A hundred years ago (or maybe 40 …), I agreed to build a desk for a friend of mine. He had a brand-new Macintosh computer and needed a desk with a slot in the top to allow the fan-feed computer paper to flow through it. (We were really on the bleeding edge back then!)
He had $400 and wanted an oak veneered plywood desk with one drawer. So I got busy. I assembled the carcass and then moved on to the top. I had never made breadboard ends before. My shop had just purchased about 5,000 board feet of red oak lumber at about .50/foot, so I decided to slap a couple ends on the desktop. Then I thought, it would look a lot better if I added a shelf above the desktop at the rear of the desk … which, what the heck, I made from some of that cheap oak lumber and added breadboard ends to that shelf. I am guessing you can see how this continued. I was just having fun building things like extra drawers and sliding dividers.
The day my buddy showed up to get his “$400 plywood desk” was a bit embarrassing. He took one look at is and said, “I can’t afford that!” To which I answered it was still just $400. Both of us found it a bit awkward.
The cows came home when a mutual friend of ours called me up a week later and said “Hey, build me a desk just like the one you made for Dave!”
Today, Nicole Kenefic is the owner and interior designer at KDA Furniture & Interiors in Fort Wayne, Indiana. It’s a position she says has its roots back when she was a little girl, tagging along with her general contractor father to his jobsites.
Whether she was pushing a broom, mixing mortar for the masons, or taking out trash, “it just made me understand and appreciate all the hard work that it takes to make a project from start to finish,” Nicole said. So much so that, by the time she was in high school, “I already knew that I wanted to go into this line of work of some sort.”
Majoring in interior design in college, Nicole “quickly found that I wanted to do more than just interior design.” She also obtained a degree in engineering, “and that gave me the ability to speak more clearly when I was on a jobsite because I had a better understanding of, if I wanted a wall moved, I knew that it in fact could be moved. It wasn’t that I was depending on someone else’s knowledge.”
The ability to create shop drawings and envision structures also comes in handy for her work at KDA, which has both an interior design side and a custom furniture side. “Having my design background allows me to push out of the box a little bit more and know that when I present an idea to a customer that’s unique, I can present that knowing that we can also actually build it, instead of just this fictitious drawing that can’t ever come to fruition because it’s not possible.”
Being able to figure out “how things really go together, how you layer the materials and assemble the materials from a raw goods standpoint to become a real work of art” helps both the clients and the builders, Nicole said. It also helps her, as the business owner, with cost estimates. “When I draw it, I draw it as if we’re building it because then I can do my take-off list for materials and come up with a quote pretty quickly,” she said.
What those materials are depend on the customer’s choices, but KDA keeps the hardwood species hickory, red oak, maple, walnut and cherry in stock – lately, Nicole said, she’s been seeing more requests for cherry and walnut, with walnut having been “huge for us this year.”
As mentioned, KDA will work with customer requests, for projects across the U.S. – including in a couple of areas that have become subspecialties for the company, such as furniture for Montessori schools and opticians’ offices.
The Montessori schools’ furniture is designed to align with the self-directed learning philosophy, in which each student could be working on a separate project each day, with the teacher rotating among a small cadre of students. “The furniture is more of an open concept: there’s no backs on the shelving, so if a teacher’s sitting on the floor with a student, they can see through to the rest of the classroom; there’s no barriers,” Nicole explained. The Montessori furniture is also “environmentally friendly as much as possible: low VOCs on the finish, clear coat maple, no stains.”
The optical furniture subspecialty dates to KDA’s first collaboration with an architect who specialized in optical, back in 2001, slightly before Nicole began working for the company as an interior designer. As an employee, she was able to support the husband and wife who were then owners with both the design side and the custom woodworking side of the business. When the original owners later became snowbirds, then retired, she gained more managerial experience and eventually acquired the company.
The architect’s original impetus for contacting the firm was to make the cabinets where eyeglass frames are displayed look more like furniture than an industrial fixture. “He wanted it to be pieces of furniture that coordinated with his architecture throughout the space. Typically, the optical sales department is a form of revenue for the practice, and so they really want those to sparkle like a jewelry display case, so a bit more higher-end,” Nicole said. The partnership with that architect – who also does other medical offices – has continued. “That allows him and his team to draw up whatever units they want in whatever color, stain, whatever kind of molding, and it will all coordinate with his building, and it gives that full experience for their projects.” KDA also now does other optical jobs, too.
