Putting the "log" back in Blog

Stacked Lamination Coffee Table Pt. 1


Posted on November 22nd, by Andy Brownell in Projects, Tools. 1 Comment

arbortech-logo1-300x94The following post is sponsored by Australia-based Arbortech, makers of power carving, sanding and cutting tools. This will be the first in a series of three posts on building, carving and finishing a stacked lamination coffee table project.

I mentioned in my previous posts on carved bowl making, that wood carving is a very different kind of woodworking. Grinding away material is more akin to sculpture, versus building a dimensional piece of furniture. With any new technique or tool, a learning curve is usually required to become proficient. This coffee table is probably a more advanced project, so if you are new to the process, you might want to start with some bowls first. 🙂

Museum Inspiration from Wendell Castle

Wendell Castle's stacked lamination coffee table in walnut. Probably running north of $25,000.

Wendell Castle’s stacked lamination coffee table in walnut. Probably running north of $25,000.

About two years ago, while in Chicago, I stopped at the Art Institute of Chicago to check out their decorative arts exhibit, the furniture in particular. Among the exhibits, were a number of pieces by Wendell Castle [b. 1932]. This American born artist is often considered one of the founders of the Art Furniture movement.

With wood being only one of several materials he works from, his style is characterized by a very organic set of curves. Many of his wood pieces are made from a series of sequentially stacked laminations. These start as rough, angular pieces, and are then refined to beautifully curved pieces. His tools include everything from chainsaws, chisels and grinders, in order to achieve his characteristic style. Although I wasn’t able to touch any of the pieces in the museum, I knew right away that I had to attempt a piece like Castles.

Flying Blind

91d6lux87GLWith very few documented examples on how to build a piece like this—save for a relatively rare book published back in 1980, entitled: The Wendell Castle Book of Wood Lamination—I started out with a general idea of what I wanted to produce. I wanted to build a coffee table with a heavy base, and have it closely resemble the base of a tree trunk. So I started out by pulling from a few 10/4 boards of Ribbon Sapele.

The rough shapes are then individually cut on the bandsaw prior to glue-up.

The rough shapes are then individually cut on the bandsaw prior to glue-up.

Using a sketch pad, I created an overall shape for the bottom of the base, and then proceeded to make a series of patterns that got progressively smaller towards the middle of the laminations, and then widened towards the top. Using these patterns, I traced and cut out the shape from the Sapele pieces, and then glued the pieces sequentially with some polyurethane glue, in stages with a series of deep throated clamps to hold everything in place.

Once all of the glued stacked lamination pieces were dry, I had the base of the table ready for carving. [note: I’ll cover the design and assembly of the top in a subsequent post. Keeping the larger top off while carving the base makes it easier to move around during the early stages of carving the base.] Wendell Castle may have used chisels and burr grinders, but for this particular type of material removal, the Arbortech TURBOplane is a perfect choice for everything from hogging away waste through the refinement of concave and convex curves.

Power Carving with the TURBO and MiniTURBO planes

The circumference of the TURBOplane serves as a great guide for creating relatively consistent cuts into material. I used this to my advantage on a large portion of the base’s shape. Carving a piece like this gets you familiar with how the tool with interact with the grain direction of the wood, particularly in the end-grain.

Glued and out of the clamps: I opted to remove some of the material on the first five glued up lower segments of the base prior to attaching the top two pieces.

Glued and out of the clamps: I opted to remove some of the material on the first five glued up lower segments of the base prior to attaching the top two pieces.

With the grinding wheel (and teeth) only able to attack the grain in one direction, this is where flipping the piece upside down can help keep the carbide cutters moving in the same direction as the grain, and helps prevent tear-out.

Once you’ve found the sweet spot of the cutting surface, you begin to get the hang of what angles to approach a particular part of the sculpture. I found myself either repositioning my body, hands or even the piece to find the optimal point of contact. Lots of repeated light cuts are far easier to contend with than aggressively hacking away at your project. Although my grinder is a bit on the heavy side, I found that it’s rotation had almost a gyroscopic-like way of helping balancing the tool. It’s a nuanced feel for sure for any power tool, however, using this motion to your benefit, rather than fighting it is always a good plan.

What follows are a few shots from various stages of material removal. I found switching over to the MiniTURBO plane helpful when cutting the narrow channels on the upper and lower portions of the base. The goal was to create an organic flow from the heavy base towards the top to help simulate branches growing up to support the table top (yet to be attached).

DSC_0270

Some gyroscopic motion and referencing the back of the grinder against your thigh can help keep the tool stable on tricky angles, as well as assist in ensuring a consistent angle of attack around the entire piece.

Hard to reach spaces are no problem for the MiniTURBO plane. This cutter does have some slightly different nuances in how it removes material, but follows many of the same principles as the TURBOplane.

Hard to reach spaces are no problem for the MiniTURBO plane. This cutter does have some slightly different nuances in how it removes material, but follows many of the same principles as the TURBOplane.

Cutting on the downstroke makes for easy removal. The weight of the tool and gravity are your friend in this particular application. Just be sure to avoid having it bounce around as it cuts into the material. I also found that several passes, like cutting a lawn in strips produces the most even result, and requires less sanding in subsequent steps.

Cutting on the downstroke makes for easy removal. The weight of the tool and gravity are your friend in this particular application. Just be sure to avoid having it bounce around as it cuts into the material. I also found that several passes, like cutting a lawn in strips produces the most even result, and requires less sanding in subsequent steps.

Back inside to cut the top to shape. In my next post, I'll cover the rather tricky approach to attaching the table top to the base, and how it will be eased into the base.

Back inside to cut the top to shape. In my next post, I’ll cover the rather tricky approach to attaching the table top to the base, and how it will be eased into the base.





One thought on “Stacked Lamination Coffee Table Pt. 1

  1. Hey Andy, I’ve been loving the posts on the stacked lamination and sculpture. Two questions:

    1. What size grinders are the ArborTech tools compatible with?

    2. Is that a 12/14 Laguna bandsaw? How do you like it? Would you buy it again?

    Thanks for the great content.

    -Shawn

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