A Square Deal

I recently connected with a new client from the west coast who is interesting in commissioning one, or maybe two, pieces of furniture. This person, ‘Client H’ I’ll call him, spent several years living in Japan and thus has had some exposure to Japanese architecture and furnishings. He has a strong liking for Claro Walnut, so that is the medium on this first piece, a square coffee table. Client H has kindly allowed me to blog about the design and the build, so here we are.

With the extended hair pulling that has characterized the sideboard design familiar to regular readers I’m sure- a design which is still in process – I had some apprehensions as I started this design, however things flowed rather well and I felt quite pleased with the initial pass through. Not quite shaken out of my sleeve, but close. Walnut can be obtained in some fairly wide pieces, so I chose to take the tack of designing around a 1.5″ thick slab top. The legs are about 2.5″ square. Overall the table is 38″ square, 19″ tall, a simple 2:1 ratio.

Here are the preliminary views, and I haven’t had any feedback yet from the client so I’m not sure if all this will get tossed or not, but I thought I’d share it all the same.


As you can see, bronze leveling feet are fitted. All solid wood, no fasteners or glue anticipated otherwise in the construction.

A similar view, this time with the Claro clicked ‘on’:


The waist is composed of several ‘pillow block’ like pieces, in simplified form at this stage. Those pieces are shown in a contrasting color, but at this point I’m undecided as to whether to introduce a secondary wood or not. I think the client had some interest in ‘accents’ without ornateness, so this is a step in that direction. Making the waist out of separate pieces is a nod to architecture, allows even air circulation to the top, and generally speaking I like negative spaces in a piece

And a worm’s eye view:

I decided to offset the surfaces of the 3-way mitered rail to leg junction. All pieces are flat-chamfered, giving a faceted look.

Early days yet, so it will be interesting to see what devolves. After months on end of working with super hard abrasive woods, I am really looking forward to digging into some walnut.  Ahh, medium density….

I hope you’ll pop back sometime to see what happens. Thanks for coming by the Carpentry Way. On to post 2.

22 Replies to “A Square Deal”

  1. Okay. I like it, but I would change couple of things: use for the legs a light colored wood; bring the stretchers lower – maybe halfway; think about adding some little but colored inlay at the apron corners and maybe on one corner of the top. Mihai

  2. Mihai,

    first time commenter – good to hear from you!

    I appreciate your suggestions however none of them appeal to me. The stretchers are at there current height so that if a person wishes to sit at the table they can tuck their knees under – a nod to Japanese furniture, and the client mentioned possible occasional use of the piece in that manner.

    I have been thinking about making the 'pillow blocks' a light colored wood, which would be subtle and only seen from unusual angles, however making the legs a different color is too 'loud' for my tastes – I think it would look like the piece was wearing showy leggings. And inlay? Why? The Claro Walnut is a beautiful wood that needs no adornment. I will probably put my maker's mark under the top, but again, not easily seen and not competing for attention with the rest.

    Because figured Claro Walnut is quite stunning all by itself, I'm wanting to keep the form of the piece somewhat quiet. Besides the material used, the joinery is expressed, and the bronze feet add some more interest, so adding more seems like 'less' to me. The essence seems to be to find the place in the design where nothing more can be subtracted, rather than finding another place to add.

    I do appreciate your feedback though!


  3. Chris,
    Looks like a nice piece. A clean form, quietly underwritten by superior joinery.

    I've been missing a good build blog.



  4. Hi Chris,

    this looks really nice (as expected). I have however a little problem understanding how the construction of the top works. AFAIS you added headboards (is that the correct word?) for stabilization and attached them with a mortise&tenon on one side, a pin in the middle and some pinned loose tenon at the other end.

    How will such a construct behave when the solid wood top moves with moisture changes? Even if the pin in the middle rides in an elongated hole internally, the loose tenon at the end (and its, uh, your-favorite-japanese-pin-thingies) at one end might loosen over time as the main wood body expands / shrinks repeatedly over the seasons, unless I'm missing something ?

    Pretty perplexing and intriguing.. 🙂


  5. Chris, nice design. I like the subtlety of many of the features (the cloud lifts especially) I have a question regarding the top. Is it asymmetric? I like the joint featured (some sort of hammerhead bridle tenon) and think I'd use that at each corner with the contrasting insert standing proud. I also really like the bronze feet, I might see if there was some very small bronze detail I could carry to the top perhaps a small kanji or some other delicate inlay

  6. Christian,

    stumbled into a bit of a mystery? Have I overlooked something, or are you missing something?

    All will be revealed in good time. Thanks for noticing the detail!


  7. JMAW,

    yes, in my perversity I've made the breadboard ends on the top asymmetrical, like they are swirling around the top itself.

    Hmm, you're the second person so far to suggest inlay – what's going on – are you all working together? Hah!

    I'll think about it some more, how about that? Food for thought.


  8. Chris – it looks too “clean”. If I were your client I would ask for accentuation of the cloud lift motif and would ask your input re. other detail embellishments. Of course the client has the last say.
    Bruce Mack

  9. B Mack,

    Well, that makes three of you mentioning some sort of embellishment. It's clearly an organized plot. You could go to jail for that you know.

