The Colour Purple

The rosewood which Kevin Ley acquired is most likely to be Honduras rosewood (Dalbergia stevenson/7).This particular tree reaches its best development in the coastal region of British Honduras - now Belize - according to the invaluable An Encyclopedia of World Timbers by Titmuss, our copy published by The Technical Press in 1959.

Unlike Its Brazilian rosewood (Dalbergia nigra) cousin, which has heartwood ranging from chocolate to very deep brown, the Honduran variety varies from dull brown to almost purple, thus explaining the two different colours in Ley's possession.


TOP! Scribing the rosewood with a scalpel held at an angle to mark out for inlaying the top

ABOVE! The finished result

Top, shelf

The selected top and shelf boards were, unfortunately, all tangentially sawn, but I felt that the side frames gave plenty of scope to lock the top down to prevent cupping. The shelf, being tenoned in along its entire width, has the same effect.

I don't normally alternate the cupping direction of tangentially sawn boards, finding that this only produces a ripple effect; at least if they are all trying to cup in the same direction they can be braced flat more easily!

The boards are matched for the most pleasing figure and the joining edges planed. The fit of the joining edges is slightly concave, touching at each end with a 0.8mm (14in) gap at the centre. This helps to pull the clamps up tight, and allows for extra shrinkage at the ends when drying out.

To add strength, the joining edges are then slotted for a loose tongue, the slots being stopped 25mm (lin) short of the ends so that the tongue is unseen.

After checking for flatness, PVA glue is applied to the edges, and the top and shelf clamped up and left to set.

"To undercut the inlays slightly, I marked around them with a scalpel held at an angle"


The inlays on the top are 50mm (lin) square and 6mm (%in) thick. To undercut them slightly, I marked around them with a scalpel held at an angle, see photo. To aid this operation, the sides of the inlays are very slightly tapered towards the base.

The majority of the recess waste is removed with a router, set to just under 6mm (%in) depth, leaving the inlay just proud of the surface when fitted. The recess is cut accurately to the edge with a 25mm (lin) chisel, locating it in the scored mark left by the scalpel.

Checking the fit of the inlay in the recess, and adjusting the taper of the sides, helps their location and provides an easy start to driving them home - the hardness of the rosewood also compresses the elm to produce a tight fit.

To avoid a gluejine, PVA is applied just below the top edge of the recesses; a wooden block is placed over the inlays before they are driven home with a mallet.

Once set, they are levelled to the top with a fine-set, sharp smoothing plane. The 100mm (4in) square inlay in the centre of the shelf is fitted in the same way.

Side frame

The grain in the side frame runs from top to bottom, in the same direction as the grain in the table top to which it is tenoned. This allows the sides and top to move in the same direction and by the same amount.

While moisture level changes will result in the overall size of the table changing slightly, the structure should not be affected.

Each outside piece of the side left: Side view showing rosewood panels - note the direction of grain in relation to the top

• 12.5mm deep housing f Inlay in shelf

Rosewood panels

Shoulder on tenon for housing


Loose tongues frame is joined to the centre piece with three short lengths, separated to leave the cut-outs for the panels. The short lengths are spaced to allow the bottom one to be 6mm (Kin) clear of the ground, forming three feet, see diagram.

Panels to take the housings are cut 6mm wide by 6mm deep (!4 by %in), around the cut-out edges. Again, the edge joints are slotted to take loose tongues.


The panels are cut to size, and finished. Left plain rather than being fielded, they are fitted 6mm (!4in) into the side frames.

The side frames are dry-fitted with the panels in place, and adjustments made. PVA glue is applied to the frame edge joints, but not, of course, to the panels. The side frames are clamped, checked for square and flatness, and left to set.


A 16mm (%in) wide by 13mm (Min) deep housing is cut in the sides to take the shelf, leaving a 6mm (%in) shoulder at each end. The tenon on the shelf is formed with a router, and 6mm (J4in) shoulders cut with a tenon saw.

The shelf is assembled dry and adjusted to fit.

A similar housing cut in the underside of the top takes the upper edges of the side frames;




* 6mm clearance for feet above and tenons are formed on the top right: Front, edges of the side frames, and side and top shouldered in the same way as on elevations the shelf. The joints are assembled dry to check the fit.

The shelf and the inside faces of the sides are sanded and finished. To ensure that the tenon drives the glue in to the joint, PVA glue is applied to the top edges all around the housing, and clamps applied. It is checked for square and left to set.

When set, the outside edges of the sides and the underside of the top are finally sanded and finished. Glue is applied to the top of the housing and the sides clamped to it.

After checking for square in all below: oiling directions, the piece is left to set the table before finishing, see panel.


I made several pieces of furniture from my old elm, and this table is, after several years, still giving good service.

* 6mm clearance for feet









Inlay in table top

Inlay in shelf



I made several pieces of furniture from my old elm, and this table is, after several years, still giving good service.

It seems fitting to me that the tree lives on as a piece of furniture, still appreciated but in a different way. ■

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