Wednesday 11 July 2018
A console table makes a classy addition to any living room or hall, but add to it the classic wild grain of elm, finished with a traditional French polish, and you have a gorgeous piece of heirloom furniture with real character.
Sometimes it's hard to believe that furniture can be made from rough timber – almost all 50-55mm thick sawn. Although the finished thickness was 40mm, you'll need the extra if the sawing is inaccurate or if there is the slightest warp or twist. I left the timber to acclimatise for well over a month in the workshop. While it settled, I planned the components to be cut from each plank and marked them up with chalk
Eventually, I was ready to start. To prevent any damage to man and machinery, the first thing I did was to remove any labels, pins, screws or staples in the timber
Some of the boards were wider than my modest 255mm planer and some of them had a waney edge, so I had to cut them along their length before I could plane them. The aluminium straightedge clamped to the board is invaluable for jobs like this. Any chalk markings were preserved across the planks
With the planer-thicknesser in its planing configuration, the planks were first planed, cupped side down, to leave a completely flat face. Then, with the flat face against the fence, one side on each plank was planed square
The machine was reconfigured to thicknessing and the planks planed on the other side a millimetre or two at a time. The finished thickness was 40mm, so I went down to 42mm and left the timber to settle for another couple of weeks before finishing off. With the planed edge against the fence, I then cut the timber to width on the table saw. The chalk markings were transferred to other faces so they were not lost. To help it acclimatise further, after the timber was planed I moved it all indoors, and only moved it to the workshop when it was being worked on
The most complicated part of this project was the internal frame for the drawer. It consisted of a set of horizontal and vertical guides, or kickers, all of which were jointed into the back and front rails.
To increase the gluing area, the lower rail was attached to the leg and side with a double mortise and tenon. The lower kickers were jointed into the lower rail and the back with full width mortise and tenons. Although the drawer wasn't terribly heavy, the full width joint offered more support and resisted twist
The vertical drawer guides were mortised into the back and had steps cut to attach to the rails at the front
All mortises cut into the back were routed free hand and then tidied up with a chisel. The mortises in the rails, legs and sides, however, were cut on the mortiser
The top rail was dovetailed into the top of the legs and sides. The dovetail was first cut into the rail and then marked into the leg and side, before being routed out freehand and sharpened up with a chisel. The top kicker mortises were open at the top so the kickers could be dropped in once the top rail had been inserted
The stopped finger groove was routed into the lower rail on the router table. The waste was removed over successive passes by moving the fence back, laying the rail over a core box shaped router cutter, making the pass, and then lifting it off. Marks were made on the fence to know where to lay the rail on and off. This method leaves untidy ends, so a bit of sanding was needed to smooth the groove. The joints into the sides and legs were marked and cut before the glue-up, so the pieces had to be put into clamps when marking up. In hindsight, it might have been easier to do this after they had been glued to the legs
The top was prepared from two lengths of the planed timber butt jointed. After it came out of the clamps, it was flattened on the drum sander then cut to size
The top has a bevel running around all sides. I calculated the angle from the drawing and set the circular saw accordingly. With the top held in the vertical position, a makeshift fence was clamped to it. Two fences are required – one for the short side and one for the long side. I determined the distance between the fence and the cut by making a test cut on a piece of scrap and measuring the distance between the kerf and the edge of the saw
To avoid any tearout, the cuts were made across the top first and then along the length. Any ugly saw marks on the bevel, the sides and ends were planed off. On the ends, to avoid tearout, I planed in towards the centre to produce a fine result
The top was attached with buttons. The glued up legs and central framework were placed onto the inverted top to mark the positions. Holes were drilled and steel screws used to open up the holes to take the softer brass screws that were eventually used
The drawer wasnâ€™t started until the internal framework had been constructed and glued up – it was then that I knew the final dimensions. The construction of a traditional solid timber base was identical to a fielded panel in a door, but in a drawer, the flat side is facing up.
The drawer base was made from a small lump of timber, planed all round and resawn to get two pieces. When resawing planks on the bandsaw, I use a tall homemade fence clamped to the base for support. It was carefully set up square to the base and parallel with the blade before use. The sawn face was replaned and then the pieces were glued up – small biscuits were used here to reinforce the joint and to assist alignment. After the glue had cured, the panel was flattened with a hand plane and cut to size
The edges were reduced on the router table. A panel raiser was used in this process, so the workpiece was slowly raised over multiple passes. When making the passes, always start across the grain and work your way around, ending on a pass along the grain. That way, the final pass will tidy up any tearout. The drawer front and two small adjacent panels were cut from the same plank. This continuity of grain improves the overall look of the finished piece
After the pieces were cut, the position of the half-blind dovetails were marked out, before being cut on the jig. You can, of course, cut them by hand if you so prefer
The drawer sides were cut to size from a separate piece
and dovetailed to fit. The slots for the drawer were cut on the router table. A simple stopped housing joint attached the back of the drawer. I used the bandsaw to notch the two ends of the back piece and the router freehand to remove the bulk of the waste before finishing off with chisels
The drawer construction allowed for the solid panel bottom to expand and contract, by sliding under the back of the drawer. It is held in place with a screw
Legs, backs & sides
The legs were cut to size from the prepared planks. For a consistent grain pattern, the front legs were cut from the same section of the plank and then marked and kept together as a pair. The same was done for the back pair. The sides and back were cut to size and the groove routed into which the buttons would fit.
