Big tables, small tables and chairs

Posted by on Aug 29, 2016 in Blog | No Comments
Tables made on Router Skills course

I’ve had an interesting week this week. Last weekend I taught a basic jointing weekend then Monday to Friday I had three people in the workshop on special tuition and  this Saturday it was day five of the chair making course. So I have taught the whole span of my courses from beginner to advanced over the week.

On the jointing weekend four students started with basic planing and sawing techniques then progressed to cutting mortice and tenons and edge jointing to make a small table. We didn’t quite finish the tables, they have to be glued up so I will arrange an additional half day for this.

On Monday we started a week’s special tuition. Robert and Lindsay had been on my beginners four day course back in May and wanted to go on to do the router skills course but by then it was fully booked so I suggested they do it as a five day special tuition. Robert comes all the way down from Aberdeen to my courses. He has some woodworking experience but wanted to get some more in depth understanding of the craft. Lyndsay has less experience and is more or less learning from scratch.

On Monday we looked at some basic router functions and considerations:

  • Choosing a router.
  • Cutter types and selection.
  • Safety issues.
  • Understanding feed direction.
  • Grooving and rebating.
  • Making stopped cuts.
  • Router table techniques.

The rest of the week was based around making a circular occasional table 720mm in diameter. I designed this table specially to involve as many router techniques as possible. Skills involved included:

  • Cutting mortice and tenon with a router.
  • Cross lap jointing.
  • Creating and using jigs for routing.
  • Cutting to a template using a bearing guided cutter.
  • Rounding over with a bearing guided cutter.
  • Using a router trammel for circular and arced work.
  • Setting up and sing a router guide bush

Robert and Lyndsay made good progress, in fact they finished early, going home to Bury and Aberdeen with two very fine tables. This is one of my favourite courses which I really enjoy teaching. Partly because I am pleased with the design of the table I think it’s a nice piece of furniture, but also because I can see students gain in confidence over the five days and leave proud of having created such an attractive piece. For some people the router seems quite threatening and they approach it with fear and dread. Once you understand some basic rules such as feed direction and learn to relax when using the router your confidence grows so it can become one of your most useful tools.

Checking table is square
Lyndsay checking squareness of clamped up table legs.
Students with tables
Lyndsay and Robert with their completed tables.

Neil was also on the special tuition this week. He is a regular on my Tuesday evening class and before that attended a four day beginners course with me. So I have watched him gain in confidence and tackle increasingly complex jobs. For the past few months he has been working on a very large oak table (2.4 x 1.1mtres) which has almost busted my workshop space! We decided that a final four day push would get it finished without it clogging up my workshop.

The table has a 100mm thick top constructed as a long torsion box using 18mm MDF with 5mm thick oak facings. The box was made in two halves. The legs are solid oak mitred at the corners. The joints are reinforced with dominos. The whole lot is pulled together by long M10 threaded rods with nuts sunk in holes in the legs tops.  At the evening classes Neil had made the leg frames and partly constructed the boxes comprising the top. Once the two halves of the top were jointed together the piece would need to be finished quickly otherwise it would be taking up too much workshop space. Hence Neil coming four a four day push to finish it.

I thought it would be a straight forward job to cut the mitre in the top layer horizontally on the panel saw. Then realised it could not be done that way so we had to arrange for it to be cut vertically using various packing pieces to support it. We were quite pleased with the resulting cut from such a Heath Robinson arrangement.

We were also quite surprised at how easily the whole lot went together on final assembly. I was expecting there to be some problems with misalignment of gaps but it turned out not to be the case. We did notice that when you banged the table top the steel rods resonated. So should Neil take to dancing on the table he will have a musical accompaniment.

This has been Neil’s most challenging project so far. Previously on the evening class he has made a chunky oak occasional table and also an interesting zigzag shelf unit. The table has been a bigger project all round both in size and complexity, I think he has risen to the challenge and has a table to be proud of. I have dropped broad hints that perhaps he might like to tackle something a bit smaller in the next evening class session, a jewellery box perhaps. But no, he has plans for a 3 metre long sideboard!

To round off the week on Saturday I had the fourth part of my chair making course. This is my most advanced course and is arranged as a series of one and two day workshop practical seminars with “homework” between. We are coming towards the end of the course and the chairs are developing well. This week we worked on forming the back splat, fitting the seat weave nails and gluing up the frames. The homework will consist of shaping and fitting the back splats, continuing the glue up and applying the soap finish. In the final session in a couple of week’s time we will be weaving the Danish cord seats.

An interesting point that has come out of this week’s courses is a comment from both Robert on the router skills and Mike on chair making. They both said that they have realised from the courses how important it is to have a clear workshop drawing from which you can pick angles, curves and dimensions. I think many woodworkers are so keen to get on that they skip the drawing, but this can lead to difficulties later on. I may revisit this in a later blog.

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Thankyou, Chris.

 

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