Author Topic: Elm table build  (Read 1525 times)

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Offline ear3

  • Posts: 3635
Elm table build
« on: February 26, 2019, 08:47 AM »
Took a commission a few months back to build an elm kitchen table.  The client was inspired by the ultra-modernist design of this French furniture maker, Pierre Chapo, who built most of his stuff in elm, and wanted to riff off of this piece:

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Other than the cylindrical, apron-less legs attached directly into the table top, the key design feature are the splines between the boards on the top.  The major modification for our version was the overall shape, which needed to conform to the dining nook they are constructing in their kitchen, and so will be half-trapezoidal: 60" long and then 30" and 39", respectively, on the ends.

This is not really the sort of piece I would build for myself, but I decided to accept the commission mainly for the opportunity to build with elm, which I had never worked with before.  In addition, despite the simplicity of the design (or maybe precisely because of the simplicity), there are few places to hide or disguise any mistakes, and so it was a chance to test my precision in a couple of areas, particularly in regard to lathe work.

The first challenge was sourcing the material.  I don't know that much about the history, but from what I understand elm's popularity as a furniture wood took a dive after the native population was devastated by Dutch Elm disease in the 70s and 80s, and so it's not something that most lumber yards stock these days.  I called at least a dozen places in the New York area to find out, and the best I could come up with were 4/4 or elm slabs from trees that the New York City Park Service fells in the course of its normal upkeep.  So I ended up having to extend the radius of my search, until I finally came upon Berkshire Products in Western Massachusetts:

http://www.berkshireproducts.com/

It ended up being about 110 mile drive one way, the last 40 of which were on back county roads, but it was totally worth it, as I came away with a haul of beautiful wide quarter- and rift sawn boards all from the same tree

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I've heard that elm moves more than other woods, so the fact that they were sawn this way is a good thing from a long-term stability standpoint, even though that meant we wouldn't get any cathedral grain patterning.  They were priced at 10/4, but you can see by the tape measure that was generous for me.  That left more than enough excess to joint the faces flat with the scrub plane:

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And then rip with the TS75 + panther blade some of the wider, 15" boards down to 12" so they could fit in my planer:

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Planed the boards down to 2 3/16 since the final thickness is going to be 2 1/8". 

I decided to do the spline as a faux-detail, mortising the last few inches of each end with the Domino XL:

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That's when I discovered that the fence on my XL was slightly skewed, leaving that ripple effect in the mortise.  Cleaning that up was actually a nice chance to use the paring chisels I recently got from Blue Spruce, which made it easy to take minute shavings off the mortise walls until they were reasonably flat:

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The greater length of the paring chisels and the flexibility of the thinner steel makes it easier to feel out the flatness you're trying to create.

I used the planer to get the approximate size on the spline stock (which was milled from the offcuts of the wider board rips), and then hand fit each one snugly into the mortise:

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It did a final trim of the boards to width using the TS75 and the 36T blade, which gave a good enough edge for glue up.  The width and number of boards was basically dictated by the shape of the top -- to do the angled side, I needed a board 11 1/2" - 12" wide (39" - 30" = 9" plus 2.5-3" extra to handle the radiused corners of the final design such that the spline remains on the end of the table, and is not rounded out to be revealed on the side).  So after mirroring this on the opposite side of the table, this meant a top made up four boards at 11 1/2" + 8" + 8" + 11 1/2"   The working joinery of the table top was done via 14mm dominoes along the interior edge -- I'm glad I double checked mortise placement prior to glue up though:

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With such heavy boards and dominoes, it was a good thing that I recently got a set of 48" Bessey I-Beam clamps, which deliver a whopping 7000lbs of pressure -- the 2000lbs of the regular parallel clamps would not have cut it I think.  Since I only had a single pair of 48" bow clamps, I also manufactured two sets of cauls from some square steel tubes to keep the boards roughly flat under so much pressure:

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Cleaned up the resulting slab with my rarely used RS2 to keep everything flat:

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Trimmed the slab with the TS75 to the final dimensions with a 12 degree bevel, which is the angle used in the source image.  The splines came out nice and tight:

