A Square Deal (48)

Thought I might get things moving with the coffee table assembly today, however buttoning up the side table consumed another work day quite easily.


First up – completing the pegging of the breadboard ends onto the table slab. The middle pegs were straightforward enough. The pegs to fix to the hammerhead keys though were double-wedged from each side, so these took a bit more fiddling about. Here I have two pegs inserted at one corner and have started a pair of wedges in one of them:

A view from below:

Things moved along without a hitch – here tapping in the lower wedges:

Another view:

Trimmed and cleaned up:

These double-wedged two sides pegs serve to both lock the breadboard end to the hammerhead key and to sandwich the open mouth of the breadboard around the hammerhead key, resisting any possibility that the mouth could open a slightly at some point down the line.

Another corner, prior to the subsequent step of trimming the end of the hammerhead key:

Another view:

Camera battery was running low, so I was a bit sparing in using it today, hence no photos of the trimmed keys. I can save those pics for a later post.

Then on to the leveler feet. The table top was padded and the table inverted. Then the bottoms of the legs could be mortised for the leveler foot and the t-nut driven into place:

Screwing the leveler foot down into place:


A while later, all four were fitted:

I threw one more pic in of the table back in the upright position with the feet fitted:

The feet will be patinated with the other four feet for the coffee table, which I have yet to receive. You can also see in the above photo that the stretcher pegs were also trimmed off and cleaned up today.

The side table is done except for one minor task I didn’t get to today, and that is fitting new drawer bump stops. I’ll tackle that first thing tomorrow and then on to the coffee table.

All for today – thanks for coming by on your travels. Have you considered checking out post 49?

4 thoughts on “A Square Deal (48)

  1. Chris,

    A truly amazing piece of furniture. It's been a privilege to follow the entire process through your blog.

    Forgive me if I've missed an earlier discussion on it, but could explain the reasons behind the pillow block and dust panel construction (vs a more direct placement of the slab above the apron construction)? It is an interesting feature of the tables, but I haven't been able to find much information on pillow blocks in the context of woodworking.



  2. Greg,

    comment much appreciated, and great question.

    You aren't likely to “find much information on pillow blocks in the context of woodworking” because I am blazing a trail here. I haven't seen it done before either, though I have seen the use of a related architectural motif, the post plinth stone, used on some Chinese canopy beds, so the germ of the idea for me may have started there.

    If you spend time studying Chinese Ming-era furniture, you will learn the importance of the apron and the waist in their tables. Early Ming tables, when wood supplies were more plentiful, had thick aprons. Thick connotes luxury which connotes wealth. Later, when rosewood, etc., became scarcer, one begins to see aprons which are built up out of several sticks of wood, so, still trying to maintain the appearance of a thick apron. The waist is typically a molded profile, a portion recessed in from the apron, and immediately below the top. It helps give a visual separation between the top and the apron.

    With these two tables, as I am using a fairly thick slab top, it would look weird if the supporting apron below were more slender then the top itself. Further, as the apron has a function of constraining the slab in terms of movement, the apron section needs to be stout enough to be effective in that manner.

    However, if I simply made the apron extra thick, an already heavy table starts to become rather too heavy and gets me close to the thickest material I could even source for those parts. In short, a clumsy solution.

    Thinking about the idea of the later Ming tables with their aprons built up of separate pieces, the uppermost of which would form the waist, I got to thinking about similar situations in timber architecture. Where you want to support an eave from a building wall, one way if to stack logs/timbers on top of one another, each one sticking out a little further than the one below it. This uses an enormous amount of wood however, and is subject to a lot of shrinkage and settling issues, so it was superseded in Chinese (and later Japanese) architecture by the means of placing pillow blocks between layers of beams. The pillow block allows for a more economical use of materials, and allows for even air circulation between the now-separated timbers. It also somewhat mitigates the problem of shrinkage, settling, and timber distortion.

    Thinking about that idea helped me see a way to use something similar in this piece – employ a stout section of apron, and then make the waist above consist mostly of negative space – or, in the case of the side table, a deeply recessed dust panel now forms the waist. The pillow blocks at the corners slightly cantilever outward, providing marginally better support for the slab above. I think they look nice too.

    So, the design came about by way of considering past practice in the furniture I love the most, and tied into that my knowledge of Japanese timber carpentry. Pillow blocks seemed like a sound architectural borrowing, and certainly there are many past precedents for using architectural techniques and motifs in furniture in many traditions. I made a shrine lantern several years back which incorporated a tier of pillow blocks, so I was already a fan of them.

    I hope that helps to explain some of the background to this design element.


  3. Thanks for such a thorough answer, Chris. Very informative.

    Do you have any favorite books (or other resources) on Ming-era furniture? Not something I have ever had much exposure to.


  4. Greg,

    there are quite a few books on Chinese Classical furniture, and you should be aware that some of them are a bit pricey. The best of the best would be Wang Shixiang's 'Connoisseurship in Chinese Furniture', a Two-Volume set. His other work, 'Classic Chinese Furniture', is also quite good. There are many others, and I have most of them, or have looked through them. For many westerners, the Gustave Ecke book 'Chinese Domestic Furniture in Photographs and Measured Drawings' is the best known reference, and is a Dover reprint and thus not too expensive. You might want to start there.


Anything to add?