About J. Leko

J. Leko is the principal of J. Leko Furniture Maker, LLC., where he designs and builds specially commissioned custom furniture and woodwork. J. studied woodworking with some of the world’s best craftsmen at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking where he is completing the Michael Fortune Fellowship. He has taught furniture making classes at the Jane M. Hughes Arts and Crafts Center on Redstone Arsenal, and his articles have been published in WoodTalk On-Line, and Fine Woodworking magazine.

2019 Class Schedule

I have two classes scheduled for early summer:

Tap on the links for descriptions and sign-up information.

In the marquetry course, we will explore various ways to embellish your projects using wood veneer. Intended for those with little or no experience, it begins with geometric patterns cut with knives, chisels, and a straight edge. By the end of the week, students will execute their own free form designs using a marquetry fretsaw.

I think the class at Campbell Folk School will challenge participants. Not only will we be making dovetail joints at angles less than 90º, we are going to do it without referring to the gradations on a ruler! It really is possible to construct furniture without measuring, and it is surprisingly accurate. To top things off, we will do all of this using only hand tools!

I will try to post more details as the times for these classes approach. Until then, feel free to contact me with questions.

Oeben book rest update

This weekend, I took a break from fiddling with the mechanisms to focus on a different aspect, namely the book rest. When originally created, it worked (somewhat) reliably, but was set aside so I could focus on the mechanisms. The main box, to which the book rest is attached, has been re-worked since then, most notably being disassembled for mechanism installation adjustments. It still worked after that, but required help to get beyond a certain point.

There are two tricks necessary for this to function properly.

  1. The leaf on the rest side of the hinge isn’t mortised into the wood like you would do for any normal hinge installation. This allows appropriate clearance between the back of the stand, and the bottom rest, and
  2. Radius the bottom corner of the rest with a plane. This ensures it will rotate when the lifting force is applied to the stand.

With things (once again) operating smoothly, the only step remaining was to chisel two notches in the stand’s back. This gives two angles at which the stand can be set.

…and before you comment, more than one person has already suggested using it as an iPad stand…

I want to thank Michael Koppy for working with me to fabricate the hinged support.

Main box stops

From previous posts, we have seen that there is a great deal happening within the aprons. Now, we need to make room for one last thing…

Proper right apron interior showing upper & lower racks with spring mechanism.

In this post, I described the process fitting the stop rods keeping the top from shooting off the back of the carcass when the works are set into motion. Something similar is needed to keep the main box from coming out the front. Two (fairly) sizable bolts, to minimize the force exerted on the stops, were used in the original. These need to be installed from within the side compartments of the main box such that:

  • they avoid contacting the lower racks,
  • the grooves in which they run must not protrude through the carcass front,
  • the main box is allowed to move to its fullest extent,
  • they avoid interfering with existing guides and drives located on the main box sides, and
  • they are installed above the main box floor.

Not too much to ask for, right?

Proper right compartment in the original main box. Circle shows stop bolt head (barely visible).

When Oeben created the original, he grooved the aprons just below the lower guides for the main box. This out-of-the-way location prevented anything else from interfering, allowing the bolts to slide unimpeded. So long as the bolts are installed behind the front legs, these channels won’t show through the carcass front. The other ends, naturally, aren’t a problem since the main box stops behind the rear apron.

Layout showing vertical alignment of main box and carcass.

This addresses the majority of the above criteria except for the “horizontal location”, or how far above the main box bottom are the bolts mounted? The challenge here lies in the limited available space between the lower racks, and the main box floor; less than 1/4 inch. Not much! Referring, once again, to the original, Oeben solved this by drilling a hole through the lower racks for the stop bolts to protrude. This has the added advantage of strengthening the bolts since overtime repeated collisions might loosen the bolts mounted in the wood alone.

Main box proper left side showing proposed stop bolt location.

As with the stop rods previously once these bolts are installed, they will be used to mark the location and extents of their grooves, and stop plates.

Postscript: having trouble visualizing things? Check out the first image in this post.

Cognacq-Jay Museum

In fall 2017, the Cognacq-Jay Museum was my first official appointment in Paris. I became aware of it through searches in woodworking discussion fora back in 2011. Their diminutive table is unlike the others in several regards…

The first thing one notices is the striking difference in marquetry motifs of this table versus other Oeben tables of similar function. Typically, the aprons are covered by parquetry, and the top in marquetry. This table, however, features an assortment of flowers connected by a circuitous vine on a background of yellow veneer throughout both the top and sides. Two curators have independently commented on its similarity to a known fabric pattern. Something else that is distinctive about this marquetry, I was told by Rose-Marie Mousseaux, the museum director, is the flowers appear to have been rendered life-sized. It is as if the marquetier laid the flowers directly on the veneer to cut them. The marquetry on the legs appears to be nearly symmetric. Viewed from either side as well as front, or back, the leaf and flower patterns are near-mirror images. Perhaps they were packet cut? Inside another visual anomaly is the veneer covering the interior of the compartment lids. This is typically tulipwood arranged in a reverse-diamond match (image below right of the Getty table). While the pattern is consistent, however, the choice of veneer species is not. It appears to be mahogany (below left image – Cognacq-Jay table).

Finally, this table has no keyholes! Without locks, or winding axles, this table can only be opened by manually pushing the top back.

First most obvious thought is that we are not seeing the table in its original state. Approximately 260 years have elapsed since it was built, and the differences could simply be due to changes and modifications from repairs. It could also be that this table is the work of someone other than Oeben. In his style…, so to speak. Although this is unlikely, the piece is not signed, and unfortunately, there is little existing provenance on it. Finally, perhaps this was a prototype constructed to test the concepts of a movable top and main box to refine the mechanisms [or a demonstration piece!]. This is a supposition. However, with a piece this complex a good maker would want to demonstrate the concept before showing it to prominent clients. It is reasonable that the racks and gears responsible for operation of the top and main box would be tried “small scale” first.

I appreciate the opportunity to view this piece first-hand, and want to thank Madam Mousseaux and her staff for hosting me on the museum’s off-day.

A note on my Oeben table examinations

Since before my first encounter with one of the two Oeben mechanical tables at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles in 2012, I have been fascinated (obsessed some might say!) with this atypical furniture form. To learn more about them and their “works”, I arranged a series of examinations. In 2016, I got up close with the two other tables in North America: one at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the other at the National Gallery of Art. In October 2017, I visited three publicly displayed tables in Europe: the Cognacq-Jay Museum (Paris), the Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam), and the Victoria and Albert Museum (London). During these encounters, I made a series of notes which I will share in upcoming posts.

To this end, I want to reiterate that I am not a conservator, nor have I had any curatorial training. When I examine these pieces, I do it from the perspective of a woodworker trying (as best I can) to put himself in the shoes of the period craftsman. What I present are my interpretations. So, I am happy to discuss alternate viewpoints.

I’d like to thank the conservators, curators, and administrators who took time to arrange and accompany me on these visits.