Large quantity jobs, however, remain a rarity. “Typically, our projects have quantities of one, two or three,” Nicole said. Speaking of her shop employees, she said, “If I give them a quantity of 20, they just roll their eyes at me. They’re craftsmen; they want to get in the weeds and try to figure out how to solve a problem. Usually, whoever is pulling the raw material for the project, I’ve instructed what that full project is and so, once they’ve finished that job, they clean and they wrap and they put it on our truck, and they deliver and they install it. So they get to see that whole project go from start to finish, and they have all told me many times how much they appreciate that because they get to see the final piece in the final setting.”
Nicole estimates that 75 percent of the projects produced at KDA are still cut by hand. The business did acquire a CNC router a couple of years ago, through a loan from Stearns Bank; Nicole and one other shop employee are trained to program the CNC. “So sometimes I’m programming it in my office and sending that information out to the CNC and I have another guy just loading that table pushing the go button. Then the person that’s running the machine at that time doesn’t have to have any more understanding than how to load and offload that table.”
Depending on the project, sometimes, with the CNC, “we can drill all the hinge holes and the handle holes and things like that while we’re running the cuts of the board,” Nicole said. However, “If it’s a hardwood frame-and-panel door, I’m happy to get those handles and hinges and everything like that to do the final details. I’ve got my screw gun and my drill.”
While not in the shop on a daily basis, “I often go out there and work, especially if we’re hot on a deadline and we need more help,” she said.
Among her shop employees, “the youngest guy that’s been here the least amount of time, he’s been here for 10 years. We have two guys that are only 35 years old, and our oldest guy is 41 – so we’re all right within the same age group, and are going to be doing this for a long time,” Nicole said. “I’m just really excited about my team that I have here and I can only imagine what it’s going to be 10, 15, 20 years from now.”
Learn how to build cabinet door frames using a rail and stile router bit set. Most cabinet doors – especially if they are made in a factory – have frames that are assembled with rail and stile joints, also commonly called cope and stick joints. These joints feature a decorative profile, such as a flat shaker edge, a rounder, or an ogee, that frames the panel, and a groove that contains the panel. Building cabinet doors is easy when you have a rail and stile router bit set to cut these joints.
Stay warmer this winter in your unheated shop, garage or shed with this new Forced Air Heater from CRAFTSMAN. It offers variable heat settings from between 40,000 to 60,000 BTU and an adjustable heat angle so you can find the intensity that suits your needs and work area best. It’s rated to heat spaces up to 1,500 square feet.
The heater has electronic ignition to make start-ups easy, and it will operate for up to 10-1/2 hours on a single 20-lb. propane tank. A 10-ft. hose keeps the fuel tank a safe distance from the heater. The unit will shut off automatically if it overheats.
Rugged steel construction and a fully enclosed base ensure durability, while a top handle makes the heater easy to transport or to move around when it’s in operation. Aside from propane, using the heater also requires household current to operate the internal electric fan.
I want to scroll cut thin slabs of tree trunks, keeping the bark intact. Is there a chemical or process that will shrink the bark permanently to the slab? – Louis Goaziou
Tim Inman: If you have the option, select the wood for the purpose. Some trees hold their bark tight even after dying; others drop their bark freely upon death. Bark is “Mother Nature’s Plastic Bag.” It is a membrane designed in most cases to hold moisture inside and not let it out willingly. Thus, you might expect a damp layer under the bark between it and the wood. This makes bonding the bark very difficult. Once the wood is completely dry, the bark is often very prone to falling off — sometimes in slabs, other times it just crumbles. So, to answer your question better, there is no chemical I know of that will prevent the bark from relaxing and letting go if that is what the wood is predestined to do. Remember, as the wood dries, it shrinks. The bark may not shrink the same. This will further cause the bark to pull away. Though I have not tried this myself, you might investigate the benefits of soaking the joining surfaces with an epoxy adhesive. Polyester resins might work, too.
Chris Marshall: In an article about turning natural edge bowls, our woodturning expert Ernie Conover recommended harvesting the tree or limb in the colder winter months of December through February, in order to have the best odds of the bark remaining on the turning blank.
“You can somewhat combat the ‘bark falling off’ tendency by treating it with thin cyanoacrylate ‘super’ glue as you turn to increase the bark’s bond to the piece,” Conover says. “The cyanoacrylate becomes indispensible for beginning and experienced turners alike if you attempt to turn a natural edge piece from wood harvested in the warmer months.”
Jorgensen’s 3700-HD Bar Clamps feature solid iron castings and heavy-duty steel bars to generate up to 1,000 pounds of clamping pressure. A fast-action sliding jaw and triple-disc hardened steel clutch mechanism make adjusting these clamps fast and their holding power secure. The ACME-threaded 1/2-in. steel screw and clamp head are capped with pads made of thick, durable plastic to protect your workpiece, while an orange-baked enamel finish on the castings helps prevent corrosion from glue drips. The clamps stand upright and parallel on your work surface for ease of placement and adjustment.
