Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Hammer Beam Low Table . . Finished! (and finished)

Out of the shop, the Hammer Beam tables are finished and cooling their heels in my family room.  I built these as a prototype for a motif I'd like to use on several other pieces.  Overall, I'm quite pleased with the end result and I feel that in my own (very) small way I've advanced the cause of arts-and-crafts furniture.

Once the main construction was worked out, all that was left to do was to add a few details, secure the top to the base and complete the finish.  There isn't much ornamentation on this piece, but I added two little refinements.  

 The first is a chamfer on the curved beam to give a nod to the furniture of Edward Barnsley.

The second is a small triangle of exposed dowel joinery that will affix the top support to the base.  I create a template for hand drilling and then drill without the support in place. After removing the template I slide the support in place, level it, and drill through.  The dowels are installed and trimmed.  Once completed, it gives a nice rustic-yet-refined look.

I secure the top to the base by installing threaded barrel inserts into the top and passing matching brass bolts through the support and into these inserts.  My new method for installing this hardware works as well in oak as it does in walnut.  As this is a cross-grain situation, I expand the slot in support piece to accommodate the bolt as it responds to seasonal movement.

I really like the mission oak finish techniques that Jeff Jewitt writes about at his Homestead Finishing site.  He has step-by-step instructions for a variety of finish colors, and all of the products are available from him online.  I chose the "Fayetteville" finish which is a three-step process -- stain the overall color, glaze to bring out the grain, and seal to protect.  The result is an historically accurate look without the perils of ammonia fuming.

Finishes are always tricky to describe (and photograph!)  Jeff's instructions are quite good, and I found the greatest success when I mixed the gel stain (glaze) at a 2:1 ratio with odorless mineral spirits.  This increased open time and helped with the flow.  I then followed it with a paper towel, also soaked in mineral spirits.  This is really something that has to be done by feel, but once the sealer coat was in place, the tables compared favorably with several arts and crafts pieces I picked up in the UK.

What would I change?  I like the segmented construction of the base "T-Bar", but in future I will create the corbels from one block and secure them with slip tenons.  Which has led me to some serious thoughts about a dedicated machine for this purpose.  The more I work with contemporary designs, the more I like this invisible, flexible joinery system.  And this part of construction (basic joinery) is a bit of a grind with a plunge router.  I'm not sure if I want the portability of a Festool Domino, or the cast-iron brute power of a Laguna slot mortiser -- and with my next big project, a Lutyens bench, I see a lot of slip tenons in my future.

But before that, I'll finish up the Contemporary Shaker Table I started last week.  Cheers!


  1. Oh my! My William Morrisish heart just skipped a beat at those graceful legs...or should that be Stickley? Lovely, Christopher, just lovely.

  2. As a friend of mine would say: "Extra good!" I like the two side by side, and the oak turned out very nice. I am going to visit Jeff Jewitt's site since I use oak frequently.

  3. Tiffin- You are right on both counts! I have a great love for this furniture -- starting with Liberty, the Cotswolds artisans, and the various incarnations of the Stickley factory. And Thanks!

    Jeff- Thanks, oak can be tricky to finish, and plain-sawn oak can be overdone. I think the first picture captures the tone best. Shoot me a note if you get into this type of finish and we can talk about the "stress points."

  4. they look great Chris- nice job and Happy New Year to you-; )

  5. Nicely done Christopher! The finish on the oak is very pleasing.