Archive for the ‘Building some bonsai tables’ Category

Morning Wood   6 comments

UPDATED 3-13-13

Sunday morning I started working on some display tables.

I have been asked recently and in the past for a more detailed accounting of how I make my tables. Everyone has a better idea, a cheaper idea, or a simpler idea. I am not hardheaded when it comes to learning a new trick, so if someone has a better, cheaper or simpler idea, pass them my way and I will definately utilize it. If its a jig, I am not interested. Why?

Because I do not build stands on an assembly line. I do not build stands on speculation with the intent of selling them to someone that must settle on a size not right for them, my stands are purpose built for individual needs. Building a jig for one stand would not be very prudent since I would probably never use it again. I do build one time simple jigs to hold legs square and straight and to facilitate fastening legs on at all one time.

Ok on to the work.

This wood is alder, used for face frames in the construction of birch cabinets. It is a rather soft hardwood and sands easily and takes many finishes. Its grain is tight and is rather plain allowing for the use of dyes and stains to mimic any exotic species. The first thing necessary for the construction of any stand is to decide on the size and configuration of the table being built. Many people out there making a table for themselves feel it necessary to come up with a new design so as to put their signature on their work. I have no desire to be unique and feel that having a functioning table to display my tree on is all I need. For me, the more simple the better.

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With the exception of the ladder stand all of these are just a top and four legs without complex cloud lift stretchers and carved legs. I will explain all the techniques for building the stacked tops that give the more heavy looking tables their mass and support with the large trees on them. These photos are from a Kokufu book and the pages are bent so the stands look distorted.

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One of the essential tools for building tables is a good table saw. It has to be a good one because a poor one or inexpensive one will have a poor rip fence and the saw bed will be small not allowing for building larger stands. This saw is three horsepower, cast iron bed with wings and a large rip fence with extensions. I can cut anything on this saw.

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Lets talk about stand basics. The centerboard.

Here is an example of a shohin pot on a shohin stand. When seen from this angle there is a good margin around the perimeter of the pot and the center board. It fits comfortably within its borders.

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Due to the angles of the sides of the pot, when viewed from above the back to front space is lacking. Thankfully the slope of the sides can help compensate for this and it fits OK.

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This pot is nearly the same size as the center board. But due to the fact it has straight sides it does not have any space between the pot perimeter and the border.

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It just fits, but this looks cramped and not very elegant. Shohin is all about elegance so this would be a no no.

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I like to have the dimensions of the foot of the pot. Lets call it the “foot print”. I add about 1 1/2 inches to each side of this dimension and make that my centerboard. This is the board the pot will sit on. When seen from above, the pot rim may creep over this a little but will not be seen when looking at it head on in a viewing position.

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The radio on the right is for radio news and crap. The stereo on the left is for the blues! Joe Bonnamossa….crank it up! This is the parts for four stands and half the legs.( more about that later).

This tool is called a plate joiner. It cuts small pockets in the edge of a piece of wood for making a stronger joint. More glue surface to help hold it together for the long haul.

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This is what a bisquit looks like, or a plate. They are made of beech wood and swell up when glued into the joint making a super hard joint. Below the plate is the pocket cut by the tool.

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Use plenty of joiners. They are cheap and easy to install. They will make the stand so much stronger. The top plate will be asked to hold a lot of weight while a plant is on it. Wouldn’t want it to split right down the seam.

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Use a sponge and clean up the glue squeeze out as you go. makes things much easier.

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The next tool that is really needed is the router. A small router table can be built with a movable fence and all sorts of cool stuff can be done on this bad boy. I have a store bought router table under the work bench but this old piece of crap works so good and is easy to use I still use it. 15 years old and still going strong.

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The border that goes around the center board is the part that adds the elegance to the table. I cut mine 2 inches wide. That seems like a good portion to have overhang the centerboard. I rip the pieces 2 3/8″ wide due to the fact that I am adding the dimension to a narrow piece of material rather than make a 3/8″ larger centerboard to make up the difference for the tongue and groove. This just saves material.

