Designing The Semi Eliptical Table

Project Summary: This project was an exploration project.  I explored different shapes and angles, new skills, and mediums through it.  If all worked out well, the aim was to display the table through an art gallery.  I worked on this design and fabrication for over a year between commissioned projects.

Project Location: Denver, Colorado

Design Style: Mountain Contemporary

Finished Portfolio Photos: Bespoke Semi-Elliptical Entry Table

Project Inspiration

ALCHEMIST VESSEL by David J. Marks Wood Turner

I have always been a fan of David Marks wood turnings and metal patination work.  I wanted to incorporate some of the techniques I learned from studying his work into my own furniture.   The Alchemist vessel is one of my favorite pieces of his, so it was the leaping-off point for this project.  It seemed fitting as an Alchemist means a person who practices alchemy, which is a person who transforms and creates something through a magical process. A magical process is what I feel is the process of metal patination.   Watching the colors in the metal develop as the chemicals are applied, and the sunlight helps them react truly does feel magical.

The Metal Patination Process

Silver leaf table top with patina

The metal patination process was a new skill for me to learn, and metal leaf was also forced on the list of things I would have to attempt to master.  I used silver leaf on a plywood substrate for the center to achieve a seemingly smooth transition between the wood and metal.  I had to learn what types of silver leaf were out there and available to understand the best type for my application.  I also had to research what types of adhesives to use and what finish types were best for wood and metal.

Applying the silver leaf seemed tedious at first, but as I got in a groove and became more familiar with how the material moved, I could better manipulate it.  To add some distressed look to the tabletop, I decided to pull on the backing paper as I applied it to create cracks and voids in the silver leaf, allowing the plywood substrate to show through.  Before spreading the glue for the silver leaf, I dyed the plywood a mahogany color to blend with the surrounding wood from which the rest of the table was made.

On a side note, a distressed look doesn’t have to mean that the whole piece is distressed.  The goal of Mountain Contemporary Furniture is to make fine furniture that is well crafted but also accentuates the other materials one might find in nature.  The dark green plate of the silver leaf after patination reminds me of a carpet of dark moss.  To achieve an elegant fine furniture feel to the piece and contain the distressed metal patination, I used automotive pinstriping tape to outline the simi elliptical shape while applying the glue for the silver leaf to stick to. This made a clean break between the plywood substrate and the solid mahogany.

Semi-Elliptical Segmented Ring

Segmented Oval Ring LayoutCreating a segmented ring for a woodturner is pretty straightforward for a basic circular ring.  There are jigs that will help cut a precise angle repeatable to create your circular ring.  However, for this piece, I wanted it to be an elliptical shape, so that added some complexity to it.  First, I had to figure out how big the ellipse was to determine what size each segment needed.  Then each segment on one-quarter of the elips would be at a different angle to create the elips.  The remaining quarters would be mirrored.  Once I had all the segments figured out and cut to size, I needed to find a way to precisely cut the segmented ring radius to match the plywood wood substrate.  This task started off to be a bit daunting, but as high school geometry class came back to me, I was able to calculate the segmented angles as well as the required offset created by the router bit to match the ring and substrate together.

Sculpted Legs

Semi elliptical table, contemporary table

If you look at David’s vessel that I used for inspiration, it was not just the vessel but the stand he created to hold it.  The legs creating the stand are beautifully shaped, and I wanted to incorporate them into the piece.  I went through several iterations to come to the final leg shape. The actual shape is not the same as the legs on the vase stand, but that is one thing I have learned over the years.  Don’t get hung up on matching a particular shape.  Something that looks good in one application can look terrible in another.  Something that looks good on a small scale can look terrible when scaled up.   Projects like this are a great way to train your design eye as you remove material to create the final shape.  You must trust your eye as you work and be willing to throw away a leg that doesn’t look right and start again.  Between the bandsaw and spokeshave, I came to a shape that I felt was a good fit for my table.  Once I had one leg done, I used it as a visual aid to make the other three legs.

Scribing to Fit

Custom Leg carved to fit table top - Custom Furniture

Typically on round tables, the apron of the table has a flat spot hand planed on it so the flat side of the leg can sit tightly to it, and the legs are cut below the tabletop. As someone who struggles to conform to the status queue, I decided it would be a good idea to scribe the sculped leg to the shape of the apron and the tabletop.  The process was another exercise in my quest to master woodworking as a medium and elevated the design to another level.  Yes, it is a subtle detail, but it is not an ordinary detail, so I think it adds to the overall conversation of the piece that the maker took great pride in, not only in his craftsmanship but in his design aesthetics.

Accentuating The Wood Grain

Figured mahogany on table apron

The use of grain patterns can make or break a piece. I have seen many well-crafted pieces over the years that fall short of their potential because of their pour-grain choices.  When I was at the lumber yard picking out wood for this project, I stumbled upon this highly figured-piece of mahogany.  Typically these pieces are snatched up by the first person to see them.  However, this piece was warped, cupped, and curvy in all sorts of ways, so most people discarded it as unusable.  This is a case of that old saying, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”  I put it on my cart and proceeded to finish selecting the rest of the wood for the project.  A lady walked by and saw this curly piece of wood and commented that I might want to put it back and select a different piece, as if I was unaware of its condition.  She clearly only saw its flaws and not its potential.  Once back at the shop, I used some feather boards to force the pieces as flat as I could get it, as I sliced off a thin veneer.

The apron of the table would be shaped using a technique called bent lamination.  This is accomplished by gluing up several thin slices of wood that can easily be bent around a form to create a curved shape.  By using a thin slice of this highly figured wood as the outside face, allowed me to bend it and force it into the shape I needed.  So even though most discarded it as a warped piece of trash, I was able to save it.  Sometimes the prettiest wood is warped or damaged in some way, but if you have some experience and can see a vision past its defects, you can still make use of the wood and most likely celebrate its imperfections.

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