis-associated plant, but I know you are a stickler for accurate detail, so now you can help correct the wrong. (Btw, I got this info from the Tokugawa Museum and am not just making it up).

    Enjoying the blog as always,

  3. Steve,

    Awesome! I love getting accurate information like that and will make the correction tot he blog.

    Thanks so much!!


  4. Steve,

    I just did a little research, and it is clear that the leaves of the hollyhock are totally different than those on the Tokugawa crest, while the wild Ginger leaves are a spitting image. It looks like that mix-up has been long-standing.


  5. Do you mind some design impression critique? Can't be so sure from a sketch, but I will put it out there.

    You have a lot of influential shapes going on, the shelf being a particularly strong one as well. It looks interesting when looking down through the glass, but might not the overall balance be enhanced with the lower shelf being a more subtle shape, as evident in the more side and end views of the table? Those sharp cornered flat areas where the leg goes through, they appear to really draw your eye in an excessive way. No doubt that you have your own way of seeing things, but the oval shape of the top, and the harder octagonal shape of the shelf, I don't find them complimentary to each other, think the shelf needs to be more subdued to have a harmony going, also to minimize visual interference with the attractive legs.

  6. Dennis, yes, your comments/critique are most welcome, as always.

    The shelf on the table is not in its final form yet, though it will keep it's essentially octagonal form. I will be tying it into the rest of the table a little more overtly by profiling the shelf frame edge. I think that will do much to accomplish the harmony you mentioned you found lacking. I have also been entertaining the idea of having a bead on the shelf frame which flows into and down the legs. drawing those details in SketchUp can take time, so I have been putting it off. Just getting the profile on the front and rear of the legs took more hair pulling than I care to remember.

    The client expressly told me that they like an interplay of different forms together in a piece, curved with rectilinear, etc. So I am honoring that. They have also indicated a preference for simplicity above all else, so I hesitate to add stuff. But I think that the profiling of the shelf frame, which will be convexly rounded similar to the upper table frame, but simpler, will tie the elements more strongly together. I'll post up a picture of that in another few days, so let me know how you like it then.




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