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Next up: turning the legs and problems with the top.
« Last Edit: February 26, 2019, 09:02 AM by ear3 »
Kapex KS 120 w/UG Cart and Extensions • CXS Set • T18+3 w/Centrotec Installer's Set • PDC 18/4 • TS 75 • TSC 55 • HKC 55 w/250, 420 and 670 FSK rails • Carvex 420 w/Accessory Kit • Domino 500 Set • Domino 700 XL • OF 2200 w/Base Accessory Kit • OF 1400 • OF 1010 • MFK 700 EQ Set • LR 32 • MFS 400 w/2000, 1000, and 700 extensions • Rotex 90 • Rotex 150 • LS 130 • ETS-EC 150/5 • ETS-EC 150/3 • Pro 5 LTD • RTS 400 • RAS 115.04 • RS 2 • HL 850 • Vecturo OS 400 • CT 26 w/BT module • CT Sys w/Long-Life Bag • MFT/3

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Offline Michael Kellough

  • Posts: 3822
Re: Elm table build
« Reply #1 on: February 26, 2019, 09:42 AM »
Looking good! What a great learning experience. I rarely take on challenging projects for myself, instead, accepting a job that requires results that will be difficult to achieve.

Offline Dogberryjr

  • Posts: 117
Re: Elm table build
« Reply #2 on: February 26, 2019, 09:57 AM »
Very handsome. How was the elm to work with? My only experience with elm is splitting it for firewood, and it's incredibly twisty.

Offline deepcreek

  • Posts: 779
    • TimberFire Studio
Re: Elm table build
« Reply #3 on: February 26, 2019, 11:13 AM »
Very nice work!
Joe Adams
TimberFire Studio
Houston, Texas

http://www.facebook.com/timberfire

Offline ear3

  • Posts: 3635
Re: Elm table build
« Reply #4 on: February 26, 2019, 11:53 AM »
Although the table top had glued up flat, after sitting around for a week it had developed a noticeable cup:

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I'm not sure if this was due to the nature of the elm, or because I had removed over a half inch from the original stock in the planer (even though I had planed both sides equally, and had let the boards sit around for almost a week between milling and glue up), but in any case, this was obviously a problem.  I began to attack it with the handplanes, but then I realized I could go much more quickly and accurately with the Woodpeckers slab flattening mill I had just recently received, and hadn't even unboxed yet.

This proved to be the right call, and I was able to mill it flat with minimal waste, ending up with a final thickness of exactly 2".  The slab flattening mill is really smooth and so the whole process goes very quickly once the bed is constructed

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The fact that the top is going to be 2" rather than 2 1/8" is actually not a big deal.  The job was originally spec'ed at 50mm (just under 2") -- exactly like the original -- but we had upped it to 2 1/8 after I reported to the client that the original stock was so thick.  So we are just reverting to the original plan.
 
All this is a good reminder for the future when doing panels this size to let them sit around for a while before moving forward -- it would have been a disaster had I installed the table leg connectors immediately after the glue up.  And now that I have this sort of slab flattening capabilities, it's easy to build in some extra thickness just in case.

To radius the corners I roughed out the shape -- drawn with one of those french curve templates -- with the carvex + angled base, finished it off by hand switching back and forth between rasps and an extra large spokeshave, and then did final smoothing with the RTS400:

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Fortunately I had saved the end cut of the panel so that I could measure how much room I had to play with with that spline.  It only ran 2 1/2" into the panel and so I had to make sure not to cut the corner too much and risk exposing the end of the mortise.

Rounded over the top with a nifty router bit that has a built in 15 degree bevel (I only figured out the angle after I had already cut the 12 degree bevel on the table top, otherwise would have matched them up).  It left a little burning, and shaved off a bit more near the top owing to the difference in angles, but this was easily cleaned up with the RO90 and interface pad:

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With the top now done -- save a final sand -- I installed the connectors for the leg into bottom.  I've inspected an original Chapo table in person to see what kind of connectors he uses for the legs, and was surprised to find that he uses what seem to be fairly cheap hardware -- just those threaded inserts that you see at Home Depot that are installed with a hex wrench, and are held only by the external threads that cut into the hole.  I did not want to risk using something so flimsy, and so thanks to an inquiry I put up on the FOG (http://festoolownersgroup.com/various-woodworking-crafts-topics/extra-large-threaded-inserts/), I got a lot of great suggestions as to possible hardware, and ended up using ones from a Japanese company called Misumi:
https://us.misumi-ec.com/vona2/detail/110300247920/?HissuCode=MRBC12

The advantage is that you can secure them with screws, and at 20mm long, they allow the rod significant purchase when threaded all the way -- yet they still have enough play to compensate for any small deviations in the alignment of the rod.

I mortised out the insert holes directly on the top with the Shaper Origin, using a design that took only a minute or two to sketch on Fusion 360 (which now has a Shaper Origin plug-in):

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I recessed them .5mm just to ensure a flush fit.  I then epoxied and screwed them into the top, after countersinking the screw holes.

