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).