Before Gustav Stickley became “The Craftsman” he manufactured furniture in upstate New York. After twenty-some years in the business, he took a trip to Europe, where the Arts & Crafts movement was popular in England and L’art Nouveau was a big deal in France. Gus was out to reinvent American furniture, and I think he succeeded in that with his Craftsman Furniture. Examples of that period, and detailed information about Stickley and his furniture can be found in my book “Shop Drawings for Craftsman Furniture”.
The little table at right, the Poppy table is an early piece, one of several from the period between his return from Europe and his better known rectilinear pieces. It’s one of my favorite pieces of furniture, and the photo is a reproduction I built about 10 years ago for a magazine article. Everyone in my house likes it, especially the felines, who roost on the lower shelf to nap, or use it as a shortcut on the behind the Morris chair route from the front door to the kitchen.
Good furniture is a happy marriage between art and engineering. At first glance it might seem like art wears the pants in this relationship, but between the carved flower top and shelf and the stylized plant-stem legs there is some interesting geometry. This is the only five-legged table I’ve ever made and along the way from photographs to final drawings I realized that pentagons were the solution to building a sturdy version.
The image at left is from my SketchUp model of the poppy table. When I build I like to solve the engineering problems first, then tackle the decorative aspects. I build it as you see it, take it all apart, shape the component pieces and put it back together. That makes it easier to hold and set-up the pieces to cut the joints. It also mitigates the risks; if something goes wrong cutting the joints I’m only out a flat piece of wood, not a carved and shaped piece with a lot of hours in it. Of course, that means I better not screw up the joinery while shaping and carving.
While this has the appearance of the original, the addition of the five-sided dovetailed hub below the top was my solution to a situation where the original makers took the easy way out. In original examples, the legs connect to the top with simple glue blocks and a cross-grain rail. Where the shelf connects to the legs I added loose tenons (dominos). I’m pretty sure the originals were simply screwed through the legs, with the screw heads covered by plugs.
Original examples of this are rare; they weren’t in production for long, and they were kind of wobbly. Much to my surprise, I received more response to this project from readers than any other project I made for the magazine. A year or two after the magazine article came out, the current Stickley company released a version as their annual “limited edition”.
Next spring, I will be teaching a week-long class in building the Poppy Table at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking in Indiana. The school’s schedule hasn’t been finalized yet, but my class will be early in the year and likely to fill up quickly. There won’t be much time to register. If you’ve taken classes at MASW in the past, you should be notified by the school when registration opens.
UPDATE – Registration for this class is now live on the MASW website – CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION AND SIGN UP TODAY
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I hope you’ll be able to join me for this week-long class. We’ll have a lot of fun as we build this unique table.