A totally turned table
Words and photos: Andrew Potocnik
A while ago I was asked to create a totally turned hall table. Turning an elliptical top was a challenge which could only be solved safely by adding sacrificial material to create a circular blank – spinning a propeller shaped piece of wood is not a safe method of working.
The completed table made from recycled and featured mountain ash.
This presented what seemed like a golden opportunity for making another tabletop at the same time. On the sides of some blackwood (used for the first table) I added feature grade mountain ash (Eucalyptus regnans), a timber native to the south-east of Australia. This was filled with 'nature’s footprints' – gum vein, knots and insect contributions. The table would celebrate these hidden features, even though extra effort would be required to fill voids, secure cracks or simply re-think the layout of components.
Mountain ash was glued up with the blackwood to make a panel large enough to cut a 750mm diameter circle from (photo 1).
After glue-up, the circle was cut on the bandsaw (photo 2).
This was now ready for mounting on my Stubby lathe so I could shape the tabletop underside to a smooth flowing curve (photo 3).
To hold the disc, I simply pushed it into place between a carrier mounted to a faceplate and clamped it with the tailstock centre. After sanding through to 320 grit, the sides were bandsawn off (photo 4).
Inner edges of the mountain ash were planed smooth and straight on my buzzer so they could be glued together with an insert of figured blackwood for visual contrast. I didn’t have a piece long enough, so sections of mountain ash veneer were inserted between the ends of each piece. This led to another problem in the lamination process; how to ensure all edges were aligned after both pieces were joined with the veneer in place (photo 5).
For the glue-up I cut two formers of MDF to match the radius of the tabletop so the sections could carefully be aligned. Four sash clamps were used to keep the ‘top’ surfaces flat (photo 6).
Once dry, a pull saw was used to trim away excess blackwood, followed by a plane and then a scraper, before filing and sanding to blend all surfaces on both the curved underside and profile. Some scraping was all that was now required prior to final sanding. With the top complete, a coat of wipe-on, wipe-off polyurethane finish was applied.
Creating the understructure required accurate cutting and machining of leg material, starting on the tablesaw where material was ripped to just over 40mm square then buzzed and thicknessed to size ready for dimensions to be marked out in preparation for turning (photo 7).
The centre of the square end of each leg is marked by drawing diagonals – where the lines cross is centre. I relied on my chuck to close down and hold the other end centred, while I turned each leg from square to a tapered end (photo 8). Gum veins and imperfections were secured with cyanoacrylate glue prior to sanding.
Tops and bottoms of pommels (transitions from square to circle) were cut with a skew while the remainder of the leg was trimmed down to a final 18mm diameter. The flat area provided a surface where joinery for the crossed frame could be cut, to which the tabletop would be attached to create a ‘floating’ top. Rails for the frame were machined to 42 x 19mm, cut to length and docked at 2° on my dropsaw before a trial assembly so any final tweaking of proportions could be made.
Cross-halving joints were hand cut in the rails (yes, turners do own squares, chisels and hand saws, we just don’t know how to use them correctly!) before mortises were cut into both rails and legs to receive loose tenons (photo 9).
Excess material was cut from the top of each leg and hand shaped prior to final assembly (photo 10).
I like to finish all components prior to assembly, once again sticking to the foolproof wipe-on, wipe-off method. This also helps if you have any glue squeeze-out during the assembly process. Legs were lightly clamped to a stiff board of plywood to ensure they were parallel before a quick grip clamp pushed the legs and rail into place (photo 11).
Once the two pairs of legs had dried, glue was applied to the cross-halving joint, which was then clamped and allowed to dry. Four aluminium pins were cut and holes drilled for joining the top to the frame (photo 12).
I was happy with the result – and it just goes to show that solving one problem can lead to two successful outcomes.
Andrew Potocnik is a wood artist and woodwork teacher who lives in Melbourne.