The leg design called for 2 3/4" diameter 27" long cylinders, so I had made sure to buy a single 10' long 8" wide board that would allow me to get all the legs from the same stock, and have a few inches to spare on each to chuck up a turned foot in the lathe.

I split the boards down the middle so they could be folded right on the cut line when laminated to minimize any jarring grain transition, and then glued them all up

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I decided to build a jig on my lathe to ensure all the legs would come out the same size, a process that's detailed here: http://festoolownersgroup.com/various-woodworking-crafts-topics/repeatable-cylinder-jig-for-lathe/

Then came what I thought was going to be the trickiest part of the entire build, which was to drill out the end holes for the rods.  I had never tried to drill out a cylinder this long, and so I had a lot of trepidation about how this was going to go.  But it turned out to be pretty easy, particularly since I purchased a spindle steady to hold the dowel stable close to the end being drilled, with the other end chucked up by a foot I turned on the cylinders:

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I had done a test run on another dowel I had made from scrap, wherein I had done the hole in two stages -- first a 3/16" bit then the final 10.2mm bit (the size needed to thread the hole for an M12 rod) -- but I found that starting with the small bit introduced some deflection in the hole.  So for the final run I just did the hole in one go with the 10.2mm bit, and that worked out just fine.  There was one dowel where the hole was slightly out of plumb, but the insert had enough play that it still screwed in flush.

After tapping the holes, I epoxied the rods (80mm length, with approximately 2 1/4" of that nested in the cylinders) -- it was a little difficult to figure out precisely how much epoxy to use, as you can see from the spillover.  I was able to wipe it off and get it out of the threads, and I had sanded in a slight depression to ensure that any excess coating left on the top of the leg would not affect it from fitting flush:

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Next up finishing up the legs and top.
« Last Edit: February 26, 2019, 03:41 PM by ear3 »
Kapex KS 120 w/UG Cart and Extensions • CXS Set • T18+3 w/Centrotec Installer's Set • PDC 18/4 • TS 75 • TSC 55 • HKC 55 w/250, 420 and 670 FSK rails • Carvex 420 w/Accessory Kit • Domino 500 Set • Domino 700 XL • OF 2200 w/Base Accessory Kit • OF 1400 • OF 1010 • MFK 700 EQ Set • LR 32 • MFS 400 w/2000, 1000, and 700 extensions • Rotex 90 • Rotex 150 • LS 130 • ETS-EC 150/5 • ETS-EC 150/3 • Pro 5 LTD • RTS 400 • RAS 115.04 • RS 2 • HL 850 • Vecturo OS 400 • CT 26 w/BT module • CT Sys w/Long-Life Bag • MFT/3

Offline ear3

  • Posts: 3635
Re: Elm table build
« Reply #5 on: February 26, 2019, 02:45 PM »
The moment of truth came to test the fit of the legs with the rods fully set, and was not disappointed:

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So the rest of the build was just adding a few small details to the legs.

First was to mortise out the bottom to install hidden table leg levelers.  This was not a detail of the original, but something I decided to add to help compensate for any issues with the floor and to relieve some of the pressure on the leg inserts when the table is bumped or has to be moved around (the table top is pretty heavy -- close to 100 lbs.).  Used a drill guide that I ordered up from Axminster, which, surprisingly enough, was still the same price even including shipping from England as the Wolfcraft one, and which arrived within the same amount of time.  I also dremeled some finger grips into the metal so that they could be easily adjusted while only lifting the table slightly off the ground.  I remember installing some leveling feet on a pedestal I built last year, on which I hadn't done this, and had a devil of a time trying to make small adjustments because my fat fingers simply couldn't get a grip on the foot to turn it once it had gotten close to flush with the bottom.

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Next was to create the chamfer on the feet, which I did with the spindle sander plus a v-block jig, sanding up to a gauge-marked line:

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Screwed all the legs in, and was pleased with how sturdy the whole assembly is (and with all 4 feet touching the floor).  The table is ready for final hand sanding and finish application.  Client is currently reviewing finish samples -- but we will likely go with an oil (or oil-like) finish like Surfix, Osmo, or Rubio Monocoat.

