Furniture Master Brad Wolcott shares his fifth and final installment of ‘The Making of the Cascade Table.’ Thank you for following his progress on this project!
Mark Sunday, October 4, on your calendar if you would like to view the ‘Cascade Table’ and ask Brad specific questions about its creation. And . . . if you really love it, it could be yours!
The Cascade Table will be Brad’s silent auction submission at our annual gala at the Sheraton Portsmouth: 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m./Reception & Silent Auction (free & open to the public) followed by Dinner with the Masters and a Live Auction beginning at 5:30 p.m. ($50 per person.)
Cascade Table Part 5: Shellac
There are few things more satisfying in this work than putting on the first coast of finish. Walnut looks grey and dusty when you are preparing it for finish and that first coat of shellac is revealing. Very few pieces leave my shop without shellac being used in the finishing process. It is an all-natural product produced by the lac bug and it has a host of properties that make it an exceptional finish: it is compatible with both oil and water-based hand-applied finishes, it dries almost instantly, it doesn’t blotch, it is easily repairable, and it is easy to apply with a brush, rag or pad. Unlike varnish or lacquer it doesn’t yellow significantly over time and shellac is the gold standard for clarity and depth. Its only big drawback is that it has minimal resistance to high heat and moisture and that makes it unsuitable to be used alone on a table top. When I am finishing a small table I typically use shellac solely on the vertical surfaces and apply two or three coats of a more durable varnish like Waterlox or polyurethane on the top to protect the shellac from moisture. This allows me to bring out the depth and richness of figured woods like the crotch walnut used in this table while incorporating some added protection to the area where a wet glass may be placed.
Cascade Table Part 4: The Hard Line
Moving from machine cut surfaces to more organic hand-shaped ones is a natural step in the evolution of a furniture maker. Hand work is one of the things that distinguishes studio work from factory furniture and thoughtful shaping produces elegant results. One of the concepts that I have been exploring over the last few years is a design element called the “hard line”. While you won’t find a definition for this in the dictionary I define the hard line as a crisp edge that divides two shaped surfaces. When I first became interested in incorporating shaped surfaces into my work my tendency was to round over all the edges. That is the easiest way to shape a piece and in many situations it makes sense but when used inappropriately it can lead to design elements that seem amorphous and unrefined. Incorporating hard lines helps to define and frame each shaped surface and it adds crispness to the design that is lost when the edges are rounded.
I love incorporating clean curves and organic surfaces into the pieces I design, but that kind of shaping is far more time consuming than you might believe. Without the right tools to remove all the waste, shaping can be an arduous process. Over the years I have accumulated a series of tools that take me from rough stock removal to a smooth finished surface in a reasonable amount of time. I have included a picture of some of those tools here.
My basic premise when shaping is that I want to remove 90% of the waste material as quickly as possible so that I can spend the majority of my time using fine tools like spoke shaves and cards scrapers to refine those surfaces. Nothing wears you and your tools down faster than trying to remove an inch of waste material with a spoke shave.
When I need to remove lots of material quickly I start off with a Lancelot carving tool. It is essentially a chain saw blade sandwiched between two steel discs and attached to an angle grinder. I was introduced to this tool by fellow Furniture Master Jon Brooks. Despite its aggressive appearance the Lancelot is actually easy to control and can be used to do surprisingly delicate stock removal. When appropriate, band saws and belt sanders are other ways of removing stock quickly.
After I’m finished with the rough stock removal I use a rasp and coarse cabinetmaker’s file to smooth and refine the surface left by the Lancelot. These tools will take me very close to my finished shape. Once I am finished with that I pull out the spoke shaves and card scrapers to further refine the surface. Sandpaper is the last tool I use. It helps to even things out and ensure that the surface accepts finish in a uniform manner.
Using a progression of tools from aggressive to fine helps me remove waste quickly and focus my time and efforts on that finished surface.
Cascade Table Part 2: Housed Dovetails
When I was working through the design for this table I knew that I wanted the legs to connect directly to the top without the support of an apron. A standard technique in this situation would be to turn a round tenon on the end of each leg and insert it into a mating hole on the bottom of the top. In this case I wanted the legs to flow out of the edges of the top and a standard tenon was not practical. Instead I used a housed dovetail to connect the legs to the top. Much like the Luna joint I posted previously this joint has the benefit of working well without glue. Gravity presses the top down onto the legs and the large dovetail prevents the legs from moving laterally. The broad shoulders on the leg provide good glue surfaces and additional resistance to racking.
Cascade Table, Part 1: Single Board Table
Each year, members of the NH Furniture Masters submit a small item for the silent auction at our annual fall exhibition. The proceeds from this auction help support our educational programs. I treat the creation of my silent auction item as an opportunity to explore new techniques or design ideas, and this year I am doing both with this small, three-legged side table.
The inspiration for the table was an interesting piece of 2” thick crotch walnut that was left over from a previous job. The three legs were cut from one side of the board and the remainder became the top. A series of large cracks on the right side of the board compromised the structural integrity of the piece. Cutting out the cracks helped determine the final shape of the top. Here is a picture of the table in its rough state after the leg joinery was cut.
In my next post, I’ll discuss the housed dovetail joint I used to join the legs to the top.
Over the next several weeks, Furniture Master Brad Wolcott will share step-by-step details of the making of his Cascade Table. We hope you’ll enjoy traveling along on this creative journey with us!