Neil’s Origins Table
By Neil from Britain
Added on August 25, 2009
I’m a South African living in Britain watching your American show–interesting how the world works, huh? I really want to share this project with woodworkers because it has proven that I have to think outside of the box. I call it my “Origins” table. Our schooling and everyday life causes the thought process to become rather closed and problem-oriented, rather than free-flowing and conceptual. It is like nothing I have tried before. Even after three months of making, I still wonder how it all came to be.
It began about a year ago with an idea I had for a cabinet. My wife was pregnant and the whole process of birth became a fascination. The idea of male/female, yin-yang, parent and child, etc, which I hope is evident in the design, grew into the idea of using not only opposing woods, but opposing shapes, textures, and types of board/timber. And then the cabinet wanted to become a table that supported a “child” if you will—-the bowl in the middle.
Now what I have to keep reminding myself here is that I was trying my UTMOST best to NOT think about how I was going to make it. I’m sure us woodies are all cursed with this, but it has become so important (like with David Marks’ and furnitology’s) to concentrate on design and the “mindset” of the piece first, then problem-solve the issue of “how?” I made 2 HUGE mistakes and almost gave up but decided to go on. I was already on a tight budget (the veneers for the top alone cost something like $150!!) but I decided that once you pop, you can’t stop.
I found myself using tools I never had before: a round-bottomed spokeshave to finesse the curves, soil and dirt to tarnish the copper, sawdust and cyanoacrylate glue as wood-filler, a round-bottomed surform to finish the base. I had an idea of what I wanted it to look like, but it was “make-it-up-as-you-go” all the time and that was such a refreshing, though often frustrating change. I strongly believe now that it’s not what you know, but rather what you want to learn that counts, and as long as woodworking is respective of the beauty that lies in wood, it will always be good :) It’s the ultimate material and unlike other things, it grows on trees!
Here are some construction details: “Female” consists of 27 layers of 19mm birch plywood–each piece individually routed round and then glued and pressed together. The final shape was eventually achieved after much use of a surform, belt sander, chisels and LOADS of 80 grit sandpaper wrapped around a 1.5 inch dowel. “Male” consists of two halves. Each is two layers of 5mm bendyply veneered with walnut using contact adhesive. Making this was the most difficult part as the two halves had to be joined in a straight line, down a shape that curves in two directions and not only in the middle but where it joins the female too!! It took days of trial and error with a block plane to get that edge down the middle. It’s still not perfect but hey, we all have our limits :) I first made the structure then veneered one side at a time. The compound mitre on the base of the male proved to be challenging too since it does not lie flat on one surface but on an edge.
The cherry piece joining the two was made from a single length for continuity and just cut into smaller angled pieces to achieve the curve. The “foot” that joins the base of the male was done by hand with some chisels and a belt sander. The bowl also came to be using bendyply. Veneers are Maple, Walnut and I think Burr Elm.
Once I got the male and female to join nicely with the cherry and the bowl all fitted, I started on the top. I routed a 3′ diameter piece of 19mm ply and edged it with a 4mm cherry strip. I achieved this using strap-clamps and very straight-grained quartersawn cherry to avoid splitting/snapping. Initially it was to be more of a yin-yang shape on top but the waterdrop shape of the bowl called for a more refined curve. I first laid the burr walnut veneer, then the burr cluster maple, then I routed the groove for the cherry inlay.
The cherry inlay isn’t conventionally laid. Rather than a thin slice of veneer, it consists of 10 layers of cherry veneer laid on edge within the groove! That proved to be a rather testing time. After some hand planing with a SHARP edge, it was flush to the veneer surfaces. I recessed the glass supports into the top and made the template for the glass by tracing on a piece of paper with a pencil (similar to the copper method). I sent it off to the glass-makers and they did a swell job. The glass lid is lifted out using the inch hole.
The copper came by accident due to the fact that I had to cover ugly screws sticking out of the female where I had screwed the ply pieces together. I tried to remove them neatly but it turned ugly, so I decided, as a friend once told me, make a display of your mistakes rather than try to hide them. So I drilled three 65mm holes 3mm deep around the screws, got some 3mm copper plate, and after making a rough paper template, I ground them out and shaped them using a belt-sander on edge with 40 grit paper. I then tarnished them by leaving them outside on the lawn for a few nights and beat and scraped them to create the aged look. I glued them in with PU glue and sanded them with 600 grit.
The finish: After much debate and much research (including the help of The Wood Whisperer) I finally came to a conclusion. Danish Oil is one of the easiest finishes you could ever apply. I’ve done lots of spraying and used varnishes and oils of all shapes and sizes, but since I had been laid off at work, I had no access to the spray-shop and thus needed a really easy no fuss finish. And I must say, it takes a good 4 coats over 4 days to do the job, but it is so easy to wipe on. A rub down with steel wool between coats and then some good-old-fashioned beeswax (2 coats) and some elbow-grease to bring out a bit of a shine. I am really very pleased with the finish.
I must say that it really has been an amazing learning experience and I would not have been able to do it without the advice and general positivity of online shows like TWW – so thanks Marc and friends!