A few months ago I was asked to produce a set of night stands that would flow with the clients current bedroom set. Their requirements were to shake up the overall design of their current pieces, make the tables bed height, using similar colors/wood and it needed a drawer. Other than those items I was left to my own devices...often the best way to work. I decided to run with with the primary wood being Red Alder, the secondary as Hard Maple and accents of Wenge. It also gave me the chance to use a joint that I had been dying to produce. The Kane Tsugi (pinned miter) is found in Japanese furniture and has proven to be a very striking joint. It's extremely simple and yet extremely complex at the same time. The tables turned out very nicely and have given me a few ideas for future pieces.
The Finished Product
Fast forward a few months and I was asked to produce another piece by the same client to mirror the two tables, but it had to be different. So the question became how to mirror a piece using the same requirements set by the earlier commission and yet still be different enough to stand out on its own. After some head scratching I decided the best piece would be a bow front table. The kicker is that it had to have at least two drawers and not be the size of typical bow front piece.
The design seems to be evolving as I go on. Knowing that the drawer fronts were going to dictate the flow of the piece I decided to start there. I produced a simple arch that was pleasing to the eye and transfered this to a sheet of 3/4" MDF; eventually ending up with a bending form large enough to bend a 40"ish by 8" slab (larger than I need, but large enough to accommodate future pieces). With that out of the way I re-sawed a piece of 8/4 (2" thick) red alder to yield 10 slabs, approximately 3/16" thick, milling them to a final thickness of around 1/8". I then laminated these pieces using a polyurethane glue and clamped them up to the form. Over all I wasn't thrilled with the results. The spring back was greater than I liked and the glue foamed (even though the brand used claimed to be non foaming) leaving a few undesirable after affects. With that failure at hand the project stalled for a few weeks as I searched for a better way to clamp the pieces without damaging the plys.
When I attempted the bending again, my processes were the same except for two key elements. I changed back to standard yellow cabinet glue and used band clamps in association with my bar clamps. The results were much better this round. However as I left the pieces to sit and acclimate, the arcs changed drastically. Needing two pieces it became clear that I would not be able to uses these as I had hoped.
Not wanting to lose anymore time on the project, nor burn through more expensive 8/4 stock I returned to my original pieces. I realized that I would be able to trim out the pieces and achieve my overall goal as well as add a striking difference to the piece.
The past few days has seen me scratching my head on how best to trim the drawer fronts. The only wood in my mind that would complete the look I am after is Wenge. Wenge is the mother of all underhanded, low down, dirty species of wood. I mean this stuff is like dealing with the the mob, give it an inch and you'll be at the bottom of the Hudson with some new concrete shoes. It is extremely dense, dulls cutting tools in no time flat and is one of the most coarse and fine grained woods all in the same piece that is out there. I have had pieces literally explode as I cut through them due to differences in its grain. However for all of its drawbacks, when finished, smoothed and polished it has no other comparison. It finishes to a striking chocolate brown and black mix, with a gorgeous sheen. So the issue became how best to trim the drawers and at the same time flush up the Wenge with the Alder. The easiest and most logical way would be to use a flush cutting bit on the router. BUT having the experience I do with Wenge's dark side this scared me to death. Would the router catch the coarse grain and cause the piece to splinter, sending razor sharp pieces throughout the shop or would it behave?
I don't know whether it was my sensible side or my self preservation kicking in but I decided to pick up some Black Walnut, all on the off chance that I was either A: too afraid to trim the drawers in Wenge or B: too afraid to trim the drawers in Wenge. Off to the lumber supplier I went and brought home a strapping 10 footer of 8/4...at the rock bottom price of $103.00. Wood pricing is beginning to kill me lately.
So overall what direction did I take?
I took the Wenge. My desire to achieve the vision I have in my head of this piece drove me to do it. Thankfully the squaring of the drawer fronts and prepping the Wenge all went very smoothly. I even decided to break up the top drawer into two, effectively breaking up the front of the piece and should result in very nice look. The only problem that I ran into is a slight chip out of the trim piece on the end of one of the drawers. I knew it was a possibility due to its grain structure and even removing 98% of the material using a climb cut on the router wasn't able to keep it from happening. I do think that it will cut out when it comes time to attach the drawer sides. Time will tell.
The next steps are going to be milling up the rest of the table pieces now that I know how big the drawers are going to be. I also need to come up with a plan on what to do with the new slab of Walnut.