My second commision – the prototype phase


Previous posts in this series can be found here and here.

Seeing that this table will be one of the major projects for the year and the first significant piece of furniture to emerge from my current shop, I decided to first build a prototype. I have never done this before, but can already see that it is a vital step in the right direction. Just to remind you of the background, this is a table for friends of ours the Burmeister-Nel family. I am building the table as payment for a whole stack of excellent Scott’s Pine beams.

The design of this table has evolved significantly over the past 7 months. So far the evolution took place in the realm of my personal cerebral SketchUp. The prototype is the first tangible manifestation of the mentioned neurophysiological exercise. At this stage it is primarily inspired by George Nakashima and Japanese joinery ideas. The feral nature of the African hard woods we chose for this project really lends itself to the Nakashima design ideology.

A second prominent influence in this design effort would be the ideas and techniques used by pre-industrialisation artisans as explored by George R. Walker and Jim Tolpin in their seminal work “By Hand & Eye”. I tried to use those techniques to strike the sweet spot in terms of proportion between various parts and their relation to one another. What I found was that working with simple whole number ratios makes it very easy to shrink and expand the design for the purpose of the prototype.

The starting point was the size of the top, which ended up being a 1:2 rectangle. The hight of the table that worked well was 2/3 of the width, which meant that the whole piece would fit in a 2:3:6 cuboid.


Here you can see my initial sketches to work out appropriate proportions. The side view were divided into 5 equal parts and I placed the leg structures on a 1:3:1  rhythm. The angle of the leg structures were also derived using a similar approach.


I used some of the mentioned Scott’s Pine to build the prototype as it is easy to work with.



I made the effort to plane down the top to the exact thickness relative to the size of the model.


The solid trapezoid shaped leg piece is twice as thick as the top and all the other parts are related to the thickness of the top.


The heavy beam at the bottom that connects the leg pieces will be attached to the trapezoid shaped piece with a through tenon, which will receive a wedge similar to the one pictured.


The opposite leg piece will consist of four spindles ascending at the same angle as the sides of the trapezoid piece. These are not the correct size as it was impossible to produced such small spindles, so the wire had to do. The actual spindles will be slightly thicker and have the bamboo type appearance similar to spindles used in some Windsor chairs.


Here are a couple of photos illustrating the type of design I have in mind for the spindles. I refer to the spindles in the back of the Windsor chair rather than the legs. I add these pictures in response to Stefan’s valid feedback.


I would like to invite everyone to give input on the design. Please feel free to rip into it, if I feel too aggrieved by the criticism I can simply ignore it. Hopefully though we can fine tune it to be better. At this stage I am fairly happy with it, but am quite sure it can be improved a bit.