Ming Inspiration (30)

Here we are at the milestone of 30 posts for this design-build. I’m making a dining table out of bubinga, a piece influenced by a Ming side table from about 1580.

I left off yesterday at the cliffhanging point, midway through the fitting of the central rail to the end aprons. These joints feature tusk tenons, stub tenons on top to resist torsion, and sword tip mitered returns on the top. These joints are the only significant revealed joinery on the entire table, so I have been fussing their fit more than is usual. These type of joints with miters on two surfaces are very easy to spoil the fitting due to an errant over cut, so I am proceeding in a rather plodding fashion. In fact, the complete fitting of these two joints spanned three mornings. Yesterday’s post covered morning one, from a couple of days ago. Today I will complete the description, combining the last two mornings of fiddlin’ around.

Morning two began with the sword tip looking decently close:


“Decently close” that is, if one was only looking at the sword tip. A glance further down the central rails shows that the tusk tenons shoulders are about 0.125″ away. Note that pencil lines on the apron for the miter tip- I left quite a bit of material extra there. Call me paranoid if you like.

Obviously, a fair amount of material could be hacked out of there straight away, so I set up a paring block, shot a bit of camellia oil on, and started paring the miter housing:


That improved the fit at the double miter somewhat, but I was still a fair way off closing the shoulder of the joint:


I pulled it apart again, and then remembered I needed to put a pin mortise into the apron, so I went over to the hollow chisel mortiser and did that. Unusually, the pin, or komi-sen, and mortise in this case are slightly rectangular instead of square:


Back to the fitting. A little paring work later, things were getting closer:


Another bit of paring and the shoulder is within a 32nd of an inch or so:


I then did a little planing down on the apron surface to clear away a slight offset between it and the top surface of the rail:


At the other end of the central rail, the fit was creeping up on where it needed to be as well:


That’s where morning two ended. A lot of people would just push through and keep working on fitting the parts, but I have learned it is better, for me at least, to set aside this exacting sort of work and deal with other stuff for the rest of the day that doesn’t require such focus and patience. It’s a way of taking a break from the intensity. Getting impatient with things and trying to get things done ’cause the clock is ticking sometimes leads to unfortunate mishaps that are generally to be regretted. Been there and done that.

Morning three, which was this morning, began with some slight adjustments to the shoulder lines of the central rails:


If you look closely you can see where I made a pencil mark on the side of the rail indicating the portion of the shoulder that needed a little straightening up.

Now, as things start getting into that 98%+ fitting zone, out come the feeler gauges. I find these gauges tremendously helpful- not only can I check surfaces I can’t really see (like inside the joint where the sloping abutment of the tenon meets the housing), but I can get a very clear idea of where the points of interference are and thereby deal with them bit by bit:


In the picture, I am using a 0.002″ feeler gauge, with the final gauge I use, 0.001″ thick, above. Some woodworkers will scoff at such apparently refined measurements, but I can see the gaps perfectly well – the gauge is simple a measuring tape to tell me what size the gap is. Some prefer to measure based on, oh, plus or minus their thumb thickness, or +/- a 32nd of an inch, etc. Measuring is measuring, and if you’d rather not measure at all and hew everything with a broad axe, then more power to ya of course. I find these feeler gauges a useful tool at times.

I then gave the meeting surfaces a scraping pass of three with a wide chisel. Hopefully I’ll find my card scrapers soon. Here’s the 99.8% mark with the joint on one end of the table:


I think it needs one more very slight paring. The width of the central rail (the top of the ‘T’) is slightly oversize at this point, and will be trimmed back soon enough so the edges meet right at the miter. I’ll save that very last fiddle for tomorrow morning :^)

And here is the other end of that table at a similar point:


Not sure I want to do any more to that one, but I might give it one more going over. Of course when the peg goes in it will be draw-bored a little and that will help squeeze any residual play out of the joint as well.

Let’s have a look now at the through tusk tenons associated to these joints and see how they came out. First one end:


And then the other:


I have to trim them back a little and give them a clean end grain paring, something I will attend to shortly. I was pleased with the way these joints came out, though it took longer than anticipated to get to the finish line.

In tomorrow’s post I’ll take up the tale of the giant’s arm braces once again, so please stay tuned.

Thanks for coming by today. –> on to post 31