Synopsis: Copied instantly from a 400-year-old Ming Dynasty desk, this piece appears to be like clear and easy however is constructed with an advanced system of joinery, most of it hidden. The glueless joints mitered through-tenons, a tongue-and-groove prime panel with cross braces linked by sliding dovetails, splayed legs, and a posh apron and spandrel system are difficult and require persistence and acute sharpening abilities. The reward is nice: a lovely desk with a splendidly advanced, interlocking system of joinery achieved with out glue.
Fifteen years in the past, I had a 400-year-old Ming Dynasty desk sitting in entrance of me in items on my bench. I had been requested to wash it up and tighten a few of its joints, however once I discovered that the entire thing was unglued and may very well be taken aside, I rigorously disassembled it. Then a light-weight went on: I ought to seize the chance to make a replica instantly from the actual factor. I’ve since constructed a handful of copies in varied hardwoods, together with this one in cherry.
The unique desk was acquired by an American molasses service provider working in Shanghai within the Twenties who shipped it dwelling. Like many Ming Dynasty items, it’s clear and easy wanting however constructed with an advanced system of joinery, most of it hidden. Making these glueless joints is a difficult enterprise, one which rewards persistence and strong sharpening abilities. When you’ve got not customary such joints earlier than, I recommend making mockups of them earlier than plunging into the actual factor.
On this first of two articles I’ll describe making the desk’s prime and legs and its uncommon apron-to-spandrel joinery. In FWW #308, Half 2 will cowl the remainder of the joinery and meeting.
A word on the joinery
Furnishings made within the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) exemplifies a lot of what I aspire to in my very own work—clear traces, thought of proportions, aware use of wooden graphics. The attractive bonus in a lot Ming furnishings is the joinery: splendidly advanced, interlocking methods that hyperlink the assorted components securely whereas permitting for wooden motion and usually requiring no glue. Most surviving Ming furnishings was produced from oily, waxy tropical hardwoods, that are troublesome to attach even with trendy adhesives, not to mention with the animal glues used on the time. The Chinese language furnishings maker’s resolution was good—devising interlocking masterpieces that survive for hundreds of years whereas avoiding cross-grain gluing and different issues which have helped destroy a lot historic Western work.
High body: miters with through-tenons
Start the desk by laying out the highest’s body joinery. Then reduce a through-mortise within the brief body members with the sharpest, most correct device you’ve gotten. For a lot of, will probably be a hollow-chisel mortiser or a router; for me it’s a small Bridgeport milling machine. I reduce the miters on the brief body items on the desk noticed and airplane them clear on a taking pictures board with a miter jig.
Now flip to the lengthy body members, the place the hand joinery begins. With the workpiece clamped at an angle in a vise, reduce the cheeks of the tenon; noticed near the traces, however go away a little bit waste. Then flip the piece on its face and noticed alongside the miter line, leaving a little bit of waste that you just’ll pare to the road later. The within fringe of the tenon is just not shouldered, however the exterior edge must be reduce—first ripped, then sawn alongside the miter. Noticed like your grandfather taught you—slowly, letting the noticed do the work.
I am going subsequent to the router desk and, with the workpiece face down, use a straight bit to make a skim reduce throughout the tenon’s prime cheek. The bit peak must be precisely 5⁄16 in. above the desk—the space from the highest cheek of the tenon to the highest face of the body. This offers me a floor I can belief as I do the remainder of the trimming and becoming with chisels and a shoulder airplane. As you trim the tenon search for a match that requires simply hand strain to assemble (not a mallet), however that’s safe, not sloppy.
Match every joint independently, after which assemble the entire body and tweak the place crucial to realize tight miters and properly aligned corners. With the body nonetheless assembled, airplane the highest floor so the joints are flat and flush. This has the additional benefit of offering a reference floor to run towards the fence if you reduce the grooves for the highest panel. Do this subsequent, on the desk noticed.
Images: Jonathan Binzen.
Drawings: John Hartman.
For extra photographs and illustrations, click on on the “View PDF” button under:
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