A little more about creating an elliptical plan

Posted October 16, 2014 by D.B. Laney
Categories: Uncategorized


Several folks wrote and said that they were having some difficulty getting their heads around this method.  Well don’t despair.  When I first read about this method, it took me a couple of days for it to sink in.  And, if you don’t have much experience with projective drawing, it’ll take a bit of cogitation.  Of course, at my age, everything takes a long time to sink in.  But it doesn’t necessarily stay “sunk in” for long.

But here’s a little more graphic information that might help.  First off, I elongated the major axis to make the model a little more easily understood.  So remember, A-B is the Minor axis, A-C is the Major axis.  I’ve divided the A-B line into equal segments (with a couple of little “cheater” segments at the ends.


Again, I extend the segments at right angles to the diagonal line and transfer the line measurements from the semi-circle.


I join the dots to create the elliptical line.  If I add this elliptical line to the diagonal line running from A to C, I’ve got a 1/2 plan.  I could use a flexible drawing spline to “fair” the line.  Or if I was working with a wooden plan, I’d simply fair the edge with a fine rasp.


If I want to see a full plan of the ellipse, I simply extend the angled lines and transfer the measurement to the other side.  Again I connect the dots and I see the ellipse in full view.  This is very helpful if I working in scale on a table, as I can quickly determine the appropriate rectangular measurements for the base.


Hope this helps.

Another way to create an elliptical 1/2 (or 1/4) plan

Posted October 15, 2014 by D.B. Laney
Categories: Uncategorized


A true ellipse is, in my opinion, is one of the most beautiful shapes in the universe.  Unlike an oval that is drawn with two mirrored radii (or three in the case of a true “egg” shape), the radii of the ellipse continually change.  It’s incredibly strong shape in structural terms and it’s one of the best shapes for table tops.  There are many ways to draw an ellipse.  But here’s an old method that you don’t often see referred to these days.  It’s simple and can be extraordinarily precise.  This method can also be very helpful if you’re creating domed framing for any type of construction.

First, establish a horizontal base line then raise a vertical line.


Swing a semi-circle with a diameter based on the minor axis of the ellipse.


Next, open the compass to the length of the major axis and strike a point to the base line.


Draw a diagonal line from the base line to the top of the diameter, as shown.  Then divide the vertical line into any number of equal segments.  (Note, the more segments, the more precise the plan will be.)  Now, draw lines, parallel to the base line, from the semi-circle and extend them to the diagonal line.


Extend the lines at right angles to the diagonal line.  (These lines should be longer than the radius of the semi-circle.)


Set your compass to one of the line segment lengths in the semi-circle.


Transfer this measurement to the corresponding line that has been raised from the diagonal line.


It’s difficult to see in the below illustration, but after you have transferred all of the line measurements, you will have, effectively, created a coordinate map.


Connect the dots and, voila, you have a half or quarter plan based on exact measurements.  (Note that I have “thrown in” a couple of extra lines at the top and bottom of the semi-circle, just to create additional coordinate points.)


Again, there are many ways to draw true ellipses.  But I find this method produces the best results for large work and it is considerably more precise that the string and nail method.

Thinking Small

Posted October 4, 2014 by D.B. Laney
Categories: Uncategorized


We humans are fascinated by big stuff; The Great Wall, The Great Pyramid, The Duomo in Florence.  The list goes on.  Big stuff is wonderful.  But consider the opposite for a moment, the small stuff.  Not nanotechnology.  That’s just too small for most of us to understand.  Think small scale.  Think 1 inch equals 1 foot, 1/12th scale.


The scene above could be right out of an early colonial house in New England, probably Connecticut of Massachusetts.  Pewterware, Carver chairs, rag rug, leaded window panels, spinning wheel, child’s chair by the hearth; all remind us of life in early America.

The fact is that if you wear size 12 shoes, they would fill up this entire room.  This is one of the Thorne Miniature Rooms from the Art Institute of Chicago.  Mrs. James Ward Thorne of Chicago engaged master craftsmen (and women) from around the world to construct 68 miniature room interiors between 1932 and 1940.

The architectural detail, decoration and construction of the furnishings and everyday items is absolutely stunning.  The rag rug in the room above is actually braided.  All of the collection can be viewed on line.  But actually seeing them is really incredible.  I remember thinking that Gulliver must have felt this way and I kept waiting for several Lilliputians to enter the scene.

When you begin to examine the work that fine miniaturists produce, it becomes clear that it takes every bit as much skill (maybe more) to produce things that are very small as it does to produce things that are very large.  Perhaps, just a little less time.

If you can get to the Art Institute of Chicago, get there and be amazed.  If you can’t get to Chicago, take the “virtual tour.”  You’ll be very glad that you did.

And remember, as I’ve been telling my wife for years, bigger is not always better.



Draw leaf tables (Dutch Pull Outs, too) – more about how they work

Posted October 4, 2014 by D.B. Laney
Categories: Uncategorized

Tags: , ,

So I’ve been compulsively obsessing about draw leaf tables.  This is one of the problems about getting older.  Once you get something in your mind, you can’t get it out.  Of course, if you want to remember something, you can’t.  But that’s another story and I don’t want to scare off younger readers.

