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Curly Walnut Dining Table

randall galloway dining table

A few months ago I got an email from a prospective new client in Santa Fe. He had been looking for a new dining table for quite some time and hadn't been able to find anything that he liked. At one point he had gotten as close as having a table delivered to his house to try out but it wasn't working for him, so he sent it back. That's when he thought that it might be worth looking into buying a custom dining table. Having never bought a piece of custom furniture he had no idea how much it would cost or how the process worked. When we talked on the phone I ran him through my design process and asked him a few questions about his vision of the table. That gave me enough information to throw out a ballpark number for him that was within his range. 

The client's dining room is small......and square. He wanted a table that was smallish for day to day use but that would extend for times when he had folks over. After talking about several rectangular table shapes we realized that the reason that they weren't quite right for the space was because of the square room. I did some sketching for him there at the first meeting and we came up with a good starting point for the design. 

top template

When I went back to his house for our second design meeting I brought show-n-tell. I find that it really helps people to visualize the piece of custom furniture in their space if they have something full size to look at. A piece of cardboard that is the size and shape of the table top that you are talking about works well. You can put it on top of the client's current table and it gives them an idea of how the new piece will fit in their house. 

I usually save all of the templates that I make for laying out legs on my projects. That way I have a library of styles to show to my new clients. Sometimes I use the same legs on new pieces. 

leg templates hung

In this case I had 3 leg templates that were variations on the same theme - a leg that was curved outward and curved on all four faces. I brought those templates to the design meeting along with the cardboard top. 

leg templates 3 choices

As we worked through the design details I did some modifications of the cardboard top until we had it where we liked it. A leg was picked, a species selected, a deposit was secured, a delivery date worked out and I was off and running. 

I didn't need a full set of drawings to build this table. I did need to take a look at how the joinery was going to work out with the curves in the legs so I made a quick plan drawing of the rails and leg tops. The table top was going to be curved on all four sides and the rails were going to curve to follow the top. 

I do a lot of curved work in my shop. After years of laying out marginally accurate curves with bent batons and router jigs I decided a few years ago to hire a local shop with a CNC to make me a series of long, perfect, curved jigs. They are all 8' long and 6" wide. The first one is cut on an arc that deflects 1" over 8', the second one 2", etc, all the way up to one that bows 10" over 8'. The concave side of each jig is cut with the same radius as the convex side. That way I can use the jig to flush cut two mating curved pieces quickly and accurately. That little feature was going to come in handy on this project. Since most of the cost of having the curved templates made was in programing the robot I went ahead and had the guy make me two sets. That way if I ever damaged one I could use the second one to flush cut a new template. I keep all of these hanging from the trusses under the loft in my shop. 

curve templates hung

I had picked a curve from those templates to make the cardboard top for the client so when it came time to do my working drawing I could just go back to the 'curve library' and pick the one I needed to work from. 

curve template

curve template on drawing

With a leg template already chosen and a drawing that showed me my tenon location I was ready to start making my curved legs. The first step was to lay the leg template on my 12/4 walnut stock and find out where I needed to take the legs from to avoid any knots, sap wood or other defect. 

laying out legs

With that worked out I went ahead and bucked up my leg blanks from the wide planks and then laid out the cut lines on the blanks with the leg templates. Since the legs curve on all sides you need to draw the cut lines on two faces of the blank. With this done it was time to lay out and cut the mortises while the blanks were still square. I took the mortise location from my plan drawing and transfered it to the leg blanks with a marking gauge. 

mortising 1

Then I brought my leg blanks to my hollow chisel mortiser and cut all of the mortises. 

mortising 2

mortising 3

 With the mortises done I could turn my attention to cutting the tenons on the rails. This is done while the rails are square. Since the tenons were getting cut on a thick piece of walnut I roughed them out on the bandsaw first. 

tenoning 1

 Then I set up my shaper with 2 rabbeting heads and a precision spacer between them to cut the tenons. 

 tenoning 2

 tenoning 3

 My Bridgewood shaper has an integral sliding table that you put a miter gauge on for this kind of endgrain work. It has a very positive holddown on it. Without the sliding table and the holddown this method of tenoning would be terrifying. With it this becomes a very safe, fast and extremely accurate way of cutting tenons. I had the spacers made to give me tenons that matched my hollow chisel mortiser chisels. This way all I have to do is put in the right spacer for the size tenon I need, cut all my tenons and I know that they will fit perfectly. There is obviously a sizeable investment in having the rabbeting heads and the spacers made - not to mention buying the shaper - but over the years the time saved has more than payed off my investment. Doing the set up and cutting the tenons probably took me a half hour. If you've done much tenoning with any other system you know that this is fast. 