Use your bench vise and a pipe clamp to hold narrow or wide boards on the bench top for planning or other work. No bench dogs or dog holes required. With this simple fixture a pipe clamp is held securely in the vise while still allowing for adjustment of the pipe clamp. It will hold boards from 13/16″ wide to the length of your pipe. Can be made from a single 3/4″ x 2-1/2″ x 16-1/4″ board.
“Every time I start a project with a set of plans, I expect a different result: namely, that everything will come out as specified. It doesn’t, but when I finally get it sorted out and I fire off a letter to the Pope that there’s been another miracle in Worcester, I get no response. That result is always the same.” – Jeff Kelly
And, yes, it is even colder this week – but we seem to be getting no sympathy. – Editor
“Here, in Moffat, Colorado, we’ve had several minus 20 mornings and some snow almost every day– so it’s not going away anytime soon! *Grin* – dueling cold weather reports!” – Bob Adler
But we did get some responses to warm our hearts. – Editor
“I really enjoy your weekly Journal updates. I learn so much from you and get motivated to get back into my workshop. Thank you for your efforts and fine magazine.” – Michael Moore
Tables like this one can go by several names: hall table, a console table or a sofa table. Well, po-tay-to, po-tah-to; to-may-to, to-mah-to; it doesn’t really matter what you call it — I’m going with “hall table,” since I’m putting it in the hall. Overall, it just matters that it looks good. Plus, it’s a nice exercise in basic woodworking.
I chose to make my table out of walnut. After cutting my walnut lumber into manageable sized chunks, my first building task was to work on the legs. I ripped a board of walnut into two pieces, each of which could yield two legs for this pretty standard style of four-legged table. I first crosscut the boards to the legs’ finished length of 29-5/8″ on the table saw. I made these cuts with my miter gauge set to 5°, which is the angle of splay I wanted to maintain.
You might notice also that these legs are subtly tapered. I laid out my desired taper on the leg boards, marking lines that tapered from 2″ at the top of the legs to 3/4″ at the bottom. I lined up these marks on my tapering jig and then ripped all four legs using the jig.
I also needed to rip the upper cross braces to width; they connect the tops of the legs. I’m reaching the point in my woodworking where I want to experiment more aesthetically. In the past, I probably would have cut these pieces out of stock the same thickness as the legs. This time around, though, I made them from thinner stock.
My next markups were to lay out the joinery: I used one of the cross braces I had cut to mark out the notches in the legs where the cross braces are joined to the legs, and I also marked out the location of a dado on the legs that will hold the low shelf. See Drawings for the location of the dadoes.
I machined the dadoes and notches on my table saw using a dado blade and miter gauge. Cut them at 5° to the edge (again, see the Drawings). Now it’s time to cut the cross braces (mostly) to length; I left them just a tad over-long so that I’d be able to use a hand saw to cut the angle to match the legs and sand them flush during assembly.
I then turned my attention to the casework portion of this table. My material for the table sides, bottom and back — because I had it on hand from other projects — consisted of walnut plywood, with hardwood strips to cover up the plywood edges.
Obviously, if you have hardwood on hand or prefer to use it for the entire project, go ahead. I, on the other hand, roughed out the pieces for the back, bottom and sides, then I ripped and glued on the hardwood strips. Once they were dry, I sanded them flush.
I cut a 45° bevel on both ends of the long bottom piece and on the bottom end of each of the short side pieces. I also cut a 1/4″-deep by 3/8″- wide rabbet along the back edges of the plywood pieces, which will eventually capture the back panel.
My next step was to glue up the casework. I laid my boards out flat and end to end: the ends of the sides and bottom that are joined together with bevels were taped together with blue masking tape to serve as temporary “hinges.”
I applied a thin coat of glue onto both faces of these joints, then folded the assembly up into its correct shape. I used a long bar clamp to hold the ends and bottom square to one another while the glue dried.
As that cured, I sanded and finished those pieces that would be hard to access once assembly was complete.
My next cuts, made the following night after work, were for the table’s top and the shelf. I left the shelf oversized at this point, in order to do more assembly later on in the building process.
The top, however, was cut to final dimensions (see Material List). I then used a chamfer bit in my router to cut a 45° chamfer on the underside of the table’s top. It’s a bit more subtle than my usual sharp bevels, but again, it was part of my aesthetic experimentation with this piece.