The legs were jointed to the backs and sides with haunched, double mortise and tenons. The tenons were marked and the shoulders cut on the chop saw. The bandsaw was then used to cut the notches, and a chisel used to tidy up
The central waste was removed with a coping saw
The mortises were altogether more complicated. A jig was made with a removable centre. The size took into account the width of the router bit and the guide bush. It was tested before use on the legs
It was attached to the legs with double-sided tape without the central piece. The waste was removed with a router set at
a shallow setting. The centre piece was then inserted and the router depth changed to its deep setting to remove the deeper waste. Notice the marks on the jig to allow it to be correctly lined up. After removal from the leg, the tape was removed with alcohol – white spirit would do the trick but it tends to leave a greasy residue
The mortises were left with rounded corners, and needed
to be squared off with a nice, sharp chisel. After several uses, the jig centre can become a little loose so to make sure it remained tight, I put a piece of masking tape on it
After the mortises were cut, the recesses for the shelf were marked and cut with a router and a jig – a pair at a time – and then carefully finished off with a chisel
The angles on the front two legs were cut on the bandsaw and then planed flat. Finally, a small chamfer was planed on the ends to prevent any possible splintering
The shelf was cut to size from a single prepared piece. Because it will expand and contract with changes in humidity, it was loosely fitted into the recesses cut in the legs. I didnâ€™t want any gaps appearing when it shrinks, so I cut a notch out of each corner so that it overlapped the legs slightly.
To reduce stress, it is a good idea to plan your glue-up as soon as you can. I had the following sequence mapped out during the design stage!
The legs were glued to the sides. Because clamps were applied only at the top, a couple of scrap pieces of the correct size were temporarily inserted to ensure the legs remained parallel and also, because the joint was off-centre, it was important to make sure the legs didn't twist in under the clamping pressure
The middle internal drawer framework was glued to the back. The top rail and top drawer kickers were left off at this point. All joints were checked with a square
The sides with legs were then glued to the middle, ensuring the loose fitting shelf was correctly oriented, and the top rail and top drawer kickers were inserted
No glue involved here, but part of the sequence – the internal drawer kickers were levelled off with a shoulder plane to ensure smooth running of the drawer
The drawer was assembled, lightly clamped and glued
The two small front panels on either side of the drawer were the final components to be glued in place
The pieces were prepared for finishing before they were glued up. The pieces were planed, then scraped with a cabinet scraper and then sanded, first with 240 grit and then with 320 grit garnet paper.
The pieces were then wiped with
a damp cloth to remove any lingering chalk marks and to raise the grain. When they were dry, they were given another rub down with 320 grit paper.
After assembly, I left any lingering dust to settle in the workshop for a few days before I started applying the finish. I vacuumed the table all over and then wiped off with a tack cloth.
French polish has a limited shelf life, so I freshly prepare what I need. In a jar with a lid, I mix one part of a clear, non-wax, flaked shellac, in two parts denatured alcohol, also known as wash spirit. It takes regular shaking over a few hours before all the shellac has dissolved.
Before the French polish was applied, I gave the table three coats of a shellac-based sanding sealer. These were applied with a polisherâ€™s mop. Between coats, the piece was rubbed down with 400 grit Lubrasil and wiped with a tack cloth. The drawer sides were masked off. The top, drawer and table body were finished
separately. The table was put onto homemade spikes to lift it off the floor.
The polish was then applied with a polisher's rubber – WPP51 shows how one is made. The polish is decanted into a squeezy bottle through a funnel so it can be squirted into the back of the rubber, charging it for use. A further squeezy bottle is required for meths.
The piece was finished in sections, but the sequence is identical. The rubber was opened up and polish squirted into the back. The cloth was twisted tight and the polish applied in straight lines across the section. You know you have the right amount of polish in the rubber if you press the base of the rubber and see a small pool around your fingertip. Returning to the start of the section,
the polish was rubbed in circles quickly moving across the surface. This ensured the polish got into the grain. It was then finished off with straight lines once again. This process is known as 'bodying up' and was repeated three times.
The polish took around 30 minutes to dry between coats.
The final stage is known as 'pulling over' and involves partially melting the top layer of finish and rubbing this into the wood surface. The rubber was charged, this time with meths, and then used in the same way as with the polish.
The top, drawer and table were then left overnight, before being brought indoors and assembled.
For a final layer of protection, I applied a mix of soft beeswax mixed with a hard carnauba. It is sparingly wiped or brushed on, and then left for 30mins to an hour. Finally, it is vigorously rubbed to a sheen. This can be repeated a couple of times.
I don't put too much on at one time as the carnauba will set very hard and will be exceedingly difficult to buff up.