Lee Valley Coffee Tables
November 1, 2005
Entry Details
 

# 219
Kevin Kauffunger
Fort Bragg, CA
Dimensions (inches):  
  Width:   36
  Height:   15 1/2
  Depth:   14
Materials:   Bulgarian Walnut, Claro Walnut (a.k.a. California Walnut) and Douglas Fir.

Blonde de-waxed shellac, and an oil/varnish concoction.

Brass screws and tabs.

There were a number of parameters that shaped the design of this coffee table.  

§ I wanted to exercise my hand skills and to further my knowledge of solid wood construction methods.  
§ The table had to have a contemporary look that would blend with the style of its future home – an urban apartment in Pittsburgh.  
§ It had to be scaled to the small size of the living room that it would occupy.
§ It also had to have drawers for storage.

The main carcass of the table is Bulgarian Walnut. I'd never heard of the stuff before – this takes the cake for being the most obscure wood that I’ve ever worked with.  I don’t usually title my furniture, but I was compelled with this one;   “Sofia,” so named because that is the capitol city of Bulgaria, the only bit of knowledge that I previously had about that far off land.  Now I know that they produce fine walnut that works well, and is particularly strong relative to the North American Walnuts I’m used to.  The whole carcass came from a single 8/4 through cut slab.   Each corner of the carcass is joined by 13 hand-cut half blind dovetails. The drawer dividers were doweled in. The Douglas Fir drawer faces were scooped out with a small coopering plane that I made for the task. The drawer pulls are of Bulgarian walnut and are tenoned into the drawer faces. The stand was assembled from Claro Walnut. The legs are slightly tapered at 3 degrees, and this taper goes through the joint.  All the joints on the pedestal feature live tenons.  I love floating tenons, but there aren't any here.  Three stretchers connect the long rails on the pedestal.  Their surface rises up above that of the rails to form a plateau on which the carcass is attached.  I did so that the carcass would appear to float, which would visually lighten the connection between it and the base.  I finished the top, pedestal, and drawer pulls with a home made mixture of spar varnish and tung oil, the drawer faces were finished with super blonde de-waxed shellac polish.
 

The drawer fronts are three different widths.  The intent was to proportion them to work with the movement of the grain graphic on the tabletop.  The Bulgarian Walnut slab had to be re-sawn to get the thickness for the top.  Because of the height limitations my band saw, I ripped the board in two, and then rejoined it using a hand plane.  The grain patterns on the top board fold over onto the sides.  
 

This table will be situated in the social center of a living room - between two sofas
that face each other.  I didn't want the drawer bank to face only one seating area, so
I created through drawers that are accessible from either side. Through drawers, however,
often have issues with inconsistent reveals because they don't have stops. To ensure that the drawers return to a consistent place when they are pushed in, on one side of the carcass there are spring tabs that softly press up against the bottom of the drawers and register in detents the drawer faces, thus communicating to the user when to stop.
 

The intention of the coopering marks was to create organic lines that would accent the horizontality of the piece and would also "soften" the geometry a design that may otherwise feel too rigid. To ensure the consistency of the lines across the faces, I planed them into a single piece of Douglas Fir, which I then cross cut into the individual drawer
 

The drawer faces are connected to the drawer sides by half blind dovetails.  The sides are  Bulgarian walnut and have no finish applied to them. The drawer bottoms are Douglas Fir.  All the members of the drawers are rift sawn for stability.  
 

Judges Comments
AR : A wonderful piece, carefullly executed and built with sensitivity to the material. Proportions are nice, with good lines, weights and thicknesses. However, there is something missing connection-wise between the base and top. It's slight, but it's there. It will be interesting to see how the drawers fare over time as the top inevitably shrinks across its width while the drawers stay the same length. Perhaps you've thought about this already and made provisions for it, but haven't revealed your methods.
CS : Excellent wood selection. Coffee tables are so hard to do well because of the size constraints. I think this works.
GR : A lovely piece. Beautifully proportioned with subtle details. I love the grain lift on the walnut rail. Excellent photographs showing off a beautiful piece. One note offkey: the drawer dovetails seem a bit coarse to me.
LG : I can't help but see a cabinet on a coffee table when I view this piece. This is a frequently used design for higher cabinets and this is the first I've seen it used for a coffee table height. I would have liked to see a better connection between the base and the upper section. They don't appear well attached being of different woods with dissimiliar joinery and lines. Your craftsmanship appears quite good and grain selection is done well.
RJ : A cabinet on a stand, but unlike many contemporary versions, a low one. Perhaps the eye could have been drawn to making a stronger connection between the stand and the base. For example a slightly wider and deeper base and a connecting moulding, a radius or cove would be one way, but there are others. I do however see a link (perhaps unintended) with post-war 1950's rectilinear styles using a bespoke (one-off) take as opposed to mass produced flat blank planes. Neatly executed with a quiet but definite presence using dissimilarly sized drawer widths that add an attractive slightly off centre touch.

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