|Project by awlee||posted 08-25-2016 01:57 PM||675 views||5 times favorited||7 comments|
My daughter asked me to build her a small table to fit in her dorm room and to make it “simple” but “nice.” “Now that’s a charge!” I thought, and got to work on a Shaker table. The “simple” part was easy, but the “nice” part was a problem. What makes one Shaker table nicer than another? Why do some tables appeal to my eye more than others?
I took my daughter’s charge as an opportunity to make several tables and to experiment with different combinations of woods, finishes, angles, and proportions to try to figure out why one might seem more interesting than others. The only proviso was that I had to use wood that I had on hand. Here’s what happened:
Picture #2 shows some of the stock. It was a gnarly, knotted, warped, and crooked mess, a combination of cherry, maple, mahogany, black walnut, and ambrosia maple boards and scraps. This meant that I had to make compromises from the beginning, as I had to limit the size of table tops and the height of legs and to limit how many different woods I could combine and where they would appear. But no matter, says I, let the experiment begin!
Picture #3 shows some of the choices. I reserved the maple, black walnut, and ambrosia maple for the table tops, and then the cherry, mahogany, and maple for the aprons and legs. I could alternate dark and light woods on each table, to see which combination might have a more pleasing effect. Would a dark top and light bottom make the table seem heavier? What is the effect of having different woods for the aprons and legs? I’d wanted to bookmatch the wood for the tabletops to create nice figures but, alas, could do that for some tables but not others. But this gave me an opportunity to think about different thicknesses for a table top and how that might be an important variable in the overall look.
Picture #4 shows the glue up of the legs and aprons. The joinery was mortise and tenon. More choices: how wide for the aprons? How much taper in the legs and where to begin the taper? How tall in proportion to the size of the table top?
Picture #5 shows two of the tables side-by-side, one finished, the other still bare, one with a larger top and sharper taper, the other smaller but slightly taller, with a thicker table top and less overhang. I experimented with different finishes: danish oil, wipe on poly, and General Finishes Arm-R-Seal oil and varnish.
Picture #6 shows the four tables I could make from the stock. I learned a lot, about how small differences in taper angles could have big effects, about how even a 1/4” difference in an overhang creates a different kind of profile and shadow line. I have a renewed appreciation for a well-designed Shaker table. For me, the “nicest” table is the one on the far left: taller, a bit more elegant with slightly more dramatic tapered legs, “lighter,” with a finish (General Finishes Arm-R-Seal) that didn’t create too much of the yellowing effect of some oils. My daughter chose what I had thought was the least appealing, the one with the walnut top. Hmm . . .