A lightweight table with a marquetry top

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by Carlyle Lynch

34 The Best of Fine Woodworking

From Fine Wixxiworking magazine (September 1987) 66:82-84

Some years ago, Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., was given a collection of antique Chinese export porcelain of such beauty and value that a museum was built to display it. This bequest included several pieces of furniture, among them a pair of small mahogany stands with marquetry tops. The exact age of the stands has not been determined, but similar ones, identified as urn stands, appear in George Hepplewhite's 1794 classic, The Cabinet-Maker & Upholsterer's Guide.

I was eager to tackle a marquetry project, and the curator at the university museum graciously gave me permission to measure the original stands and make the drawing you see on the facing page. Since the stand is a good height to place by an easy chair to rest one's late-afternoon pick-me-up upon, I think it's appropriate to call it a "brandy stand." The maple, mahogany and greenish-color wood (possibly yellow-poplar heartwood) marquetry on the originals is handsome, but you may prefer to create your own design or substitute other woods. Use your imagination to make a pair of these old and unusual stands, given a new name to suit a new use.

Construction notes—Begin with the stand's top, which consists of a substrate covered by the marquetry design. Since solid wood could shrink and swell, damaging the marquetry, I used dimen-sionally stable K-in. birch plywood with the good side facing down, where it will show. Start by cutting out an octagon from a 10%-in. square of the plywood. Use a fine-tooth handsaw and cut close to your lines. Now, draw a 49/s2-in.-dia. circle on the center of the top's top and carry all of the octagon's diagonals through it. These lines will be helpful in aligning the marquetry pieces later. You also need to decide if the mortises for the legs on the underside of the top will be straight or angled. Mark and chop out these mortises before you begin to veneer.

I can't tell how thick the veneer is on the original stands, but it's probably thicker than the commercial veneer available today. 1 cut all my own %>-in.-thick veneer on a tablesaw with a fine-tooth plywood blade projecting through a close-fitting throat plate. You'll need to resaw enough stock (I used maple) to get four 3H-in. squares for the pattern in the center disc, as well as the 24 fan leaves and eight small arabesque figures that surround the center design. Also cut eight (or more, for mistakes) 414-in.-long strips of cherry veneer for the scalloped border. Make them % in. wide to allow for trimming after they're glued in place.

The cherry block is grooved and excavated, left, for the inlay. With the block attached to a faceplate, above, a shoulder is cut on the face to the final diameter of the pattern before a thin disc is cut off. The text below describes a safe tablesaw method, in which the block is left square, not turned round.

The cherry block is grooved and excavated, left, for the inlay. With the block attached to a faceplate, above, a shoulder is cut on the face to the final diameter of the pattern before a thin disc is cut off. The text below describes a safe tablesaw method, in which the block is left square, not turned round.

The decorative marquetry that forms the center of the disc on my stand is made from the four maple veneer squares with the grain running in different directions and with some of the edges hot-sand-scorched to give the design a three-dimensional quality. To cut the central design, use the patch-pad marquetry method (see FWW on Marquetry and Veneer, pp. 32—33). Draw a 2%-in. circle on one square and trace the pattern on it. Now, stack the four squares so their grain runs in different directions like a pinwheel, and use a fine-bladed fret or jewelers' saw to cut through all four layers at once. Hold the blade perfectly vertical throughout. Split the line when sawing the curvaceous center portion, but saw to the outside of the line marking the circle. Cut out the rest of the maple and cherry marquetry pieces, and lay them aside for the time being.

For the background of the center scene and the arabesque border, bandsaw a 5-in. square of 4/4 stock (cherry is a closed-grain wood that cuts clean for inlays). Use short screws to fasten the block to a faceplate and mount it on the lathe. Face the piece flat and smooth, and cut a %-in. deep by 2%-in.-dia. recess in it for the center design (see photo, above left). Next, use a narrow chisel (I ground one to size from a file tang) to cut a 4M-in.-dia. groove Vu in. deep by V20 in. wide for a line of holly inlay (available from Dover Inlay, 234 E. 2nd St., P.O. Box 134, Mineola, N.Y. 11501). After removing the faceplate from the lathe, mark the position of the block on it (so it can be remounted in the same position later) and unscrew the block.