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I chuck up a 3/8″ router bit called a rabbiting bit into the router and make a cut on each side of the border. I make sure to find a suitable straight cutting bit and check that for measurement so that I have a tongue that will fit my groove. In this case my groove will be 5/16″ wide so my tongue has to be 5/16″ to fit snugly into it.

Once I have all the borders rabbited I can move to the centerboards. Now I put in the 5/16″ straight bit and plunge a groove all the way around the board with two passes so as not to overwork the tools.

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I didn’t take a picture of the chop saw so I will show that on the leg portion of this thing. Now I cut all the border pieces allowing for a shadow groove around the centerboard. What this does is it allows for expansion in the centerboard due to humidic changes. I cut the groove the full 3/8 deep and then when I cut the borders I overcut them by an 1/8″ at each corner. This allows the centerboard to float in the border. If the board grows due to humidity it will not pop the miters since there is room for it to grow.

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This is what the miter looks like with a pocket cut into it.

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The plate is in and everything fits well so now I can glue it up.

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Plenty of glue is used to make sure the plate is fully wet with glue and the joint should squeeze a little under clamp pressure. Just make sure to clean up after yourself. Wet glue is easy to clean up, dry glue is a bitch to sand off later. Keep in mind that glue stains do not take dyes and stains as well as raw wood so you risk having lighter areas around glue joints. Be careful.

 There are a few more tools to talk about and their usefulness to making stands. We have seen the table saw, the plate joiner and the router table.

Next is a thickness planer. This tool has an automatic feed on it and a crank that adjusts the cutter heads in millimeters to shave off wood from the surface of a plank. In my case all the wood I purchased is called 4/4 or 4 quarter, in essence 1 inch thick. Of course its been surfaced so I buy it 11/16″ thick. When I get it home, for this project, I take it down to 3/4″ thick. Usually about two passes thru the planer. This planer will take a board up to 13″ wide and unlimited long.

This tool is not really necessary as long as the tables you wish to make are rather large and you can use the wood the way it comes. Later on when I start working with the walnut and making shohin tables you will see how much time this tool can save as well as reduce the visual edge to shohin proportions.

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The next tool that is a must is a good chop saw. A chop saw chops wood to length, be it straight cut or miter cut or anything inbetween. My chop saw is a monster. It is heavy and awkward to carry. I have a cool stand for it and once on the stand it becomes a very sturdy work platform. The legs have squeeze locks to put out the legs and it has telescoping platforms on the right and left that extend the working length to over ten feet. This allows one to cut 8 foot long boards without a helper.

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The saw on the chop saw is mounted to two pipes that allow the saw to slide back and fourth like a radial arm saw. This allows me to whack a board 15 inches deep.

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The saw also lays over to 45 degrees  to the left and to the right, allowing one to cut compound miters.

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The red line you see on the wood is a laser. The saw comes equiped with a laser cutting guide. The laser is very accurate. The left face of the saw blade is on the laser beam, meaning that the entire saw kerf is to the right of the cut.  In this picture my work to keep is on the left while the small portion on the right of the laser is waste. After striking a mark, put the laser on the mark keeping the waste on the right and make the cut. It will be exact.

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When seen head on the saw cut is right in the center of the pencil mark. If the table saw is square, and the chop saw cuts square…

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….Then making perfect miters is a cinch.

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There was a comment from Shane Martin about the border and cutting the tongue and groove and what its purpose was. I have cut two small pieces of scrap to show what the inside of the tongue and groove looks like from an end view. One can see a small gap between the tongue and the groove horizontally and that there is a small space at the back of the tongue for the centerboard to swell if it does. That space has no glue. There is glue on the tongue but only on the top and bottom edge of the groove. Once dry there is enough flexibility in the glue for movement sideways as long as there is room for expansion. If I glued the back of the tongue to the back of the groove, there would no longer be a expansion joint and the miters would pop.

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Also, making sure there is some space at the back of the tongue is important. Just making a visual groove in the top and bottom of the border and having the back of the groove and the back of the tongue touch will serve no purpose. I can guarentee you at some point the miter will pop and the stand is useless, because they will never go back together properly, trust me I have tried.

