Jatoba and Aluminum Coffee Table

My machinist friend Brian and I collaborated on a coffee table for his new place. I ended up reusing the table top from a previous project - the

Lathe Table

.

The as built dimensions are roughly 24" wide by 48" long and 18" tall. The table top is 1-1/2" thick (8/4 repurposed wood planed to 1.540" thick) and the total weight is about 80 pounds; jatoba is ridiculously heavy. These are the process and final photos.

Initial drawings for the aluminum legs. The idea is for the pins to expand by driving  wooden wedges into the slots similar to how an axe or hammer handle is attached.

Orthographic drawings done in Rhino and Illustrator.

This is the shop drawing. The pins are drafted slightly at the top so they exert enough pressure to hold the leg in place. I need to acquire a photo of his notepad - Brian turned this drawing into what I assume is essentially a G-code equation for the EDM machine.

These next few images are the mock-up leg that Brian produced.

The wedge that gets pounded in is made of jatoba. It's about twice as hard as oak and 1/3 more dense.

Testing the ability of the wedge to expand the aluminum pins.

It worked but in the end the pins got longer, thinner, and drafted (thicker at the top) to provide more ability to expand outwards.

Repurposing the old table top.

Bye bye bad craft.

End grain doesn't glue up well so I added some simple splines. It also lines up the wood better so that you don't waste as much material in the planer.

I added a domino joint (mortise and tenon) just because.

The symbols on there indicate which way the wood bows towards. There wasn't much at all, but if you put opposing pieces next to one another they straighten each other out. The planar I use is 18" wide so I had to glue it up in portions...

... then join the whole thing. I messed up and made the domino joints prior to planing so the sides were off by 1/32" or so. That would require a lot of sanding so later I cut the whole thing in half and did it again.

Cutting the ends flush. The table saw blade has gunk on it from architecture students making models with odd material, lots of not entirely dry glue, and pushing material too quickly/slowly through the saw. More finishing work...

Dual end grain spline joint.

The router fitted with a follow bit; it's essentially a bearing at the tip of the bit that follows a template.

Cutting the ends flush. The shop is used by students so all the blades have gunk on them which leads to burns on harder woods, so - more finishing work.

This one turned out well. The first one was difficult though. 1-1/2" of extremely hard wood is a lot to take off at once.

The material I used for the template was too thin and poor quality so my router bit crushed it a bit and my mortises came out about 15-18 thousands too large - which actually turned out to be okay.

This is a Domino machine made by Festool. They're about $1,000 new... really want one. You can build anything with one of these.

These are the beechwood (similar to oak) tenons that along with glue join two pieces of wood.

This is the result of me cutting the table in half to line up the two halves more closely; it worked out really well.

Re-gluing...

Almost perfectly flush this time.

The corners had to be hand chiseled out to be made square.

I had to flip it over so that the final cuts wouldn't cause tear out on the bottom. This led to cutting 32 (4x4x2) corners square.

This is the EDM (electrical discharge machining) my friend Brian used to cut the tops of the legs... to within "roughly" 100,000th of an inch. (The next seven photos are Brian's).

End milling a taper to the legs. They start out as 2" by 1-1/8" by 18" tall and at the base they're 1-1/8" square.

Just under 0.251", not bad.

The pins are about 1-1/2" long and vary in thickness from 3/32" to 1/8".

I used epoxy on the tops of the legs just to make sure nothing would move then pounded the wedges in. I was very surprised by how well it all worked. They went in easily, flush, and when you grab the legs it's obvious that they're very sturdily attached.

Flush cutting the wedges. I did a first finish coat for some dumb reason... the saw and general mess screwed up the finish so I had to strip and start again.

After stripping and sanding I use a scraper as the final finishing tool. At this angle you can see what it does to the grain. It sort of compresses the grain and leaves it smoother than any sandpaper can.

Since the table will see daily use I opted for a polyurethane finish. Not my favorite but it does protect well. The first three coats were glossy (to bring out the depth of the grain) and the final coat was semi-gloss so that it doesn't look like plastic. I rub it on with a rag, wait 24 hours between coats, lightly sand with 320 grit between coats, and the final finish gets a #0000 steel wooling.

Detail shot of the top of the leg.

Finishing the legs took forever.

Glue and grim...

I ended up putting a coat of poly on the legs so they wouldn't soak in oil from peoples hands.

All the final shots were taken in Crown Hall.

This is a rendering to show how the legs work.

Mahogany Table

I buy most of my wood from a place in Chicago called Wood World. Anyways, my wife began accompanying me on trips there and every time there was this huge slab of Honduras mahogany that I'd always come up with a new use for every time I saw it. Huge, 10' long, 3" thick (12/4), 28" wide.

