Small Queen Anne drop-leaf table (another interesting distraction)

Posted November 19, 2014 by D.B. Laney
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My friend, Les, and I agreed that we both had a lot of unfinished projects and that we’d help one another out in order to complete some of the ones that have remained undone for an inordinate period of time. Woodworking can be a solitary business, so it’s good to work with another craftsman, especially when you work well together.

So, when we sat down to prioritize the work to be completed, we decided (as two, old, retired guys have the privilege of doing) to start an entirely new project.  As I said in a previous post, both boon and bane. We’ll be working on a small, graceful, Queen Anne drop-leaf table.  The top diameter is only 28″.  Cherry will be the species.  The design is straight-forward but does include one somewhat challenging feature. The leaf supports are hinged.  This one will be fun and should get completed in a reasonably short period of time.

It’s been a while since either of us has made this type of support so we decided to do a little practicing. Many hinged supports are made with both sides of the “barrel” being rounded.  But Les had made several tables in the past that leave the “face” side of the “barrel” flat.


This style requires that the back side of the “barrel” be undercut to provide clearance for the “fingers”.



The hinge boards will be glued to backing boards.  This assembly will form the side aprons of the table. Adequate working clearance must be assured with the backing boards, as well.


This method will make for neat and workmanlike supports.  One might, justifiably, ask “if the leaves cover the apron, why all this fuss about workmanship”.  The answer should be clear.  If anyone might find themselves on the floor, perhaps as a result of indulging in too much “Holiday Nog”, they, while looking up, will be very impressed by our attention to detail, a clear indicator of the overall quality of our work… Plus, sometimes it’s just fun to do things because you can.  I mean, why does the dog…

The long, delicate, legs (which, by the way, are amazingly strong when correctly designed) are ready for mortising and the buttressed knee blocks:


This should be one of those projects that gets finished up pretty quickly.  Okay, there may be a few, inevitable delays associated with the Holiday Season, but, really, as long as we don’t get distracted…




Unfinished projects – boon and bane

Posted November 19, 2014 by D.B. Laney
Categories: Uncategorized

Walk into my shop (or almost anyone’s shop) and you’re going to see some projects that are unfinished.  Not just “waiting for paint”, I mean incomplete.  I used to think that was a bad thing, especially when customers called requesting status reports.  But now that I’m my own best customer, the pressure’s off.  I have the luxury of allowing myself to be diverted from time to time.  The biggest problem that this line- up of “works in progress” causes is the consumption of precious space.  That’s the bane part.

The boon is, I’ve always got something to do.  When I’m working on only one project I often find that I have an insufficient block of time to complete a particular task at hand.  So I tend to “doodle” in the notebook or stare at the computer instead of “making chips”.  With multiple projects waiting my attention, I can always find something to do even if I only have twenty or thirty minutes available.  And, without being “under the gun” of delivery dates, if I choose to explore a different technique or design, I have the freedom to do so.

So I’ve stopped beating myself up.  I never have been very concerned about keeping an immaculate shop.  (I hear my Grandfather saying, “cleanliness is next to Godliness, but a clean shop means you’re not making much money.”)  And now, I’m not very concerned about project completion.  I love the actual process of woodworking, much more than the product.  But, most of all, I love being retired.


My elliptical obsession (or why everyone needs a set of trammel points)

Posted November 15, 2014 by D.B. Laney
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I’ll admit it.  I have an obsession.  I’m fascinated by ellipses.  I’m amazed at how many different ways you can create an ellipse.  And most of the regular followers of this blog know that I’ve carried on about the subject, ad nauseum.

I’m just going to throw one more method out there for your consideration.  Then, I promise that I won’t visit this subject matter again…

Most serious woodworkers are familiar with the “string and nails” method of making an ellipse.  It’s not a bad method, but it can be imprecise, as nail placement can be a little off and string can stretch.  In fact this method is many times referred to as the Gardener’s Ellipse.  It seems that elliptical garden beds were quite the rage and this became the preferred method of layout.  However, in less agrarian applications, there is another method that is both simple and very precise.  It does require a set of points and some type of marking device.  Usually these points would be manufactured trammel points, although they can be as simple as two nails.  So, here’s the method:

First, strike perpendicular lines;


Our goal is to create an ellipse with a major axis of 18″ and a minor axis of 12″.  Set the points at half of each axis from the marking device.  In this case half of the minor axis is 6″ and half of the major axis is 9″;


Secure any type of squared guide in one of the quadrants that you’ve drawn;

Carefully begin to rotate the device while keeping the points in contact with the square guide.  (BTW, most folks will refer to two trammel points on a stick as a “beam compass”.  A beam compass, of course, is used for drawing arcs and circles.  But with the addition of a third point, the beam compass becomes a trammel beam (also referred to as a “trammel rod” or simply “trammel”) and can be used to create elliptical lines, something that can’t be done with dividers or wing compasses, hence the layout of “two arc” ovals.  Many old texts show the trammel being used with a cross shaped guide.  This would have been a common device in engineering or layout departments.)

The following series of pictures demonstrates the actual travel of the trammel beam.









After one fourth of the ellipse has been drawn simply position the squared guide in the other quadrants and repeat the process.  The result will be a precise, repeatable ellipse.


Sometimes, things just happen

Posted October 31, 2014 by D.B. Laney
Categories: Uncategorized


I’m not big on working from plans.  There are many reasons why.  But one reason is that frequently I’ll get interested in the process of making a particular feature and then, after watching that feature gather dust for a period of time, I decide to incorporate it into a piece of furniture.  Quite some time ago I made a set of ogee bracket feet, departing a little from the most conventional methods of putting them together.  I secured the feet to a frame and have, quite literally, been tripping over it for…maybe two years.  The frame and feet have been setting next to a window for so long that they have become sun bleached.  (They’ll require a little walnut husk stain to put them in order.)


So, a couple of months ago I decided that the whole kitandkaboodle was either going to be pitched or made into something useful.  This is the beauty of “case on frame” cabinetmaking.  You can make a whole bunch of stuff using standard components, 18th century, mix and match construction.  First it was going to be a tall bookcase.  But it quickly became clear that the feet were so large that any bookcase made with them would be uncomfortably deep.  “Too deep” bookcases are just “not cool”.  Then I weighed the possibility of a sixty inch high chest of drawers.


My wife asked a truly pertinent question, where are we going to put another chest of drawers?  Alright.  Good question.  I mean, we’re at that part of our lives where we’re preoccupied with “lightening our load”.  So what else could I make out of this stuff?  We could certainly use a new TV stand.  Nah, too big.  Well, how about a piece that could used for dining accessories and linens (along with myriad “other stuff”)?  That may be the answer.  Drawers.  Drawers.  But not a high chest.  Okay.  Maybe some kind of commode.  Simple enough.  Cut down the sides.  Couple of rails to hold the thing together “in the dry” and give me a little time to think.


Hmm…three sets of rails, some drawer bearers, got some pine for a ship-lap dust ceiling.  Could do flush drawers with cockbeads or just some easy, “self-stopping” lipped drawers.  Maybe a little stringing here and there.  I mean the possibilities are limitless.  Hey, I could drop a small block V-8 in this puppy, jack up the ass on top of a 456 rear end and, bingo, I’m off to the races!  Well, on further consideration…

Let’s see what it becomes.  If nothing else, we’re entering the “bonfire” season and I know from past experience that walnut burns clean and bright.  But, something tells me that things just might work out.

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.




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