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Now that we have most of the power tools out of the way, one more thing that is needed is clamps. As many as you can afford. I have bought many at yard sales and continue to scour for them. Can’t have too many clamps. Power sanders, palm sanders, orbital sanders and osscillating sanders are the tools I use most often. As I get to them I will discuss them in more detail but for now its time to talk about the actual design of the tables.

The big table I am building for Steve for the Kazari is for a big elm. The elm tree is about 30 inches tall, has a 4 inch trunk and perfect taper. The branches are well ramified.

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While elm trees tend to be fairly feminine in nature this tree is all brut. Fissured bark, heavy flaring trunk and really nice nebari. While this tree doesn’t need a very masculine table it needs a table with enough visual weight so as not to make it seem weak and puny. This is a large pot. The top blade for the table for this tree is on the right.

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The top blade measures 30″ x 20″. A very big table.

To get the visual weight needed to support the tree I will use a method called stacking. The top of the stand will become visually thicker while not actually making a thick blade. Since the blade on its own can support the tree, visually it will seem puny if not beefed up. I made this stand a couple years ago for my pyracantha and then after it was done was not happy with it because I did not give it enough visual weight to support the tree in the large pot. Even though the table can support the tree it seems puny because the blade is too thin.

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The pistol grip legs have enough visual weight, but had they been holding up something more visually massive it would have been better. Let me show some stacked tops.

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When I made the three walnut stands for myself in 2005 I did a take on this by routing away a groove on the top blade and then affixing it to a legged subase. They looked like this.

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In the case of the three I built, that is really only two pieces of wood. A subase and the top blade. That shadow groove around the bottom edge of the top blade gives it a visual seperation and keeps it from looking clunky. I will do something like this except I will use three actual sub assemblies to get there. I want to keep the top blade the thickness it is. I will build a subase of a frame with legs and then add another ring visually smaller and then add the top blade giving me the visual weight without building a lot of structure.

Today I purchased the black walnut to build Steves bi-level shohin table and my very own 36″ square 8 inch deep Shohin Box Stand.Below is something similer that I wish to make for myself.

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Back today.

Two of the tables I am working on will be indentical. One is for Steve and one is for me. They are medium sized tables with the tops being 18″ x 13″. I like the look of this table and I think the legs are really elegant. One of the things I dislike about these stands is that everyone has a different idea on how the shape of the legs should be. Some make them too bowed and the table looks as if it has out turned feet while some like the box stand above have short out turns and it start to look like the feet on a dachshund.

On this stand I wish to make something such as this. I like the height and I like the legs. The long thin upper part sweeping into a graceful outurned leg is beautiful.

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I start by running thru the long stick I laminated and glued up from which to make the legs. It takes a lot of clamps to get good pressure along the entire 8 foot long lamination.

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The long stick is run thru the surface planer on all four sides quarter turning it as I go to keep it square. Once I am happy with the planing I cut it into legs blanks. Eight are needed for the two stands. I cut an extra for a possible mishap. maybe because I plan for it, but I have never needed an extra yet!

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I make a pattern to keep all the legs the same out of 3/16 MDF (medium density fiberboard) and cut it out on the band saw.

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The bandsaw is another one of the tools that is required if your table is going to have any curves on it. This saw is one I purchased from Sears 38 years ago.

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The pattern is used to transfer the outline to the block of wood and it is traced on two sides. The leg will need to be cut twice to achieve the final shape.

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So this is the first cut.

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Place the cut out part back into the leg and wrap it up with masking tape. You need this piece back in to make it square again to run back thru the band saw. Don’t cut the little part of the back profile of the leg yet. It is an outside curve and not as criticle.

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After making the two inside curve cuts, put that piece back in and tape it again. I know it looks like it is not cut, but it is.

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Now the two outside curve cuts can be made.

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Start the sanding process and make it look pretty.

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This is how much material is lost just to get one leg like this. Only seven more to go.