For our first wedding anniversary my wife bought me said slab... I ride a bicycle and the IIT wood shop is only open when I'm at work. Plus, huge chunks of wood are like diamonds. If they're huge you do not cut them. The basic concept is to use the slab as a table but without cutting, drilling, or otherwise mechanically altering it.

This is the photo I received in a card for my wife and my's one year wedding anniversary. I removed the price from the sign, but it's roughly 72 board feet worth of wood. 
These are just some initial sketches. I initially wanted to use channel iron but it was pretty expensive. In my experience it tends to be higher quality steel.
I borrowed the idea of the electrical outlets hidden in the steel structure from the tables in Crown Hall's Graham Resource Center library.
3D screen grab in Rhino. The table consists of three basic piece: the cast iron legs, the mahogany table top and the armature that ties it all together; which is also the part I have to make. It's essentially two custom bar clamps that are tied together with angle iron.
Orthographic projection. We actually used this drawing on an ipad while I was in the shop.
Actual fabrication was hectic, which I'm not used to. There's a translation from drawing to reality, "field fit," that needs to take place - especially since I'm not a veteran designer. We were rushing around the shop kind of fast because I made my friend Brian and his father, who show up at 6:45 AM every morning, stay until 8:00 PM, and it was really hot in the shop. Their shop is called Special Tool Engineering Company on the southwest side of Chicago. Brian is the third generation of his family to work there. I have to take photos of that place. You could build anything there.

This is a Bridgeport milling machine. It is to a machinist what a table saw is to a woodworker.
I'd never seen one of these before, it's drill bit that's essentially used for zeroing a measurement. It has a separate metal piece for the tip that's connected with a spring. It's exactly 0.2000 inches so that you subtract 0.1. As soon as the tip begins to wobble you know you're up against the piece that you're measuring off of.
This is the digital readout that gives X and Y coordinates. It does more than that but this was the first time I'd ever seen a digital readout on a Bridgeport.
Drilling the actual holes to a five 10,000 of an inch. Totally unnecessary and really cool.
Countersinking the holes to remove burrs.
This is essentially an automated swivel head bandsaw. You put in a piece of flat stock (bars of steel)...
... and it advances the steel and cuts it perfectly.
These are the holes being drilled for the bolts that clamp the table top. They got threaded after this but I didn't grab a photo of their threading setup. It was basically an arm that swiveled with the tap perpendicular at the tip. Much nicer than the typical hand tools I use because everything is square and flush when you're done.
Ugh... I fancy myself a good welder (at least when the work is somewhat level or on a pipe), but I was unfamiliar with their MIG and it was running way too hot.
Quenching the steel so I could get it home without lighting my car on fire.
I ran some simple electrical on the back. Typical 14 gauge stuff, three duplexes total.
Before I put the electrical on I steel wooled all the angle iron and rubbed boiled linseed oil  into it. You have to wipe off the excess after about ten minutes or else it will be sticky for the rest of its existence. The linseed oil darkens the steel and gives it a waxy finish that protects it somewhat from rust. On the left you can see the swagged cord that connects the outlets. I have a grommet on the other side too so I can switch it if need be.
Getting the slab in the room...
This is the connection to the legs. Two 5/8" lag bolts on each end. I should have welded a plate horizontally next to the angle, drilled another hole, and maybe put diagonal stiffeners in. It's essentially a point connection and isn't as rigid as it should be. I'll add it another time.