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« Last Edit: February 26, 2019, 04:52 PM by ear3 »
Kapex KS 120 w/UG Cart and Extensions • CXS Set • T18+3 w/Centrotec Installer's Set • PDC 18/4 • TS 75 • TSC 55 • HKC 55 w/250, 420 and 670 FSK rails • Carvex 420 w/Accessory Kit • Domino 500 Set • Domino 700 XL • OF 2200 w/Base Accessory Kit • OF 1400 • OF 1010 • MFK 700 EQ Set • LR 32 • MFS 400 w/2000, 1000, and 700 extensions • Rotex 90 • Rotex 150 • LS 130 • ETS-EC 150/5 • ETS-EC 150/3 • Pro 5 LTD • RTS 400 • RAS 115.04 • RS 2 • HL 850 • Vecturo OS 400 • CT 26 w/BT module • CT Sys w/Long-Life Bag • MFT/3

Offline ear3

  • Posts: 3635
Re: Elm table build
« Reply #6 on: February 26, 2019, 03:13 PM »
@Dogberryjr No problems except for the cupping that happened on the panel glue-up, which again, I'm unsure whether to attribute to my methods or the wood.

The wood I got was fortunately very straight grained, and the boards were wide enough that I was able to cut away any problem areas that appeared on the edges.  There was a knot and a couple of random holes that had to be filled with epoxy, but nothing that would seem to threaten issues down the road.

One of the random holes was actually a bit of a surprise.  It was just a tiny thing when I did the initial glue-up, but after I had to flatten the slab and took off an additional 3/16ths, it was suddenly revealed that I had uncovered a hidden, embedded nail, I guess from when the tree was much younger.  Digging this out created a slightly larger hole that then required filling:

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Very handsome. How was the elm to work with? My only experience with elm is splitting it for firewood, and it's incredibly twisty.
Kapex KS 120 w/UG Cart and Extensions • CXS Set • T18+3 w/Centrotec Installer's Set • PDC 18/4 • TS 75 • TSC 55 • HKC 55 w/250, 420 and 670 FSK rails • Carvex 420 w/Accessory Kit • Domino 500 Set • Domino 700 XL • OF 2200 w/Base Accessory Kit • OF 1400 • OF 1010 • MFK 700 EQ Set • LR 32 • MFS 400 w/2000, 1000, and 700 extensions • Rotex 90 • Rotex 150 • LS 130 • ETS-EC 150/5 • ETS-EC 150/3 • Pro 5 LTD • RTS 400 • RAS 115.04 • RS 2 • HL 850 • Vecturo OS 400 • CT 26 w/BT module • CT Sys w/Long-Life Bag • MFT/3

Offline Michael Kellough

  • Posts: 3822
Re: Elm table build
« Reply #7 on: February 26, 2019, 03:35 PM »
First off, well done!

Next a couple questions, did you re-surface the bottom (convex side) too to avoid the legs splaying out? Why didn’t you use the lathe to chamfer the feet and make the hole for levelers?

Lastly just my opinion, I’d rather a smaller radius on the top, and I’d use Osmo PolyX.

Offline ear3

  • Posts: 3635
Re: Elm table build
« Reply #8 on: February 26, 2019, 03:57 PM »
Thanks @Michael Kellough !  I only sanded a small depression on the interior of the tops of the legs (I used a 2" diameter bowl sanding drill chuck attachment) -- so the rim is still square to the sides.

Funny that you mentioned the chamfer, because as I was writing it up, I asked myself the same question.  I think the answer is that I wanted to have as much of the base as possible to steady the drill guide when doing the levelers (even if we're talking about just a 1/4-3/8" chamfer), and frankly, I had spent so much time on the legs, it would be just my luck to misfire with the lathe chisel and overchamfer one of them.  Doing it on the spindle sander was a way of moving slowly and deliberately.

I totally agree with you on the corners -- in fact, what you see now is far less than what the architect/designer who is managing the project originally wanted.  I was able to lobby for a more limited radius by virtue of the fact that anything more might risk exposing the spline on  the short end.  But I wish we had rounded them even less. 

First off, well done!

Next a couple questions, did you re-surface the bottom (convex side) too to avoid the legs splaying out? Why didn’t you use the lathe to chamfer the feet and make the hole for levelers?