tenoning 4

After cutting the tenons on the shaper I took the rails to the table saw and cut the shoulders on the haunches. 

tenoning 5

Then I set a fence on the bandsaw and cut off the haunches. 

tenoning 6

tenoning 7

tenoning 8

With that taken care of I could go ahead and begin bandsawing the curved legs. The curved rails meet the legs at an angle. I took that angle from my drawing with an angle gauge and transfered it to the top of the legs. 

shaping legs 1

shaping legs 2

This was the angle that the bandsaw needed to be set to for cutting the outside faces of the legs. 

shaping legs 3

With the bandsaw set up I could cut the first side of all of the legs. 

shaping legs 4

shaping legs 5

Once you cut off that face you have also cut off the lay out lines that you need to cut the next face of the legs. To get around that you need to re-attach the off-cut to the leg. I find that a dab of hot melt glue at each end works great for this. It doesn't take much glue to do this. Just a drop really. If you use too much it becomes very difficult to separate these parts later. 

 shaping legs 6

 With the leg blank back together you can cut the other outside face. 

shaping legs 9

 With both of the outside faces cut and then glued back on I could then set the bandsaw back to 90 degrees for the cuts on the inside faces. These are again cut and glued back on. This keeps the blank nice and square while you are bandsawing each cut. Once all four faces had been cut I could pull off all of the scrap pieces and expose the leg in it's final shape. 

shaping legs 10

shaping legs 11

shaping legs 12

 To remove the bandsaw marks I quickly worked the legs with a curved sole hand plane and then sanded them. 

 shaping legs 14

Once the legs were shaped and sanded I dry fit them to the rails and marked the angle for the cut on the face of the rails. As you can see this isn't a plumb cut. It has to follow the curve of the leg. 

shaping rails 1

After disassembling the assembly I used my angle gauge to take the angle off of the rail and then set up my bandsaw for the rail face cut. This cut is set at an angle and it cuts the long curve across the face of the rail. 

shaping rails 2

shaping rails 3

shaping rails 4

The arched cut on the bottom of the rails is then laid out and bandsawed. Here I'm using an old curved template that I saved from another job. It's made from 1/4" material and it bends nicely over the bowed rail faces. 

shaping rails 5

shaping rails 6

Along with the arched cut on the bottom of the rails, there is also an arching bevel detail. I roughed that out on the bandsaw and then cleaned it up with a spoke shave. 

shaping rails 7

With the arched bevel finished I dry fitted the rails to the legs again and laid out a little detail that I like on the legs. This is a curved, hard edge that gets shaped onto the legs with a rasp. It gives a shadow line that continues the arched bevel line from the rail to the leg. 

shaping rails 8

Here's the legs after the shadow line is finished and the legs are sanded and detailed. Notice that the shadow line runs all the way down the leg.

shaping rails 9

shaping rails 10

On the second day I glued up the base and began the veneer work on the top. 

glueing base 1

glueing base 2

Since this is an extension table I cut the side rails in half before I glued up the base. Starting with full length rails and then cutting them before glue up ensured that the grain would line up across the face of the rails on the finished piece. 

glueing base 3

After the client decided on walnut for the table, I proposed curly walnut veneers for the top. I found a really nice flitch that was 12" wide and had some crazy good curl. I was going to lay it up on MDF since it is so flat and stable, but before I could lay on the veneers I needed to put some solid wood banding on the sides of the leafs and the edges that were going to show when the table was extended.

top 1

After glueing these on I trimmed them flush with my lipping planer. 

top 2

With that taken care of I could turn my attention to the veneers. Pretty nice stuff, eh?

top 3

The first order of business was to lay them out, decide where to cut my pieces from and then cross cut them to length with a very sharp Exacto knife.

top 4

I put veneer tape on all of the edges to keep it from splintering while I was working with it. 

top 5

 The folks who really do a lot of veneer work have dedicated machines that are made to snip veneers with a big knife. I've never seen one before and I don't have any idea how they work. Cutting veneer in a 'normal' woodshop takes a little creativity. I've tried cutting veneer with a veneer hand saw and have had mixed luck. I know that some people clamp cauls over the veneer and flush route it. I didn't think that this curly stuff would love that. Instead I made a sliding 'boat' with cauls screwed down over a stack of all of my veneers. I then ran that against the table saw fence with a good triple chip blade and cut a nice straight line on the stack. Without taking the veneers off of the boat I turned it around, moved the fence over a little and, with the freshly cut edge against the fence, cut the second side of the stack of veneer. I got perfect glue joints on all of the leafs of face as well as backer veneer that way. 