This is the fixed end of the armature on the back edge of the table. I may rotate the armature at some point too. You can see the slab isn't quite flat - I couldn't find a  30" planar (ha).
The electrical is hidden in the back so the cords can be concealed to some degree.
The 3" angle iron is slightly off center so that your legs won't hit the cross member if you cross your legs. The legs on this are from my lathe table except that this time they're turned the way they're supposed to sit. I chose 3" angle for two reasons: structurally it's spanning 6' 2" (74") and the rule of thumb is L/20 so 3.7" - which makes it undersized, but it's really only carrying a lateral load. Also, the table top really shouldn't be over 29" or 30" tall, the legs are 24" high, and the table top is 2-3/4" thick so anything bigger than 3" angle is going to make the table either too high or not leave enough room for your legs. If it's weak in any way it's torsion, but I don't perceive that as being a problem.
I did a time lapse of all the sanding just to show how ridiculously laborious it is. At some point I may actually put all the stills together into a time lapse video. As my woodworking/architecture professor (Frank Flury) once told me "finishing is 50% of the work." It seems like way too much but it's dead on. Finishing takes forever and there's very little joy in it. I hooked up my orbital sander to the smallest cheapest wet-dry-vac I could find. Win, literally zero dust. Tropical hardwood dust is oddly scary - especially panga, jatoba, and the like. Plus I got to collect some of the dust in case I wanted to fill in the grain at some point. In my world instead of getting buttons in little packages with shirts you'd get sawdust with your handcrafted furniture in case you wanted to change the finish and make your own filler (using dust from the wood makes the color match).
After sanding I raised the grain. That is, wiped the wood with a damp cloth to remove dust and  make the grain stand up.  After you sand wood and wet it the grain will feel different even when it's dry. If you sand it again it won't do this anymore. Even though I'm using an oil finish and it shouldn't be necessary. If the wood somehow gets wet later on it will no longer feel smooth.
I started with 100 grit, did a quick pass of 120 (I'm weird), then 150, 220, and finished with 320. The finishes will later get 320 up to 600 grit and a 0000 steel wool. Kind of unnecessary.
The finish for this ended up being about six coats of Watco Teak Oil wiped on, dried for one to two days between coats. It's not a protective finish and it takes forever to fully dry. First time I've ever used gloves, I recommend them.
The finish isn't done yet so this is kind of a base coat. The teak oil has an "in-the-grain" look and feel so you can still feel the grain.
This is after the second application of teak oil. it's still a little oily in this photo, but the grains starting to  show much better.
This is after it's a bit more dry.
The flange at the end is 1/4" flat stock butt welded to the end of the 3" angle. You can see where it's welded from the bluing. It's tapped to accept the 3/4" bolt which holds a 1/2" piece of steel that is milled to hold the end of the bolt.
 The wood edge is the rough-sawn side, if I rotate it 180 there's a much cleaner side and no protruding clamp.
Mostly finished. It's 10'2" (3100 mm) long, 28.5" (725 mm) wide, and the table top is at 29-1/2" (750 mm). The actual slab itself is 12/4. That is, 2-3/4" (70 mm). The legs are 76 lbs (35 kg) apiece, the armature is about 45 lbs (20 kg), and the table top is 220 lbs (100 kg) for a grand total of roughly 440 lbs (200 kg). Bucky wouldn't be impressed but the Vikings would probably approve.
The finish is oddly hard to photograph. It looks glossy but it has a satin look and feel up close.

Battlestation. My firm was selling their Aeron chairs so I picked two up for $40 apiece. I guess that's the upside to mass layoffs in the architecture field.

Walnut and Steel Coffee Table

I just finished making this walnut and steel coffee table for a friend. It cost $250 in material and measures 45" square and 18" high. This is my first attempt at building something with high-end materials that's more affordable and light weight. 

I didn't document the production process as well as I usually do, and many of these photos are from my camera phone. It's really hard to stop what you're doing and pick up a camera at every step but as a learning tool it's almost always worth it.

These are some quick sections trying to figure out the edge detail.
This is how the details were actually made using 4/4 walnut and 1 1/4" x 1/8" thick angle iron.
The boards are joined on the short edge with dominos with beech and glue then they're clamped. Those strips on top are the end grain glue-ups/solid strips that make up the underside edge.
Prior to oil.
After the first coat of oil.
Marking the bent corners with a scribe prior to cutting them on the bandsaw. I left thickness on the backside for the opposite flange.
The legs are bent, then welded on the backside of the miter.
This was my first time using a MIG - I learned on a stick / arc welder.
The frame uses 36' of 1 1/4" angle iron (it comes in lengths slightly longer than 20'). The legs and frame are four of the exact same pieces butt welded to one another near the corner. The cross member is needed as the walnut would be too thin to support a substantial load.
More walnut furniture in Crown Hall. Teak oil finish - about 6 coats taken to 320 grit and buffed out with #0000 steel wool. The top is 4/4 (3/4" walnut) with strips of 1 3/8" wide walnut on the underside with grain set perpendicular to the top boards to give the appearance that the table is actually made of boards going opposite directions. Not sure how I feel about that - it's kind of dishonest (in the Dieter Rams sense).
The typical rule for coffee tables is to make them 2/3's the length of the largest couch and the same height as the top of the seat cushion. In this case that makes the table 45" square and 18" high.
Corner detail.
I took some steel wool to the metal frame before rubbing some boiled linseed oil onto it. After about 15 minutes you wipe off the excess. This both protects the steel and makes it darker and leaves a sort of waxy feel to it. This is what farmers used to use to protect their tools from rust.
Here's a short video I made about how I made the one-piece leg-table top supports. It's sped up a bit in the middle of the clip to make it less boring. The 90 degree triangle is removed from the angle iron, then it is bent to 90 degrees, and welded on the backside. I've used the same process to make hundreds of pipe brackets in factories.

