the Carpentry Way: Screen Play and then Benched                                                          

Screen Play and then Benched

For the past few days I've cut hewn no wood and, for that matter, drawn no water. I've been designing stuff, in my head and on the computer.

On one front, if you'll excuse a pun, I'm drawing a tsuitate, which is a Japanese freestanding screen, following a suggestion from a friend. This is a piece I am going to build and put in a gallery.

Here's a few examples from Nippon, the first being what you might call a more-or-less typical version with grill work:

Just like shōji and ranma, the potential for variations within the form are nearly endless- a tsuitate is pretty much a blank canvas in a frame:

Nice panel, but I find the lower portion clunky and the feet are too small - and I don't like that they are not centered with the frame verticals.

And for those proficient in their work with kumiko, the options run from mild to wild:

Amazing what you can do with a hexagon, isn't it? Too bad the piece has such clunky feet, at least for my taste.

I've also moved along the design for a workbench some few hours. I thought I'd share with y'all how that is shaping up at this point. I've moved away from playing around with complex Mazerolle-esque bracing arrangements, and found that if you want to have drawers, those angled braces make that quite problematic. The splayed form is inherently quite stable and strong, so the braces aren't really needed I don't think. This piece is going to be a tour de force for splayed leg work, Japanese style.

My inspiration comes from three places. First, the disturbed and chaotic locale known as my mind, and my own odd ways of going about solving a design challenge, namely to make a bench that resists racking through structure and not by reliance upon metal rods and/or bolts, and is well sealed so that dust can't get into the interior. And a bench with a pleasing form too! I went away from a slab top and instead opted for a rather heavy duty version of frame and panel, as you'll see soon enough.

The other inspirations were a bit diverse. One was the following piece, one of my favorites from Koizumi's fine book Japanese Furniture (originally published as Wakagu):

That piece may look simple, but I can assure you that done properly with backed posts and mortise and tenon joinery, it would be a time-consuming challenge.

The other source of inspiration is from a structure like this, a kake-zukuri form of Temple. 'Kake', 懸け, means 'hanging', and -zukuri means made/constructed - these structures are perched on hillsides and require extensive scaffolding - this one is called Kongo-in, one of my favorites:

Put those ideas together, and what my warped mind comes up with is something like this (elevation view of the frame on the long side):

The outside posts are regular slope, regular plan compound splay. The central posts are simple one-way splay, which are easy-peasy to layout and cut. The middle posts are the toughies, as they are irregular slope, regular plan compound sloped legs. I've only tackled that sort of problem once before, in the irregular slope sawhorse that I continue to use as my workbench. That build was detailed last year, and can be found in the archive to the right of the page. It is a challenge I look forward to re-visiting, as I'm fuzzy on some of the details right now.

Here's a perspective view of the main frame components:

The bench is about 90" long and 30" wide. The table top frame is 3" thick and the legs are about 2.5" thick. All the legs are connected by penetrating stretchers, or nuki, and in order to fit those cleanly all the compound sloped legs need to be backed on their faces. With the cross pieces in the frame through-tenoned in the legs as well, all four faces of the compound sloped legs will be backed. That's the genius of Japanese carpentry my friends - while it is a tricky process at the outset, backing all the legs makes the joinery a snap, relatively-speaking.

Unlike a standard splayed piece with nuki, since I also have the requirement to fit drawers, I will make the nuki parallelogram-shaped in cross-section so that their top and bottom edges are in plane with the floor, which will in turn allow for drawers to be fit fairly readily:

The top panel is 1" thick and the battens that support it and tie the table top frame together, will also be fixed to the underside of the top with sliding dovetails. The battens are fairly stout themselves, so I can place bench-dog holes through the top and into battens at their locations if I like.

I am wanting to make the drawers so that they can be slid out either side - that is, a one-piece drawer to span the width of the bench instead of a short drawer in each side. Or maybe some combination, with one-piece drawers in the top two levels and separate drawers along the bottom tier.

I'll use some wrought iron Japanese drawer pulls, though I haven't decided on the pattern yet. I haven't decided upon the drawer slide system yet either - always a tricky point. Metal slides are indeed practical, but I always feel like making some sort of wooden slide, probably using lignum vitae....

I've detailed the top frame so that there will be no avenue for dust to get into the interior spaces and drawers:

I guess I'll need to sort out some sort of dust seal for the drawers to their surrounding frames as well.

I figure I can make one end of the bench a place to hang a few planes, and I'm currently percolating a few different ideas through the devastated wasteland known as my cranium for various vice/hold-down and planing support fixtures. It won't be too fancy in that regard, after all I've been managing okay with my sawhorse and Bessey clamps for the past while.

I won't be building this bench for a while yet, so these are indeed early days in the design process. I'm liking the way it is looking at this point, but I may have it all wrong, who knows? Constructive reader feedback and input is most welcome.