top 6

 top 7

 top 8

 top 9

 Now that all of the veneer was sized and nice and straight I could go ahead and tape up the different faces. Since this is an extension table there were two faces for the top. Then there were the three leafs that were 12" wide. I could get them each from one sheet of the veneer which finished at 12". 

 top 11

 You can see the two faces that made up the two halves of the top. Notice how the veneer is slip matched. The leafs also got mating, slip matched veneers on them. If that veneer doesn't get you at least a little hot and bothered you're probably reading the wrong blog. 

top 12

When I glue veneer down I like to use epoxy. It gives you lots of open time (something we're short on here in the desert if we're using water based glue), it sands really well and it doesn't make the veneer curl like water based glues do. I like the West System stuff. They sell it with pumps that squirt out measured amounts of resin and hardener that make mixing a breeze. Once I get both surfaces buttered up with glue I very carefully use veneer tape to hold the veneer to the substrate. I actually run a strip of tape all the way around the veneer so that it doesn't want to slide around while the pressure comes onto it in the vacuum bag. Don't ask how I learned that that was a good idea.......

top 13

With the veneers taped on both the top and bottom of the substrates I slide the face into a garbage bag and carefully fold it around the face. When this glue up goes into the vacuum bag it will be under enough pressure for the epoxy to be pushed up through the veneer's pores and it will wet the surface. If that is just sitting in the veneer bag it will be glued to the table as well as the bag. Once upon a time I learned that one the hard way too. 

top 14

Here it is coming out of the garbage bag after a day in the vacuum bag. I don't know why but the plastic bag releases perfectly from all of the epoxy that has squeezed out onto the face. I'll give this a quick sanding to take off most of the glue before moving on but I don't sand it right down to bare wood. This leaves the veneer with a little protection while I work on the rest of the project. I'll do the finish sanding as one of the last things before it goes off for finish. 

top 15

Once all of the veneered parts were out of the vacuum bag and rough sanded I jointed, ripped and cut the panels square on my panel saw. 

top 16

top 17

top 18

Since the top was going to have curved sides I wanted to index the two halves together before I started cutting those curves. That way the edges would mate on the finished table. The easiest way to do this was to just put in the table top pins that were going to hold the finished table in registration. Those pins have to line up really well or they want to bind. To help to ensure that all the pins holes were drilled in exactly the same place I made a quick, two sided jig that only indexed from one end. I could clamp the jig to the edge of each leaf of the table and drill through it and into the leaf. I drilled the guide holes on the drill press to keep everything nice and square. 

top 19

Here's a picture of the drilling jig on a stack of all of the leafs. 

top 20

Drilling the edge of a leaf with the pin drilling jig. 

top 21

With the two halves of the top registered together with the top pins I could lay my curve template on the top and trace the side curves. I then rough cut the curves on the bandsaw. 

top 23

top 24

Here it is with the sides rough cut. 

top 25

The next step is to use the curve template to flush route the edges to a flawless curve. 

top 26

This is where the CNC made curve templates really shine. The top is getting a solid wood border that is curved to the same radius as the curve on the veneered sheets. They have to mate perfectly. Since the inside and outside edges of the template are the same radius you can flush cut against them to make mating curves. The photos below show me using the concave side of the template to shape the solid wood border. 

top 26-2

top 27

Here the nosing is screwed to the curve template and I'm flush cutting it with my Sheelix cutter on the shaper. 

top 28

After the nosings were cut to the proper curve I marked the locations of the miters. 

top 29

With the straight outside edge of the nosings against the miter fence I used my panel saw to cut really nice miters. 

top 30

top 31-2

With all the nosings fitted and mitered I used my Domino to locate the nosings flush to the top while I glued them on. 

top 32

top 33

After the epoxy cured I gave it a quick sand to knock down the excess and then I flush routed the outside using the curve template again. 

top 34

The next step was to use my trim router with a fence to route a 1/16" groove for a string inlay between the solids and the veneer. To be sure that the inlay lined up with itself even when the leafs were in, I put them in while I was doing the inlay routing. 

top 35

After routing the inlay groove I squeezed in a tiny amount of glue and pressed in the inlay strip. I sanded it flush to the top when I was done. 

top 36

top 37

top 38

With the top done I screwed the wood extension hardware to the base, mounted the top to it and made sure that everything operated smoothly before disassembling it all to go out for finish. 

randall galloway top detail 1

randall galloway extended 1

randall galloway table extended 2

You can see more of my custom dining tables here.