I’ve been trying to find out all I can about Draw Leaf of Dutch Pull Out tables.  Surprisingly, after a lot of years in the business, I’ve never built one.  But they just make such good sense.  There’s a lot of stuff out there on the “Net”.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of pictures of 17th century English and Dutch Masterpieces and their modern variants.  There are videos of guys opening and closing their newest project table with a “snap”.  But information about the actual calculation of runner tapers, lengths, etc. is pretty sparse.

Whenever I’ve had difficulty gathering specific information about practice, I’ve found it useful to just start looking for diagrams and illustrations.  It always seems that if I simply immerse myself in the available, pictorial information, somehow, I wind up understanding what’s going on.  So that’s what I’ve been doing.  This research takes a lot of time.  Lucky me, the retiree.  I thought it might be helpful to share some of the stuff I’ve come up with so far.

A caveat.  If I’m posting information that is sacred, secret or somehow guarded by this country’s laws (or by some other governing agency), I apologize.  Remember, I’m not making a dime here and, if nothing else, you’re getting free publicity.

One of the best illustrations I’ve found is the work of a miniaturist.  So much of the work these guys do is simply incredible:



Here’s a shot of a small table by a very good custom furniture builder:



This is an illustration from a Fine Woodworking project by Tage Frid about a contemporary draw leaf table.  It shows the logic of the tapered runners:

Tage Frid articleA pseudo Elizabethan model from “Modern Cabinet Work” by Wells and Hooper, 1922:

Modern Cabinet Work - Wells and Hooper


From Bill Hylton’s excellent book “Illustrated Cabinetmaking” is an update of Tage Frid’s original project from Fine Woodworking:

Illustrated Cabinetmaking - Bill Hylton


If you’d like to include a draw leaf on your break front or step back, here’s a plan from “Specialized Joinery”, an Algrove Classic Reprint.



Sylvain, a fellow woodworker from Belgium alerted me to the fact that IKEA sells several draw leaf tables and there is an excellent PDF on their website that shows a slightly more modern approach to the mechanism.  http://www.ikea.com/be/fr/assembly_instructions/bjursta-table-extensible__AA-236887-10_pub.PDF

Glen Huey and the fine folks at Popular Woodworking have made available plans for a very nice little draw leaf gaming table, that Glen built a few years back, on 3d Warehouse  https://3dwarehouse.sketchup.com/model.html?id=a2dbd26e8a382509738e43095496b061

And if this isn’t enough information for you, Tommy Mac and his trusty sidekick built a draw leaf pub table during Season 4, eh eh eh eh …Not much on detail, but it’s a good start.

This is not the pub table…





Doing it right, the second time

Posted October 2, 2014 by D.B. Laney
Categories: Uncategorized


Shortly after writing my last post, I decided that the best way to complete the dining table I was working on was to scrap the old top and begin anew.  But this time there was no skimping.  I went out to Sharples and picked up some nice quarter-sawn red oak and jointed up a new top.  It’s an excellent look and is dead flat.  It’s a job handling long stock.  But my friend and workmate, Les, volunteered his assistance and we had it together in no time.  Thank goodness for friends.

After staining, filling and varnishing the table was ready for delivery to Chicago.  Good weather prevailed and the delivery was made without incident.  With the company boards in place, the table is nine feet long.  It will provide plenty of space for any number of uses.



My Grandson and I conferred about a number of things that I might have done differently.  Although, overall, the project seemed to be to his satisfaction.



On our trip home, it dawned on me that I had overlooked one possibility for handling the design and construction of such a large surfaced table.  I might have built it as a “draw leaf” table.  The draw leaf mechanism is a very old design that is seldom seen these days.  It’s simple but requires a little geometric calculation.  In some cases it will nearly double the amount of top surface area.  I’m not sure where I’d put it, but I may have to build one.  Here’s an example:




Of course the design can be very simple or ornate.  The mechanism is the thing.


jr6041a (1)There are a range of possibilities.

Murphy’s law, spring joints and skottbenks

Posted September 15, 2014 by D.B. Laney
Categories: Uncategorized

Tags: ,

Every once in a while, you have a project that “goes South” and then “goes South” over and over again.  Ergo, the reference to Mr. Murphy and his law.  The dining table I’m currently building is just such a project.  The base is well on its way to being finished (another post on glazing is just around the corner).  But when it came time to finish up to top, I was given quite a big surprise.  The glued-up top had “cupped”, significantly, about 5/8″ in 36″, too much for the fasteners to “pull down”.  Jointing and gluing up large panels is, at least in my experience, always a challenge.

Many “old hands” maintain that “springing” a joint is a good thing.  And over the years I’ve found this to be a good practice, as much of the stock (air dried) I use has not, necessarily, achieved theoretical equilibrium.  But it is one thing to spring a joint on 24″ door panel and quite another to spring a joint on a 7′ table top.  It might seem that just a few thousandths of “spring” wouldn’t make much of a difference, geometrically.  But the reality is sort of like saying that all triangles equal 180 degrees, until you lift one of the corners.  Then, the universe begins to fold in on itself.