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After making that first leg I was not happy with the laminated look. All of these legs I have done before have been for shohin tables and the legs have been cut from 3/4 material. needing larger material was done with laminating but due to the fact that the back corner of the leg is the part retained out of the solid wood and the two front edges show the laminations, I decided to buy some 8/4 alder. this is double the thickness at about 1 13/16 thick.

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The block finishes out at 1 3/4″ square and now I can lay out the legs. I also reduced the height by one inch making the legs nine inches tall instead of ten.

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All eight legs cut to length.

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All the legs are traced and ready to be cut on the bandsaw.

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All the legs are rough cut.

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This tool is also pretty neat and  is needed when there are curves to sand. I have another tool for sanding but will talk about that on the other two stands. Right now this is the tool for this part of the project.

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Now all the legs are rough sanded. The belt on the bench sander is started at 100 grit just to remove saw marks and straighten the edge.

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The I put a 300 grit belt on and give them one more sanding. The rest of the sanding will be done with a plam sander and then a final sand with 400 grit by hand and block.

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Now it is time to prepare the tops. Both tops are sanded with the belt sander to get rid of the glue, true them up and make sure the border is the same thickness as the centerboard. I start with 100 grit here too, and then work down to 220 on the belt sander.

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 So here are the two tops all sanded down to 220 on the belt sander and taken down to 400 on the palm sander for final finishing.

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The edge is beveled with a dovetail bit in the router positioned in the router table. This is what it will look like when the legs are on. Its just sitting there right now, as I still have to make a mechanical connection to attach them to the top blade.

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 I like to drill the legs and glue dowels into them for glueing into the top. This gives me double glue surface as well as making sure the leg will not come off. Its not like people will be sitting on these and sliding them across the kitchen floor like a chair, but it must be strong and with reasonable care should last a life time. Gotta have a drill too.

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…and a palm sander….or two.

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The leg is drilled to accept a 1/4 inche dowel. This will be glued into the leg and then later on glued together with the top and a stretcher yet to be made.

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The dowel is glued in and then trimmed to length with the bandsaw. It only seats about 1/2 inch into the top but that is more than enough to hold these legs on for good. Once the legs are glued along with the stretcher and the gingerbread yet to come, it will be one super strong cohesive unit.

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TGIF and this weekend while most are at the Bonsai-a-Thon at the Huntington, Al will be slaving away building these freakin tables.

So far….$250.00 for a bonsai tables does not seem like so much money anymore huh? I’m at the half way point right now, and this is a small table.

Work continues today. Small MDF boards are cut between the legs to keep the whole thing square while the legs are glued in.

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The legs are marked and drilled for the stretchers, Small strips of wood between the legs, that will hold the gingerbread later.

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Picture of my hand. Sometimes it has a mind of its own and argues with me on just how this process should be photographed.

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The stretchers get a hole and a dowel will be glued in to hold this in place. Many stands are picked up from the table by the stretchers by wrapping ones hand under the gingerbread and holding it from the side. This area has to be strong so as to handle this kind of treatment. No one picks them up like a large box and carries them in front of themselves with two hands.

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A board called a cull, is placed under the legs to make a platform and the glue is applied to everything. The stretchers are put in place and then the two clamps apply pressure to the top of the legs and into the top blade. The MDF blocks make sure all is square and then removed. then it is set aside to dry.

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Two matching stands. The stands now will be final sanded with 400 grit and then dyed. the gingerbread will be pre dyed and then applied later, then it will recieve its finish. I have not decided yet on a finish, either lacquer or oil?

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Assembly for the two larger stands has started today. I cut all the material for the subassemblies and then cut some reinforcement strips to be glued on to the sub assembly. Tomorrow this will be cut and glued together. The strips were glued up today so I can cut through all of it when I cut them to size.

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This is a pattern cut from 3/16 MDF and clamped to one end of the sun assembly. The legs will be attached by way of the miter that is drawn on and will be bandsawed to shape. All of this will be glued together and then a shadow strip will be made and then attached and the top glues on.

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When its all done it will appear somewhat like this arrangement. Of course all the edges will have treatemnt done to them as well as rounding over and sanding. The shadow strip will be core boxed to not be so square. The skirt will be cut like shown with a descending cloud design.