Walnut Entry Table

For my final project in my summer furniture class I built an entry table with storage space for shoes. It has a solid walnut frame and maple plywood for the interior. The finish is a semi-gloss polyurethane, but I'm going to strip the front, top, and sides and apply tongue oil instead. Walnut more than most woods looks much nicer with an oil finish.

It measures 36" high, 48" long, and 16" deep. The shoe cubbies are 10 1/2" wide; 15" deep; and they range in height: 4" for flats and sandals, 6", 8", and 10" for winter boots. The concept was to build something that had a sense of permanence. That is, literal heft and construction techniques that would last. If you put a gouge in solid wood it just reveals more wood.

Axonometric drawings.


Exploded axonometric view.



Rendered exploded axon.


Parts list.


I modeled our entryway and made this rendering using Rhino and Maxwell Render.


These are the process photos. It took me two and a half to three weeks (6-7 days a week at roughly 12 hour days) from start to finish. The actual construction was done in the first two weeks. Finishing is mostly just being patient. I've since decided to strip the walnut of the polyurethane finish and instead use tongue oil.

The two 10' long, 9" wide, 1 3/4" thick walnut boards cut into 1/3's to make joining easier.


Jointing - making two perpendicular planes square so that the remaining planes can be squared.


Using the table saw to get the rest square. Walnut is one of the best woods to work with.



This is called a domino machine by Festool. It makes a floating mortise and tenon joint. What's that? Basically a squared dowel. It allows the wood to shrink, swell, and move without damaging itself. It also allows the maker to waste less wood because everything lines up perfectly. The resultant piece is also much stronger.


Creating the mortises for the oak tenons and wood glue.


Gluing.


Once gluing is done it's off to the planar to make everything uniformly thick.


I kept the boards in order so that the grain pattern will follow around the piece. It sounds simple but it was surprisingly difficult to keep it all in order.


This is the interior shelving for the shoes. It's 3/4" maple plywood.



Humidity was a huge problem...


The plywood grew by a 1/16".


This is the jig to make the finger joints. You adjust the width of them by moving the back piece of wood. The difference between perfection and utter failure is within the width of a single line of lead (look at the left side bottom of the photo). All those pieces are tests.



Routing out for the shelves and strips for the walnut within walnut inlays.




This is the walnut routed on three sides for the shelves, the walnut strip to hide the plys, and the walnut inlay on the exterior.


More RH problems... I had to hand file each side of all the fingers, but it's better than fighting it during assembly.


This is the second jig I built to put the frame together. The first one was too weak and this one was too. If I built it again it'd be made of 2x8's and lag bolts.


This is all done to ensure that everything is square. Lots of planning beforehand. If you screw up here you just bought yourself some expensive firewood.




To flatten the finger joints I made a jig (see a pattern here?) that would elevate the router. It was incredibly sensitive. The removal of 1/64" of an inch is very visible and it's easy to just push the jig down a little harder and do just that.



Putting polyurethane on the maple ply. It ended up with 4 or 5 coats.


The inlays.



Japanese sawing off the excess for a flush finish.


Dominoed backing - I used 1/2" maple ply. I hate when you buy something from IKEA or whatever and the backing is 1/8" MDF/cardboard veneer junk.





First coat of the polyurethane. I should have used gloss for the first several coats THEN semi-gloss. Regardless, I'm stripping it soon and replacing it with tongue oil.


Using a micrometer and planar to get the right thickness. I made it five thousands (0.005") over so that it would compress in the joints.



I didn't want to use nails and I also wanted the pieces to be solid so I routed out the furring strips to create an egg-crate joint wherever they intersect.


The butt (back).



Here you can see the egg-crate joint and the dominos. The lack of steel means it will last forever as long as it's not abused too much. Wood on wood joints instead of steel means everything expands and contracts at roughly the same rates as the temperature and humidity changes.




The live-edge corner.


Using a block plane to get everything nice and flat. I also had to tape off the inside so I could apply the finish without disturbing the already applied finish on the maple.



Crown Hall was empty so I used it as a big photo studio.










The view in my large format.



This was the digital test photo...


... and the 4x5 film negative. Shooting in Mies's masterpiece - empty none the less - is quite the perk of going to IIT.


Modern furniture + neo-georgian architecture = kind of awkward. Guess I'll have to design a house to put my furniture in.

Furniture Class

Over the summer I took a woodworking class (at IIT) with Frank Flury. He's been at my school/in the US for about ten years and he runs a design build studio. Here was his last project which he and his class won an AIA award for. It's beautiful. Needless to say he's pretty okay at woodworking and building in general.