The decorative stretchers, made next, are both structural and add an attractive detail: they support the long plywood pieces to help prevent sagging. I marked out one of these pieces, then made the cuts on the band saw — sort of.
My band saw blade was too wide to get close to the radius I had drawn, so I just nibbled close to the line, then sanded the rough area to the line to complete the shaping. Since I wanted the decorative stretchers to match, after I had finished with the first one, I used it as a guide for tracing onto the second blank.
I was then able to rough the second one out on the band saw. From here, I taped the two together and template-routed the second stretcher to match the first.
Assembling the Table
With all pieces cut, except for the drawer, I was ready to start assembling my table. The legs are attached directly to the casework sides using screws — they’ll be hidden by the drawer.
To install the stretchers, I secured them with a screw driven down through the drawer carcass at the center point of each stretcher. I also drove screws through the legs and into the ends of the stretchers, but this created visible screw holes. To camouflage their screw heads, I first drilled a recess (sometimes called a counterbore) at each screw hole with a 3/8″ bit, creating a place for the screw heads to “hide,” then I cut tapered screw plugs out of my scrap wood from the project to cover up the holes. Once I made sure the grain orientation matched the rest of the surface and sanded down the plugs, they became pretty much invisible — unless you look really, really closely.
My method of choice for attaching the walnut table top to the rest of the plywood casework was four Domino joints. (If you don’t have a Festool Domino machine, you can use dowels and get good results, too.) The Dominoes go from the top of the plywood into the underside of the top. After making the cuts in the plywood, I rested the top in position in order to mark where the cuts on the underside would need to be.
With that done, I was still not quite ready to glue the top down. Instead, I first installed the shelf between the legs, fitted into the dadoes I made earlier. I cut the shelf to size by referencing the space between the dadoes in the legs. The shelf, like the stretchers, is attached with screws, which are then hidden with plugs. (I figured I was already making the other plugs, why not just make more?) With the shelf in place, I attached the top.
Building the Drawer
As you may have noticed, I’ve been mentioning that this table has a drawer — and its construction is next up. The drawer is just a simple box that slides tightly into the cubbyhole created by the casework. No rails, no hardware. The front and back pieces get a rabbet to accept the drawer sides, and the drawer side pieces get a groove for a bottom panel.
I used hardwood for the front panel and 3/4″ plywood for the sides and back. It probably would have been more appropriate to use 1/2″ plywood or solid stock but, again, I was just making use of whatever I had on hand.
I rough-cut all the drawer pieces slightly oversized. Then I planed the solid walnut front panel down to about a 1″ thickness. I carefully fit the drawer front piece (cutting, then test fitting) to get it to the exact width it needed to be. I used that setting on my table saw to cut the drawer sides to their exact widths as well.
I used the same fit-and-cut process with the drawer back piece to find the exact length I needed and transferred that over to the drawer front. This drawer needs to fit the opening snugly. I marked out the rabbet on the drawer front to fit the plywood sides. Stepping to the table saw, I cut these rabbets by first crosscutting on the table saw, then employing a jig to run the piece vertically for the second cut to complete the joint.
I then plowed the grooves that hold the bottom in the side pieces and used that mark to determine how wide to cut the back piece to finalize it. That’s because the drawer back is narrower than the sides and front so that the bottom panel can slide in under the drawer back and be pin-nailed securely to it after the drawer is assembled. (You can find these measurements in the Drawings.)
Before assembling the drawer, I shaped a cutout on the drawer front to act as a drawer pull. I made this negative space cutout on the table saw so that it fit my hand. I also shaped a small rabbet around the perimeter of the drawer front to make the reveal between the drawer and the forward edges of the carcass a little more uniform and to provide a nice shadow line. With this work behind me, it was finally time to glue up and assemble the drawer, putting the drawer bottom in last. Be sure your drawer box is square when clamped up.
Final Assembly Details
As the drawer box glue-up was drying, I attached a 1/4″ plywood back panel into the carcass opening formed by the rabbets I had cut earlier.
Now it was time to do the final sanding and apply a finish. For this project, I opted for several coats of drying oil followed by a coat of paste wax. Oil and wax is a great solution to warm up the walnut’s color, and the finish is easily touched up, if needed. This was a fun project to build and, call it what you will, it now looks great in our hallway.
Chris Salomone got into woodworking and designing furniture in 2008, when he and his wife bought a house and needed to fill it. This led to community college woodworking classes, then to building custom furniture through his foureyesfurniture.com business, and then to his YouTube channel, where he hopes to entertain and inspire you with the videos of his designs and builds.