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An Improvised Approach to Furniture Design


Posted on February 14th, by Andy Brownell in Design, Gorilla Glue, Projects. 2 comments

desk-sketchI’ve spent the last couple of months on a combination of small crafts and some commission work, along with refining a design for a desk project I’ve taken on for my daughter’s room. Parts of the desk will be made from solid 8/4 bubinga slabs I got from Frank David at Midwest Woodworking before they shut their doors. It’s price, and special gift at dulling tool blades is making me take an extra long time on design refinement before I start to make cuts. This design refinement is the subject of my improvised approach to furniture design. This approach is a simple amalgam of a variety of techniques I’ve used in the past, mixed with a bit of ingenuity and honest feedback to get me to a place I’m happy with.

The concept started as a 90 degree profile of the desk that I sketched out on a post-it note a few times. It immediately reminded me of a waiter running (the legs/frame) with a tray in front of it (desk top). The cantilever placement of the top presented an interesting challenge for me as far as knowing where the center of gravity would be on the full-size version.

desk mini templatesTo explore this more I then decided to make an enlargement of the sketch that would serve as the basis for templates on a 1:5 scale mock-up I’d make to test out the center of gravity.

Then I used the templates to cut, shape and refine the mini-legs from three pieces These were traced out and cut exactly how I’d make the frame from the full-size pieces of bubinga, only this time on .48″ thick cherry scraps.

scale leg assemblyHaving the legs pieces gave me a much better sense for the size and proportion of the piece in three dimensions, versus my very limiting and one sided drawing. I used this as the basis for determining the overall size of the top (26″ x 52″), and the inclusion of a drawer and shelf. As usual, I got a bit out of hand on the mock-up, but it’s a nice conversation piece to add to my growing miniature collection.  I used Gorilla’s Super Glue gel formula and some toothpicks used as reinforcing pegs to assemble the surprisingly strong mock-up.  The center of gravity fell almost perfectly down the middle. Here’s a video walk around of the finished scale model below.

miller suggestion 2Next, I got some input from Jeff Miller. He offered some honest and sound advice. I’ve worked hard to create something interesting with the base. The square top and shelf, along with their bull-nose edge seemed like an afterthought. He was right, as usual. I rushed through the rest of the design to have a final piece that definitely didn’t represent my best effort. His advice, add a curve or two to the top and shelf, and be a bit more creative with the edge.

I then messed with some curves, mainly ellipse-shaped, to add to the top and shelf and landed on a wide ellipse edge on the front and sides, with a flat back edge. I’m also going to make the front edge of the drawer a laminated curve that matches the top’s curve. I’ll be using a curve I already made for a bow-front table that works out nicely. I don’t have to build another lamination jig. The curve is less than 2″ of difference from the middle of the curve to the ends, so little working space will be lost.template-transfer

I then had to transfer the small scale paper templates onto a larger, full-size version. This would serve as my 1/4″ plywood templates for the full size pieces. I didn’t have access to a projector to simply transfer onto a full-size piece, so I improvised. I laid out a 1″ square grid on the plywood and made it large enough to accommodate the longest piece I’d be cutting for each leg assembly, just a bit over 44″ long and 8″ wide.

Then, holding the small piece between my field of view and the large grid, I snapped a picture at the point where it lined up to scale on both the length and width.

first full profileUsing the photo printed out, I transferred the lines to the full-size grid using the smaller scale photo as my guide. I repeated this process for the remaining two pieces and then spent some time refining the curves flow with a few bendable sticks.

miller suggestionI got some additional input from Jeff Miller, show in the white overlay on the arm. I made this change, and then cut and smoothed out the three templates.

final template positionI’ve positioned them on one of the pieces of Bubinga shown below to illustrate the scale of this project. I’ll have a few additional challenges in the order I cut the pieces out to make cutting the mortise and tenons easy. That will be the subject of my next post.

Anyone have any interesting techniques they’ve used to design a piece in the past? Share them below in the comments section.

Disclosure: Gorilla Glue is a client of the agency I work for full-time, however this was not a paid or compensated post. The opinions are my own.





2 thoughts on “An Improvised Approach to Furniture Design

  1. Andy, wow, there is a lot of information in this post to chew on. From making the model to interesting feedback from Jeff (the router reference is hilarious) to the templates and transfer to project wood, some great ideas to keep in mind when in the shop.

    My woodworking and design skills haven’t progressed to the point where I need to define centers of gravity or the like, but I am getting there!

    This is a really unique design. Very interested in seeing it come together, especially how you will shape the joined parts of the base. Great blog!

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