Thursday, October 17, 2013

Live Edge Maple Coffee Table in Progress!

After our trip to Hearne Hardwoods in July, we returned home with two stunning Bigleaf Maple slabs destined to be a long, live edge coffee table. This coffee table is amongst a few tables in the works here at JD Lohr Woodworking that will find their home inside a Vik hotel, perched among the hills of Chile.

As the fall descends upon us in Pennsylvania, we are hard at work making, what were recently, merely slabs into a beautiful coffee table, ideal for many a wine glass to rest upon. But, before I elaborate, I will take a moment to admire mother nature's work. Linda, the lady of the Lohr domain, took a trip to Washington and brought back with her a leaf from a Bigleaf Maple. As someone who is relatively new to the woodworking field, I harbor little-to-no knowledge of trees so this leaf really brought to light how massive the tree that produced these slabs likely was. A leaf as big as your head! Nature is something to be truly appreciated. I'm glad to know that this coffee table will embody the life of it's Bigleaf Maple and allow it to be admired indefinitely.

Planing: The process began with a giant router sled. For slabs as massive as these, we can't exactly rely on our 8" jointer or 24" planer to help us flatten the faces. For that, we have a Lohr-built router sled (which is about the side of a car).  We use a bottom cleaning bit in the router and take several passes, removing thin layers until the entire face is smooth. From there, we have a working face to rest on to duplicate the process on the opposite side ensuring two flat, parallel sides.

Joinery: Then, it was on to some major joinery. Jeff's design called for the two slabs being butt-joined to create one long, fluid table top. But, because this is a Jeff Lohr creation, this table would have no ordinary butt joint; To maintain a natural aesthetic to marry with the live edges, Jeff decided to create a curved joint.

In order to ensure that the curve we cut from the ends of the slabs would join seamlessly, we planned to use template and router with a pattern cutting bit. We first cut the curve into a piece of melamine and shaped it as perfectly as possible. Because the bit will ride along the template, it will replicate the exact shape of the curve in the template and, unfortunately, that means it will duplicate any extraneous bumps or hollows as well. As you can see to the left, we test the fit by holding the seam up to the light to see any gaps or discrepancies so that we can tune them out before we make the cut to the slabs.
From there, the curve was cut and it was onto the floating tenons that would hold everything together. Jeff was quick to create a new, adjustable jig that held the router at 90 degrees and centered on the curved edge while he plunge-cut slots for the tenons to live in.

As you can see, it was delicate and carefully executed process but the end result was 5 floating tenons and a perfect-fit curved joint. We used West System two-part epoxy to hold the tenons in place and ensure the most secure of  joints.

Bark Removal: Because this is a live edge piece, the outside of the table will remain in it's natural, textured state. To see the textured edge however, the bark needs to be removed. If we were to leave the bark in tact, over time it would continue to dry and thus flake and chip off into dust and dirt (which is not ideal for a clean floor).

The first stage of bark removal is to break out all the gouging chisels we can find. Being careful to avoid gouging the wood in the process, we chip away at the bark exposing the natural edge of the slabs. In most cases, the bark breaks away from the wood with ease and gets saved for knot and hole patching. The process is tedious but it provides an unbeatable result. But, the chiseling doesn't do the entire job. There will always be tiny bits that won't break from the edge and for those pieces we take to the sandblaster!
We set the slab(s) up on saw horses outside and take to the edges with a sandblaster. Jeff suited up and blasted away any remaining bark pieces. The result of the sandblaster is ideal because it doesn't leave behind any unwanted marks or scratches that something like a wire brush would create. As you can see to the right, the edge is so beautiful and unique when it is fully exposed.

Progress on the Vina Vik live edge, maple coffee table will continue this week and next. Look for another update soon all about creating, cutting, and setting bones along the curved joint!


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