Montreat Side Table
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The Montreat Side Table: Part 7 Working With Walnut

There are several firsts in this project – the first time I’ve added modern design elements to a table (the legs); the first time I’ve used tongue and groove joinery with a web frame and the first time I’ve used walnut. Walnut; after decades of woodworking, this week was the first time sweeping walnut’s dark brown sawdust from my shop floor. And it is such a gorgeous wood. The dark brown color has hints of pink and purple and the board I sourced from City Hardwoods was wide, mostly clear and flat.

I’m using walnut as an alternate color for the side and back slats as well as the drawer pull. This is the point in the project where it gets really fun because it’s these 17 slats which brings the most distinction to the table…

Montreat Side Table Final

Once I obtained my beautiful piece of walnut, I quickly went to the Alabama Woodworkers Guild workshop where I got help re-sawing it in half. My bandsaw is still out of service. Fortunately I have several options for bandsaws at the guild’s workshop (by the way, this workshop is woodworking hallowed ground since Chris Schwarz, Bob Lang, Jeff Miller and Mike Pekovich have made things there).

Back in my workshop, I ran the boards through my planer taking off only enough material to clean up the side which had been re-sawn. While the SketchUp model has slats which are 7/16″ thick, in reality, I don’t know how thick they actually are. I simply want slats which are as thick as possible. My main goal is to make them thinner than 3/4″ but thicker than the 1/4″ mortise the slat’s tenon will slide into. Also important, as seen in the image of the table above, some of the slats will have holes for shelf supports since the middle shelf will be adjustable. I want the slats to be thick enough to hold a 1/4″ dowel in place and not fall out.

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Slats: left side grouped together, then back and right.

I cut the slats to rough size (above) and began planning my sequence of cuts to fit the slats in the opening between the lower stretchers and the side/back aprons. I want to approximate a production style process for making the tenons; 17 slats x 2 tenons = 34 tenons. For example, once I have determined the final length of the slats, I’ll want to add a stop to my miter saw and cut all the slats to final length without changing the setup. Same for fitting the tenons. Once I have the required table saw setup to achieve the tenon shoulder cuts, I’ll then need to run all the slats across the table saw without changing the stop on my miter gauge.

I used a cut off as a test slat to determine the final length. To do this, I formed a snug tenon on the lower end of the test slat and held it against the side of the table. I then marked the location of the shoulder cut for the upper tenon. I added the needed length for the upper tenon itself, and made the final cut for the overall length. I then cut all the slats to length. This means I didn’t use a cut list to get the final length for the slats. Rather, I used the actual opening in the side of the table to get the length.

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Test slat, perfect fit.

With the final length worked out, I then had to verify the stop on my table saw miter gauge was positioned correctly to make the shoulder cuts. I want to be able to make the first shoulder cut, then simply flip the slat top to bottom and make an identical shoulder cut. Then for shoulder cuts on the opposite end, I’ll want to flip the slat end for end and make the needed shoulder cuts without moving the stop on the miter gauge.

Using the test slat, I was able to find the precise set up needed to form the tenons. It took only a little adjusting before I got the fit I wanted. I then ran all the slats across the table saw and formed the thickness of all 34 tenons. I then turned to cutting the tenons to width left to right.

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Shoulder cuts at the table saw.

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With miter saw stop in place, more shoulder cuts. This time forming the width of the tenons.

The tenons for the slender slats are sized differently than those for the wide slats, so I determine the appropriate blade height for the slender slats and made the cuts. I then raised the blade to cut the tenons for the wide slats.

With all of the tenons formed, I used my block plane, along with a chisel and rasp to do a little final fitting and rounding over making the tenons match the rounded ends of the mortises. The rough surface on each tenon actually makes removing a small amount of material quick and easy.

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Repeat passes at the table saw leaves a rough surface on the tenons.

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I use my chisel and rasp to round the ends of the tenon.

A key point of this post: Careful planning was needed to maintain the proper sequence of cuts. After having the set up confirmed on my table saw, I couldn’t use my table saw for any other operation. Same for my miter saw.

I have stated before that mortises are the hardest to cut when making a mortise and tenon joint. But after fitting 34 tenons to their mating mortises, I’m not sure I still believe that. I will say that tenons are more fun. Sitting at my awesome workbench with a slat in my front vise, chisel, rasp and block plane at hand; all this made me feel like I was truly doing hand work, which I was. Forming these tenons was very satisfying; a feeling I didn’t get from making the 34 mortises. While I wouldn’t change the design of this table, making all these mortise and tenon joints drove home the fact that this design is complex.

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All the slats fitted, no glue.

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Currently.

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View of back slats.

Next for the Mortreat Side Table: I’m not totally sure what is next. I was thinking that glue-up of all the current parts would be next, but I’ll need to pre-finish the table prior to glue-up. And, I’ve always thought I’d add a slight bit of color to the oak parts making them a little darker. To maintain consistent color, I’ll need to form all the oak parts prior to adding color. That means making the bottom and middle shelf as well as the top. I already have the drawer front cut to rough size. So if I pre-finish the table, glue-up could be a month or so away.

I do know this, I need to run my smoothing plane over all the parts and a couple of the aprons need just a little tenon adjustment. So that will definately be next. Beyond that, I’ll have to give it a some thought.

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During the week, I sell flooring products for The Dixie Group. Weekends, you'll find me in my basement workshop making furniture.

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