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An Architect’s Table in New York

October 17, 2017


I received a letter from David in New York last week and wanted to share it with you.

David recently completed work on an Architect’s Table, following the plans in my book,  The Unplugged Woodshop.

You did a fantastic job on the table David! I know you’ll get a lot of great use out of it. I especially loved seeing your final photo of the table with the Manhattan skyline in the background.

Thanks again for sharing your story with us, all the best~


Arcjitect’s Table. NYC
(Photo by Michael McWeeney / September 22, 2017)

This was a fun build.  The architects table had caught my eye from the very beginning.  It spoke to all the places in me that craved a space to be creative and forge new designs.  A place where my process could spark and ignite.  Of course I have always been able to use any flat surface, the kitchen island or even just a sketch book in my lap….  This was somehow different though.  I could picture Benjamin Franklin or some other inventor genius of days past sitting at this type of table laying out their visions.  You get the idea – I liked it…  This was not my first project of Tom’s.  The first was the saw bench.  I also built the tool chest, the folding chair, and a bunch of others.  With each project, new skills are developed.  This might have been a very difficult first project but in my progression it wasn’t too far of a stretch.  With that being said it took me about a month of pretty consistent work to complete the project.  This may seem like a long time to some to work on one particular thing but to me was about right for what was involved.

The table is designed with a variety of joints.  Double tenons attaching the legs to the feet.  Angled tenons on the braces into the feet and legs.  Digging out angled mortises in the mating pieces.  Laying out, cutting and joining curved pieces (the stays).  Laminating the tabletop – I used curly maple.  I had originally bought hard maple and then realized it wasn’t the grain pattern like Tom had in his project and went back to the lumberyard and exchanged my purchase.  As a woodworker I sometimes “set myself up” with the premise that I’m supposed to intuitively know and understand all the steps in the process which I do not.  So from time to time I make some missteps and need to correct as I go.  Like getting the right lumber.  There are also dovetailed cross stretchers attaching the stays.  I enjoyed this because it gave me the opportunity to practice a fairly newly developed skill and make the frame rock solid.  The dovetails in this area would actually not be visible as they form the stretchers that the tabletop rests upon.

I live in a very small apartment in Manhattan so I do not work at home.  I started out this project in one work space where I have a friend that gives me an area of his basement where I put my bench and can work.  I don’t use power in this space because there are so many stored items – I don’t want to cover everything in dust.  So this is my unplugged shop for the most part.  I started the table here.  I cut out all the parts for the base here and began the dimensioning process.  Along the way I found a makerspace a little closer to where I was living in NYC – The Staten Island Makerspace to be specific.  Now I had access to machinery and my personal style is a hybrid of using both hand tools and machinery.  So I did in fact run my parts through the jointer and planer.  The hand planes do come out but the machines and electricity help save my back and knees which are a little beat up these days.  I did cut the curly maple for the top on the table saw as well.  With that being said, hand tools are integral in this type of project and all of the joints are cut with hand tools (unplugged.)  The mortises are all made by handwork with a mallet and chisel as well.

I am always looking for tips and tricks to make my woodworking projects more efficient and successful.  The best trick I really offer is to be patient with yourself.  Patient with my timetable, and my desire to finish the task at hand.  This work truly is so enjoyable, yet I have the tendency to rush through to get to the next thing.  Tom always says, “good work takes time.”  So true yet counter to my nature that wants to rush and get the thing done.  So even though this project did take some time I tended to rush through stages of it.  Funny that I’m building a drafting table yet did not draw out full size plans for this project.  Having done that would have made life easier.  It is a luxury to be able to lay a part down on top of a drawing and see if they match up.  It enables me to know the exact size of a piece and the joint that will become a part of it.  I think making the braces for this piece would have benefited from those drawings.  Instead there was a bit of “guess work.”  Suffice to say i did in fact pull it off “BUT” my joints were not quite a perfect fit.  I strongly suspect I could have been very sure about my angled tenons would I have had full sized drawings.  Now I can see some gaps in my joinery.  The casual observer will never see them but I do.  They scream my name :  ) and I know fellow woodworkers will understand.  The full sized plans also give me a much better sense of the project and how I’m going to build it.  Something about drawing to scale also helps me avoid design flaws which I somehow overlook when I can’t see the object to scale.

Anyway as usual part of my woodworking involves managing my expectations.  The first expectation I have to let go of is perfection.  Obviously a good standard to aim for but really almost impossible to obtain.  We all want to do good work.  for me there has to come a point where something is good enough.  I have to be willing to manage what I am okay with accepting.  In the drafting table build I had every intention of making the traditional breadboard ends with tenons and tongue and groove.  To be very honest, when i got to this point I was just ready to wrap up this piece.  I went with biscuit joints and called it a day.   Most people again will never know.  I wanted to do it the traditional way because I wanted to develop skills and learn.  I was just kind of out of steam.  The way I see it – no harm no foul.  Also I skimped on trimming the hard edges on the base assembly.  It would have been easy enough to round off those front pieces with a rasp but I was just kind of done mentally.  Maybe I’ll go back and take care of that eventually. I love the table and in fact replaced my old two-top kitchen table with it.  I now have a place to draw, a workspace for my laptop, bill paying and eating meals.  I love the table and truly appreciate Tom’s fantastic design.  Oh I actually do have a real tip!  The curly maple is super hard.  I attempted to fasten it to the cross stretchers with big box cheap fasteners.  Even with pilot holes the shanks just break in half.  This was frustrating and I ended up music metal screws instead of waiting for quality wood screws to come in the mail.  So there it is – get quality fasteners so anyone who’s in the area won’t have to hear you carrying on and swearing.  Cheers and good luck with all of your projects!

Loved the project – Thanks again Tom!

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