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The two top boards sanded out and finished to 220 grit. Hand sanding with 400 is left to do. I will wait till all the assembly is done.

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 Today I did the rough layout for the first of the two larger stands. I have to cut some smaller radius on the band saw and so switch from the 1/4 inch blade to the 1/8 minch blade. The smaller blade keeps the blade from binding while making the shaper cuts on the legs.

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The top ralis of the subassembly are mitered and the legs are cut to length and litered also. At this point everything is just rough cut.

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Once all the parts are cut out they need the first sanding. This is done on the oscillating spindle sander. This is a machine that has a spindle that stick up from a bed and accepts different size sanding spindles. they spin and also oscillate up and down. I have a 80 grit sanding cover on right now.

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The bench it is mounted on was built about 7 years ago from plywood. It has a dowel in the middle allowing me to bolt two tools to the same platform and just rotate up the one I need.

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This is what the different size spindles look like. I have 80,120,and 220 ghrit covers for each size.

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All the top rails and the legs have been rough sanded. I still have some reinforcing blocks and small items to glue in before assembly.

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This is a side view to get an idea on how it will look when all glued together. Lots and lots of sanding still to do.

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All for now….have some repotting to do tomorrow after work. I need a change of pace right now, I let a fart yesterday and sawdust came out!

Have the finish on the two smaller tables. Now to add the details.

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Was able to get the details on one stand today. Had to put the lawn in order for the year, pre emergent, cut it , edge it and spray for weeds. Just took too much of my time. Will knock out the other one tomorrow as well as glue together the other stand I already have cut out.

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Today I was able to glue up all of the parts for the sub assembly for the larger legged stand. This is a simple design and very masculine. The sub stand is rough sanded allowing the top to be flat and ready for the router.

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The sky was overcast and the temp droped 10 degrees in about 15 minutes.

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I put a 1 inch round over bit in the router and will run the top of the sub stand thru this to round over the top edge.

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Just as I get ready to rout it starts to rain. Not that hard so I push on in the rain. Just a light sprinkle.

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This is the edge of the substand after routing. The top blade is placed on a some scrap wood that will be made later to seperate the top and the sub stand.

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After a rough sand again, down to 220 grit this is what the stand will look like. The top still needs it’s edge treatment and lots more sanding.

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I was able to work for a while after work today, untill I remembered that I had to meet my wife at the CPA to have our taxes done. Could have went the rest of the year without hearing that word. Today we have a home made kickboard. This is a block of wood cut at a 45 degree angle.  The angled end has some saw cuts in it as shown. These “fingers” will apply steady down pressure on the router bit as the thin stock is pushed thru. When using a core box bit on lightweight material it hjas a habit of pushing the work away from the cutter. This stick pushes the wood down and will not allow it to lift. this fingers are thin so they give a little to puish the work thru, but if it were to kick back, the fingers would jamb and keep the work from being pushed back and shot into my rather large stomach, and puking my innerds out on the garage floor.

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This is the corebox bit. makes a groove sort of like the gutter at the bowling alley. This bit is about 5/16 around. The shadow strip is cut about 3/8 thick and this when squared on the stick will just about cut edge to edge.

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This is what it looks like after routing.

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The stick is just a rip off of 3/4 material at 3/8 thick. This gets sanded with some sandpaper around a short piece of dowling.

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Glue is applied to the strip after it is mitered to fit the top of the table. The subassembly is made a 1/4 inch larger than the top all the way around. This is just to give me some taper when viewing the stacked top. If I were to make it the same size, I feel that it makes the table seem clunky. We can compare this later after the table is finished. The strip is held in place with tape clamps.

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This is the top just sitting on top of the strip. We can see that the detail has been routed into the top giving the edge a raised appearance.

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Now all I have to do is glue the top on and sand the thing for about two days and start the finishing process. I’m getting there. Slowly but shurly.

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This is the larger stand of the same design for Steve.

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Posted February 18, 2013 by California Bonsai Art in Building some bonsai tables

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