Lastly just my opinion, I’d rather a smaller radius on the top, and I’d use Osmo PolyX.
« Last Edit: February 26, 2019, 04:50 PM by ear3 »
Kapex KS 120 w/UG Cart and Extensions • CXS Set • T18+3 w/Centrotec Installer's Set • PDC 18/4 • TS 75 • TSC 55 • HKC 55 w/250, 420 and 670 FSK rails • Carvex 420 w/Accessory Kit • Domino 500 Set • Domino 700 XL • OF 2200 w/Base Accessory Kit • OF 1400 • OF 1010 • MFK 700 EQ Set • LR 32 • MFS 400 w/2000, 1000, and 700 extensions • Rotex 90 • Rotex 150 • LS 130 • ETS-EC 150/5 • ETS-EC 150/3 • Pro 5 LTD • RTS 400 • RAS 115.04 • RS 2 • HL 850 • Vecturo OS 400 • CT 26 w/BT module • CT Sys w/Long-Life Bag • MFT/3

Offline tony_sheehan

  • Posts: 117
Re: Elm table build
« Reply #9 on: February 26, 2019, 07:01 PM »
Very nice indeed, Edward: an interesting project. Thanks for sharing!

Offline Michael Kellough

  • Posts: 3822
Re: Elm table build
« Reply #10 on: February 26, 2019, 07:50 PM »
Yes, squarer corners would suit me better but also the top/side edge. None the less a beautiful and unique table.

Online Cheese

  • Posts: 5602
Re: Elm table build
« Reply #11 on: February 26, 2019, 08:48 PM »
Really, really nice job Edward...and thanks for the detailed documentation.

I’ve always taken the position that generally, small radiuses speak modern while larger radiuses speak traditional.  [smile]

Those knots on the top table surface, did you have to stabilize them with epoxy?

Just had to chuckle at some of your photos...they remind me of my projects when there’s limited space and inclement weather. Parts in the garage, parts in the shop downstairs and parts in the living room.  [eek]  Thank God my wife is a patient soul.

FWIW...Dutch Elm disease is still alive and well, the city is still culling out the diseased trees. The only problem is that the ash trees that were planted to replace the elm trees, are now coming down with Emerald ash borer instead.  [crying]   [crying]

Offline ear3

  • Posts: 3635
Re: Elm table build
« Reply #12 on: February 27, 2019, 08:26 AM »
Thanks @Cheese Yeah, downside of having an unheated shop -- my winter carpentry has to take over other spaces, especially during glue ups.  I'm looking forward to getting the table out of my living room -- a few years ago I might have been worried about what my cat might do to it, but fortunately she is now old and/or domesticated enough that she doesn't turn random stuff into scratching posts anymore, save for the carpet under the dining room table, which we gave up on some time ago and now just let her ravage.

I epoxied one knot and a couple of holes, but more for aesthetic reasons than for stability, as they were small enough not to create an ongoing cause for concern.

Really, really nice job Edward...and thanks for the detailed documentation.

I’ve always taken the position that generally, small radiuses speak modern while larger radiuses speak traditional.  [smile]

Those knots on the top table surface, did you have to stabilize them with epoxy?

Just had to chuckle at some of your photos...they remind me of my projects when there’s limited space and inclement weather. Parts in the garage, parts in the shop downstairs and parts in the living room.  [eek]  Thank God my wife is a patient soul.

FWIW...Dutch Elm disease is still alive and well, the city is still culling out the diseased trees. The only problem is that the ash trees that were planted to replace the elm trees, are now coming down with Emerald ash borer instead.  [crying]   [crying]
Kapex KS 120 w/UG Cart and Extensions • CXS Set • T18+3 w/Centrotec Installer's Set • PDC 18/4 • TS 75 • TSC 55 • HKC 55 w/250, 420 and 670 FSK rails • Carvex 420 w/Accessory Kit • Domino 500 Set • Domino 700 XL • OF 2200 w/Base Accessory Kit • OF 1400 • OF 1010 • MFK 700 EQ Set • LR 32 • MFS 400 w/2000, 1000, and 700 extensions • Rotex 90 • Rotex 150 • LS 130 • ETS-EC 150/5 • ETS-EC 150/3 • Pro 5 LTD • RTS 400 • RAS 115.04 • RS 2 • HL 850 • Vecturo OS 400 • CT 26 w/BT module • CT Sys w/Long-Life Bag • MFT/3

Offline travisj

  • Posts: 328
Re: Elm table build
« Reply #13 on: March 09, 2019, 02:55 AM »
Beautiful table and excellent write up.  Thank you for sharing.


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Offline derekcohen

  • Posts: 273
    • In The Woodshop
Re: Elm table build
« Reply #14 on: March 10, 2019, 07:56 PM »
Edward, the table top does not appear to have anything to prevent it cupping. Usually this is reason that legs are joined to a rail (across the end) and the rail to the table top, or there is a breadboard end. What preventative measure have you taken, or do you believe there is no need?

Regards from Perth

Derek