My dilemma

For the past few months, all of my focus has been on the marquetry panels for the Kickstarter (KS) backers. These are about one-fifth a section of the entire top. When I look beyond this boundary, I get nervous! The KS panel is an edited version of the top which has A LOT OF DETAIL!


Step-by-step, I will be able to address this…

The problem I face next deals with the size of the complete top. If you study pictures of the original, you’ll see that the long grain direction of the background veneer runs parallel to the long direction of the top, and there isn’t an obvious opportunity to break the marquetry into discrete sections. The issue is, I don’t have a saw with a throat depth (the distance from the blade to the nearest obstruction, whatever it is) sufficient to cut the entire top as one piece; not my fretsaw, and certainly not the mini-chevalet. I don’t think that even a typical full-sized chevalet could even handle the task. It would have to have been purpose built. (Side note: to be certain, I checked with the school, and as I suspected, the throat depth of their chevalets are also too small.)

Roubo says that marquetry of this kind was created by laying down the background veneer first, then cutting the marquetry in using a shoulder knife. While I could cut the design into the background this way, I’m working with 1/32 inch thick veneer pieces. It’d be tough, slow going. Plus, I’m not skilled with the shoulder knife!

Another solution is to build a frame jig saw (see picture below), the foot-powered equivalent of a large scroll saw. Since chevalets in their present form weren’t around in the mid-1700s, this type of saw may have been used to cut marquetry for some Oeben furniture, as it existed at least a century prior.

While I could certainly build one to solve my issue, it would again, delay the project. Neither of these solutions strikes me as obvious though…

Kickstarter status update

KS marquetry panel in-process

I spent December and January making flowers, and created enough to fill all of the Kickstarter (KS) rewards for the marquetry level. At this point, I’ve begun the process of cutting the ribbons, stems and leaves into the backgrounds (and sand shading…lots of sand shading!). After analyzing the first prototype, and deciding there was plenty of room for improvement, I’ve changed several things:

  • cut more detail lines into one of the flowers,
  • am considering the addition of another color to better show highlights and shadows, and
  • sand shading multiple pieces to suggest dimension.

The image below shows (the back side of) a second prototype. To my eye, it’s better, but I might still tweak it a bit. In any case, I’m happier with it. KS backers please note that the panel you’ll receive will be somewhat close to this. If you are a contributor at this level, please be sure to update your address, and contact information so I can be certain to get it to you. It’d be a shame if after all of this work, and your patience, you don’t receive yours! Now, let me get back to cutting…

A prototype marquetry flower panel for Kickstarter backers

Now, for my next trick…

So as you have seen, the table’s mechanisms are (somewhat) working. Where do we go from here?

While there is satisfaction in reaching this point, there is still lots to do with the prototype. The small drawer latch must be mortised into the main box below the drawer opening. It requires two latch plates. There is also the matter of shaping the carcass aprons. I am thinking of leaving this partially complete as a pedagogical sample. I have seen this done before, where each leg shows a different state of progression, to great effect. Unless an interested buyer comes forward, this is my current intention. It would also be nice to create at least one proper Louis XV style leg (refer to previous attempts here, and here) before committing to the final piece!

With the exception of the small drawer latch, what remains is straightforward; almost no fiddling required. It will be nice to have a clear path for a change!

The light at the end of the tunnel could be the headlight of the oncoming train…

…and we’re back…

A sample of the mechanisms necessary for the Oeben mechanical table re-creation

Approximately five years ago, I contacted David Lindow to re-create the mechanisms necessary for this project. Together his crew members, Jon and Josh, managed to build exactly what was required. While parts began arriving to my studio three years ago, the final piece, the latch for the small drawer, only arrived this past June. Having completed some other outstanding work, I am pleased to be picking up this project anew. This past week, I’ve been creating latch, and stop plates which I’ll write about separately.

You might be asking why it has taken this long to progress…

I undertook this challenge to satisfy a requirement in my pursuit of the Michael Fortune Fellowship. The goals of which were to:

  • expand my skill set,
  • highlight the techniques necessary to create such pieces, and to
  • call attention to this genre of furniture and the subdomains which compose it.

Although I was able to create the majority of the prototype in a short amount of time, progress is only possible at the pace of the slowest element. This doesn’t mean that I’ve forgotten, or “dropped” this undertaking…

In the interim, I undertook a personal project to examine several of the sister tables (some of which I’ve already posted on…). Eventually, I will relate these experiences, including one where I’ve been able to contribute to its conservatorial record! Nor have I worked out all of the details; I still wrestle with the process to create a Louis XV leg. For now, however, I will return the focus of this weblog to the details of re-creating this table. With all of the contracted work completed (I think!), the plan is to:

  • continue working on the prototype until it’s operable, and all of the mechanisms are properly tuned, then
  • switch to the final piece.

Hopefully, this will allow me to achieve the greatest efficiency during build-time. Expect a higher frequency of periodic updates.

A mounting conundrum

Before we can proceed to shape the carcass, the mechanisms must be completely installed and operating properly. With the mechanisms in place, the challenge becomes mounting the main box and tabletop to them. The tabletop is relatively straightforward: center it on the carcass, then mark the top racks. The main box, however, isn’t so simple. Not only does it have to be located left/right, front/back within its opening, but it also needs to be situated in height above the carcass floor. If it’s too high, the bolt on the latch won’t catch; too low, and the bolt will drag on the main box as it opens. To complicate matters, it is impossible to directly mark any of these components. They’re buried deep in the carcass interior!

Being the case, I’ve devised the following plan…

  1. With the tabletop removed, center the main box between the lower racks in the carcass. This dictates the thickness of the shims that will be needed.
  2. Remove the top racks such that the main box can be lifted out versus slid through the front.
  3. Coat the latch bolt with graphite.
  4. Retract the latch bolt by turning the key, and place the main box into the carcass. Align it appropriately, then release the latch bolt. This should imprint a line on the underside of the main box where the latch makes contact.
  5. Align the back of the hole in the metal latch plate with this line.

While I’m certain some level of adjustment will be necessary, this methodology provides a plan to move forward. Such is the nature of product development or, to put it another way, if we knew what we were doing, it wouldn’t be called research!