This walnut box with maple splines was built in 2 days.

The dimensions are: 7" (17.5 cm) wide, 9.5" (24 cm) long, 6" (15 cm) tall, and the walnut is 1/2" (1.3 cm) thick.

These are just some scraps from wood world. It cost less than $10.


It's hard to overstate how easy it is to screw up in woodworking. One wrong cut and you have to start over and lose money. Marking everything out, taking your time, not cutting corners (no pun intended), and staying organized are the only way to screw up less.



I had to buy one of these. It's a digital angle finder. If only I knew these existed when I was pipe fitting/building concrete plants.




A good glue joint is actually stronger than the natural bond between wood fibers.


This is the spline jig.


In this application the spline doesn't add too much strength - you really need thicker boards to have a big effect. The idea is to add more gluing surface and in another direction.


The maple splines are cut off with a japanese saw and the box was sanded and finished with teak oil. After a few coats of oil I alternated between #0000 steel wool and teak oil. The result is a buttery smooth finish. The lid is a little warped but oddly it acts as a kind of spring to keep the action of the lid semi-tight.


This is actually the first thing we built. It's a somewhat simple chair. It's called an Ulmer-Hocker Stool and was designed by Max Bill. It's red oak with finger jointed tops and sides, dominoed feet, and a polyurethane finish. The original dimensions are 40 cm x 28.5 cm x 45 cm and was made of beech and spruce.

The dimensions are: 15.5" (39 cm) wide, 11.5 (29 cm) deep, 19" (48 cm) tall, and the oak is 5/8" (1.7 cm) thick.




Lathe Table

I just completed another table that's been in the works for almost two years now. We had to clean out my familie's warehouse the summer before I started grad school so that it could be demolished - really sad. We scrapped and threw out dozens of semi-trailer loads of steel, stainless, aluminum, brass, lead, copper, etc. (in ascending monetary value of course) in the process. That place was a true treasure trove or potential projects.

The legs are cast iron, although because of their age there's probably a good amount of nickel in them making it more like steel or so I'm told, they came off of a working lathe. This is it sitting on the flat bed - it's probably the frame of a Toyota or rebar buried in Mumbai now; or something else equally undignified.


The dimensions are 48" L x 32" W x 26" H, the tabletop is 1 3/4" thick, and it weights around 250 pounds (I'm guessing tabletop 100 lbs + 75 lbs for each leg - I'm going to weigh it soon). UPDATE: the table top is 88.0 lbs, the legs are 78.0 lbs and 78.6 lbs, and the bolts are 1.6 lbs giving it a total weight of 246.2 lbs.


The wood is jatoba and is also known as Brazilian Cherry even though it's not part of the cherry family. The wood is insanely heavy and literally twice as hard as oak (2300-2800 on the Janka harness scale, oak is around 1300-1400). It will darken with time too. Some other random specifics: it's finished with several coats of semi-gloss polyurethane (I kind of fought doing this but it does protect it so well); the bolts are 5/8" stainless; the tabletop is what is known as a "glue-up" which means that the pieces were joined, glued, and planed into a single slab; and I sealed the cast iron legs with boiled linseed oil, it's the same stuff that artists use to seal oil paintings, which gave it a great kind of lacquered feel that will keep it from rusting.

Why Do Architects Geek Out Over Furniture?

Seriously, my school has a chair collection in the library. It's a relationship I don't fully understand. This is the first in a (hopefully) long series of projects that I've documented and not posted in the last few months.

So a while back I offered to make any of my friends tables and the like if they'd pay for supplies. One person, Joe, actually followed through. My first design for his coffee table is here, and the principle was to make a form that would map the flow of forces that the table would experience when loaded. I'm still somewhat interested in making that table when I'm bored but in the mean time I decided to come up with a new concept for Joe's table.

Part of being a 20-something year old these days is moving a lot, so I thought the table should be able to break down, but it should be solid too. I really dislike tables that wobble and look feeble; the finished product weighs about 50 or 60 pounds. Quality plywood, in this case Baltic birch plywood, comes in sheets that are 5' x 5' so I designed the pieces to minimize waste. The scrap was used as blocking so that clamps wouldn't scar the table.

The final dimensions were about 42" long x 26' wide x 18" tall. The proportions are close to the golden ratio while still maintaining the same height and 2/3 the length of the couches it resides next to.

The different colors represent the different pieces of the table. They're laid out to make single cuts on the table saw easier/possible.


The legs are held in by friction. They're tight enough not to wobble but can be pulled out for moving.



This is after the first coat of polyurethane.


This is a time lapse of some of the construction (about 2 min).