Frame and Hall Table Classes

Article - January 27, 2010

I recently returned from seven awesome (and tiring) days of teaching at the William Ng School of Fine Woodworking. The first five days were dedicated to the Modern Hall Table, and the weekend class was focused on the frame. And believe it or not, the frame was the more challenging project to complete in the given time-frame. But I am glad to say that everyone was able to go home with some semblance of a finished project. I thought it would be fun to share some of the pictures I took during the classes. Obviously, most of the time I was distracted with the actual teaching, but I did manage to remember to pull the camera out once in a while.

The Modern Hall Table began with the construction of the compound curved legs. When I made these on my prototype table five years ago, I had to use two 8/4 boards to get the thickness I was after. But lucky for us, William was able to attain some insanely chubby pieces of 16/4 African mahogany. I had to put a saw blade in the photo for reference, just so you could appreciate the size of these timbers.

And as beautiful as these rough boards were, we were amazed at how much lighter in color the milled material was. Not only was it pale, but it was also much less dense. I talked with William about this and he says for some reason, the thicker cuts are always lighter in both color and weight. Perhaps someone more knowledgeable on this can chime in? But as you can see in one of the initial dry assemblies, the aprons and legs are dramatically different in color. Fortunately, in the case of this table, it works.

The drawer guide system is incredibly simple, consisting of nothing more than a plywood cradle that is sized appropriately for the opening in the apron. For the drawer itself, you can see a few different examples of the joinery reinforcement that was used. One student opted for splines while another used brass dowels. Either way, the reinforced rabbet looks very cool and is more than strong enough for this application.

The top of the table consists of a wenge-wrapped plywood panel in a mitered mahogany frame. The miters were cut on one of the school’s 45 degree miter sleds, which worked remarkably well. The frame miters were reinforced using wenge splines, and the spline slots were cut at the tablesaw using another sled that holds the work vertically.

When it was all said and done, we had four complete table builds. As if it weren’t cool enough just seeing my table being reinvented by four other woodworkers, one of them decided to change the dimensions and take the table in a slightly different direction. Since this is a design that I will probably never revisit, it was incredibly gratifying to watch the table morph into something beyond my original vision.

A complete change of pace from the 5-day table class was the weekend frame class. With 13 people of varying skill levels, it was a little crazy at times. But the sawdust was flying and spirits were high. So the party got started with template tracing, bandsaw cutting, and flush trimming at the router table. With that many people, its inevitable that you’ll have a few bottleneck moments, like the one below at the router table.

Making this frame is a good exercise in “hybrid woodworking”, where the bulk of the material is removed with power tools, but the hand tools do all the fine fitting. In fact, it was hilariously obvious to me when everyone finally hit the hand tool part of the project. The loud noises of excited progress were replaced with the dull thuds of chisels and the grunts of frustration, haha! But that’s all part of the learning process, and I think by the end of the weekend, everyone had an appreciation for the value of a good set of sharp chisels.

Not to single anyone out, but there was one student who really impressed me. Within the first hour, he let me know that he was an absolute beginner with no experience. I appreciated the heads up, but I was a little fearful that this project might not be the ideal for a first-timer. Well, I am happy to say he proved me wrong. He walked out of class on Saturday with a beautiful completed frame. He is planning on taking the 101 level woodworking course at Cerritos College, and I told him he needs to bring his frame to class to show them what a beginner woodworker can do!

It was an inspirational week and I met some very talented woodworkers. I can’t wait to not only teach there again, but to also attend more classes myself. William runs a fine operation and if you are looking to take a hands-on class, you should check out the WIlliam Ng School. Thanks to all the students who took the class and thanks to William for allowing me to teach.