I began to consider my options.  I certainly did not want to cut the thing apart and re-joint it.  That would be a last choice.  In the past I’ve had some success in straightening pieces by wetting and controlling the drying of two opposing surfaces, albeit smaller pieces.  So, with the help of a friend, I toted the top out into the yard.  I wet the grass, then positioned the top with the cupped side down.  It wasn’t terribly hot but the sun was fairly intense.  I went about my business, determined to check in on the process in several hours.


To my great surprise, within something short of an hour, the rough top appeared to have straightened.  After laying a straight edge across the surface, I felt sure that I had been present as something of a miracle had taken place.  It was dead flat.  Upon raising the top, I realized that there was still a trace of moisture on the “grassy” side.  I pulled some heavy cauls (3″x 4″x 48″) out of the shop and clamped the top to allow the remaining moisture to evaporate.  After several days, I loosened the clamps and with each turn I watched the cup reappear.  So much for that old trick!

As I said earlier, I’ve never had much luck at cutting and re-assembly.  Time for a new top.  (I’ll put the old plain sawn stock to some good purpose.)  I made the decision to do the next top in quarter sawn oak.  Stock movement should be very minimal.  The only significant challenge will be jointing the long stock.  Of course, there are numerous ways to joint long pieces of stock.  You can joint them conventionally on a jointer (If you’re strong and steady or have the well coordinated assistance of an associate).  You can hand plane them.  If you have stock that is already “near straight”, you can “kerf-in” with a saw.  You can use a track-saw on a straight edge.  Or, you can use a skottbenk as Roald Renmaelmo would.  The skottbenk is a jointing (or shooting) bench, unique to Scandinavia, that is mainly used for jointing and/or cutting tongue and groove joints in floor planking.  It seems to me that it might be just “what the Doctor ordered” for anyone wanting to create long joints without the aid of electrically powered appliances.

Take a look at this video of Roald using a skottbenk.  I think you’ll agree that it might have a place in world of table top construction.  Hmm, now that I have some extra room in the shop, since the treadle lathe is gone…

Roald has just put another post on construction of a skottbenk on his blog, skottbenk.wordpress.com.  He and his associates also do extensive research on traditional work benches and tools at hyvelbenk.wordpress.com.  And be sure to check out all of the videos that Roald and the Norsk Folkmuseum have posted on Youtube.  Grab yourself the refreshment of your choice, sit down and start watching.  You’ll probably be surprised how long you can sit in one place.  Just be careful that your legs don’t fall asleep and you collapse upon trying to stand.  Remember the theory of “Unintended Consequence.”



Farewell, old friend

Posted September 14, 2014 by D.B. Laney
Categories: Uncategorized

Tags: ,

In every life there comes a time to cast off most of the material things that we labor to gain and maintain, those possessions that, ultimately, possess us.

Pretty philosophical, right?  Well, the truth of the matter is that I need space.  Anyone who has walked into my little shop in recent months has found it more cramped than ever.  I’ve just got too much stuff in there.  So I decided to take an inventory and get rid of things that I hadn’t used in the last year or items that I possessed in multiples.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that gaining some much needed space would not, necessarily, be that difficult.  If reality could talk, it would have said something like, “Hey!  Dumb Ass, you’ve got three full size lathes here!  Why?  Who needs three lathes in a one man, 400 square foot shop?  What are you thinking?  You’re not thinking!  One of them has to go!”  There it was.  Cold.  Hard.  Reality.  Ugh….

The main lathe is a Nova 16-24-44 that I bought several years ago.  Couldn’t get rid of that.  Then there’s a Powermatic 45 that’s next on the list for restoration.  It’s the lathe I’ve always lusted after.  That one’s staying put.  So.  There it was.  It had to be the Treadle Lathe.  What?  The Treadle Lathe?  The heavy duty, double spring, spring pole lathe that could swing 20″ and center 48″?  That lathe?  The one I built with my own two hands?  That lathe?  Yep.

I’m a great believer in the notion that a true craftsman finds his joy in the process, not the product.  But still, this was my baby.  I was more than a little attached.  But after thinking about it awhile, I decided to call a friend of mine.  This particular friend is a hand tool aficionado, collector, student of woodworking history and a guy who, along with his family and friends, is building a log cabin with hand tools (non-powered).  So I called him, explained the situation and, to my relief, he agreed to “adopt”  the lathe.  There it was, the lathe would have a new home.  It would be well cared for, appreciated and I could visit occasionally. Several days ago we loaded it up into his truck. I suppose the feeling that I had, as the truck pulled out of the drive, was like the guy just gave his dog away (right after the dog had chewed up his new $500.00 Italian loafers).  It was a mixture of emotions.

So now I have desperately needed space that I can use for assembly and finishing.  But it is an unusual feeling.  The shop seems to have lost some of its intimacy.  Hmm?  I wonder… Could there be some other unique project out there? I mean, hey, now I’ve got some room…

cone pulley reeving




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