Now, arrange the small arabesque pieces in place and draw around each piece with a needle-sharp pencil. Use a carving gouge and a %-in. chisel to excavate a recess %z in. deep for each arabesque. Then, loosely assemble the four parts of the center design and trim their outer edges to fit into the recess that was cut on the lathe.

In a saucepan on a hot plate, heat a couple of cups of clean white sand (sandbox sand from a building-supply store is fine) and use it to scorch some of the edges of the marquetry pieces, shown on the drawing as shading. This may distort some of the delicate center pieces but, when cool, most of the distortion will disappear as the pieces regain their lost moisture.

When all of the inlays have been fitted, spread yellow glue in the recesses and press the marquetry pieces in place. Press one end of a 14-in. strip of the narrow holly inlay into the circular groove cut earlier with the file tang. Use the face of a hammer to

Drawings: Caflyle Lynch

Fence and stop block

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Fence and stop block

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Mortise Lay-out Template

Blade tilted Miter fence set at 90°

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press the holly into the groove. Work your way around the circumference, and trim the strip to length with a sharp knife.

Now, place a scrap of wood over the freshly glued veneer and clamp the surface evenly. Before the glue dries, remove the clamps, wipe off excess glue and reclamp the piece with wax paper positioned between the marquetry and the clamping block.

Once the glue is dry, reattach the block in its original position on the faceplate and mount it on the lathe. With a parting tool, cut a 14-in.-deep shoulder Vi6 in. outside the holly inlay, and turn the top third of the block's thickness to 4'4 in. in diameter—to avoid ripping out the holly. (Note: This method leaves two-thirds of the block square, and makes the next step—sawing off the inlaid disc-safer and easier than working with a block that has been turned in its entirety, as shown in the top right photo on p. 35.) Now, cut a %2-in.-thick wafer from the face of the block by passing it through a tablesaw set to cut the disc off on the left side of a fine-tooth blade. Make the cut in four passes, rotating the block 90° each time.

After gluing the marquetry disc to the center of the plywood top, you're ready to trim the edges of the fan leaves to fit the center disc on one end and the scalloped border pattern on the other. To aid this part of the fitting job and make smooth, accurate concave curves, I made two sanding drums from cylinders turned on the lathe: one with a 2Vt-in. radius for the center curves, another with a l'^-in. radius for the border curves.

Next, fit each of the eight sets of three fan leaves in the spaces between the diagonal lines drawn earlier. Be sure to number the leaves in order to avoid a mix-up. When the leaves are all trimmed and fitted, lightly scorch their clockwise edges (see shaded areas of drawing on p. 34) with hot sand. Take care not to overdo the scorching-any charring will result in unwanted ridges when the top is leveled. After gluing the leaves and scalloped border in place, trim the edges of the overhanging border strips with a small handplane, and use a hand scraper to level the marquetry.

The eight pieces that form the top's raised rim are cut from a single 40-in. length of stock that has a small bead along its bottom edge (cut with a scratch stock) and a rounded-over top edge. Miter the ends of each piece to 2214° and fit, glue (no nails) and band-clamp them to the plywood top, as well as to each other.

Once the top is completed, construct and assemble the legs and stretchers. Since the legs on my stand are splayed, they join the top at an angle, presenting the dilemma of cutting angled mortises and straight tenons, or vice versa. It's easy enough to cut angled mortises by hand, but I chose to cut angled tenons instead, using the tablesaw jigs shown at left. In either case, the methods illustrated are handy for cutting the angled shoulders.

Before tapering the legs, lay out and cut the mortises for the stretchers and the tenons on the ends of the legs. To lay out the legs, measure from the back side—the one side that will remain untapered. I tapered the legs neatly on the tablesaw using a notched-board tapering jig. Then, I drew a centerline down each leg's front side and planed two 125° chamfers, checking my work with a T-bevel. Although tedious, this made nice-looking legs.

The tenons on the stretchers are cut in the same manner as the ones on the legs, only thinner. Join them with a 90° lap joint where they meet in the center before rounding their top edges.

You can finish the stands any way you like, but the tops should certainly have an alcohol-proof finish—after all, somebody might accidentally knock over a snifter of Courvoisier. □

Carlyle Lynch is a retired designer, cabinetmaker and teacher. He lives in Broadway, Va. More of his drawings are available from Garrett Wade and Woodcraft Supply.

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