    I'll think about it. As it stands I like the subtle jog up in the stretchers – I think it looks worse if it is more pronounced, but I'll keep looking and pondering.

  10. CHRIS;
    I like the opposite joinery in the corners for contrast and style change. No need for inlay,to much!Can't wait for corner joinery!Will be nice to follow the build soon I hope.

  11. クリス様へ、
    i like the top. i have to say, and of course i am not the client, i would prefer to see you take advantage a design motif a little less used than the “cloud lift”. making the client happy is always the top priority and i look forward to following a good build after being out of the loop for such a long time.

  12. I wasn't sure the asymmetry was intentional or an alternate sketch up joint. Perhaps something asymmetric can be done on the legs as well (just throwing out ideas not that they are good)
    The inlay I'd have in mind would be 1″ in diameter at most so it would be a found item and not a feature.
    I'd vote for keeping the subtlety of the stretchers. Is there a proper name for that hammerhead joint?

  13. Mike,

    are you the former CSG member who was 'campy cycling'? If so, you have been undercover for quite a while – did you fall down a mine shaft? Hah!

    I hope all is well with you and look forward to hearing from you.

    As for the 'cloud lift' – I don't call that jog up in the stretcher a 'cloud lift'. I think the term is kind of goofy actually. I'm more annoyed by the use of the term 'cloud-lift' , and the misuse of the design element (a lot of western attempts place it upside down, for instance) than the actual form itself.

    As mentioned in the post from a couple of years back entitled 'Ming inspiration 2″ – a post you commented on BTW – the term used in Chinese furniture to describe a stretcher that jogs up is luoguocheng (羅鍋棖), which translates directly as “hunchbacked long wooden member”. It's often called a 'humpback stretcher” in translations of Chinese furniture books.

    Aspects relating to clouds in Chinese furniture are primarily carved decorative motifs and have nothing to do with this humpbacked stretcher form. I don't know where the term 'Cloud lift' originates, but someone misunderstood something.

    I've done the jog ups on the stretchers a little differently than they are usually seen, with the curves reversed, so it is a not to a common Chinese pattern on the one hand — main reason I employ it however is to create a visual sense of uplift in the middle of the stretcher run. I am doing in in a very minimized way.


  14. Jeremy – good to know your name and thanks for the comment.

    A hammerhead tenon is termed kama-hozo tsugi' in Japanese, however the breadboard joint I'm using here is my own invention, making use of kama hozo as the basis.


  15. hi chris,

    yes, that's me. i sent you an email a couple days ago about my “disappearance”… short story here, all my accounts had been hacked. check your mail and let me know if you received the email.

    yes, i do prefer the term “hunchback” to “cloud lift” in fact i had to search hard to find the english term for it, which is indeed rather silly. seems to me it got labeled as such sometime during the whole g&g thang. i could be wrong.

    i guess my opinion was that with all the overuse (and misuse) of that element, the table might benefit more from straight stretcher and maybe have a little beefier version of your ming table legs. just thought i'd stir up the pot a bit by throwing in my own thoughts. oh, not sure how to select a profile using the new mail address, it's not google and i don't belong to any social networks… so anonymous will have to do.

    i do look forward to seeing how the project progresses. always a pleasure.


  16. Hi Chris,

    Claro walnut I see here in CA is almost black. I wonder how the ebony adornments end up looking on walnut. Cloud lifts look pretty subtle to me as well. Will be interesting to watch how the design evolves and even more interesting to see the joinery. Hope it will be soon!


  17. Mike,

    sorry, no, I didn't get an email – did you use the address in the 'contact me' portion of the page above and to the right?

    And sorry to hear about all your accounts being hacked – why on earth would anyone want to do that?

    Glad to hear you're alive and well – maybe we'll see you back at the CSG sometime?


  18. Praki,

    thanks for your comment. I'm not set on using ebony for the keys and pegs, in fact I might use lignum vitae or ipé. I've made some slight changes to the design and will share developments in upcoming posts -thanks for your interest!


  19. cool design Chris!
    I look forward to seeing the process unfold. I really like the 3 way miter offset. A very nice touch and detail. I really appreciate and respect these types of details in a design.
    I would stay away from any inlay motif. Figured claro walnut is so beautiful in itself why try to mess with that?
    I have 1 comment on the hammerhead joints on the sides of the top. For me as a woodworker I really like them and appreciate the cool joinery. From another perspective they kind of overpower other elements of the design in my opinion. I am 50/50 with it because it may be they will look a lot more subtle than they do in the sketchup drawing here. All in all though a really sweet joint and design. All the best

  20. Shawn,

    thanks for the feedback. Glad you agree on the inlay, for the same reasons as I put forth above.

    The hammerhead joints will likely look a bit more subtle in the piece as I only colored them black for expediency in this round of sketches, as I did for the pillow blocks under the top. If i had not colored them black but left them white, they would be hard to discern in the drawing.


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