There is a lot to like about classes at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking. The first time you visit you’re impressed by the size and scope of the facility. As a class goes on you realize how good the staff is, how well equipped the shops are and how friendly and helpful everyone is. By the end of the week you’re probably debating what is the best thing about the place; is it the thicknessing sander or the soft-serve machine in the cafeteria? I spent the first week of April leading a group in the reproduction of the Gustav Stickley Poppy Table and as always my class and I had a great time.
Of all the projects I wrote about for Popular Woodworking the Poppy Table generated the most response from readers. One of the reasons I like to build reproductions is the challenge. If I build something from my own design there are always places where I might take the easy way out. Building a copy of something old eliminates that option and pushes the maker into unexplored territory. I had a great group join me in building this piece. They met the challenges head on with grace and good humor.
The Poppy Table doesn’t look like Gustav Stickley had anything to do with it, but it was one of several art nouveau influenced pieces produced for the Tobey Furniture company at the turn of the twentieth century. This was a year or so before Stickley introduced his iconic “Craftsman” furniture line. Behind all the curvy lines is some interesting structure due to the presence of five legs.
The pentagon shape of the lower shelf is obvious and the first step in this build is to connect the legs and the shelf. In the original table there are plugs centered in the shelf and the leg. Screws behind the pegs are likely the only connection at these points. Thanks to modern technology it was simple to add Festool Domino loose tenons at these locations.
The only wrinkle to the dominos is the thickness of the legs. We set the depth of cut on one of the Domino machines to its lowest setting and registered the cuts off the base of the tool with the fence folded flat. For the shelf cut, a second machine was set to the deepest setting with the fence at 90 degrees to the face of the tool. If you don’t have two Domino cutters (I told you MASW was well equipped) make all the leg cuts, change the setup, then make the cuts in the shelf.
The addition of the tenons let us put the tables together and take them back apart several times. If you don’t have a Domino cutter, you can use a simple dowel at these positions. The tenon (or dowel) is glued into the shelf after the shelf is cut to shape and carved. When you’re ready for the final assembly drive screws into counterbored holes from the outer faces of the legs and plug the holes.
At the top end of the legs I devised a structure based on a small five-sided hub. The stretchers are dovetailed to the hub and the leg. We glued the stretchers to the hub to make a single unit that joins the legs at the top. The top is held to the stretchers with pan head screws in oversized holes. In the original versions of the Poppy Table this assembly was not used. Small blocks at the top of each leg made the connection and there was a single stretcher attached across the middle of the bottom of the table top.
With the structural issues resolved, the legs, shelf and top can be cut to shape. Full size patterns were used to cut a half template for each leg. Working from the center line and flipping the templates over ensured that the curved parts were symmetrical. We also used the templates to guide the bandsawn legs at the router table. The bearing of a flush trim bit rode along the template to clean up the marks from the saw.
That moved us closer to a completed table, but there is a bunch of work left to to. The cut outs at the top of the legs were made at the scroll saw. The width of those cuts is too narrow to get in there with a trim router, so the saw marks were removed and the shapes refined by hand with rasps followed by a card scraper. A round file is also handy for getting in the ends of these cuts. The branches that stick out about halfway up the legs are also too narrow for the router bit to reach.
Down at the bottom of each leg there is also a bead detail that requires handwork. One of the things that makes this a great project is that there are plenty of opportunities to practice. The challenge of leg #1 becomes a new skill by the time you get to leg #5. Shaping curved edges can be daunting, but with the proper tools it isn’t as demanding or tedious as you might think.
This is also a good introduction to carving. You only need a couple of chisels and the lines go with and across the grain. Both the top and the shelf are carved and I think it wise to do the shelf first to get the hang of it before moving on to the more visible top.
I teach a few classes a year and usually don’t repeat classes. If I were better at business I would develop a couple of easy to teach classes and go on the road. But I usually wait for someone to ask me to come to their school or club. If there is a class you would like to see, or a project you would like to see turned into a class, click on my signature below to send an email, or leave a comment at the end of this post.
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